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Fisheries project builds peace and livelihoods in Burundi
“In 1993 I fled the war in Burundi and took my family to D.R. Congo” says Crispin Niragira, “We fled the terrible war in DRC in 1997 and went to Tanzania. We spent a further ten years living in refugee camps, living on handouts with no work. When in 2007 we heard about the peace agreement signed between the government (of Burundi) and the rebels, we came home as quickly as we could”.
Crispin is one of the more than half a million people who have returned to Burundi since the end of the war which left more than 300 000 people dead and the country in ruins. Returning home is not easy, land is scarce, property has often been stolen or occupied by other people, infrastructure is destroyed, and levels of trust between different ethnic groups and communities can be very low.
Creating livelihoods for those who return, those who fought and those who were displaced has been a key step in consolidating peace and ensuring decent lives and livelihoods for the most vulnerable in Burundi.
Building peace in Burundi
FAO has been taking part in a UN interagency programme supported by the Peace Building Support Office in New York. Through the programme, FAO is supporting more than 490 people in five beneficiary associations in the northwest of Burundi with fisheries activities and para-agricultural income-generating activities such as mushroom growing and vegetable gardening.
One such association, of which Crispin is a member, is the ACCP association in Gitaza, a fishing village 25 km south of the capital Bujumbura. The association of 175 people, including people who were displaced, returnees, demobilized ex-combatants, as well as professionals from the fisheries sector, work on conserving and commercializing fish from Lake Tanganyika, an important source of income for those living on the lakeshore.
Crispin and his association work with Ndagala, a sardine-like fish belonging to the Clupeidae family. “We buy the fish from local fishermen, and leave the fish to dry for two days on drying racks” says Crispin. “Once the fish is dry, we weigh it, package it in moisture proof plastic bags, seal the bags, place our association’s label on each bag, and sell it for around BIF 5 000 (USD 3.5) per kg”.
With FAO support, the ACCP association in Gitaza is able to condition and market the fish, has acquired a booth at the local market where it can sell its produce and will soon receive a solar freezer to start working with other added value fish such as Mukeke, Sangala and Kué. FAO provided the infrastructure and tools necessary for the association’s activities to be successful, including drying racks, a building where the association can meet and make decisions collectively, as well as packaging materials and tools.
FAO also provided important training in association and financial management, collective decision-making, and peaceful resolution of conflicts. Training was also provided in conserving and marketing techniques.
Post-capture fish losses from lack of capacity in conservation and preservation techniques also leads to a large quantity of wasted fish. The project ensures that communities reliant on the lake can maximize the opportunities available to them.
Peace through collaboration
“The most important thing about our association” says Rebecca Inamahoro, president of ACCP Gitaza, “is the peace. During the war neighbours were killing neighbours because of their ethnic group. Things were horrific”.
“Towards the end of the war I got together with some neighbours and we decided we had to work together, different ethnic groups working hand in hand, drying fish together, earning money together to bring peace to our community. We showed people that it was possible to cohabit peacefully”.
FAO promoted a system called the solidarity chain, whereby money saved by the association can be lent to members who want to start their own income-generating activities. They then repay the money lent and the association receives 2 percent of the profits. So far members have been growing and selling cassava, banana and vegetables.
Mushroom growing to counter overfishing
One of the major difficulties fishing communities face on Lake Tanganyika is the irregularity of the catch and the dwindling fish reserves. It is estimated that since the 1990s, the number of fishermen has doubled whereas the quantity of fish grounded has halved.
FAO has been tackling this problem by promoting non-fisheries activities which the associations can become involved in periods when there is little fish. Mushroom growing has been a particular success, but vegetable and fruit growing is also an activity promoted by FAO.
“Mushrooms have been great for us” says Marie Nizigiyimana a member of the ACCP association in Gitaza. “FAO trained us and gave us the materials with which to grow mushrooms. We are expecting to sell around 100kg per month, which would bring in around BIF 250 000 (USD 180) for the association”.
Increasing incomes, improving lives
“When we arrived from Tanzania, I was so scared for my family” says Crispin, “we had nothing, no support from anyone. Joining the association has changed our lives. With the money that I earned I was able to put seven children through school, three of whom have now finished”.
Income gained through the sale of the fish is put in the association bank account, part is reinvested in the association’s activities, and part is divided out equally between the members.
“The income I make from the fish and mushrooms ensures that I can provide for my family” says Marie, “last month I was able to buy pens, clothes and books so my children could go to school. I was also able to buy oil, salt and other things for feeding my family”.
From this year to the next
“Accessing the market in Bujumbura is something that FAO is helping us with” says Rebecca, “if we can sell our fish at a better market rate, we will be able to expand our activities and dry more fish to sell”.
FAO is working in close collaboration with AVEPOMABU, the fish sellers’ association in Bujumbura to improve market links between the associations on the lake and the market in Bujumbura.
“The great thing about this project is the long-term vision the association has” says Prosper Kiyuku, project manager with FAO. “FAO facilitates the association’s success, by providing support and technical expertise at strategic points in the process, but it’s great to know that once the project finishes the association will keep expanding and growing”.