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Bringing back basic skills

Extension workers return to Burundi

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitatno
Sylvestre Bucumi: “It is time to work together.”

20 January 2009, Rome/Bujumbura - The European Union and FAO are training nearly 3 000 extension workers in Burundi, hired by the government as part of its efforts to help the country's agricultural sector get back on its feet.

Scores of farmers have come to help Sylvestre Bucumi (68) dig ditches in his field in southern Burundi's Ramvija district, where he plants banana, maize and beans.

This is a collective effort, he says, explaining that together the farmers also take care of the fields of all the others. "Even the president of the republic has said: ‘Stop isolating yourselves. It is time to work together.'"

The farmers dig these transversal ditches to trap highly nutritious topsoil that could otherwise be washed away by rain. "It is a way to preserve the little bit of fertiliser we have," says Cassien Nsanzurwimo, who leads their work.

Cassien is not only considered a ‘model farmer' in his community, he also takes part in a nation-wide training programme to bring back extension workers to each and every district of Burundi.

Know how

In 2006, the government restored a figure that had disappeared ten years before, the agricultural extension worker. Exactly 2 803 of them were hired, one for each colline or hillside in the country. Burundi's smallest administrative unit, the colline is typically home to between 200 and 600 households.

With €1,5 million in funding from the European Union, FAO helps the Burundian government train new extension workers before they take up their jobs. Cassien Nsanzurwimo took the two-week course on basic agricultural skills in August 2008. He then returned to his community to spread this know-how to his fellow farmers.

An important job

Two months later, in October 2008, another course takes place in the southern city of Makamba. Today, trainer Elie Gikoro (39) discusses plant diseases. For each crop he explains which diseases can occur, what their symptoms are and how to deal with them. "To increase agricultural production in Burundi and to improve the methods used, it is fundamental that we strengthen the capacities of our farmers," he says.

It took Godeliève Niterika, from the colline of Ndoba, a three-hour walk to attend the course. Although there are only six women among the 139 students in Makamba, she doesn't see why that would be a problem. "A farmer who understands a male extension worker can also understand a woman," she argues.

Godeliève, who farms two hectares of land with her husband, wants to become an extension worker because she already has some agricultural training and because she is interested in having the job.

It is an important job, she thinks. "You can teach farmers so many things. Not only how to combat diseases, but also how to use fertiliser, or how to sow," she says. But first you need training, she adds. "Because you cannot give what you don't have."