Learning dry season farming in Burundi

People in red dirt with shovels and large banana leaves
Participants add banana leaves to compost trenches. Photo by Joseph Edema.

By Carl Burkybile and Jeff Boshart

The Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Initiative provided a grant for a workshop in Gitega, Burundi, July 11-12 on the campus of THARS (Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services) International. The trainer for the event, Joseph Edema, lives in Kenya and works for Healing Hands International (HHI), a US-based non-profit organization.

The city of Gitega is located on the eastern side of Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi. The area is mountainous but in a plateau site.

Twenty-five trainees participated in this first-ever survival gardening training. Participants came from both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi, with representatives from various Church of the Brethren congregations, Christ ministry, Trinity Tabernacle Church, and THARS.

The organizers of the workshop faced a number of hurdles that had to be overcome, such as unexpected expenses for COVID-19 tests for Edema upon entering and leaving Burundi, an overbooked flight from Kenya that placed Edema (and charged him) for a business-class ticket, and a long day in the airport in Burundi trying to get the materials for the workshop, such as irrigation hoses, through customs. Thanks to the excellent leadership and persuasive negotiating skills of David Niyonzima, the executive director of THARS, all of these obstacles were overcome.

Those attending learned to make compost piles, construct raised planting beds, and use drip irrigation. While many people in their communities work in agriculture, they had not considered farming during the dry season or transforming available materials like grass and animal dung into a meaningful compost resource. The training was described as “eye-opening,” and participants promised to apply what they have learned.

Click above for larger images. Photos by Joseph Edema.

Members of the Church of the Brethren in Burundi and Eglise des Freres au Congo (the Church of the Brethren in the Democratic Republic of Congo) expressed enthusiasm for the idea of setting up demonstration plots on their own farms. They requested follow-up visits from trainer Joseph Edema once they have the chance to implement the techniques they learned.

Church of the Brethren preacher Shaban Walumona attended at the invitation of THARS. He said, “This training will be a big blessing to me and my Congo community. I have learned new skills and farming methods that I will use the rest of my life. I have never imagined that I could have a harvest in the dry season. With this training we will earn money in the dry season. Thank you, Healing Hands.” 

Smiling man in field
Shaban Walumona

Burundi Church of the Brethren preacher Binenwa Alexandre said, “I have never had this practical farming experience. Applying the skills I have learned through Healing Hands will help me and others to eradicate poverty and hunger in our family. By training others through the church, the whole community will benefit.”

Smiling man in field
Binenwa Alexandre

Carl Burkybile is the director of agriculture for Healing Hands International based near Champaign, Ill. Jeff Boshart is manager of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Food Initiative. Find out more at www.brethren.org/gfi.

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