The history of the village of Lusanga is closely linked to the exploitation of palm oil which reached its peak in the middle of the last century.
While it is the basis of the traditional diet of the Congolese people, this oil became a key export product following the arrival of the soap factory Lever in Africa.
This company, which later became the huge multinational Unilever, which we know today as the owner of an extraordinary number of brands that we buy every day in our supermarkets, obtained large concessions in the country during 1911.
Lusanga will quickly become one of the main centers of palm oil production following the installation of a large factory of the company Lever.
So much so that the village was renamed Leverville! The company was accustomed to this practice even in England because it had built a complete city near Liverpool to house its workers and called it Port Sunlight, named after its fetish product, Sunlight Soap.
While the companies undoubtedly brought about a modernization of the regions where they operated through the creation of hospitals, clinics, factories to manufacture spare parts for the factories, the Congolese population was far from benefiting from such a practice.
The conditions of recruitment of workers, and fruit cutters in particular, were particularly despicable - recruiters of oil companies moved young men more than 150km from their homes, promising compensation to local chiefs.
Numerous constraints were imposed on the workers, who in particular saw their "contract" tacitly renewed without their consent being required. The workers were assigned tasks far removed from their initial function, such as carrying or building roads.
Thus the member of a commission on conditions of work in the region declared in 1932 to the Minister of Colonies "There are in certain regions a system of organization of work which some call disguised slavery and which I shall confine myself to Calling the serfdom of people capable of being cut at the mercy. "
In any case, exports of palm oil continued to rise to their peak in 1965 before beginning a long and inexorable decline.
The political upheaval and bad management of the Zairian state after the decolonization and the decline of the natural palm plantations which, overexploited, could not be renewed at a sufficient rate, lead to the total disappearance of the exports in 2006.
The abandoned Lusanga plant
Today, palm oil is still produced on an artisanal scale, and it provides income to the villagers who sell it in the cities. The manufacturing process is essentially artisanal, and palm oil remains a major element of Congo's diet which, combined with cassava flour, provides many calories.
Small local producers of soap or margarine are also asking for palm oil. Average annual consumption is estimated at 3kg per capita, while needs are only increasing and it is therefore important to support artisanal production by supplying mechanical presses.
What about the future? Large-scale production recovery projects have been developed, but they face many problems. The use of palm oil to produce biofuels was discussed, but the usefulness of these biofuels is now being questioned.
In Europe, the use of palm oil in the diet is demonized, it is accused of many ailments because it contains too many saturated acids harmful to health. The manufacturer of Nutella spreads, among other things, went on with a campaign to denigrate his product and moved to using sustainable palm oil.
However, replacing palm oil with another ingredient would require treatment of these oils to give them the same properties, which would not only increase the cost of the product but would not be better for health.
In conclusion, it can be said that artisanal exploitation intended for the internal market will remain predominant in the short and medium term, therefore palm oil is essential in the diet.
Today, Famille Debout (eng. Family Stand Up!) is responsible for the supply of small mechanized presses and will continue to empower the village and its people by providing them education and work through different programs.