FAO and EU support returnees for peace in Burundi

FAO and EU support returnees for peace in Burundi


“During the war I fled Burundi and took my family to Tanzania. We were there for 16 years” says Ido Modeste, a returnee in the village of Buzimba, Rumonge province in the south of Burundi. “Life was very difficult and we were scared to come back to our country – we were scared the killing might never stop. We came back in 2009 and were able to set up our lives again thanks to UN support”.

Returnee households look to a bright future thanks to EU and UN livelihood support ensuring livelihoods

Ido is one of the estimated 500 000-plus people who, according to UNHCR were displaced by the conflict and have now returned to Burundi. The protracted conflict, which ended in 2008, left more than 300 000 people dead.

Returnees face enormous challenges on returning home, including lack of land, infrastructure, capacity, agricultural inputs and income-generating opportunities, and often become involved in conflicts over land that has been occupied by others.

Many return to nothing, but thanks to a joint FAO-UNDP-UNICEF programme, funded by the European Union, they have managed to re-establish livelihoods and ensure a decent future for their families. UNHCR provided housing, while FAO provides agricultural livelihood support, UNICEF provides water and sanitation services, and UNDP provides income-generating activity support.

“This holistic and multisector approach has been very successful in Burundi and is a great example of the UN delivering as one” says Joseph Sakubu, project manager of the FAO project.

FFS training of trainers

Since 2010, FAO has supported more than 4 000 returnee and host community households – an estimated 20 000 people – in the southern provinces of Makamba, Rutana and Bururi. The project aims to improve agricultural productivity and fertility on land provided to the returnee households by the Government, by ensuring access to key agricultural inputs to help enhance agricultural production and food security. The project also seeks to increase household income through agricultural and para-agricultural income-generating activities.

Intensifying Agricultural Production

“Selling the vegetables I have been growing has enabled me to buy flour, salt, oil and other foods I can now feed my family with, not to mention we can eat the vegetables themselves” says Rebecca Niyokwizigira from the village of Musenyi. “I was also able to buy school supplies and uniforms for my children, and soap to wash the children’s clothes so they can go to school clean” she added.

Returnee households were able to restart their agricultural activities thanks to FAO inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, tools and training. Storage facilities were built in each village, giving farmers a place to store their tools, inputs, seeds and produce, as well as serving as agroprocessing centres.

FAO is also supporting vegetable and fruit tree growing to improve household nutrition. As well as seeds and fruit saplings, farmers received organic fertilizer and were trained in improved agricultural techniques to increase their production and boost food security. Beneficiaries were also trained in composting techniques to enable them to produce their own organic compost.

Building Agricultural Capacity

Combining local knowledge and best practice agricultural techniques has been the key to improving agricultural capacity in Burundi. FAO has set up Farmer Field Schools (participatory, field-based training where participants learn through observation, exchange and experimentation) in all the returnee villages, and beneficiaries have been able to learn new techniques, compare farming methods, and improve their agricultural capacity.

Minimizing land degradation

“The reforestation programme is very important to us” says Neema Haboimama from the village of Musenyi, “the trees will help protect our land from soil erosion, and we will be able to farm and feed our children”. FAO has been undertaking a reforestation programme distributing eucalyptus, calliandra and other trees to beneficiaries, as well as anti-erosion plants to minimize land degradation and ensure agricultural productivity is as high as possible.

Animal-based livelihood support

Keeping animals has proved to be an excellent livelihood option for many beneficiaries, and FAO has helped farmers raise chickens, goats, rabbits and ducks, by distributing animals, training beneficiaries, providing veterinary equipment and capacity as well as animal feed and feeders.

“I received goats from FAO, fed them well, bred them and sold the kids. Not only was I able to feed my family with some of the offspring during the lean season, but I was also able to buy a cow for BIF 170 000 (USD 110)” says Bonaventure Bima from the village of Musenyi. “The cow  produces a lot of good fertilizer with which I have increased my production, and serves as a very important back up option in times of need”.

The case of Bonaventure is not isolated – many project beneficiaries have been showing such signs of progress, from opening shops and small businesses, to buying their own cows. This shows the success the project is having in building a sustainable future for returnees through agricultural livelihood support.
“After the first year of FAO support, my animals had many offspring. I now have six goats and 18 egg-laying hens, and have already given animals to my neighbours” says Evelyne Bizimana from the village of Mutambara.

FAO has been promoting an approach called the Community Solidarity Chain whereby when beneficiaries have new animal offspring, they pass on the first set of offspring to their neighbours who did not benefit from the project, often in the host community, thus solidifying social ties and contributing to peaceful cohabitation in a fragile country devastated by years of inter-ethnic conflict.

Diversifying agricultural production

Land scarcity is a major issue in Burundi, no less so in the villages supported by the UN. FAO has been promoting an innovative approach to farming on scarce land – kitchen gardens. A self-contained stack of different levels of soil in which different vegetables are grown is located next to the house and beneficiaries are able to grow tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables for family consumption.

Two para-agricultural activities which have also been a great success in the returnee villages have been beekeeping and mushroom growing. FAO has provided training and inputs for both activities.

“The honey we produced brings us significant income as well as being used as a medicine for our children” says Ezechiel Nijimbere from the village of Nyakazi. He is head of one of the association supported through beekeeping activities. Training was given in modern beekeeping techniques, and beekeeping materials were distributed.

Mushrooms have also been a great way for returnees to generate further income. “We have done so well with the mushrooms” says Safi Nizigiyimana, “once people heard we had mushrooms we even started getting orders by telephone from neighbouring villages and even Rumonge” (a town 25 minutes away).

Looking to the Future

Life for returnees has vastly improved thanks to UN and EU support, and peace is finally a reality in Burundi. The last Burundian refugee camp in Tanzania is due to close by the end of December 2012, and the remaining 35 000 refugees will return to their homeland after almost 20 years in exile. This influx, in addition to the 500 000-plus people who have returned to Burundi since 2002 will no doubt strain Burundi’s food system, and exacerbate current and potential land conflicts, posing a challenge that donors and agencies alike will need to address.