Harvest time used to be soul destroying in Rutana, southeast Burundi. A combination of soil erosion, unpredictable weather, pests, and poor seeds and farming techniques meant that members of the community often reaped less than they sowed.
Renatta Ndihokubwayo, a mother of six, recalls: 'If we planted 5kg of haricot beans, we would only harvest 3kg.'
'It led to hunger within the family. The children got illnesses very easily due to not getting enough food. They would get thin and they were weak. It was difficult to have a child coming back from school without having something which you could give them to eat.'
Father of three, Emmanuel Manirakiza found it hard to feed his children. He recalls, 'When I planted 10kg of traditional seeds I’d get the same amount or less. I didn’t know modern agricultural techniques and I harvested very few beans, maize and potatoes, compared to what I planted.'
Four years ago Christian Aid partner, the Anglican Church of Burundi, started working with farmers in Rutana to identify the challenges they faced and find solutions, such as building trenches to prevent soil erosion.
Desire Majmbere, a programme officer for the church, says: 'We encourage people to identify resources which are already available and make use of them rationally rather than always going to NGOs.'
Shared work, shared harvest
Renatta and Emmanuel joined a farming association set up by the church. ‘We learnt about the varieties of crops which could be planted when it was dry and others which were adapted to strong rains,’ says Emmanuel.
‘Each year new members join the project. I have been part of the project for four years and now I train others which makes me very proud. Once a week groups learn techniques and then go and organise into associations where they live and farm a common piece of land and share the harvest.’
Whereas previously food shortages were common in the community, members of the association now enjoy bumper harvests of cassava, sweet potatoes, beans and maize.
Emmanuel says: ‘Since the training, I have planted little and harvested a lot. My family has a good, balanced diet and I also have money for medical treatment and school fees. I have something to eat and something to sell and I also have 250kg of maize seeds.’
Renatta adds: ‘Now when I plant 3kg of beans we can get up to 25kg. We can eat as much as we want within the family and also sell some at market.’