Burundi: embracing integration, sustainability and efficiency in agriculture

FAO supports sustainable agricultural growth in Burundi through farmer field schools.

Key facts

Feeding a rapidly increasing global population means that food production must be achieved in a more efficient and sustainable manner. It is therefore essential to use fewer inputs to achieve greater yields. The real challenge not only lies in increased production, but also in reaching this aim against a backdrop of climate change and degradation of natural resources such as fertile land, freshwater and biodiversity. In Burundi - where an expanding population is living-off limited land, often divided into small parcels - increasing food production will mean focusing on integration and efficiency in farming systems rather than simply bringing more land under cultivation.

The “Integrated project to strengthen people’s livelihoods in Ngozi and Mwaro provinces through sustainable and eff­icient agricultural intensi­fication” is achieving important results in three watersheds in Burundi. The project works through Farmer Field Schools (FFSs) to help communities living in these watersheds to better manage their land and improve their means of food production and nutrition. 

Building on good farming practices from different areas, the project aims to intensify agricultural production in a sustainable manner with the goal of reducing food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty.

For instance, the integrated aquaculture and agriculture systems established in Mwaro province provides an opportunity to produce a variety of crops, fish and small livestock within a relatively small area, while increasing the availability of nutritious food. The livestock manure fertilizes the ponds, which improves fish production while reducing feed requirements. Such activities were previously carried out separately but are now combined and reinforce one another.

Diversified income-earning opportunities, such as fish and pig farming, more efficient and market-oriented crop production, and specialized activities such as mushroom cultivation, provide farmers with the means to earn additional income while at the same time improving their access to much needed proteins, vitamins and minerals. As part of the project, micro-gardens in urban and peri-urban areas were established by nearly 200 households offering smallholders an opportunity to produce despite the very limited availability of land.

Another milestone includes reinforcement of erosion control and watershed stabilization techniques using integrated forestry practices, perennial forage grasses and ­field mapping. Farmers’ fi­elds, protected from erosion, have been planted with improved seeds of staple crops such as maize, beans, soya and potatoes. More than 49 000 fruit tree saplings, including avocado and Japanese plum, have been propagated by the community and planted.

Both men and women farmers receive training and assistance in managing their production through Farmer Field Schools. These self-identified groups are guided by a facilitator with the goal of increasing capacity development through training and community research, specifically addressing the needs of women farmers. Capacity development in sustainable agricultural production included composting techniques, edible mushroom cultivation, fish pond management and erosion control.

What’s next?
To further promote sustainable intensification and diversification, farmers have received goats that offer a valuable food source while their manure enhances soil health. Importantly, the community will distribute the first generation of goat offspring to the most vulnerable households. This revolving fund called the “chain of solidarity”, already established in Burundi, strengthens community cohesion and provides a social safety net. The project will also work in support of the national goat breeding strategy to ensure the continued availability of strong genetic stock. The use of high quality forage crops will also be encouraged as part of the watershed protection and erosion control activities. The fast-growing grasses and agroforestry trees that protect the soil are used as forage for goats.

Food security and nutrition of the larger community will be further strengthened through awareness raising and promotion of micro-gardens as well as through nutritional education in rural, urban and peri-urban areas.

All activities are carried out in collaboration with existing projects, including FAO’s Urban and peri-urban horticulture project and the SUN - Scaling-up nutrition project. Materials are being produced and training undertaken in order to mainstream the focus on nutrition throughout the FAO Office, FFS facilitators, and school educators working with the school gardens. In this way, the project ensures that the results are anchored within the community, and the momentum can carry these integrated techniques to reach more people. 

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