One woman's story working for development in a fragile country

One-on-one with Rym Ben Zid, IFAD's Country Programme Manager in Burundi
By David F. Paqui

Rym Ben Zid, IFAD's Country Programme Manager for Burundi
In Burundi, the working day starts early. Every day at 7.30 am, Rym Ben Zid, IFAD's Country Programme Manager for Burundi is already at her desk in the IFAD Country Office is hosted in Bujumbura.
This May I went to meet her to learn more about how the situation in Burundi is impacting her work, the main challenges rural people in the country are currently facing, what IFAD is doing and what more needs to be done.
Ben Zid said that the rural people in the country are faced with many significant challenges. She told me that the effects of climate change are destroying their food crops.

"Youth unemployment in rural areas is a problem, because of population growth  farmers have less and less land area to cultivate," said Ben Zid "Small farmers are also suffering greatly from the political crisis in the country because some donors are not providing aid to allow the government to subsidize fertilizers."

Another key issue, says Ben Zid, is that as a result of El Niño, there is a risk that farmers in some areas in Northern Burundi may lose their rice crop due to the flooding.
If they lose their crop, they will not be able to pay back the loans they took to buy inputs and they will not be able to purchase inputs for the next planting season either. To limit the damage, the IFAD-supported Agricultural Intensification and Value-enhancing Support Project is helping the farmers to repair the irrigation systems.

Irrigation system built by IFAD supported project

Ben Zid also explained the important role that IFAD is playing in post-conflict reconstruction in the rural areas. With the support of IFAD, the farmers have been able to increase their rice production and their incomes by adopting the system of rice intensification and investments in irrigation scheme construction.

System of Rice Intensification IFAD supported value chain project - PRODEFI
As we all know, war destroys social links and cohesion. IFAD is helping the country to rebuild these links through development projects that use livestock solidarity chains.

For example, the solidarity chain of the cows has contributed to rebuilding and strengthening social relations among the various ethnic groups. The system starts by identifying the target group within the communities using a participatory and inclusive approach.

Woman farmer happy to receive a cow hugging the farmer who passed it to her

Then the project gives one pregnant cow or sows to each beneficiary. When the cow (or sows) has the calf the beneficiary passes it on to another beneficiary that might be from another ethnic group but who is able to maintain the calves or piglets.

With the cows or sows, the farmers have organic fertilizer or manure that also helps to increase their staple crop production and ensure the household food security and nutrition. At least, 10 000 households benefited from livestock development activities.They also sell milk to increase their income.

According to Rym, women are at the heart of IFAD’s activities in Burundi. In Burundian society, rural women are the most vulnerable group. One of the sub components of our operations is to provide legal support to women who are oppressed by their husbands or other family members.

With legal support, many women have been able to fight for their rights and in so doing improve the stability of their households and become agents of development and growth of their communities. Many women in IFAD's project areas were trained to engage in livestock rearing, in business, in cropping etc.
Rénilde Buhembe, Presidente of Cooperative in Bugendana

"We have built women's capacity and they are leaders of various cooperatives in their communities," said Ben Zid.

In this fragile situation of the country, investing in young rural people is investing in peace and stability. Without jobs, they have nothing to lose in joining the rebellions.

The projects IFAD is supporting in the country are targeting youth especially. Some of the youth are trained to gain the skills to create jobs for themselves and we are seeing more and more young rural entrepreneurs in the provinces where IFAD is working with the Government of Burundi.

Young people at the training centre

Listening to the difference IFAD is making in Burundi, I was curious to know what more needs to be done for rural poor people in this fragile country and Rym had some concerns.

“The political crisis is having negative impacts on rural people although less than on urban people and we do not know when it will end,” she said.

"Smallholder farmers are having problem purchasing seeds and fertilizers to produce crops. The local rural finance institutions are receiving more and more requests that they cannot meet," she continued.

"The women self-help groups are also suffering from lack of microcredit. IFAD is designing a new microfinance project to help the country to meet the needs of rural finance services for the smallholder farmers and we need to move very fast."

According to Ben Zid, there is a risk that the smallholder farmers who assure the food and nutrition security of their households, and are increasing their incomes, may fall back in food and nutrition insecurity and poverty.

"If we don’t want to compromise the sustainability of our activities in Burundi, we need to move quickly for the approval and the implementation of the new microfinance project in the pipeline," she said.

"The project will contribute to improving food security by giving rural people access to production credit and supporting vulnerable groups with access to micro-loans to develop income generation activities and to develop value chain by providing marketing credits to cooperatives."

I cannot conclude without asking Ben Zid about her own security. She just smiles and says “if you believe in development, you cannot run away and leave alone the rural people who need your contribution, who need IFAD.

“My mom is a war orphan. There are still many orphans here in Burundi and I am happy to be here with them, work with them for the development of their communities."

David F. Paqui is the Regional Communications Officer for IFAD's East and Southern Africa Division and West and Central Africa Division.


Walid Gaddas said…
Mrs Ben Zid, you are doing a great job in Burundi!