(The Sixth Annual Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo-2021 was held November 17-18 in Fort Lauderdale, Broward County, Fla. Part I concerned opportunities in international trade for African American farmers and their supporting institutions. Part II covers economic development and investment opportunities for African Americans in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.)
As the delegates from 60 nations convened in Fort Lauderdale/Broward County on November 17-18 for the 6th Annual Florida International Trade and Cultural Expo (FITCE-2021), a number of new ideas related to trade and business opportunities were presented as the two-day gathering ran its course. Concern for bringing the Black Belt farmer into international trade, women in business, sister city ties, and the sustainability of small businesses were topics of discussion also.
Included among the guests were the former presidents of Bolivia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Uruguay, and a long list of other top government officials and business leaders from around the world. Florida is the gateway to a large segment of the world. And Broward County has become one of the top business destinations in the world.
FITCE originated in Broward County in 2014 with current commissioner and former county mayor (2019-2020) Dale V. C. Holness. His idea, at first, was to “triangulate” Broward County with Central and South America and Africa with an eye towards establishing ongoing business and cultural ties among themselves. Now entering its seventh year, FITCE has thousands of participants around the world, with no territorial limitations envisioned for the future.
FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE
Holness emphasized agriculture as one the world’s most important industries and the importance of getting a fair share of it into the hands and pockets of Black farmers and small business owners.
“We know that there are major multinational corporations that control the agribusiness, particularly in the United States,” Holness said. “We can’t keep doing things the same old way and expect different results. And we must empower small, minority, and women-owned businesses to prosper. We cannot allow what comes close to a monopoly to control production, control the wealth, and the prosperity of the world. It’s not sustainable. And we will see greater issues in terms of hunger, famine, and even wars.”
The new focus on agriculture was natural for the Florida-based Holness. After tourism, agriculture is Florida’s largest industry. Over 70 percent of the nation’s citrus crops come from there. And in recent years, vegetable sales have surpassed the citrus industry in Florida. Also, Florida has been named America’s winter garden for its crops grown between November and April.
Another concern relates to the findings of University of Florida researchers who report that the world will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in the last 10,000 years, i.e., since the beginning of civilization.
The delegation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was the newest and the largest African group at FITCE 2021. Due to State Department restrictions, most other African nations were denied visas.
DeWayne Boyd and his wife, Leontine Mafuta-Boyd, a native of DRC, were the principal coordinators of the DRC delegation at FITCE-2021. She is also the founder-president of the women’s Agricultural cooperative COOPAGEL-DRC. Boyd is the vice-president.
It is routinely understood that the DRC is the world’s richest country in natural resources. Having an estimated $24 trillion worth of mineral resources, the DRC has about two-thirds of the coltan and over 60 percent of the cobalt deposits, both of which are critical to batteries for cell phones and electric vehicles.
The DRC’s vast amounts of diamonds and other precious stones are without equal. Oil, copper, tin, and gold are also found there in abundance.
Boyd was the facilitator in establishing a sister-city relationship between Tuskegee and the Congolese city of Mbuji-Mayi, the area with the world’s largest supply of industrial diamonds. He says he wants African American farmers and investors to gain a secure place in the international trade arena that FITCE provides. And he wants a greater role for HBCUs in the transfer of technology and skills for direct application in practice.
“Commissioner Holness has opened the door for the Black farmers to come in and participate,” he said. “I believe he has already spoken to Florida A & M in that regard. We’ve been working with Alcorn and Prairie View besides Tuskegee. It’s only natural to include our farmers who are suffering from years of discrimination in this country.”
A tireless advocate for Black farmers for over 40 years, “Dewey” Boyd is a native of Michigan who moved South and worked his own small farm in Starkville, Mississippi before going to work for Mississippi’s then-Agriculture Commissioner Jim “Buck” Ross. In the mid-1990’s, Boyd signed on as special projects staff assistant for Congressman John Conyers. His main task under Conyers was to develop international trade relations between African American and African farmers. He is currently the Minister of Agriculture of the State of the African Diaspora – 6th Region, an official body that functions as a part of the African Union.
The Congo is potentially the greatest food producer in the world, Boyd says. It will play a vital role in our future. The DRC has the world’s second largest rainforest after the Amazon, he said. It also has 80 million hectares of arable land, enough to feed 2 billion people year-round when under cultivation, without upsetting the environment.
Far from being completely dependent on outsiders coming to teach them the science of farming and agronomy, the DRC is home to the Yangambi Research Station, located in the heart of the Congo Basin. Established by the Belgians in the 1930s, it was at one time reputed to be the world’s premier agricultural research center. Tuskegee professor Dr. Ntam Bharanyi is Congolese and got his start there, Boyd said. Bharanyi works closely with Tuskegee’s Dean of Agriculture, Dr. Walter Hill, and will play an important role in the knowledge exchange between Tuskegee and her sister-city Mbuji-Mayi.
“I will use my position of Minister of Agriculture to bring attention to the enormous plight of people of African descent throughout the diaspora,” Boyd said.
“It’s ironic,” he said, “that the United States Department of Agriculture, which has been our nemesis as Black farmers in this country, was founded by Abraham Lincoln – the man who so-called freed the slaves. And USDA has been the most discriminatory agency towards our people and a barrier to our economic development in agribusiness. And as we all know, agribusiness has been the number one business in the United States and the number one industry in the world, towering at over a trillion dollars a year. I don’t know exactly how many trillions agribusiness is worth on the global scale, but now we’re going to take our rightful place as leaders in that regard. We intend to make Congo the breadbasket of not only of Africa, but of the world.”
One of the most impressive developments in the DRC’s large-scale agricultural production was the Bukanga-Lonzo Agro-Industrial Park, launched in 2014. It was the first of a projected 22 such agro-industrial parks of about 80,000 hectares (a little less than 200,000 acres) each.
When DeWayne Boyd first visited the Bukanga-Lonzo site, he was awestruck and was convinced that he had just witnessed the future – and the hope – of world agriculture.
“It is so awesome,” he says. “I have nothing but praise for the brains and the intelligence that developed the concept.”
Dr. Annie Kinwa-Muzinga, professor of Agribusiness at Morningside University, in Sioux City, Iowa; and Dr. John Ulimwengu, a former adviser to former Prime Minister Matata Ponyo Mapon, were the brains behind Bukanga-Lonzo. Ulimwengu, an agricultural economist, works today as a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. Their talks provided the groundwork for the agro-industrial park system that was adopted by the DRC government.
“We talked with a lot of friends,” said Kinwa-Muzinga. “John was the adviser to the Prime Minister at that time, and we would go over the ideas each time we met.”
The plan they agreed on would go far beyond the construction of Bukanga-Lonzo as a pilot project. They understood there would eventually be 22 of the agro-industrial parks.
“Bukanga-Lonzo would be for one part of the Congo,” the professor said. “But we wanted to have the same pilot project in the center, in the north, and in the south of Congo. That was the idea.”
Somewhere along the way, things began to go wrong, and the pilot project was brought to an end in 2017. Some critics of the project referred to Bukanga-Lonzo as “a debacle.” The private South African company involved with the development, Africom Commodities, sued the government for not paying its bills. The DRC, however, blamed the failure of the project on Africom Commodities.
Both Dr. Kinwa-Muzinga and Ulimwengu both reject the stigma of failure so readily pinned on what seemed a good model for Africa’s future.
“No, it was not a failure,” she said. “The picture was so big, but the management was not right. It’s just that people want to create issues that Congolese or Africans do not know how to create and manage major projects. The project is good. If I had million dollars. If I were a Bill Gates, I would put money in that Bukanga-Lonzo. And not only in that Bukanga-Lonzo, I would have four of them in Congo.”
Ulimwengu, who frequently writes for publication, also defends the project against its detractors.
“Bukanga-Lonzo was designed as a starting point for a sustainable and resilient food system, not as an overnight-microwave-fixer of short-term food problems in DRC,” he writes in the August 22, 2018 edition of DevEx, the online nonprofit newsletter.
“To fully understand the scope and vision of the project, think of it as a city to be built around agricultural production and processing.”
Ulimwengu points out that the Bukanga-Lonzo site is eight times the size of the city of Paris, and it should have been allowed at least three years to develop its infrastructure. Comparing Bukanga-Lonzo to other special economic zones, he said that China’s Shenzhen City took 10 years to develop. Bukanga-Lonzo is 1.6 times the size of Shenzhen, he says, but it was forced to suspend its operations after only three years.
Based on his analysis, the Bukanga-Lonzo project should be reviewed and re-opened in a timely manner.