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Stabilizing rural Burundi

Agriculture is key to bolstering peace

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Finding ways to make small agribusinesses profitable.

22 June 2011, Bujumbura - Peace in Burundi can be consolidated by stabilizing the country's rural communities, says FAO. The UN agency is calling for continued support to the most vulnerable farmers, while stressing the need to develop agriculture's economic potential.

Burundi's population is expected to rise from around 8.5 million today to 13 million in 2025. Ensuring local food production for a growing population will be a major challenge, as almost all the country's arable land is already being farmed.

"Most people eat what they grow, and don't have the means to buy food," says Angela Hinrichs, a Senior Operations Officer with FAO's Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division. "If nothing changes, this is a recipe for disaster."

Burundi's demographic pressure is exacerbated by a massive return of refugees, while climatic vagaries, crop pests and rising food prices pose additional threats to food security.

Moving away from subsistence farming

Since 1993, when civil war broke out, Burundi's per capita agricultural production has more than halved. Undernourishment has risen, from 44 percent of the population in 1990-92 to 62 percent in 2005-07, according to FAO hunger statistics. Conflicts about land have become more frequent, while these pressures also translate into continued land degradation and deforestation.

FAO's Emergency Operations and Rehabilitation Division advocates a dual approach to agricultural rehabilitation, aimed at supporting the UN's efforts to bolster Burundi's peace process.

Given the country's persistent vulnerability, FAO says, it is crucial to continue providing assistance to rural communities. Currently, the agency is carrying out an Action Plan for Burundi valued at around $60 million and targeting 1 250 000 people over a period of two years.

Its objective is to increase food production, especially in the most densely-populated areas, for instance by making quality seeds of high-yielding crops available. FAO also supports income-generating activities, such as producing poultry, vegetables or fruit for sale and food processing. Furthermore, it encourages farmers to join forces, because working together not only helps to produce marketable surpluses but also helps strengthen peaceful relations.

"The aim of our assistance is to support farmers in moving away from subsistence farming to more economically viable forms of agriculture," said Hubert Chauvet, FAO's Representative in Burundi.

Economic alternative

To ensure that the assistance has a lasting effect, more is needed though, Chauvet stresses. On the horizon looms a wholesale transformation that would allow Burundi's agriculture to offer viable alternatives of employment, especially to the massive numbers of young people who are leaving the countryside for the cities.

FAO is playing its role in this enterprise — for instance, it has helped shape governmental policies like a long awaited reform of Burundi's land bill, currently being examined in Parliament.

In the meantime, through its Action plan, FAO is providing much needed hands-on support to Burundi's most vulnerable smallholder farmers — an important first step.