Malnutrition in Congo: what can be done?

5 ideas for the planet to put on the ground now: Polimi's "I-FERME" project combats food poverty where energy and infrastructure are lacking

Every year, Politecnico di Milano selects five research projects with a high social impact and, with the financial contribution of people who choose to allocate their 5x1000 Irpef donations to the University, supports them during the implementation of concrete and incisive 'pilot experiences':

In 2022, for instance, we dealt with 'Local Development and Ecological Transition'. The five selected research groups have until the end of 2024 to concretise their ideas, which are usually short-term realisable projects, though aiming to be replicable and have a long-term effect.

Five projects: one to be developed in Milan, three in Africa and one in Brazil. Their common goal is to green our planet starting with very specific contexts: turning waste into fuel without cutting down trees; tackling climate change in cities; a project for a super-efficient farm that makes the best use of the land’s assets; techniques to breathe new life into a valley in Algeria by combining ancient knowledge and state-of-the-art technology; and cutting-edge orthopaedic solutions to improve health in Lombardy while saving money and respecting the environment.

They are:


In this research project, Politecnico’s researchers are tackling problems related to food poverty. The case study examines Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a city of 13 million inhabitants where the poorest sections of the population cannot afford to eat meat and suffer from advanced malnutrition. As early as the 1980s, the Catholic University of Congo (UCC) established a farm in the village of Mpangala, about 40 km from Kinshasa. This farm covers more than 400 hectares and is a multifunctional farm, i.e., it is used for food production as well as training and research activities by the UCC Department of Economics and Development. To date, the farm lacks connection to the national electricity grid, has no cold storage rooms and accessing it is difficult due to the collapse of some of the bridges connecting it to Kinshasa. The I-FERME project aims to improve Mpangala’s access road infrastructure (bridges) and upgrade the support infrastructure for food processing and storage, so that the existing farm can be fully utilised.

The Politecnico’s team is working on three fronts: the first was the electrification of the farm through the design of electricity grids based on photovoltaic panels and batteries; this was followed by the design of road infrastructures (bridges/viaducts), with low cost and environmental impact, to maximise the use of local resources; and the third is design and implementation of intelligent cold rooms for food preservation. Achieving the set objectives will make it possible to improve food production as well as to store food properly and transport it to neighbouring cities (first and foremost, Kinshasa). The end result will be the availability, even to the poorest urban population, of products at affordable prices, which will help tackle the problem of malnutrition and hunger.

With a view to prototyping and extendability to similar contexts, the researchers have developed simplified tools, such as open-access software, abacuses and tables, that are accessible and easy to use and that will also enable the students of the partner Catholic University of Congo and the local population to acquire specific basic knowledge that can be used and exported to other contexts. In particular, at this stage the team is working on the construction of a specific MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) dedicated to the simplified tools developed during the project.