A warrior, a farmer
EU and FAO help Burundi Batwa minority reintegrate
Gashikanwa, Burundi – Until he was 25, Salvator Barusumye used to hunt. Mostly small animals and fowl, such as rabbits or partridges. Sometimes, the prey was bigger, an antelope for instance. A group of fifteen men, carrying spears and clubs, would chase it down with dogs and surround it. Only the bravest men would then get as close as they could, one right in front of the animal to provoke it and two on each side of its head, waiting for the antelope to leap and hurl their spears. ‘You need to be a warrior to hunt,’ says Salvator.
Now, these are long gone memories. Salvator is 53. The forests, once covering the hills around his village, Gashikanwa, in northern Burundi, have disappeared. The animals have gone with them. Hunting, the livelihood of his forebears, Burundi’s minority Batwa people, barely survives as a ritual in their traditional dances.
“I think Batwa are really representative of what a lot of Burundians have gone through,” says Eric Pitois of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), which provided FAO with financial assistance to support this community.
Not only did the war lead to massive displacement and immense human suffering, it also accelerated the process of deforestation, forcing the Batwa people to face the dramatic prospect of finding a new way of life. Their challenge is all the more daunting as they have to do so in a country where they have always been treated as second-class citizens.
Not quite forgotten
“Our aim is to help reintegrate Batwa into a society from which they have been excluded,” says Jean-Pierre Renson, emergency coordinator of FAO in Burundi. In partnership with a local church organization, FAO has been providing Gashikanwa’s Batwa community with seeds and know-how since 2003.
Salvator’s lifestyle has made a dramatic about-turn: he has converted to agriculture. Today he is weeding a small plot of marshland down by the river, where he grows potatoes, cabbages and carrots. It feeds his family and has helped to gain respect of his Burundian neighbours. And, with around one third of his harvest earmarked for sales, Salvator values his seasonal profits at some US$ 400.
And hunting? “It’s already forgotten,” he says, adding, however, that others do not think like him. They acknowledge that growing is more profitable than hunting, but they feel that Batwa are not made for agriculture. “It dawns on them, but there is still a very long way to go.”
The way ahead for the Batwa community of Buterere, on the outskirts of the Burundian capital of Bujumbura, will probably be even longer. Most people here come from rural areas in the mountains around the capital, but flocked to the city in search of security when the war broke out.
“We are all right here,” says fifty-year old Colette Tab, who has come back from a long day of work. “Everything is fine. Only, there’s hardly anything to eat.” In Buterere, she says, people are used to having one meal a day, in the evening.
Colette works the local garbage dumps in search of charcoal. It’s an hour’s walk from the village, so she leaves in the early morning, at six o'clock, to get there before anybody else. By three in the afternoon she sells her yields on the market, does her shopping and is back home by five. Today, she made 200 Burundian Francs, or US$ 0.20, which bought her a dozen bananas, two tiny tomatoes, 100 gr. of ndagala, a local dried fish, and firewood.
“We cannot do miracles,” says FAO agronomist Ernest Manirambona about the small-scale assistance FAO has been offering in Buterere since 2001. More than 300 households get seeds, tools and training to grow rice, beans, vegetables and even fruit, such as banana, mango and papaya. “Up until recently, nobody bothered about the Batwa people,” says Ernest. “But now, with the peace, we have to start integrating them into society.”
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