After a stopover in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), the traffic hub of Africa, I (Markus Roßkopf – former AKI project manager and freelance consultant) reached Bujumbura after a 25-hours journey. The city is located in the north of Lake Tanganyika and is by far the most important city in the landlocked Central African country Burundi. On the way to the hotel, I got a first impression of the country and its people.
About 90% of the population work in agriculture – most of them in subsistence farming. Only few manufacturing companies can be found across the country – and these are often either state-regulated or run by foreign global players. Most key markets are regulated by the state, and entrepreneurial activities are mainly small-scale. A secondary economy – like the production of food and other consumer goods – is almost completely absent – imports exceed exports by far.
After four days in one of 30 existing quarantine hotels, I moved into my temporary accommodation in the Catholic St. Augustin Parish to reach out to meetings with local NGOs and potential project partners. The parish is located in the Buyenzi slum in the center of Bujumbura and provides a safe place for the local population. In addition to the church community with daily services, there are various sport activities, a health center, and a small training institute on the premises. The latter offers young people a 9-month program on Entrepreneurship. In the future, a continuation program on Agribusiness and Value Chain Management is intended to contribute to improving the agro-ecological situation, food security and food sovereignty in the country.
Particularly the concept of permaculture can offer effective approaches to sustainably face the local social and ecological challenges. The "Agricultural Social Education and Training Center" will play an important role in this regard. It’s being established by AKI with support of the Ministry of Food, Rural Areas and Consumer Protection Baden-Württemberg (MLR).
The only lately declared capital of Burundi, Gitega is located in the center of the country 2 hours east of Bujumbura. After four days in the hot lowlands, it was time to approach into the heart of the country up on an altitude of 1.700 m. The project area is located only few minutes south of Gitega’s center. It is continously growing and will gradually be transformed according to the principles of permaculture. Not only financial means are necessary for this remarkable endeavor, but also committed women and men from the local community, who are to be bundled in a self-supporting organization structure. Two institutions have already been selected for this purpose: St. Kizito Schools and, above all, the Christian brotherhood of St. Camellius. The brotherhood is strongly dedicated to charity by promoting and supporting marginalized groups through education.
Burundi has a homogeneous population by African standards. The Bantu language Kirundi is spoken by almost the entire population - French and Kiswahili are used as lingua franca, especially in Bujumbura. As in Rwanda to the north, the Tutsi and Hutu make up more than 95% of the population – a small part are the Twa Pygmy People. The country has been struggeling for decades: Bloody unrest occurred in the 1990s as well as corruption and arbitrary changing political and economic circumstances continue to hold the country back. Therefore, civil society and religious institutions play an important role in humanitarian aid and development work. However, many of those NGOs leave the country again due to the difficult situation. Christian institutions in particular, such as the Africa Missionaries, are a lasting support for the local population. They work to improve the infrastructural situation together with the local population – they install water and electricity lines, build bridges and schools, and take care of elderly people and other vulnerable groups.
Within this framework, I will be on site for the next three weeks with Ludovic Bourdon, our permaculture expert from Abundant by Nature, to further advance the project. Our local project partner Father Walter (Gitega) and Father Kingsley (Bujumbura) from the Africa Missionaries play an active role along the way and contribute greatly to achieving the project objectives.
Due to Corona-related travel restrictions last year, this is AKI's first on-site visit since the project started in September 2020.
Stay tuned: Further field reports to follow shortly.