16 August, 2015
Aid workers are urging people in the Democratic Republic of Congo to consider using animal-powered vehicles to transport goods and people. Animal traction, as it is called, is not a tradition in the DRC. But United Nations officials say animal traction could be especially useful in areas where roads are bad.
The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization recently sent a film crew to Mbankana, where there is a school specializing in animal traction. The organization then sent the film to North Kivu Province, in eastern Congo. The U.N. agency is publicizing the use of animal-powered carts there because so many roads are in disrepair.
Michel Nduako is head trainer at the school at Mbankana.
He says, "We, the older generation, are soon going to depart, and we must pass our knowledge. It's useful knowledge in rural areas. Instead of women carrying heavy loads, they can tie the bullocks to the vehicle. And instead of men working with simple tools, they can use draught animals to cut the ground."
On a recent day, students from Kinshasa's main state university have come to see the training. Mr. Nduako takes them to meet two bulls.
Both animals are bullocks – animals without their reproductive organs. Michel Nduako says experts normally suggest bullocks for animal traction. But he notes that bulls, cows, horses and mules also are sometimes used.
The animals answer to human commands. They are taught by pulling ropes that connect to rings in their noses.
"Here the animals are trained in French," he says. "When you saw ‘left,' you pull to the left...'right,' you pull to the right, forwards, backwards and stop."
The bulls wear a wooden block that makes them move together as a team. But the animals can still hurt people with their sharp horns.
Mbankana is not a rural village. It is on the main road, about 100 kilometers from Kinshasa. Local farmers mainly use tractors to prepare fields for planting. Bullocks cannot really compete here against modern equipment. It costs about the same to get a tractor and driver as it does for two bullocks and their guide to prepare one hectare of farmland.
Teacher Dieudonne Tchani says bullocks are used for carrying goods from outlying areas to Mbankana.
He says those villages are far away, and cars and trucks rarely go there. But with animal traction, the villagers can bring their crops to the main road.
On a recent visit to an outlying village, there was one broken cart along the side of the road, and another cart in the village. A local taxi driver said the vehicles had been very useful, but by 2013 they had fallen into disrepair, and no one knows how to fix them. Another problem, he said, was that the bullocks were not strong enough.
Taxi driver Jean Bosco Mbama says "aid agencies provided money for the animals. The money was supposed to be spent on bullocks worth $800. But in fact, they bought animals worth $400 or $500 and kept the rest of the money."
An FAO spokesman says his agency was not involved in animal traction projects in the area. In North Kivu, he says, the FAO has trained former fighters in animal traction, and its experts have provided 20 of the suggested bullocks.
The South Korean government provided money for the project. The work has now ended, but the UN agency hopes to expand it.
Nick Long reported on this story from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. George Grow adapted this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor
Words in This Story
traction – n. the power that is used to pull something
cart(s) – n. a two-wheeled vehicle
bullock(s) – n. a farm animal that had part of its sex organs removed
ring(s) – n. an object shaped like a circle that is often used to holding, connecting, hanging or pulling something
tractor(s) – n. a large vehicle that is used to pull farm equipment