Memo on Lake Albert cross-border development 2013-2015

Below an overview and some background information on the activities undertaken in cross-border development in the Lake Albert region,- being the area of eastern Ituri Province, DRC, and West Nile region, Uganda- undertaken from 2013 to early 2016, supported by Netherlands development funds and private initiative. 

Chronological overview

- In 2013 the Dutch organisation Ecopolis Europa supported the formulation of a PSI+ investment project in maize production and transformation in Nioka, Mahagi Territory, DRC, to be implemented by Congolese and European private investors. Several missions and discussions were undertaken, but eventually this initiative did not lead to a PSI+ funding request as the investors faced too many uncertainties about the sustainability of an agro-investment activity in a post conflict reconstruction area with an underdeveloped socio-political and institutional environment.
- Subsequently, late 2013, this question arisen about the required conditions for sustainable agro-development in Ituri, a two-week workshop informing into this matter was prepared, together with the University of Lake Albert (UNILAC). This workshop, called “Food Security and Post-Conflict Reconstruction Management”, implemented in September 2014 and financed by Nuffic’s NFP TMT facility, gathered representatives of a broad range of regional social stakeholders. Conclusions of this workshop were that sustainable, agro-development could best be realized if: (a) it would be undertaken by substantia foreign investment willing to develop inclusive valorisation of existing agro-concessions; (b) effective policy advocacy would be developed to national and provincial government (c) adequate and dedicated regional capacity building -including in education- would be developed, (c) adequate capacities for structural impact measurement would be developed and (d) a cross-border perspective would be adopted, given the region’s interwoven social and economic relations with the Ugandan West Nile region.
- Late 2014 a training in and pilot implementation of design, preparation and implementation of international-standard Food and Nutritional Security Baselines was conducted by Van Hall Larenstein and UNILAC, effectively enhancing the competences in this matter of a key group of regional professionals.
- Following up the required quest for suitable foreign investors, in January and March 2015, two missions of invited Dutch agro-entrepreneurs/investors  were conducted in Ituri, one in the field of coffee (January) and one in the field of moderate zone agriculture (potatoes, wheat, etc.). Both missions reported exceptional results in feasibility and technical profitability of investment. In the end it was decided give priority to proceed with investment preparation of potato based investments in inclusive agro-development on the existing concessions. On the one hand because of the relatively high socio-political profile of the regional cross-border coffee business, on the other hand because of the higher potential profitability of potato-based investments and the linkages already developed with interested relevant Dutch institutions like the AgroFood Cluster Emmeloord, Flevoland Province and a Flevoland-based organisation of international agro-entrepreneurs.
- As for policy advocacy, late March 2015 and facilitated by the Netherlands Embassy in Kinshasa, several meetings were held with representatives of national ministries in Kinshasa and other relevant authorities like the governor of Province Orientale. The subject of discussion was: “Would a progressively growing group of large-scale, inclusively operating group of agro-investments in Ituri region be eligible for the same new legal, institutional and fiscal facilities as the agro-investors currently operating in the agro-industrial park of Bukanga-Lonzo? (Following new DRC policy of agro-industrial development)”. In all cases the response was affirmative. Most parties considered it as a big plus if these investments would be accompanied by a build-up of relations with the Netherlands agro-cluster including agro-research, agribusiness, agro-regulating institutions and agro-education. Notably with the national minister of Education and Scientific Research is was agreed hat specific plans were to be developed to initiate private investments on the lands of the DRC national agricultural research organisation (INERA) in development of innovative agro-technology as a catalyst for regional agro-development.
- Meanwhile, following the September 2014 workshop’s recommendation to develop the cross-border perspective, a substantial network of relevant institutions in the Ugandan West-Nile region had been created. It turned out that the institution with the highest independent authority on regional development matters and the highest acceptability amongst other regional stakeholders to take initiative and initiate new collaboration, was –like in Ituri- an academic one: the new public Muni University in Arua. This led, in April2015, to the establishment of the Lake Albert Foundation as agent of cross-border development, collaboration and knowledge building, having on its board the rector of Lake Albert University, Mahagi, and the vice-chancellor Of Muni University, Arua. To avoid national DRC or Ugandan partisan issues as well as to foster linkages and trust with Dutch/European enterprises and academia, the formal seat of the foundation was chosen in The Netherlands, with a Dutch board chairperson.
- The Foundation initiated several meetings and exchanges between Ituri and West-Nile development actors and instructed its managing consultant, Ecopolis Europa, to develop a pipeline of cross-border development oriented capacity building activities (regional cross-border analysis & planning, cross-border agro-education and investment development), including concomitant funding. To that effect, in august 2015, a two-week workshop “Inclusive Agro-industrial Development” was held in Mahagi, DRC, involving DRC and Uganda participants and again financed by Nuffic TMT and recommended by the Netherlands Embassy in Kinshasa. Recommendations of this workshop, attended by local authorities, entrepreneurs, NGOs, local chiefs, CDOs and churches, comprised: (a) to valorise the established goodwill with government, private sector, foreign investors and local stakeholders by establishment on the short term –preferably early 2016- a pilot investment in potato based farming in Nioka;  (b) secure the cross-border focus of the enterprise; (c) secure linkages of the enterprise with Lake Albert Region educational institutes so it can act as a learning farm; (d) explore accompanying measures for the strengthening of subsistence agriculture of surrounding farmers that will not immediately profit from the commercial potato enterprise.
- Based on the recommendations of the August 2015 workshop, Lake Albert Foundation proceeded to establish a private investment company, Lake Albert Investment (LAI), incorporated under Dutch law and in which the Foundation holds a controlling minority share. Because national and international agro-investors will still be hesitating to invest in a pilot enterprise pending final regulatory and fiscal arrangements with government and landowners (including INERA), this investment company will act as ‘first mover’ to prepare the ground and attract other investments. Incorporation under Dutch law again facilitates collaboration with future Dutch/European investors and financers, as enforcement of contracts and securities can be dealt with before Dutch court.
- Following the August 2015 workshops’ recommendation on measures for strengthening subsistence agriculture, Lake Albert Foundation ordered the implementation of a grass-roots pre-study (September-December 2015) and a two-week workshop “Food Security and Cross-Border development at Grass Roots” (December 2015) in Koboko District, Uganda, financed by the Nuffic RC facility. The workshop, implemented in collaboration with Muni University and Van hall Larenstein, explored -in a setting comparable to the Nioka area- the potentials of involving local government and NGOs in the participatory analysis of the real needs of subsistence farming in rural communities, to plan remedial development actions and to co-ordinate planning and implementation amongst the relevant organisations intervening in rural development. The results of this pre-study and workshop have been presented and discussed at Muni University in Uganda and UNILAC in DRC. A formal report of the study and workshop is forthcoming.
- In December 2015, Lake Albert Investment reached in the Netherlands with the award-winning enterprise Solynta agreement on the development of a joint breeding and farming practices development programme of seed-based hybrid potatoes. Initial trials have now been started at the new Hybrid Potato R&D Farm at Himba/Nioka, in collaboration with the DRC national agricultural research organisation INERA. This Nioka R&D farm constitutes the world’s first hybrid potato testing and development facility outside The Netherlands and its potential impact on regional  food security and potato production can hardly be overstated. After successful conclusion of agreements with DRC national government and INERA early 2016, this farm will grow from to 200 ha in 2018 and to some 4000 ha in 2020-2022, progressively pulling in international and national agro-investors and finance and initiating new potato based development, trade and education in Ituri, West Nile and beyond.