Addressing Pesticides in Kinshasa, DRC - Doctors of the World

Addressing Pesticides in Kinshasa, DRC

In Kinshasa, where there’s no garbage collection and traffic is dense and chaotic, pollution is a significant issue. Adding to this, chemical products utilized in agriculture further exacerbate the problem, impacting both consumers and market gardeners. It’s within this community of workers that Doctors of the World is implementing a pilot health and environment program.
“ Our technique is what gives us joy. Our technique is what makes us good.” Wrapped in the melodies of songs and prayers, amidst the lush fields lining the left bank of the Congo River, a group of market gardeners joyfully delve into their pockets, mimicking the art of sowing that promises bountiful harvests. Guided by Rose Bilonda, adorned in the attire of a proud indigenous facilitator, the gathering braves the rain to glean insights from a agriculature field school. This initiative, a facet of the Prosmace program aimed at fostering the well-being of market gardeners, consumers, and environmental preservation, is a collaborative effort between Doctors of the World and their partner, Caritas Développement Kinshasa, in the outskirts of the Congolese capital


New Techniques 

With nearly 18 million inhabitants, Kinshasa hosts a significant portion of the country’s population. To sustain this population, market gardening relies heavily on “vitamins,” concoctions bought from local markets containing ingredients prohibited for importation. “Marketable growers want to protect their crops from insects, rodents, and various diseases because they sustain them. But chemical pesticides leave residues that poison food and deplete the soil,” expresses Doctor Patrick Lusala, head of the Health and Environment program at Doctors of the World.

The vegetables harvested – amaranth, spinach, eggplant, okra, pepper, spring onions, etc. – are distributed to local markets, posing long-term health risks. In the short term, growers who lack protection are directly endangered by chemical treatments.

At the plot hosting the agricultural field school, yellowing leaves signal the need for soil enrichment. Rose Bilonda advises farmers, equipped with boots, gloves, masks, and goggles provided by the program, to fertilize with chicken droppings, a natural fertilizer. Following this, guidance on organic pesticides derived from garlic, tobacco, or ginger is provided. “Market growers who are indigenous facilitators receive training which they pass on to their peers,” explains Fabrice Malumba, project manager at Caritas. “We support more than 600 people through 14 associations to help them transform their practices.”

Fred Bizau is one of those who is already putting the teachings to good use. “You take a kilo of tobacco or pepper, crush it, and soak it in water. In just 12 hours, you have a solution that can be sprayed on your crops. My products are thriving, and I’m even yielding more. And I no longer poison the environment.” Bizau, also the president of the management committee of a small organic input shop adjacent to the fields, exemplifies one of the program’s objectives. Growers have access to various natural treatments at an affordable cost, right where they work.


Healthcare for Market Gardeners 



The Doctors of the World program is driven by a shared determination to overcome geographical barriers, particularly in enhancing healthcare facilities near market gardening areas. The APRM center, situated within the Masina rail agricultural site, has undergone extensive renovation. Joel Ngonso, the head nurse, expresses his satisfaction: “Doctors of the World expanded the center, bolstered its capacity, furnished the pharmacy and maternity ward, and provided protective gear and tetanus vaccines for market gardeners. None of this existed before. Today, we can welcome patients in optimal conditions.

Equipped with expertise in occupational diseases associated with market gardening, the medical teams can prevent and treat various common ailments – malaria, filariasis, snake bites, cuts, urogenital infections, rheumatism – as well as illnesses resulting from exposure to chemical pesticides without protection – respiratory and digestive issues, skin rashes, etc. “It’s also about dismantling economic barriers,” adds Patrick Lusala, “by offering preferential rates because market gardeners struggle to afford healthcare. Only 4% of them have access to medical services.” At the supported centers, market gardeners receive consultations at a mere 10% of the regular cost, along with free examinations and medications.

“The idea is to place market gardening groups at the forefront of every project initiative,” emphasizes Patrick Lusala.

They hope to amplify their voices alongside Doctors of the World, advocating for the improvement of the legal framework regarding chemical pesticide use and addressing another pressing issue: land pressure, which deprives them of arable land. Marthe Kasongo experienced this firsthand. When the land she rented was sold to a real estate developer, she lost most of her resources.

“I had flourishing crops. The machines obliterated everything. Now, I have to seek out small spaces from fellow market gardeners just to cultivate a bit. Previously, I could manage 30 to 50 flower beds. Now, I’m left with two or three,” she laments. Her aspiration is for greater stability to practice the principles of agroecology she’s learned, and to sow the seeds of a greener, healthier, and more sustainable future with tranquility.



Alexis Aubin