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Country profile - Burundi

burundi

Burundi is a small, landlocked country in central Africa with an economy dominated by subsistence agriculture. The second most densely populated country in Africa, Burundi has weathered more than a decade of civil war which has contributed to widespread poverty. The country ranks 178th out of 186 counties on the Human Development Index and 90 per cent of the population live on less than US$2 per day. Since 2000, Burundi has worked towards revitalising the economy and forging national unity but rapid population growth and inefficient agricultural production are serious challenges.

Overview

Burundi has the potential to be self-sufficient in food but over 50 per cent of children are chronically malnourished and in 2012 the country was ranked by the Global Hunger Index as having the highest level of hunger out of 79 countries worldwide. Burundi's population is young and growing rapidly: nearly seven out of ten people are under 15 years old. Rapid population growth has led to a decline in average land holdings from over 1 hectare in 1973 to 0.5 hectares in 2009. The average population density is 257 people per square kilometre and if population growth continues at its current rate, Burundi's population will double in the next 22 years.

Burundi is a small, landlocked country in central Africa (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Burundi is a small, landlocked country in central Africa
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Ninety per cent of the population are smallscale subsistence farmers. The main staple crops grown are banana, cassava, sweet potato and beans. Bananas alone make up almost 30 per cent of the total cultivated area and were 44 per cent of the total value of crop production between 2006 and 2008. Coffee is the main export, accounting for more than 60 per cent of export revenues but national production is in decline: ageing coffee orchards produce only every two years. Other cash crops include cotton, sugar and tea.

Since war broke out in 1993, average per capita agricultural production has more than halved due to the conflict, crop theft, recurrent drought, torrential rains, pests, and deteriorating soils. Soil fertility is steadily declining because land is over-exploited, marginal lands are being used and farmers no longer leave fields fallow. Diminishing soil fertility is compounded by shrinking farm sizes, which is forcing people to clear forested land and drain wetlands. These practices are accelerating soil erosion on steep slopes, flooding in lowlands, depletion of water sources, sedimentation of lakes, drying of wetlands and biodiversity loss. Forest resources are also under pressure because wood provides 90 per cent of energy needs: forest cover declined from 8.2 per cent cover in 1992 to 6.3 per cent in 2006.

Land fragmentation, stagnant or declining yields, falling soil fertility, the absence of inputs and improved breeds of livestock, and low levels of technical knowledge have prevented farmers from boosting production and increasing their incomes. Since 2002, more than 300,000 displaced people have returned to their birthplaces and original villages in Burundi. Issues of land ownership, and lack of land and other economic alternatives in agricultural activities complicate their reinsertion into the economy. The supply of dairy products is also far below what is required to meet the growing demand. If nothing is done to increase livestock production, the country could be facing annual deficits of 86 million tonnes of meat, 39 million litres of milk and 18 million eggs by 2020.

Women frequently face the challenge of precarious land tenure (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Women frequently face the challenge of precarious land tenure
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

The large number of men killed during the conflict, and rapid spread of HIV and AIDS, has created many poor and fragile female-headed households. Women frequently also face the added challenges of precarious land tenure, limited access to credit and lower agricultural income than men. Burundi also has few agricultural storage facilities or processing plants, resulting in significant losses, particularly for perishable products, and transport and marketing infrastructure is inadequate: roads are in poor condition and links to neighbouring countries and international markets are inadequate.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate agricultural constraints - including access to water, crop diseases, water pollution and soil erosion - and to impact food production. Climate change modelling predicts precipitation losses of 50-100mm by 2050 in the northern and eastern provinces, which are areas that have a history of intermittent drought. In the rest of the country, increases of 200mm are predicted, which is favourable for crop production but could increase the risk of flooding. Predicted temperature increases of over 1°C could reduce maize yields by 5-25 per cent if technological improvements aren't adopted, and this would significantly compromise food security.

Towards food security

The main staple crops grown are banana, cassava, sweet potato and beans (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
The main staple crops grown are banana, cassava, sweet potato and beans
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

In 2012, the Government launched its second Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, outlining development priorities to reduce the vulnerability of the agricultural sector to shocks and to boost the profitability of the sector. Improving access to fertilisers and other inputs, restoring forest cover, rebuilding livestock herds, introducing drought-tolerant crop varieties and supporting agricultural research and extension activities are all listed as priorities. The document also highlights the importance of improving roads, providing market intelligence, creating strong national cooperatives, increasing production of cash crops and facilities to process and add value to agricultural goods, and diversifying production by growing new export crops such as medicinal plants, avocados and macadamia nuts.

To create jobs and generate income, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is investing in small-scale producers. Their 'value chain development programme' is working to facilitate greater organisation among smallholder agricultural producers within viable value chains, including rice and milk. Seed multiplication associations have received seeds and other inputs and members have been trained in quality seed multiplication, while beneficiaries of improved cattle breeds have been trained in animal husbandry techniques. Another project has been rehabilitating land by digging anti-erosion ditches and planting trees. Farmers who have been trained in intensive rice cultivation have doubled their production and overall, agricultural production in the project area has increased by 35 per cent. To raise livestock productivity and improve food security and incomes of poor farmers, IFAD has also distributed goats, pigs, rabbits and beehives, trained community agents for animal health and constructed collection centres for milk and honey.

Rebuilding livestock herds is one Government priority (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Rebuilding livestock herds is one Government priority
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

At the same time, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is working to rehabilitate irrigation infrastructure, improve farmers' access to fertilisers and quality maize and rice seed and strengthen the capacity of farmers' groups by supporting training in improved farming techniques and proper management of irrigation systems and storage facilities. USAID is supporting the coffee, horticulture and dairy sectors through an agribusiness programme. Activities focus on strengthening trade knowledge and the skills of producers and processors. Technical guidance and support are being provided to enable producer organisations to form commercial cooperatives, and to enhance competitiveness, while producers and entrepreneurs are being provided with knowledge of market standards.

With an economy dependent on agriculture, investment in the sector is crucial. The Government has made agriculture a priority, committing to increase spending on agriculture to at least ten per cent of the national budget. Spending has increased, but an Oxfam Research Report has stated, "The quality of the investment will depend on whether policies and funds are deployed to the most vulnerable sectors of the population and the most marginalized geographical areas, and that the concerns of farmers are addressed.

Statistical information
  • Country: Republic of Burundi
  • Capital: Bujumbura
  • Area: 27,830 sq km
  • Population: 10,888,321 (July 2012 est.)
  • Population growth rate: 3.1% (2012 est.)
  • Life expectancy: 59 (2012 est.)
  • Languages: Kirundi (official), French (official), Swahili (along Lake Tanganyika and in the Bujumbura area)
  • Inflation: 16% (2012 est.)
  • GDP purchasing power parity: US$5.5 billion (2012 est.)
  • GDP per capita: US$600 (2012 est.)
  • GDP composition by sector: agriculture: 31.1%; industry: 21.3%; services: 47.7% (2012 est.)
  • Land use: arable land: 35.57%; permanent crops: 13.12%; other: 51.31% (2005)
  • Major industries: light consumer goods such as blankets, shoes, soap, and beer; assembly of imported components; public works construction; food processing
  • Agricultural products: coffee, cotton, tea, maize, sorghum, sweet potatoes, bananas, cassava; beef, milk, hides
  • Natural resources: arable land, hydropower, nickel, uranium, rare earth oxides, peat, cobalt, copper, platinum, vanadium, niobium, tantalum, gold, tin, tungsten, kaolin, limestone
  • Export commodities: coffee, tea, sugar, cotton, hides
  • Export partners: Germany 15.6%, China 10.5%, Sweden 9.5%, Belgium 9%, Pakistan 7.4%, US 7.4%, France 4.3% (2011)

Date published: May 2013

 

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