The hills of Burundi. Notice that there is no bench terracing and that the fields are orientated up and down the hills with no erosion control measures. Photo by Wageningen University and Research.

Agriculture in Burundi is poorly developed. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is slightly larger than Rwanda with slightly less people (11,844,520) and one of the highest fertility rates in the world (5.93 children per woman of child bearing age). It is south of Rwanda and therefore further from the equator. This leads to less rainfall and more frequently droughts. Fifty percent of Burundians are food insecure and the country often depends upon food imports from the World Food Program.

There are few agricultural improvements in Burundi. The only bench terraces I have seen in Burundi are at Burasira Seminary and they were not being used. People cultivate up the steep hills rather than across them. Erosion including deep gullies is obvious on the steep slopes. In many places the fertility of the soil is obviously low from constant cultivation. I have not seen the climbing beans so common now in Rwanda being cultivated in Burundi.

The positive aspect of this is that there are many possibilities for improvements.

This is a picture of a goat project where women are given goats. Photo by Kopling International.

I have been tangentially involved with two positive programs in Burundi. As part of a peacemaking program with the Mutaho Women’s Group, Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities in Burundi gave one pregnant female goat to two women, one Tutsi who lived in the internally displaced camp, and one Hutu, who lived in the countryside. First the two women had to decide who would take care of the goat until the kid was born. As time went on the woman without the goat would visit the woman with the goat to see how the pregnancy was developing. This therefore made solid connections between the two women from the two ethnicities. When the new kid was born, the women rejoiced together. The woman without the goat would continue to visit to see how her kid was growing. When the kid would be weaned it would be given to the second women. Then the next generation of kids would be allocated to other women increasing the number of women with goats.

It was only later that I realized there was another aspect to this program. The women of the Mutaho Women’s Group cultivated beans together. When Pastor Sarah, the leader of the group, showed me the field, she commented that about half the field had goats’ manure and the other half did not. I could clearly see the difference as the section with manure would produce two or three times the yield of the other section.

Farmers harvesting the rice from their rented plot on the Gihanga Rice Scheme. Photo by mobyhill.

In 2002, when I was visiting Burundi, I met with fifteen women from the Buterere Friends Church, a short way north of Bujumbura. This group of women was pleased because they had rented a paddy plot in the Gihanga Rice Scheme on the plains nearby, cultivated it together, and earned enough, as they told me, to pay for their children’s school fees and other needs. I just asked Parfaite Ntahuba, the leader of the Friends Women’s Association, if this group was still doing this activity and with some phone calls she indicated that they were.

This Gihanga Rice Scheme had been started by the Chinese in the 1960s. It was a large scheme but local people rented a small plot to cultivate themselves as the scheme supplied the water and the rice mill for milling after the harvest. This is totally the opposite approach that Dominion Farms took in Kenya where they used big tractors and even an airplane to cultivate their rice scheme. As I have previously mentioned, the Kenyan large scale commercial venture failed. But the Burundi system has lasted over fifty years, so it can be considered highly successful. The Chinese are now working with the rice scheme on higher yielding rice varieties. Improvements therefore continue.

The political situation in Burundi needs to stabilize so that the government can focus on activities that enhance the agricultural capabilities of the farmers. If this were done properly, except, perhaps, in years of severe drought, I am certain that Burundi could wean itself off of emergency food assistance.


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David Zarembka

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