Working collectively to fight the elements

Friday, October 28, 2011 - 00:00

Nitonde Glosiose struggles to feed her family, but grouping together with a host of other families makes it more possible to survive.

Kikumbwe is a beautiful area near Karusi town, Karusi province in East-central Burundi, with rich red soil and verdant undulating landscape. But appearance is deceptive. This is one of Burundi’s poorest areas and suffers from ongoing food shortage. A combination of severe weather changes and the army’s burning of forests during the war (1993-2002) has resulted in mass erosion of the soil and destroyed crops, leaving the local communities with little to no food.

Nitonde Glosiose, 49, lives here as a small holder farmer with her family and produces her own food and grows bananas, cassava, beans and sorghum. "I am married and have five children," she tells me, "but I find it more and more difficult to make sure that everyone in the family gets enough to eat every day".

We used to be able to have three meals a day in my family. Now we are left with one meal a day. Some families even go hungry for days.

Consequently, 234 families from the affected area have united to form a federation of associations Shirukubute (working together with courage) to help combat the food shortage by working collectively and sharing solutions such as knowledge of sustainable farming methods.

The members of Shirukubute tell me that they count the year in three seasons. The first season is from September to February, the second is from February to June and the third is from June to October. In the past, the first two seasons were the wet and the most productive seasons, and the third was the dry season. Since the civil war 1993 – 2002 this pattern has changed. “Previously we would rarely experience hailstorms,” Nitonde explains, “now they come at least once in a season and destroy our crops”. Heavy and erratic rainfalls and hailstorms are followed by dry spells during the first two seasons resulting in derogated soil, diseases and spoiled crops.  “The soil is not any longer what it used to be. The result is that our harvests are poor.”

Life is very difficult and most families in this area only have one meal a day.

As a member of Shirukubute, Nitonde has recently been trained in tree planting to avoid erosions and to help keep the soil nutritious. “Like every other member, I farm with other members of the federations and in return, at the end of the season I receive money to buy my own land,” she says. She gets some of the harvested crops and teaching on sustainable farming methods and how to adapt to the changed weather conditions. "I have learned how to use protective plant and animal manure around the fields. We have received maize seeds that yield fast and can cope both with periods of draught and too much rain." The federation is also planning to start rain harvesting to collect water for the dry periods.

I feel we all learn a lot from the federation. Together we are stronger.

But the ongoing erratic weather patterns mean the communities' troubles still remain. Nitonde admits, “I still worry for the future. Even though the knowledge and the ideas we get from Shirukubute are very good, the outputs on our farms are still limited. I pray that we get enough rain this season to grow enough food". Combatting climate change to try to reduce irregular weather patterns, especially for the world's vital yet vulnerable farming communities, is still a major priority.

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