By Gaspard Maheburwa, first published in Burundi Eco newspaper as Impact des investissements chinois dans le domaine agricole au Brunudi on 2 January 2018. Translated by Gerard Guedegbe.
In the city of Gihanga in Bubanza province, about ten kilometers from Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi, a field of hybrid rice experimentation is ongoing. The harvest has just proved that this variety of rice, called the Chuan Shuang 506, returns a larger quantity compared to the local variety. With the latter, the harvest did not exceed 6.9 tons per hectare. But post-harvest statistics for hybrid rice provide key results: 10.5 tons per hectare. Burundian agricultural experts and rice growers are delighted with the outcome of this experiment. Their concern now is to ensure the spread of this variety for the benefit of the people.
Note: In 2017 the Africa-China Reporting Project commissioned a series of investigations on Francophone Africa and China, to be undertaken by Francophone African journalists from Morocco, Benin, Burundi, and the DRC and published in the region. The four investigations focused on Chinese traders in Derb Omar, the looting of Beninese forests, the impact of a revolutionary rice strain in Burundi (below), and a Chinese joint venture for the rescue of a state-owned electricity company in the DRC (coming next week).
This project, jointly launched by Chinese agricultural experts in partnership with the Burundi Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock via the Imbo Regional Development Corporation (IRDI), has become very popular among local farmers. Everyone wants to know the origin of this variety of rice that offers a splendid view of a green field with abundant grains. “The future is full of promise,” says Ntikarihamwe Antoine, a farmer we met working in his field on 10th Avenue in Mugerero.
Indeed, statistical data reveal that hybrid rice presents a significant economic gain: With local rice it takes 80 kg of seed on one hectare to produce five tons of rice, while with this hybrid rice variety it takes only 12 kg of seed on one hectare to produce an estimated ten tons of rice.
New motivation for the farmers of Gihanga
It is 10:50 AM in Bujumbura, on this fresh morning IRDI experts and myself arrive on vast fields in Gihanga where hundreds of people are busy tilling the soil. About 100 meters separate them from around thirty farmers, men and women, working in a group.
Their leader, Ciza Joseph, a man in his fifties, has no doubt about how promising the hybrid Chinese rice is: “We are happy because we are reassured that the purpose of your visit is to supply us with hybrid rice seed. We need it in our fields. We are concerned about having fields similar to that of the IRDI,” says Joseph, the team leader.
After a few minutes of discussion, another person arrives. It's Habonimana Balthazar. He combines academic teaching and rice farming. He has been teaching at Buringa High School for 20 years. For him, there is no choice but to adopt hybrid rice farming. “I've been farming for more than 15 years, but I was surprised when I saw this variety of rice because it is obvious that it is different from what we used to grow,” he says. Marguerite Ndinzeyose, a famous rice farmer in the region, already feels the impact of the hybrid rice project in a large and very fertile area where the people’s main focus is agriculture.
Agricultural cooperatives also growing hybrid rice
Several cooperatives devoted to rice farming are active in Gihanga. Sinzumusi Edward is the chairperson of a group of six cooperatives known as Umuco w 'Abarimyi (Light of the Farmers). These cooperatives have 4,000 members daily working as rice farmers. He told us that: “The project drivers provided us with training on how to monitor this variety of rice from the seed planting up to the harvest. Eighteen people per cooperative were trained to train others.”
Some people argue that investing means injecting a colossal amount of money into a new venture. Others believe that the reward for a university graduate is shoe polish, tie, suit and a desk with a bunch of keys. However, the spirit of curiosity and determination prove otherwise. We met Evrard Ndayikeje in his field in Mugerero. He is a young graduate in accounting since 2014, but has not found a job since this period. As his father possesses some land, he invested his intellectual capital into rice farming with the help of Chinese and Burundian experts. He told me: “I was in the fields as usual and I saw Chinese coming to ask me for a partnership for the experimentation of hybrid rice on my land and I have accepted the partnership. That's the result, a green field of rice flourishing on one hectare”.
To the question of whether he will seek employment elsewhere, Evrard rightly says: “My office is this field because after the harvest I'm going to make some money that will help me start another income-generating activity. You understand that the trend is to become a business owner, a job creator for others.”
Burundian agricultural experts welcome Chinese contributions
IRDI Director General and agronomist engineer Terence Nobus Butoyi, says that the cooperation between Burundi and China is having an impact on the increase of rice production. “I must sincerely say that we have a lot of advantages in terms of Sino-Burundian cooperation, especially with the advent of hybrid rice, which is able to produce more than twice the local production. Four IRDI agricultural engineers have already travelled to China to learn the techniques that will help us improve our services to rice farmers.”
Challenges faced by rice consumers and agricultural experts
The spread of hybrid rice, however, may be impeded by seed prices. Indeed, one kg of seed is priced at US$5 (around 8,600 Burundian Francs). This implies a certain financial investment from farmers who may not have enough funding to increase their productivity.
Most agronomists believe that hybrid rice requires special and regular monitoring. The concern of rice farmers is to support rice growth by a sufficient number of agricultural supervisors who can help producers. The availability of pesticides has also been mentioned as a concern by rice farmers. Therefore, they hope that the project will be able to expand the supply of pesticides to farmers in order to ensure sufficient production as extreme weather conditions can damage the rice. Inputs are also needed to increase soil fertility, especially since hybrid rice depends mainly on fertilizers.
Further assistance from China
IRDI Director General Terence Nobus Butoyi and leader of the Rice Farmers' Group, Sinzumusi Edouard, both believe that hybrid seed should be produced in Burundi to enable large-scale production. According to Edouard, “During our internships in China, we asked that hybrid rice seeds be produced locally in Burundi. We reiterated this demand in our various contacts and discussions with the Chinese Embassy in Burundi. We would like China to help us mechanize agriculture because we plant by hand and these conditions do not allow us to produce enough.”
It is also clear that China can help provide suitable and effective technology for desalinating irrigation canals in order to have sufficient water for the fields. Indeed, according to Terence Nobus Butoyi, only 10% of the available water is used because the Muzazi, Gikoma, Mpanda and Musenyi rivers, used in the irrigation of several thousand hectares, are frequently silted up.
Given the willingness of the IRDO authorities to increase agricultural production for rice, particular attention should be paid to assessing the adaptability of hybrid rice to different environments. Its ability to withstand diseases and insects could also be assessed to ensure that sufficient preventive measures are in place to ensure a good harvest.