Burundi, back to the fields
A war-ravaged country returns to farming, with EU/FAO assistance
Bujumbura, Burundi – Burundi is making crucial steps towards restoring its single most important source of living, agriculture, although sporadic upsurges of violence, crop disease and climatic adversity are still threatening the country’s return to peace.
Spared for now from the floods affecting neighbouring countries, Burundi is struggling to overcome the devastation of more then a decade of civil war, during which hunger has risen sharply, the more so as agricultural production has been severely damaged by recent years of drought and plant viruses ruining the harvests of various staple crops.
FAO’s 2006 State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) report shows that in 2001/03, a staggering two-thirds of the population was undernourished, compared to less than half ten years earlier.
However, hopeful signs of transition indicate that times are changing.
In 2006, with € one million of support from the European Union, FAO provided around 100,000 households with seeds and tools to get back to farming.
“We have less malnutrition this year,” says Eric Pitois of the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), which helps Burundi surmount the hardships of civil war. “That is very important after so many years of crisis. It allows us to move away from mere assistance to helping people help themselves.”
Jean-Pierre Renson, FAO’s emergency coordinator in Burundi, stresses the importance of agricultural rehabilitation. “From 1993, when civil war broke out, up to now, agricultural production grew by just one percent,” he says. “In the same period, the population rose from six to eight million people. That means a net loss in food production of almost 25 percent.”
Rural development is at the heart of the EU’s involvement in Burundi, says Eric Donni of the European Commission Delegation. “In a country where 90 percent of the population depends on agriculture, rural development is crucial.”
The EU considers FAO, with its technical expertise, as a natural partner in rehabilitating Burundi’s agriculture. Pilot projects are currently underway to bolster food security in rural areas by helping local producers grow high quality seeds of beans, cassava, potato and maize, which in turn will foster a steady and affordable flow of seeds for those farmers who need them most.
The EU has supported FAO’s rehabilitation projects in Burundi with around € 2.4 million in 2007.