Practice and Biodiversity of Informal Ornamental Horticulture in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo

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Practice and Biodiversity of Informal Ornamental Horticulture in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo


4.1. Contrasting Characteristics of Informal Horticultural Sites in Kinshasa: The Need for Horticulturists to Be Supervised

Five groups of informal horticultural sites (IHSs) are distinguished according to their socio-professional profile. This classification reflects the physical reality of the workers in the different IHSs. Indeed, while some IHS sites, such as site 7 (1st street Saint Raphaël) in Group I, have few young or old workers, others, such as site 5 (Avenue of Clinic) in Group V, have an impressive number of workers. Such variation in IHS composition can be explained by their location in the city, not only in terms of the availability of production space but also the existence of potential demand in the surrounding area (Figure 6).
Furthermore, Kinshasa’s IHSs employ a large number of people (a total workforce of 178 for 15 sites) compared with other cities where the same activity is developing, such as the cities of Atakpamé, Lomé, and Kpalimé in Togo, which in 2013 had a total of 179 workers for 55 sites [24]. This can be explained by the fact that Kinshasa is a more populous city with a high unemployment rate [41]. What is more, just as in these same Togolese cities, IHSs in Kinshasa employ mostly young people between the ages of 19 and 45, thus confirming our related hypothesis. However, Kinshasa’s IHSs include all levels of education, but both employers and employees are, for the most part, improvised in the trade. The same observation has been made in cities in developed countries such as Quebec, in a report by the Institut québécois des ressources humaines en horticulture [25], which recommends the organization of training courses in horticulture and landscaping.
The activity of informal ornamental horticulture thus appears as a convincing example of the famous “débrouillardisme” or “mayele” (in Lingala, one of the vernacular languages) developed in Kinshasa to curb the poignant crises of unemployment and poverty [15]. It is, therefore, also, as the people of Kinshasa put it, an implementation of Article 15, a fictitious article of the Constitution that might stipulate: “débrouillez-vous pour vivre” [30].
We also note that, unlike other African cities such as Togo [13], ornamental horticulture is exclusively a male activity in Kinshasa. Indeed, although it can bring in income, ornamental horticulture is not directly linked to the daily life of the Kinshasa woman. Instead, she is preoccupied with and attracted to activities directly linked to the socio-economic life of the household, such as market gardening for vegetables, petty trading for basic necessities, and so on.
Seven out of the twelve production condition parameters showed significant differences between the different IHS groups (Table 2). Our hypothesis about the similarity of production conditions between the IHS sites is, therefore, partially invalidated. The production area of most sites is often located on the edge of busy thoroughfares and in front of a public structure (ministry, directorate, traffic circle, and other administrative services) or private structure (school, hotel, shop, and residence). Consequently, contracts for the acquisition of these spaces are either tacit, based on oral or de facto authorization from the corresponding public or private authority, or formal, based on an occupancy-authorization document. Whatever the case, the mode of acquisition of production space remains precarious and maintains a permanent insecurity of land tenure in the activity, as also reported in Togo [13]. As some of the producers interviewed explained, they work under the constant threat of being evicted at any time by the owners of the public or private space they occupy. It was these repeated threats that prompted the growers on site 5 (Avenue of Clinic in the commune of Gombe) to organize themselves into an association and hire a lawyer to defend them.
In addition, we note that seeds and seedlings are obtained in a variety of ways (occasional purchase, collection, and multiplication) (Table 2). This allows the necessary dissemination of ornamental plant genetic resources. Nevertheless, in view of the risks of invasion strongly correlated with ornamental horticulture [23,42,43,44], the circulation of these plant genetic resources must not be prohibited but secured by alerts on potentially invasive species. A prime example, well known to the Congolese as “Congo ya sika”, is the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes (Martus) Solms In A. DC.). This species, originally from Brazil, was introduced into the Congo shortly before independence to decorate water features, from where it escaped to invade the Congo River [45]. There is, therefore, a need to provide support to growers, who to date have received no assistance whatsoever, probably due to their informal status. This support can include technical assistance on the proper use of phytosanitary products or alternative products to protect the urban environment and workers’ health.
The latter are exposed to health risks as a result of coming into contact with a wide range of plant and chemical substances [46].
Variations in seedling conditioning methods (Table 2) can be explained via the associated investment costs. Packaging seedlings in concrete or hard plastic pots requires considerable investment. Plants packaged in this way are expensive and, therefore, difficult to sell on the market. As a result, some growers choose to produce certain types of packaging only to order. The range of packaging methods for registered seedlings is limited and excludes an important local market.

These include, for example, the market for wreaths for the several funeral ceremonies or matanga (in Lingala) and the market for bouquets of flowers for the several wedding ceremonies or libala (in Lingala) held in Kinshasa. These markets are currently being flooded by the plastics industry, and so appear to be a loss of earnings for producers, given a large number of matanga and libala events held in the city.

We noted a total number of 139 ornamental species produced in the 15 IHSs we visited. This number is still comparable to, but higher than, that recorded in the city of Dakar, i.e., 109 species in 59 stations [8], but by far low compared with the number of over 600 ornamental species reported by Radji et al. [47] in the cities of Lomé, Atakpamé, and Kpalimé in Togo. There are two main reasons for this difference. The first relates to the definition of the ornamental species under consideration. Radji et al. [47] considered a very broad definition of ornamental species, including known species cultivated primarily for their edibility but often found in private or public gardens, such as mangifera indica L. Nevertheless, as Allain [33] points out, the definition of a plant’s ornamental status remains relative and variable in time and space, depending on changing needs and uses. The second reason relates to the inventory approach employed. Our inventory was limited to horticultural sites, whereas Radji et al. [47] extended it to parks and gardens. We note, however, that Kinshasa’s IHSs maintain a sizeable market in phytobiodiversity. As reported elsewhere, such as in the cities of Togo [24], most of these species are exotic. Clearly, a major effort still needs to be made by all stakeholders to promote indigenous species.
Concerning the result on species’ life forms, we noted the dominance of phanerophytes. The dominance of phanerophytes is reported in urban environments [8,48,49,50]. Phanerophytes are in high demand in cities, as they adapt better to the rather harsh climatic and edaphic conditions of the city [51]. What is more, because of their size, they are able to provide shade in all seasons, a very important service in urban environments [52].
Furthermore, the presence of a significant number (33 species) of potentially invasive species confirms the Hu et al. [53] observation that ornamental horticulture is a major vector of invasive plants. This underlines the importance of controlling the circulation of plant species through the informal horticultural sites studied. These sites contribute to the reproduction/multiplication of species that are important from the point of view of biodiversity conservation. They are home to a significant number of moderately to highly threatened species.

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