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Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
03/03/2016
Development partnerships in agriculture in the Indo-Pacific region

MULIMBALIMBA-MASURURU, The Hon. Dr Luc, Medical Director, Mission in Health Care and Development

Committee met at 15:36

CHAIR ( Dr Stone ): Welcome. How we usually progress, Doctor Luc, is we will hear a statement from you and then we will go to questions. Did you want to show that video you had this morning?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : I think they gave me a topic on development partnership in agriculture. Is that what I will be talking about?

CHAIR: This inquiry is looking at the nutritional situation in developing countries in our region, particularly as it relates to food security and the big changes happening in agriculture, and whether they are leading to ongoing good nutrition—particularly for women and girls, but also for all family members. Often we find that if you go to a cash crop, for example, you might end up with less diversity of food production locally and the cash you have to buy food may be spent on calories that do not necessarily translate into a good nutritional diet. It is all of those sorts of issues that we are looking at, and how do we partner with countries or NGOs to make sure that when we spend our Australian aid dollar it really helps agriculture food production, good health and the reduction of poverty in our region.

I should also say to you that this is a formal hearing of the Australian parliament. You will receive a transcript in about 10 days' time to check on the details, if we can find you back in the Congo. These are public proceedings, and if you wish to have any information provided in camera or off the record, then you can simply ask us and we will talk about that and see if that is what we need to do.

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity and thank you very much for organising this meeting today. I would like to talk on the role of development partnerships in agriculture and agribusiness in promoting prosperity, reduction of poverty and housing stability in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As you know, my country is located in central Africa and, by the way, it is a green country—we do not have desert in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. From the beginning to the end it is a green country, so it is very, very easy for us to eradicate poverty because at least Congo is agricultural land. We said before how we have been reducing poverty through agriculture, but we have been facing a problem: Congo has been suffering from war. UN reports say that more than five million people have died from the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and when you visit my country you will find we have mass graves where people have been dying and have been buried, which is very, very challenging. But even though we have been suffering from this, we tried very much to reduce poverty.

Eighty per cent of Congolese live in villages; only 20 per cent of people are in towns. So a good number of Congolese live in villages, and 80 per cent of Congolese practice agriculture, so agriculture is the main source of reducing poverty in DRC. Many people know the Congo is a mining country, but many people do not do mining. Maybe less than 10 per cent do mining, but more than 80 per cent do agriculture. But the big problem we are facing is that our agricultural activities are not like modern agriculture where there are big machines and where we can sell to other countries. The agriculture we are doing is just for food, or sometimes they can sell some of the things to get a little bit of money so they can send children to school, and because of the war you will find many children suffering from malnutrition.

Going directly to the solution, first of all we opened a community radio station because in a country of more than 70 million people you must look for a way of doing education. So we opened the community radio station where we talk to them about different topics like how to do good agriculture, how to reduce malnutrition through agricultural projects—all of those kinds of things—and we built a community development centre to train people, because we saw that almost all Congolese people you will find think meat is the only good food. They can have a lot of greens or vegetables to reduce poverty or malnutrition, but they think meat, because it is expensive, is a good food. They live near where there are Greens but they do not eat them. So that is why we built the community centre. Those who are coming from afar have a place where they can sleep so they can receive training, but we do not give this kind of training to all people. To come to do that kind of work, we choose those in the community who can teach other people, because when they go back to their villages they can teach other people.

One of the good projects that we are doing is pig raising. We chose pigs because in three months three days a pig can produce. They are very good for production because you can get 10 piglets easily, and one piglet is US$25 to US$40. Even at one week they can get US$200 to US$400 easily. Imagine somebody who is living and earning $1 per day. To get US$400 is a lot of money for them. This project is doing very, very well among the community.

Another project we are doing in agribusiness is fishponds. Yes, we have rivers, we have lakes, but those lakes sometimes are very far from the villages. For example, from Luvungi, where we are working, to Uvira town, is 60 kilometres. There are people whose village is 200 kilometres from the lake. So this project is very good, because, in four months, they can get fish to feed to their children, to give them nutritional food, to eradicate malnutrition, to reduce poverty. Other fish they can sell and get money to begin small businesses.

There is another thing that we are doing. In Congo, we have a main food which is called ugali. Ugali is maize flour and cassava flour. In most of Congo—and it is not only Congo; it is the central and east African region—it is our main food, like in Australia you can never eat without eating bread. We will find, every time, there is bread there. It is the same thing. For us, if we eat food without eating ugali, even if there is rice, it would be like we have not yet eaten. But cassava flour is not good. It does not have a high percentage of nutrition. So you will find that, if people are eating it, if they do not get another food, they will not be in good health. That is why we are introducing a new food. This is what we call 'sukuma wiki'. It is Chinese cabbage. That cabbage, in two or three weeks, you can sell it and get money, and it is very good for nutrition. This is beans. As you know, beans are a food which is high in protein and is very good. At our nutrition centre, we are using a lot of beans because they are very good for children or adults with malnourished children. So we are trying to let them know about this, so they have good food that can help them.

There is another food, which is sweet potato. Most Congolese people do not like to eat sweet potato, but the problem with cassava flour or maize flour is that you can never eat it without another food, so you will eat it maybe with fish or meat or greens, but with sweet potato we just cook it and eat it like that. It will not need other things. This is another project that we are promoting. The good thing of it is that, a small area like this room, you can have maybe 10 or 15 sacks of 100 kilograms, so you can eat and get money to reduce poverty. In short, this is the work that we have been doing in the Democratic Republic of Congo in agriculture and agribusiness to reduce hunger, to fight malnutrition and to improve life for Congolese people. Please, if you have any questions, you can ask me about the work that we are doing. For example, this child has been suffering from malnutrition, so through this project they have been doing very well. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Thank you. We should add, if people have not read all their notes, that you are a medical doctor who has now specialised in women's health, and whole family health, and has set up training of midwives and community development. Your village development has well advanced. Do you have a question, Senator Macdonald?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am sorry I missed the earlier part of this presentation, so perhaps—

CHAIR: Perhaps I will start while people are thinking.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But I do have questions.

CHAIR: Yes. Australia has the ACIAR, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research. It specialises in joint-venturing with countries or NGOs or other like-minded agencies in helping develop agriculture in our region. Are you familiar with that organisation? Have you had anything to do with them? What Australian agencies have you talked to about your agricultural development?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : Last year, when I was visiting parliament, people were talking to me about the department. They have an office in Nairobi, Kenya, which is representing central and eastern Africa. I went there to meet with the leader of that department, but, by bad luck, they told me that they do not work in Congo. They have some program in Burundi, I think, they have some program in Rwanda, I think, and in Kenya. By the way, they have a good program because they can mix. They are doing deforestation. They have special food that you can mix with trees, and you can plant food to eradicate hunger and reduce poverty. I tried to ask them if they can do anything for DRC and it was a little bit difficult, so I put a request to the parliament. Thank you for this invitation and for giving me this opportunity. If you can help to connect us again with them, maybe we can work together. Congo is agricultural country and many people just die. War is a fact and security for some of the region, but other people are suffering because of ignorance. I always say that ignorance is a key to poverty in many places. That is why we in the mission, in health care and development, forecast on education and training. We know that when you train and educate people, you can eradicate or reduce poverty easily. I know about that organisation and I contacted them, but it was a little bit difficult for us to collaborate or work with them.

CHAIR: Which agencies are supporting you with new plant varieties and processing methods?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : We are working with Birthing Kit Foundation, Australia, which is based in Adelaide. They make birthing kits. The priority of that project is to reduce the infant mortality rate, but we know that we cannot reduce the infant mortality rate without giving women and people could health care. So we have the microfinancing project. Some of the women you see here are women we give pigs or fish pond or agricultural projects to. Some of them are traditional midwives. Others are just vulnerable women. Others are women who have been raped during the war in DRC. Some of them are trained midwives, but they do not have the income to raise their lives. We are working and there are other volunteers or donors. Like most, I come to Australia and I always stay for three weeks or one month. I visit the states to do some presentations and there are people who can say that they want to do something with DRC, and also ourselves as Congolese. We always say to Congolese, 'You will be the first to fight and reduce poverty in your region.' There are the buildings that you have seen. We always push the community to make bricks themselves and, when they want to build things, we help them. We say, 'You don't have money, but you can contribute to the construction or doing something.' We have Congolese members who contribute through their effort. If you have a good job, you can contribute $500 or $100. If you do not have a job, you can contribute 50c or $1. From all those contributions, we try to change people's lives and make a difference in our country.

CHAIR: I note that the rotary and Zonta clubs of Australia are supporting you, as well as the Adelaide footy club, the Charles Sturt University in Wagga and so on. Are any of those organisations working directly with you on agriculture, or is it more on the health side of things?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : The rotary and Zonta clubs helped last year in mosquito net distribution and media programs, which have been helping us a lot to reduce poverty through education. We have received containers with clothes, blankets and medical equipment from here. Rotary clubs have been generous to us, enabling us to do that kind of work. Australian donors and organisations are willing to support or to improve life for communities in DRC.

CHAIR: Okay.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: What do you find are the main challenges at a local level?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : The first challenge is education. The Congo has now been suffering for around 20 years. You will find many people, especially women, are not getting a chance to go to school. That is a big problem. If people are not educated, it is a big challenge.

Another big challenge is health care. In DRC, we do not have insurance. When you are sick, you can go and get free medical care, but you will find, even in government hospitals, that a simple operation or a small operation is US$100 to US$150, which many people cannot afford. Many people just die. By the way, I always say that diseases that do not kill people in Australia or in other countries still kill people in the Congo—like malaria and typhoid. They are diseases that, with $10 or $20, you can get medication and get better. Because many people are poor, we still have malaria. Many people think it is HIV that is the No. 1 killing disease in Africa, but it is malaria which is the No. 1 killing disease; it is not HIV. If you go to the Congo, you will find many places where, every day, many children die at five years of age because of malaria. These diseases can be managed. Poor healthcare services are also contributing to poverty and making people suffer.

Another thing is insecurity. When you live in a country where there is no security, you will not go to work. If you go to work, you fear that maybe you will be raped or killed. If you do not have a proper or a good place to work, you will never improve your life.

Lastly, there is corruption. In many places, we still have this. The government is working on this. In the Congo, we have been trying to reduce corruption, but we still have people who are corrupt. You can tell them, 'You will do this,' but they put other things.

Those are the four things I can say are the big challenges that we are facing every day.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: Thank you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Welcome. You said you come regularly to Australia to try to raise money for your organisation?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : I come for two purposes. The big objective in coming is to let Australia know that there is a country called the Democratic Republic of Congo, where people have been suffering. Many Australians know about Kenya, know about Uganda, and know about the genocide in Rwanda, but they do not know that there is a country called Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than five million people have died and more than a thousand women have been raped. Even today there are people who are still dying. That is why I decided I must go around the world, including Australia, to tell people that there is a country which is called the Democratic Republic of Congo, in which people are dying every day.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, I see.

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : That is one of the reasons. Yes, there is the money also, because without money we cannot do development—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Of course.

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : But the purpose is to inform people about Congo.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Sure. The Mission in Health Care and Development is an NGO, community-based. Does it have the backing of any of the churches, or—

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : I am also a pastor. One of them—I do not want to talk about it—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are a parliamentarian, a doctor, a pastor—

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : DR Congo is 90 per cent Christian. I did my primary schooling at a Swedish mission and I did my university degree at the Swedish mission—my medical doctor's degree. Here, in Adelaide, there is BMI—Bethesda Ministries International. As you have heard, we talk about it in Congo like we do here; the pastor of that is called Peter Frogley. He is in touch with what we are doing in Congo. Every year he visits DRC. This April he will go to DRC. So among the organisations that we are working with, there are also some churches.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: From looking at your very impressive general report, you could say, 'Gee—everything's fine in the DRC. You don't need any help—it looks to be really good.' Congratulations, not only on your report but on the things that you show in your report.

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : Thank you.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I take it that your involvement in the Congo is in a specific regional area? You are helping out but, obviously, just in a small part of Congo?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : If you went to the east side of the DR Congo—I should show you on the map to understand it. This is it here—I work here, in Uvira. The capital city is here in Kinshasa. It is 2,000 kilometres from Kinshasa to Uvira. This district is one of the districts where people have suffered a lot. Yes, all Congolese people have suffered, but people from there have suffered a lot. Why? Because of its geographic situation. It is near Burundi. You can get to Burundi on foot.

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON: There are a lot of refugees—

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : Yes. It is near Rwanda. So you can get to Rwanda on foot. It is near Tanzania, because it is near Lake Tanganyika. So from Lake Tanganyika you can go to Tanzania. It is also near Zambia through Lake Tanganyika.

When you read the history of DR Congo—the Mulele war from 1960 and those kinds of war—you will find that they started in the Uvira district, because most wars start from Rwanda, Burundi or Tanzania. These are the countries where they tend to come from. And when they come, the first district in which people die, women are raped and where people suffer is the Uvira district.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am old enough to remember Katanga—that was before you were born, I suspect.

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : Yes.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: But my question really was about the influence of your group. It is just in your area, not right across the whole—

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : Not just there. We work in Nord Kivu province; in Bas-Congo province, near Kinshasa; in Bandundu province; and in Katanga, near Kalernie and other places. I will show you on the map here. DRC had 11 provinces. Last year we changed it and now we have 24 provinces. We divided those big provinces.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is a silly question to ask a politician but is your country democratic? Do you as a politician have as much say as anyone else or is there are a lot of power at the top?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : That is a very good and challenging question. The name of our country is Democratic Republic of Congo. So normally I think we must be the most democratic in Africa because our name has 'democracy'. I always say that we can never compare DSC or African politics with other countries. Europe today has very good democracy. The things that we are passing today in Africa, they have been passing in Europe—a push for somebody to be declared president. And all those mistakes that European countries made help them to have the good democracy that they have today.

DSC got independence in 1960 so it has been only 50 years in which we have been running ourselves. All those other years it was run by the country of Belgium. It was the Belgian government that was running it. We have been having dictatorship presidents and all those kinds of things.

In 2006, DRC got its first democratic election. So at least in 2006 people voted for their own MPs, as they should, and for the President. In 2011 was the second democratic election. For that purpose, I can say that at least there is democracy in Congo because you can never become a MP if people do not vote for you. Yes, we know that sometimes there is corruption. After the war there was an opposition who stole our voices and those kinds of things. But the good thing is that, before, you could be a friend of the President and he could say you will become an MP or you could be a nephew of a minister and he could say you could be an MP.

But today, to be an MP in Congo, you must run a competition and you must be voted by people, which is very good. It is the same thing with President. Before you could come with guns and kill people, kill the President and become President. But the African union are very tough on it. You can never go again to an African country with guns and kill the president and think that you will become president. Like in Burkina Faso, there are many countries where the soldiers tried to do it but now they say 'no'. We want to promote democracy and have votes. In Burkina Faso, the president who is there is there by votes. But we still have so many challenges in democracy. As you know, we always say that democracy in DRC is like a baby. We can never compare Australian democracy and Congo democracy. In Australia, you have been doing voting for many years but in Congo the first vote was in 2006.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: There is still a lot of tribal clan conflict. Is that right? Is there still a lot of violence, a lot of arms, a lot of guns and killings within various clan groups or tribe groups in Congo? How does that affect your operations.

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : In Congo, we have more than 350 tribes. That means that Belgium conquered it but never finished it. From my research, the problem in Congo was not tribal law clashes because the country has more than 350 tribes. If it had two or four tribes, we would not say that was tribal war. It was just a political war. We know that there is a tribe in Congo called Banyamulenge; they are Tutsie. Many people think that the war in Congo is from Tutsies but Banyamulenge is just one tribe representing more than 350 tribes. The problem of Congo was purely political brought by our neighbouring country. By the way, even our neighbouring countries, some of them, cannot get money to bring war because to bring war you need money to pay people, to buy guns, to buy uniforms. I do not know myself which of those countries was behind it. Because Congo is rich with minerals and all those kinds of things, bringing war in South Kivu or in Katanga made it easy for them to take Congo's minerals.

Many Congolese are suffering today. We always say that 60 per cent of the suffering is because us Congolese are not able to run the country very well and change our people's lives. But also 40 per cent of suffering of Congolese was brought in from other countries, from their interest. For them, even if Congolese are dying, they become rich and build roads, no problem. You will find Congo has been suffering from Congolese people and also from countries that we have been thinking that they can help us but it was a false front of supporting our neighbouring countries to come and bring war in the Congo. That is why, when you read very good history, you will find in 2013 a war was brought where many people were dying. But there are many people from our neighbouring countries—I do not want to say their names—who have been capturing and who today are in jail. We think it is a Congolese war but, no, it is people from other countries.

There are some places where we have been having trouble. In Province Orientale, there is one place called Inturi, which is near Uganda. There are two tribes there which have been fighting and killing. One of those leaders is at the International Criminal Court today. Because of the killing and things that he did there, indoctrinating people so that his tribe can kill this tribe, he is now at the International Criminal Court.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Does that make it difficult for your organisation though with these inter-tribal conflicts?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : Sometimes yes because if there is trouble you will not work very well and not have peace. You might like to go to do some work there but you cannot do it. So when there is trouble, we have security and when there is security you cannot work.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Does your country get much money from the former colonial power, from Belgium or from the EU? Do they recognise that in many instances some of the problems in your country started in 1908 when the Belgians took over? I wonder if they recognise that give you some foreign aid or a lot of foreign aid or does Europe?

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : When you come to Congo by the way, you will find there is a lot of international NGOs. By the way, I have been talking even to DFAT and I told them that the work you are doing is good. If you give MONUSCO $2 million, it is good but MONUSCO will pay their soldiers and buy cars and guns. So you think that you are helping Congo, but you are not helping people who are on the ground. You will find that the international NGOs will pay millions and millions in money. This NGO will give this amount, but the truth is those of us who are working on community development grants and who are working with villagers do not see that money.

You will find that in the Uvira district for the same work we have been doing with A$500,000 some of the international NGOs will talk about $10 million. That means that, if they could give those local NGOs $1 million, they could do 10 times more than those internationals. I have been talking to DFAT to tell them to think how to work with local organisations. Yes, we know sometimes they will say: 'Local organisations are corrupt. If we are working with Congolese, they are corrupt.' It is the same thing. We know that some international NGOs are also corrupt, more so than even local organisations. There are local organisations that are working better on the ground than the internationals. So I have been challenging them to show them that in the future they will think to help the international NGOs because it is really good. We cannot say that it is bad because there is some way to bring peace. You will support MONUSCO because they are the ones that have the ability to do it. If you give money to MONUSCO it is not bad, but there is another way.

If you want to work in agribusiness, if you want to help people with mosquito nets and if you want to help children who are suffering from malnutrition, in my view from 10 years of working with community development, working with local organisations is better because they understand the region, they know the people and they know the needs of people. You can come with a car in the Congo because people are transporting heavy loads, but maybe those who are on the ground know that a bicycle is of more value than a car.

CHAIR: That is probably a very profound note for us to end on, Dr Luc. One of their programs is to supply bikes to women, who can then take the loads off their backs and put them on the bicycles. It is a very important thing.

Senator SINGH: Very good.

CHAIR: Go back to that photo there. That is a typical load that the women, not the men, carry. And then they go to the bikes, which is a much better idea.

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : In Congo we do not have roads. Even if you come with a car, people will not reach many places. Ninety-eight per cent of people live in villages. So with a bicycle they go many places. If you do not work on the ground, you would think that because these women are carrying heavy loads you should buy a car. You will spend $10,000 or $30,000 to buy a new car, but those of us who are on the ground know that the bicycle will change their life. With $30,000 we can buy 300 bicycles, which will change the life of more than 1,000 people. Do you see the difference?

CHAIR: Yes, that is a very good point. We thank you, Dr Luc. It has been a very useful exchange for us. I think you will be the only witness giving us any information on the Congo in this inquiry, so thank you. It was most opportune for us to be able to speak to you.

Dr Mulimbalimba-Masururu : Thank you.