Innovative Urban Agriculture Provides Food for 5,000 Refugees, Goma, DR Congo

Jackson N. Sebigunda’s application to the International Sustainability Academy was impressive: At just 30 years old, he already had five years of experience in breeding climate-resistant and high-yielding crops in the Philippines and held a Ph.D. in plant breeding. When he returned to his hometown of Goma from the Philippines in 2020, he was unexpectedly struck by the severe food shortage and the heavy reliance on imported agricultural products from neighboring countries.

Convinced of Goma’s agricultural potential, he intensively sought ways to change the current situation. During his search, he came across the ISA program, applied, was accepted, and later set off again—this time to Hamburg. His goal: improve the supply of high-quality food products in urban areas, starting with Goma. He also aims to build a community for urban and sustainable agriculture in Goma that utilizes new climate-smart techniques. Students, researchers, and the local population should be empowered to produce their food. To increase the establishment of agricultural enterprises among the young residents of Goma, he plans to design a specialized training program and support them in setting up their agricultural businesses. The main topics of the program are greenhouse construction, aquaponics, and the operation of cooperative business models.

During his time at ISA in Hamburg, he worked day and night like few others and developed a comprehensive teaching manual for sustainable urban cultivation as well as a strategic business model for local farmers. His two-month internship at Vista, a subsidiary of BayWa in Munich, also significantly contributed to the project’s development.

Shortly before completing his time in Hamburg and facing a lack of funding, Jackson saw the implementation of his project in jeopardy. Just before his departure, Jackson managed to convince the executives of Vista and BayWa and thus secured the green light for the necessary initial budget. Unfortunately, the difficulties with the project’s implementation did not end there: Political instability in Kivu (the region where Goma is located) and administrative bottlenecks were mainly responsible for long delays. Many meetings with stakeholders and tough negotiations were necessary until Jackson’s persistent follow-ups, patience, and perseverance finally paid off.

With his initial budget, Jackson trained over 500 people in climate-smart agriculture, set up four training greenhouses for subsistence farming, and started 12 women-led urban farms. The project has since expanded to neighboring Rwanda, feeding up to 5,000 refugees in Goma, and has received follow-up funding from GIZ. You can find the current figures in Jackson’s project report.

Jackson also developed personally: The skills he acquired at ISA undoubtedly contributed to his promotion to Associate Professor and later to Dean of Research and Development at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences and Crop Production at the University of Goma.

To an equally successful future, Jackson, we are proud of you!