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Burundi back on its feet: rebuilding after conflict

©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Farmers with their kitchen garden.

"When the massacres began in 1993 we were forced to take sides, seeking protection with either the government or the rebels", says Jean-Claude Sindayihebura, who is from Burambi in Bururi province. "Sometimes families and friends found themselves divided. There was terrible poverty; it no longer felt like our own country. It was a living hell."

Nearly twenty years since it first erupted, the violence of Burundi's civil war hasn't fully abated and the rural population is still emerging from the devastating setback. During the worst of the twelve-year conflict the poverty rate doubled and communities were cut off from supplies and services. More than 200,000 Burundians were killed and hundreds of thousands fled their homes to live in refugee camps or in exile. The war destroyed livelihoods and infrastructure, but it also split communities down the ethnic divide, sowing fear and suspicion. Memories of the conflict are still fresh.

Marie-Goreth Ndayisenga, also from Burambi, found herself with the rebel group. Life was reduced to a constant search for food and shelter. "The military occupied our village and we fled into the hills," she says. "There were constant battles between the army and the rebels, and we were always on the move. We slept out of doors and went hungry, sometimes for days on end. Many were killed but a lot of us died of malnutrition and disease."

Throughout the period of armed struggle, IFAD remained active in Burundi, despite security problems and limitations imposed by the international embargo on the country. "IFAD helped communities maintain a sense of normality," says Hamed Haidara, IFAD Country Programme Manager for Burundi. "The experience we acquired during this period strengthened our understanding of conflict situations and the role we can play in supporting governments and instigating social reconstruction and peace-building."

As the country pulls itself out of conflict to embark on a fresh start, IFAD has provided valuable support, not only in reconstructing rural infrastructure and the damaged agricultural sector, but also by helping build stronger communities and laying the foundations for a more cohesive, democratic society. All four current IFAD projects focus on rebuilding rural livelihoods across the country, but the Transitional Programme of Post-Conflict Reconstruction (TPPCR), first launched in March 2006, incorporates a broader focus on peace-building.

"It was a bold move on IFAD's part, says Damase Ntiranyibagira, TPPCR's programme coordinator. "Not only were we the first to move into the areas that had been worst hit by the war and least served by donors over the last twenty years, but we also introduced a programme that aimed to respond on all fronts to the needs of the population. The provinces we were working in were still somewhat insecure, but we wanted to begin the process of rehabilitation where it was most needed."

Rebuilding communities from the inside out

For the TPPCR, social reconstruction is the foundation upon which all the other livelihood-based components rest. It was important to help communities overcome hostilities and mend the ethnic and political rift that had torn them apart.

"When we first returned to our homes, we were still very unsure that it was safe to live together again," says Jean-Claude. "We weren't convinced that the violence was over. The situation was very precarious".
 
"The needs of the people were so great," says Damase Ntiranyibagira, "that it was difficult to select our target group from among the mass of people who were stricken by poverty."

Training programmes offered by the TPPCR focused on community development, legal issues, HIV/AIDS and literacy. They were designed to help build lasting, democratic grassroots institutions and tackle health and education issues, as well as long-standing social issues that could plunge the country back into war. From early on, women have been encouraged to take on leadership roles within the community.

Recognizing the need to allow new credible institutions to emerge within the communities in the post-conflict context, the TPPCR helped set up community development committees (CDCs) and more localized hillside development committees, which play a key part in identifying, and implementing development activities in each locality. Coming after a period of relief aid, it was crucial to stimulate ownership and autonomy in the population to ensure the sustainability of all interventions.

The CDCs establish the development activities in each locality and those who will benefit from them. They are now so successful that they have been replicated by other donors throughout the country. Having built their capacity to function autonomously, with IFAD's support, the government has legalized their existence and functioning. The commune (local administrative body) now uses the CDCs as the entry point for all planning and development initiatives within each community.

Midway through the programme, the CDCs were used as means of introducing income-generating activities in the communities, with a focus on helping the poorest and most disadvantaged. The income-generating groups have provided women – many of whom have been widowed and are heading households alone – with a means of earning and of reconstituting their households.

A fresh start thanks to microcredit

Like most of the women who now form her income-generating group, Béatrice Niyouzima fled from her home town of Rumonge in Bururi province across the border to Tanzania during the war. She left in 1996 and returned in 2007 to find her home destroyed. She has a child of her own and is also raising her sister's two children. Her sister died while in exile in Tanzania.

"It was difficult to get started," she says. "I had no land, no place to live. I'm still renting a house." She began with a little market-gardening – growing amaranth and aubergines that she sold in the market. Then in early 2012 she and her group borrowed enough to buy a machine that husks rice and mills cassava flour. In the dry season, between June and July, buyers come to the area to buy cassava, maize and rice. Producers can command higher prices if the product has already been processed.

"We were trained in processing by the microfinance NGO," she says. "In just a few months we have been able to bulk buy a hectare and a half of cassava to make into flour and sell.  We are still paying back the loan but we have also begun to save. We plan to buy our own land and build our own houses. We want to continue farming and grow cassava, beans and maize."

Community conflict resolution

Burundi's legal codes were barely known and little applied in rural areas. One of the TPPCR's great innovations has been its legal support component, which for the first time brings awareness and understanding of the law to rural communities. This pilot component, introduced in 170 hillside communities, has proved a powerful means of resolving social issues and teaching people about their rights and responsibilities.

Initially the programme used legal professionals to sensitize the population, but the subsequent decision to train representatives from within the communities as paralegals has proved far more effective. The paralegals are chosen to represent different interest groups within each community, and include the Bashingatahe – those traditionally responsible for internal conflict resolution - young people, women and a representative of the Batwa community. The paralegals sensitize the population on legal issues, especially land law and family law, their rights and responsibilities, and also organize sessions in which cases are mediated and resolved.

"Broad representation helps correct a system that in the past was not always equitable. People were ill-informed and quick to resort to violence as a resolution tactic. Now they know that there are peaceful ways of finding a solution, and that violence bears consequences. Whatever cannot be resolved locally is taken on to the courts." says Ntiranyibagira.

"In the past it was all about vengeance," says Nicaise Arakaza, a young man from Burambi who is now a paralegal. "The programme helped us to learn good governance. It taught us the codes of law. Now we know how to resolve conflicts. You can explain your problem and find a peaceful resolution".

Conflict over land is a long-standing problem in Burundi, and one that will continue to threaten stability and peace if not well managed. Most of the cases presented to the paralegals are over land rights; either family members disputing succession, or quarrels with neighbours over boundaries. Many widows and orphans left by the war have been able to contest the misappropriation of their land. The legal programme also offers justice and protection to women who are victims of rape and violence. Overall, women have gained confidence – they now know that they do not have to accept the violation of their rights.

As a member of the ethnic minority Batwa community, Jean-Claude Sindayihebura has been able to use his status and knowledge as a paralegal to help his community. The Batwa make up about one per cent of the population of Burundi, and are marginalized, mostly landless and particularly vulnerable as a group.

"The Batwa have especially benefited from the programme's legal support. In the past we never had any kind of role in local administration. We knew nothing about the law, or our rights as a group," he says. "We learned that everyone has the same rights, and this was extremely significant for the Batwa. Now I know how to help my community, and tell them to act if they need something."

A return to productive farming

The long period of fighting was devastating to agriculture. Cultivations were pillaged and destroyed, trees were razed, and already existing problems of soil erosion and loss of fertility have become critical. Livestock was looted and killed, to the extent that national holdings were virtually wiped out.

The programme has distributed agricultural start-up kits through the CDCs, providing displaced households returning to farming with much-needed seeds, plants, livestock, tools and other inputs. Nurseries have been created and equipped. Cassava and oil palm have been the big successes in terms of cultivation. Nearly 24 million cuttings of a new high-yielding species of cassava have been distributed. Oil palm development was a request that came through the CDCs, demonstrating the importance of consulting with the rural population. To date more than 84,000 oil palm plants have been distributed to 14,000 vulnerable households, and producers have done so well with this new product that they are now ready to link up to bigger buyers.

In Bugoma, in the province of Bujumbura Rural, the programme has helped 275 households turn a large area of marshland into highly productive rice paddies. In total, 5,386 households now have access to irrigated land for rice production. Farmers have learned new technologies for enhancing productivity through farmer field schools – in which groups of smallholder farmers identify and manage their own development needs and receive training in improved technologies that they disseminate to others. There are now three farmers field schools in the area.

Gabriel Ntampeba, President of the original farmer field school in Bugoma, is one of many farmers benefiting from the introduction of an improved rice variety. "We are using SRI (system of rice intensification), which has allowed us to double our production per hectare," he says. "We've gone from producing 5 tons to 10 per hectare. We've been so successful that other farmers have been coming to visit and learn from us. We have formed a cooperative and begun to borrow small amounts of credit. We also negotiate prices collectively with buyers. With this new variety of rice we have been able to improve our living conditions, and change people's lives. We used to live in straw huts and now we have houses made of brick with tin roofs."

The programme is in the process of introducing a warehouse receipt system that will allow farmers to receive credit against stored grain and allow them to sell when prices are higher.

Livestock solidarity scheme

Thanks to the extremely popular livestock solidarity scheme introduced by the TPPCR, cattle, goats and pigs are gradually being reintroduced into rural communities. Starting with the initial donation of a pregnant female, recipients ‘pay back' the gift by passing on the first offspring to other members of the community. For the sake of transparency a community-based committee and the CDC decide who should benefit. Recipients must be poor, but with enough land to provide fodder for the animal. Where possible the scheme favours dynamic women, especially widows.

"The livestock chain has been hugely successful in terms of making rapid improvements to income and living conditions," says Ntiranyibagira. "And the introduction of pigs has been as popular, if not more so, than the dairy cows with the farmers. In the past pig husbandry had acquired a bad reputation, with whole populations wiped out by disease. We have been able to show that pig-farming can be profitable and disease outbreaks controlled."

Nearly 11,000 people have benefited from the scheme so far. "Everyone knows their turn will come", says Damase. "The availability of milk has helped fight malnutrition in the area. The surplus brings in extra income – and many beneficiaries have made rapid improvements to their conditions. The manure from the animals is used to fertilize weak soils and contributes to far better yields."
Almost every recipient tells a success story. Jean-Claude Nyandwi left his home in Ruyigi commune during the war and came back to claim a small parcel of land that belonged to his father. The soils and harvests were very poor. "I received a pregnant heifer from the programme in April 2008," he says. "I passed the first female calf on, but I kept the second and the third calves. I get about 10 litres of milk a day from each cow and sell what we don't use. I built my house with the profits from the milk I sold. I now have five animals in total and have extended the stables for the animals. I put the profit back into the animals and have bought two pieces of land that amount to about a hectare, which I use to grow bananas and forage. Now that I have manure to enrich the soils, the harvests are excellent."

The scheme also makes a value contribution to peace-building in the community. A new community cohesion has come about through the solidarity chains. The passing on of animals helps create new friendship links between community members and dispel lingering hostilities or suspicions.

"I stay in touch with the person who received my first calf," explains Nyandwi. "I often visit to help with advice and encouragement. That calf has already grown up and given birth in turn."

A changing landscape

The first thing that people are doing with any additional income they are making is rebuilding the homes that were destroyed in the war. This means rebuilding brick exteriors, putting in window frames, and replacing straw roofs with tin.

In the three provinces of Bumumbura Rural, Ruyigi and Bururi in the east and west of Burundi, the impact of IFAD's work is apparent everywhere. Freshly dug rice paddies in what once were low-lying swampy areas, plantations of oil palm, banana and cassava interspersed with boma grass to be used as fodder for livestock, ditches cutting horizontally across hillsides that will prevent soil erosion and slow rainwater runoff. Cattle and other animals are beginning to repopulate the countryside. The changing landscape is the outward sign of a nation that is rebuilding and emerging to capitalize on its enormous productive potential.