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IRRI in Burundi

Rice has emerged as an important food staple in Burundi. Estimated land area currently being used for rice production in Burundi is about 50,000 hectares. This includes 5,000 hectares in the irrigated Imbo plain, 15,000 hectares in the non-irrigated Imbo plain, and 30,000 hectares in the Moso lowland and in high elevation marshlands. Between 1984 and 2011, rice production increased from 18,000 to 75,000 metric tons per year – a 316% increase in 27 years. In 2019, rice production in Burundi was estimated to be 120,000 metric tons.

However, rice production in Burundi faces a few challenges: low production, biotic and abiotic stresses, overused land plots, limited use of fertilizers, and a small number of qualified researchers and technicians. These challenges can be addressed by adoption of modern production, harvest and post-harvest technologies, provision of inputs, stronger value chains and market access and  capacity strengthening for the national research and extension program and farmers.

In 2008, IRRI started its initiatives in Burundi through a memorandum of understanding with the Burundian Government and a Letter of Agreement with the University of Burundi in Bujumbura. Four years later, IRRI established a regional office and a breeding hub for East and Southern Africa in Burundi, and later, in 2017 the Hub was designated for Crop Improvement for the region. From December 2018, IRRI is registered as an International Organization and is governed by a Host Country Agreement with the Government of Burundi.

Climatic conditions in Burundi’s Imbo Plain are very ideal for varietal development. The country also has different ecologies with various hotspots for biotic and abiotic stresses. More importantly, the support from favorable germplasm exchange regulations provided by the Burundi Government is also helpful in advancing research initiatives in the region. This support from the Government of Burundi helps significantly for IRRI-Burundi to serve as an active Regional Crop Improvement Center for IRRI.

In Burundi, IRRI partners with the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock, the University of Burundi and other research institutions and non-governmental organizations, with support from other governments and organizations in order to create positive impact on the smallholder farmers and consumers in Burundi and in other African countries through research and extension. In 2019, ongoing projects of IRRI in Burundi were financially supported by a philanthrop George Liang from China, the African Development Bank and the World Bank via the Government of Burundi.  Enabled with rice field research facilities and laboratories, the research centre in Burundi enhances rice breeding expertise in other countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda, and many others.

Key achievements in Burundi

Improved rice varieties

IRRI is developing high-yielding varieties suited to Burundi’s ecology and with better resistance to pests and diseases and tolerance to certain abiotic stresses while maintaining the high-quality grain preferred by consumers. Since 2011, IRRI has been able to release eight varieties in Burundi and 6 other elite lines are currently in the pipeline for release.

Germplasm conservation

Since 1962, IRRI has stored in trust 52 traditional and improved varieties from Burundi. This serves as a rich genetic source for rice breeders in order to develop new varieties with traits that are suited to Burundi’s ecology and the preferences of farmers and consumers.

Mechanization and equipment

IRRI has trained technicians to operate two-wheeled hand tractors, threshers, winnowers, weeders, and hydrotillers and conducted demonstration sessions with thousands of farmers. The equipment helps farmers save time, labor, and money, which can help boost productivity and reduce the cost of production. Rice mills were also provided to organized cooperatives in partnership with a project funded by the World Bank.

Capacity building and development

IRRI encourages and supports education and training of rice researchers, technicians, and extension workers. Through short courses and graduate studies, IRRI has also trained more than 80 local researchers and technicians to ensure that the latest developments in rice research, and technologies are integrated into the country’s rice production. As part of IRRI’s capacity building initiative, 1 PhD student and 3 MSc students are registered in SUA (Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania) under the IRRI-Burundi office sponsorship. Over the past few years, IRRI has trained more than three thousand smallholder farmers in Burundi using the ToT system (Training of Trainers), through the Farmer-Field School approach (FFS). Trainers are thus translating the training to more than twenty four thousand farmers. More than five thousand farmers have already adopted good agricultural practices (GAP) learnt from IRRI in Burundi.