“The agriculture sector and its products are the backbone of the modern economies in the world,” says Dr. Bilungi Alain Useni from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Useni is the first Congolese to receive a Ph.D. at the Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of AgriSciences and wants to use his qualifications and expertise to empower the African agriculture sector.
“I am very passionate about agriculture in the African continent,” he says. He says the continent shows potential to be a food basket, but the use of smallholder agriculture with poor production outputs is still the predominant form of farm organisation.
FINDINGS OF RESEARCH
Useni says the importance of energy supplementation for milk production and the fertility of dairy cows formed the basis of his PhD research. Today, the fertility of dairy cows shows a decline worldwide, negatively affecting the lifetime production and profits of dairy farmers.
The results of his research show that different energy sources positively affect the fertility and milk production of dairy cows.
“These obvious biological improvements to dairy farmers results in the decrease in fertility-related culling and replacement of cows in the herd on one hand, and the increase in herd size, cow longevity, lifetime milk yield and financial return on the other hand,” he says.
PASSION FOR AGRICULTURE
The 34-year-old, who has acquired extensive experience at various institutions since 2001, says his passion for agriculture started in a community where agriculture, although at a small scale, is practiced in every household.
“Reading about the potential of the agriculture sector in Africa and realising that there was an untapped niche in the area, I decided to pursue it,” he adds.
POTENTIAL FOR AGRICULTURE
“The importance of agriculture is to provide food safety and security while anaging agricultural welfare and environmental concerns,” says Useni. He adds that agriculture provides employment and income to agricultural producers. Moreover, it contributes to the socio-economic development of communities.
He says the sub-Saharan African region has potential for agricultural production due to fertile lands, abundant water, tolerable temperatures and good rainfall patterns. “However, most African agricultural products are produced by smallholders located in rural areas and faced with much vulnerability, affecting negatively their production outputs,” he says.
ISSUES OF SMALLHOLDER FARMERS
Like most people involved in the agricultural sector, Useni is familiar with the issues faced by smallholder farmers, which have a negative effect on production outputs.
Useni highlights some of these issues, which should be addressed at all stages and levels by entrepreneurs, governments and the communities:
• Poor governmental policies and attitude to agriculture;
• Poor governmental and non-governmental services and supports;
• Poor infrastructure for transport and poor market structure for producers;
• Poor infrastructure and equipment for farming, processing and storage;
• Inadequate and poor supply of premix and feed additives, vaccines and medication, as well as seed and fertilisers.
He says solving these problems will guarantee improved food security, health and economy for the African continent.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
According to Useni, there is not enough focus on agriculture in African countries. “Agricultural production in many African countries doesn’t meet the food safety and security demands of their fast-growing populations, with the shortage being met by imports,” he says.
In the future Useni would like to see changes in government policies and programmes that will increase the capacity of small farmers to boost productivity and enter dynamic sectors for African and international markets.
“I would like to work in the Southern African agricultural industry as an agricultural professional and farm (particular in the DRC) to help find solutions for other farmers,” he says. “Agriculture is still relevant today to uplift African communities and therefore is a key to the future development of the continent.”