Managing natural resources in Burundi
Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries and has struggled to emerge from decades of civil war. While an estimated 90 per cent of the population depend on agriculture and livestock for a living, limited access to affordable seeds, fertilisers and modern equipment pose a significant threat to food security and economic stability.
In February 2011, the Spanish Red Cross and Burundi Red Cross launched an EU-financed project in the Makamba province to help the Makamba and Mabanda communities strengthen their food security.
Enabling people to be active agents in their own development has been a crucial aspect of the project. With strong local support, farmers have been organised into three cooperatives: Vyukakare, Tugarukirimyonga and Tuwurime. Every member participates in the decision-making process for investments and shares in the distribution of benefits.
A primary focus has been to increase the effectiveness of how natural resources are managed. This was achieved through the adaptation of the Musombwa-Mugonera marsh, including the rehabilitation of a dam which has enabled the irrigation of crops. More than 2,371 farmers have benefited directly from these developments.
The introduction of new agricultural practices, demonstrated initially on model plots before being rolled out farther, has made the land increasingly profitable. Farmers are increasingly taking the leap to apply more intensive rice production methods.
To ensure the sustainability of the rice farming, the project paid attention to enabling farmers’ long-term access to seed and fertilisers. To this end, the Vyukakare cooperative has set up a rotating seed and fertiliser fund with a success rate on the return of more than 75 per cent.
One local producer involved in the project is Agathe Ndereyimana, a 49-year-old mother of 9 who is solely responsible for providing for her family since her husband was injured in a serious accident. Ms Ndereyimana explained, “the Burundi Red Cross are always by our sides to advise us.” The collaboration has been fruitful, she continues: “I am proud of what I have produced, the sale of which has financed all my vital needs and reimbursed my investments, for example in the seeds. My children have enough to eat, they go to school, they don’t have any more health issues and even if they did, today I could pay the costs that would entail.”
In addition to strengthening food security, this project has supported the farmers to become more competitive economic players at the local level. Elysée Minani, a 38-year-old farmer and father, explains that previously, “the crops we used to sow could not last. Since we could not store them, we had no choice but to consume them directly or to sell them very cheaply”. This meant that households could spend months with insufficient food, until the uncertain harvest of the following season. Thanks to the new storage facility, farmers can now store their produce until the market offers them higher prices. By 2016, 26,253 kilograms of paddy rice were being stored, in addition to more than 2,300 kilograms of beans, 1,499 kilograms of maize, and 424 kilograms of soya beans. More than 80 members of the cooperatives have been further trained to develop marketing strategies, from determining the best sales periods and establishing their own prices to identifying potential customers.
Farmers have also gained access to the market through the ability to transform their produce into more products. They have been trained with a rice peeler, and maize and cassava can nowadays be made into flour thanks to a newly acquired mill.
The development of these cooperatives has led to a better quality of life for their members. The resulting capacity to invest in new cattle has provided milk, as well as fertilisers for farming. On the fragile slopes where farming has been affected by deforestation, more than 5 million plants have been distributed to help recover the soil and forest, especially helping to tackle malnutrition in the hills. To reinforce these improvements, more than 500 producers have been trained in culinary techniques that help preserve nutrients while ensuring balanced meals.
As a result of this project, farmers have started to make better use of natural resources and their produce. This helps the Makamba and Mabanda communities to make a living for themselves and for future generations. With local cooperatives becoming empowered to take over the key tasks, the involvement from the Spanish Red Cross ended in December 2015.
The project received funding from the European Commission Directorate General for Development and Cooperation, which is responsible for designing European international cooperation and development policy and delivering aid worldwide.