First Impressions of Burundi - Blog 2
I will put back the investment-for-profit blog a day or two, apologies for this change.
The land of Burundi is surrounded by mountains, it is on the equator, has many rivers and lakes, is currently wet and cloudy and has a population of ~12M. The temperature is currently ranging from 12-26 C, in the last two days of Hotel quarantining and I have seen no sun from my balcony. Rainfall varies from about 1,200-1,800 mm.
The country is small and is one of the poorest in the world and food insecure. There are countless bikes, pushbikes, tuk-tuks, and lots of tooting vehicles with people riding in the backs of trayed vehicles. It feels a bit like Vietnam, China, and Bali. It makes a lot of sense to start Arise African Agriculture here.
There are lands in the flats where waterlogging would be an issue and rice probably the most suitable crop. Maize is well suited to the lowland climates where there is a less rain. There are lands in the hills, above 1,700 m, that would be suitable to grow wheat, but other crops like tea can also be grown. It seems the only current agricultural produce that is exported from Burundi is tea and coffee. Burundi imports a lot of food.
Crop Production, Consumption & Deficit Stats
From various websites I have gleaned the following, and I will soon learn how right these are. Five-year annual grain consumption deficit is 53 kt of cereals and 69 kt of pulses. Cereal imports have increased in wheat and maize to 80 kt (2018) and 20 kt, respectively. The current demand for wheat is now 100 kt/year and much of this comes from Australia. Burundian maize production ranges from 120–280 kt/year. The local price of maize varies from 18 to 67 USc/kg over the last two years with an average price of 36 c/kg or $US360/t. Maize and some soy are used to feed people and animals.
The production of soy in Burundi is only 3 kt/year and it averages 0.8 t/ha, while the average yield of the traditional legume cowpea is only 0.5 t/ha in Eastern Africa. These low production levels of legumes result in poor protein levels in diets and likely malnutrition. Most African countries import legumes and grain crops. Soy has a protein of near 40% and oil content is typically 20%. This makes soy a high-value food and in feed meals. The equator makes soy genetics problematic for the plant to know when to stop growing and start setting seeds (apparently).
It is possible to grow wheat in the highlands. Some 25 km east of Ruhanga, our planned AAA farming site (75 km north of Bujumbura – the capital, where I am now), there is 6,000 ha of highland that probably could grow wheat. This could perhaps produce 36 kt of wheat per year, a third of annual domestic demand. Although tea can also be grown in these high lands and maybe a more community profitable crop. There are other lands in central Burundi that would also be suitable for wheat production. But to stop soil erosion in the highlands with 1-5% slope no-tillage would be an essential tool, as it will be across all of Africa, regardless of terrain.
The typical yield of maize is apparently near 1 t/ha. There are many small patches of land that are not currently using the small no-till and Foundations-for-Farming approach. We will be partnering with Brain and Craig from FfF and will teach this delightful and effective approach for those on small scale farming. This alone has been shown to lift maize yields five-fold. With the addition of biotechnology and hybrids this potentially could double again to 10 t/ha. Not to mention there are two growing seasons, from October to early January and then from late February to early June.
As everyone knows, who has been to Africa, making large scale effective and sustainable farming successful is fraught with danger. You could google everyone’s ideas; they are out there. Indeed, my good friend, Rolf Derpsh, advised me recently that he has seen little sustained success when the initiators leave the scene.
The challenges, in brief, and as are on our website, include the scale of farmland, land tenure security, finance access, limited machinery, corruption at various levels, residue burning and nomadic grazing, restrictions on technology use, tariffs on imported machinery (50% in Burundi), high price of inputs and more.
So why do we think we can be effective? Is this arrogance or just over-enthusiasm? To be honest, “I will never know until I give it a go” and what do we have to lose? Then we have that other “crazy” idea from Psalms 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed body (mother’s womb) and all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” So, let us see how it plays out, another important scripture for me is Prov3:5-6. I have learnt to trust this book with my life, and I hope you can at least have a look at it😊. Blessings from Bujumbura! Talk again so