Nizigama Sylvane, an agro-forestry trainer, calls for all world leaders to be frontline fighters in making everyone more responsible towards a common future.
Sylvane, 37, who lives in Karusi town, Karusi province, Burundi, is married with 6 children. She works at the Provincial Department for Agriculture and Livestock training and assisting poor communities in sustainable agriculture and forestry. She is also Chairwoman of the ‘’Association pour le Développement Intégré' (ADI), a member of Synergy Horaniteka - a network of eight civil society organisations supported by ActionAid.
Karusi is one of the poorest provinces in Burundi, affected by recurrent food shortage, malnutrition and under-nutrition. The area is hilly and green but since the war, 1993-2002, the weather conditions have changed dramatically and the community's livelihood has been compromised.
I have personally lived through and seen how the climate has changed, and I have experienced the devestating impact these changes have had on our community’s livelihood.
Deforestation during the war resulted in erosion, depleted soil and unpredictable weather during the two annual wet seasons, with heavy rain followed by draught and sudden hailstorms. "The army burned down the forests on the top of the hills of the province to prevent anybody hiding in the forests,” Sylvane explains. “Without the trees as a protective layer erosions began, resulting in the degradation of the soil and a noticeable decrease in crop production."
But this was just the beginning of the degrading livelihood for the communities who farmed on the hillsides. The hailstorms which followed had devastating impact.
A heavy hailstorm is the end of all crops - and the beginning of hunger for the affected communities.
Reforestation is taking place and is visible everywhere. Nevertheless, food shortage is a fact. Smallholder farmers who are the majority of the population in this area only eat once a day, if at all.
“Many people - mostly men - fled the area to seek opportunities elsewhere and avoid hunger”, Sylvane recounts, but the women are less mobile, as they have "no alternative but to take care for their families in the midst of a conflict area", so the impact of the crisis falls hardest on them.
Sylvane is working hard to teach the communities that they have to adapt to the new conditions. “We cannot go backwards, we have to change our ways. We cannot rely on predictable seasons any longer. To avoid re-current food shortage, the first step is to be open-minded. The rest is about practical solutions on how to get more production on small pieces of land."
Such solutions include simple strategies such as the use of fast yielding and climate change resilient seeds and mass planting of trees to avoid further erosion – using specific types which protect the soil and have no negative effects on food plants.
While Sylvane is doing an amazing job in helping her own community she emphasises the global need for action worldwide.
Climate change is a global phenomenon. It cannot be solved on local or national level.
Sylvane is adamant that all world leaders should be sensitised about the devastating consequences of climate change for the world’s most vulnerable communities. “Surely if they knew how the small farmers are suffering they would try and reach a common agreement on how to stop the emissions, they would make sure that trees are planted everywhere, not only in the developing countries,” she urges.
If they knew what the reality is for smallholder farmers, especially women, they would be frontline fighters in making everyone more responsible towards our common future.