The rural economist and university teacher warns of the current climatic disturbances which, according to him, have strong consequences on agricultural production. A major factor behind the current surge in commodity prices.
In your opinion, the current inflation is partly due to climatic upheavals?
There is an increasingly high frequency of violent phenomena, climatic hazards such as droughts, floods, violent winds, etc. Over the past two years, we have experienced two cropping seasons which have been affected by a rainfall deficit, especially in the depressions in Bugesera, Imbo and Moso.
Cropping season A of 2022 and cropping season A of 2022-2023 were marked by a rainfall deficit. To make matters worse, cropping season A of 2023 started very late throughout the national territory.
It started around mid-November, which means that it encroached on cropping season B by a month and a half with the risk of missing cropping season B, especially at high altitude where the cropping cycles are relatively longer. longer than at low altitude.
So here we are today confronted with the consequences of climate change which also have an impact on inflation, more than other factors such as the shortage of fuel.
Isn’t the invasion of insect pests currently observed in certain regions also the consequence of these climate changes?
Absolutely. When climatic conditions are unfavorable and the soil is not well fertilized, crop diseases increase.
Which regions are hardest hit by these climate changes?
These are the low altitude regions which are often located below 1100 m of rainfall, that is to say the regions of Moso, Bugesera and Imbo. And these are the same regions that supply the market with beans, maize and rice. Even when talking about irrigation, you should know that when there is not enough rainfall, the availability of water for irrigation decreases.
There then, we have to see if we will continue to prioritize a crop that consumes a lot of water like rice or see if we have to move towards crops that consume less water like corn, groundnuts and others.
Which crops are most drought tolerant? And how to protect them?
The perennial crops we have are, for example, banana trees, fruit trees, tea and coffee. They can be protected by localized irrigation techniques in the case of banana trees and fruit trees.
For coffee, communities must be mobilized so that after the flowering in August, all plots are mulched (mulch is a layer of protective material placed on the ground, mainly with the aim of modifying the effects of the climate local) and also water until the first rains arrive. This will make it possible to double and even triple the coffee harvest.
What is your reaction to the government measure that advocates monoculture in the valleys?
Fortunately, this paradigm is beginning to evolve. I recently heard the authorities encouraging people to diversify crops. If in the humid zones, we only invest in maize whereas before, six or seven crops grew side by side in the marshes, there will be less food supply on the market, which contributes to this surge in prices.
I believe that the authorities are understanding that it is a risk especially that if a disease attacks this culture, all is lost. And you should also know that this also contributes to nutritional diversity. I really hope that the public authorities will reverse this measure and allow polyculture again.
Some countries posit a growing season extension (anything that allows a crop to be grown beyond its normal outdoor growing season) as a way to increase production. Would this be a good solution for Burundi?
One of the best solutions is to invest heavily in marsh crops by fertilizing them as much as possible to enhance their potential. We should start preparing for it so that cropping season C is a success, the risks that cropping season B will be a failure are quite high.
Crops that are protected will lengthen the seasons. Go see the farmers who practice agro-ecology (agro-ecology refers to all the techniques aimed at practicing agriculture that is more respectful of the environment and ecological specificities), who have mulched, they will be entitled to a production off-season in July-August. This is particularly the case for mangoes, the supply of which is currently abundant on the market.
What do you think of the greenhouse agriculture observed in certain countries?
It is an expensive investment that I would recommend for plants with very high added value such as flowers. Here it would not be suitable for crops like corn and potatoes.
Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns will increase dependence on irrigation. Is Burundi ready to face it?
Localized irrigation (supply of water to a limited area of the ground, at low flow rates and low pressures) is a response to this challenge that we are facing, because it consumes little water. It should not be forgotten that in the event of drought, water resources are reduced.
In the future, all studies show that water resources will be more and more limited and the best way to deal with this will be to favor crops that consume little water, such as beans, corn, etc.
What is your assessment of the use of selected seeds on which the public authorities have been placing a lot of emphasis lately?
Selected seeds do not even represent 1% of the seeds that are used annually. The 99% represent the seeds that the farmers themselves have selected and which, often, have shown resilience in the face of climatic hazards.
Rather, these farmers would need a supply of organic matter. A soil rich in organic matter gives plants all the elements they need and in balanced proportions. And it also gives them raw materials to develop their moisture.
Selected seeds, on the other hand, require favorable temperature conditions which we unfortunately no longer have and thus will be less resistant to current climatic hazards. In the end, we already have the right seeds and it will just come down to fertilizing the soils that will bear them.
What can be done to help farmers and thus allow an increase in production that would reduce inflation?
First of all, we should expect a very reduced food supply during this agricultural year. This is why the government urgently needs to mobilize technical and financial partners to support household incomes through labour-intensive works throughout the territory. Take, for example, the case of coffee.
It is a culture that promotes the resilience of communities because for a production of more than 100,000 T of cherry coffee, it is around BIF 35 billion that goes into the workforce. If we manage to double this production by mulching all the coffee plantations, we will inject 70 billion BIF during the months of March and April which are known as lean periods (period between two harvests, during which agricultural production is zero). With such amounts, the populations will not feel the lean.
There should be a plan to fix the needs in order to facilitate the protection of perennial crops against cyclical deficits. Determine the production needs in the lowlands and above all favor diversified agricultural production.
Interview by Alphonse Yikeze (Iwacu)