Paul Mushiete

The history of Ibi Village is linked to that of the population of the high plains of the Batéké, which go back far in time and cover vast areas. From the 1980s, Mr. Paul Mahamwe Mushiete (founder of the Novacel sprl company) defined the first contours of a land development program in the Batéké plateau, giving priority to social and environmental aspects (livestock, crops, sustainable protection of forests).

When he died, his sons, Olivier and Thierry, aided by individuals, companies, associations and universities, made Ibi a unique place for development and university research in the DRC.

Despite a long period of political instability, in 1999 they managed to join forces with a first institutional donor, which allowed them to carry out a major feasibility study on the exploitation of water resources. This study, financed by the Walloon Region, proved the abundance and the high quality of the water coming from the sources. It also showed that an agro-forestry project was feasible in the Ibi Village domain, meeting the needs of drinking water as well as water for irrigation and maintenance.

The Walloon Region continued its commitment and built the water pumping station and a water supply network. This project, combined with the investments made by Novacel since 1998, laid the foundations for integrated rural development.

For the implementation of this project, Novacel was able to count on the financial support of both companies (Umicore and SUEZ-Tractebel (now ENGIE)) and private individuals, who invested not only money but also their time and expertise.

The first trees were planted in 2008.

The objectives were as follows:

  • to plant trees and manioc on 4,200 ha according to the agro-forestry method in cooperation with the local population.
  • setting up the necessary infrastructure, particularly in the fields of healthcare and education
  • finance the project with the sale of carbon credits and manioc

In February 2011, Ibi Village reached a milestone: it became the first private project in DRC to be registered as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), allowing the CO2 stored in the planted trees to be traded as carbon credits.

Unfortunately, despite all efforts, the financial breakeven was not achieved. Due to the economic crisis in 2008, the revenues from carbon credits were lower than expected and the sale of manioc could not compensate for this, while the costs (planting, operation and commercialization) were higher in reality.

In 2015, it was decided to switch from a model where the workers were employees to a model where they become independent partners, which presents several advantages:

Autonomy and responsibility: By becoming independent partners, the actors have more control over their work and can make more autonomous decisions about how to cultivate their plots. This can foster a greater sense of responsibility and commitment to their own initiatives.

Fair distribution of benefits: The partnership model allows for a fairer distribution of the fruits of labor. Instead of receiving a fixed salary, actors have direct access to the profits generated by their efforts, which is seen as motivating and encouraging.

Innovation and local adaptation: While having to comply with a technical specification, by being more directly involved in the work process, the partners are more inclined to innovate and adapt their methods to specific local needs. This leads to more sustainable and more adapted agricultural practices.

Strengthening community ties: This model encourages collaboration and mutual support. It strengthens the links within the community. By sharing common economic interests, it fosters a sense of solidarity.

Long-term sustainability: By integrating the conservation of natural resources into the economic model, this change contributes to the long-term sustainability of agricultural activities. The agroforestry method promotes soil regeneration and carbon sequestration, thus creating positive impacts on the environment. An 8-year recurring cycle of clear-cutting a portion of the forest for charcoal production followed by cassava and maize planting is being implemented, all of which is marketed in the city of Kinshasa, thus ensuring extended economic cycles.

In summary, we are moving from an employee model to a partnership model that offers more autonomy, encourages innovation, strengthens community ties and promotes sustainable practices, thus tending towards a more equitable, responsible approach ensuring individual emancipation.

Points to watch

It is important to clearly define the terms of the partnership and ensure that the actors are well informed of their rights and responsibilities. It is also important to establish monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to ensure that the partnership goals are met.

In the specific case of the agroforestry transition, it is important to ensure that the actors have the necessary skills and resources to implement this method. It is also important to raise actor awareness of sustainability and environmental protection issues.

At that time a new structure, Mushiete & co, was set up to house the entire Ibi Village domain (about 9,000 ha) and the trees already planted. The partners of Mushiete & co are Olivier, Thierry and Pascale Mushiete, as well as those who have supported the project financially since its creation and who have agreed to convert their financing into shares.

Mushiete & cie then entrusted the management of Ibi Village to the NGO Gi-Agro under the supervision of Professor Jean Lejoly, who has been actively involved in the implementation and promotion of the concept since its launch.

The conversion to this new business model guarantees the continued planting of the Batéké plateau and thus contributes to the well-being of the local population.