Women who fought in the civil war of the east African country of Burundi are getting unprecedented access to farm land and training to produce rice and are building better livelihoods for themselves, their families, and communities.
“These ex-combatant Burundi women are turning their own lives around – they just needed a helping hand to get started,” said Dr. Joseph Bigirimana, liaison scientist and coordinator for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Burundi. “Now they are helping our country towards rice self-sufficiency and building a more stable future for all Burundians.”
In 1993, women fought in Burundi’s bloody internal battle, but when peace was installed by 2005, many of them were excluded from reintegration programs. This left them not only physically and mentally scarred, but unemployed, economically destitute, and socially excluded.
To assist a group of 398 women, CARE, Survivor Corps, and CEDAC provided psychosocial support to help them reintegrate, CONSEDI gave vocational training for economic development, and IRRI taught them how to produce rice.
“In 2009, we started working with ten groups of ex-combatant women by getting each group one hectare of the best irrigated land in the country and showing them how to grow rice on it,” said Bigirimana.
“In the first year, we paid for cost of renting the land, seed, and fertilizers,” he added. “From the profits they made in the first season, they were able to pay these costs themselves the following year.”
During a group interview with women involved in the project, they all indicated the most important aspect of the project was that it gave them access to land, which they would not have had without IRRI, CARE, and the cooperation of the Burundian government.
Ms. Elisabeth Nibigira, one of the participants and mother of four children added, “With the IRRI project, I now feel reintegrated into society. I do not feel afraid of people like I was during my combatant life, and other people do not see me like an excluded ex-combatant anymore.”
“When I was not growing rice,” she added, “I used to eat rice only on feast days or when I had got money from hard work. Now, with IRRI assistance, I produce rice myself and I can eat rice with my children whenever I need it.”
The women were taught how to grow rice and test new rice varieties and farming technologies using a farmer field school. In a common field, representatives of the women’s groups learned all aspects of rice production, from land preparation to rice harvesting and drying. Back in their own fields, these women taught their colleagues what they learned.
The women are very enthusiastic to keep developing their skills and their rice production and want to mechanize to improve the efficiency of their operation to increase profit and reduce labor.
“The first thing we would like to have is the milling machine because we will benefit from it as we will not have to pay for milling,” said Nibigira. “Other farmers will come to us and mill their rice, which will provide us with money to feed our family. Moreover, we could then produce rice bran for our cattle or for sale.”
In collaboration with the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of Burundi, IRRI is continuing the project based on its outstanding success but is seeking funding to include more women in the program and support the existing women to further develop their rice production skills and improve their access to technology.
The pilot project was financially supported by the Howard Buffett Foundation.