27 February 1998

But Burundi is forgotten

BURUNDI, Rwandas troubled southern neighbour, has a similar population mix, a similar size and a beautiful landscape too.

Over 90% of its people live in rural areas. Many of them have fled their homes and been "displaced" after 100,000 people were killed in fighting in Burundi between 1994 and 1996. Others have been forcibly "regrouped" into camps for their own security, according to the army – a process that also cuts them off from the rebels and has drawn international condemnation. Fighting is still going on in various parts of the country.

Before the turmoil, the country was just about self-sufficient. Now, with about one-in-10 of the countrys six million people living in temporary camps, production has fallen. Normally, people live scattered in houses dotted on the smallholdings they farm to survive.

Burundi is even more densely-populated than Rwanda and, in the highlands of Kayanza province, farmers cultivate near-vertical slopes, again usually using hand hoes. In Kayanza, there are almost 1040 people per square mile, well above the national average of 590, which is one of the highest in Africa.

Hundreds of people gathered on a hillside in Rango, a district in the south Kayanza, last October to collect their familys allotment of seeds and food aid to tide them over planting time.

Staple protein source

Each family member got 12kg (26lb) of food and each family 10kg (22lb) of multicoloured bean seeds. Mostly they carried away the packages on their heads, as is the norm here. Beans are the staple protein source, and altogether over 13,000 people received help in that area.

Food aid is normally given out when seeds are, otherwise there is a danger the seeds may be eaten, according to Daniele Donati, FAOs co-ordinator for emergency operations in the agricultural sector in Burundi. The vast majority of seeds and tools packages, however, go to people returning from camps to their lands – or to those living in camps with access to their land.

An embargo imposed on Burundi by neighbouring countries following a coup in July 1996 has pulled the rug from under the two main cash crops – tea and coffee – and made many activities difficult.

Sanctions have hit the poorest most, said Oxfam UKs country representative, John Myers.

There is a feeling locally that relatively little international attention has been given to solving the problems in Burundi, compared to its neighbour Rwanda. That could turn out to be as big a mistake as was made in Rwanda before 1994. For in the end, it is peace which is needed for safe farming and food security.

Queuing for seeds and food aid distrubution near Rango, Burundi. It will tide them over planting time.

Above: Even the steepest slopes are farmed in Kayanza, Burundi, usually with hand hoes. Below: A UN truck carrying food aid arrives at Rango, Burundi. Each family member received 12kg of food and 10kg of multicoloured bean seeds.