Some of the world’s poorest rural populations live in Burundi and the DRC. For many living in these countries, land degradation and poverty lead to hopelessness.
Burundi: Burundi is ranked 184th out of 188 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index, indicating extreme poverty and a lack of infrastructure. And sadly, poverty is on the rise. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “The estimated number of people affected by food insecurity increased from 2.1 million to 3 million between October 2016 and January 2017, which represents one quarter of the total population of 11 million Burundians.”
The extreme poverty of Burundi is linked to a violent history of ethnic conflict and genocide. In addition, farming families in Burundi rely heavily on the land for their livelihood. In fact, agriculture employs 90 percent of the population in Burundi (Source: World Bank). Yet due to environmental degradation, the land does not produce well, causing these individuals to suffer tremendously.
DRC: Many family farms in the Kakumba watershed in the DRC have steep hillsides with very little topsoil. Deforestation is a serious problem, and each rainfall leads to further erosion and decline in farm productivity. Eighty-four percent of the families in our partnering communities in the DRC have no source of income beyond agriculture. Furthermore, Plant With Purpose’s baseline study shows that the average family in this area eats 1.3 meals per day, and 95 percent reported that they went at least one entire day in the past month without eating.
Yet there is hope to empower farming families in the DRC and Burundi to transform their lives and their land, as well as promote peace in their communities. The Plant With Purpose model (www.plantwithpurpose.org) has been tested and refined for more than 30 years in deforested watershed areas around the world. We work at the intersection of economic empowerment, environmental restoration, and spiritual renewal. Through Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) groups, farmers save money and take out loans that allow them to invest in small business, their children’s education, or their farms. Through sustainable agriculture training, tree planting, and Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) initiatives, farmers learn to better care for their land and produce higher yields. Finally, through partnering with local churches, community members grow in their faith, learn to serve their neighbors, and address pressing community needs. Together, these components create a synergistic model of community development that leads to lasting transformation.
As farmers come together to restore the planet, and increase their crop production and thus their prosperity, they are also planting peace in their communities. By working alongside one another, Hutu and Tutsi populations, as well as other ethnic tribes, are sowing peace and reconciliation for future generations. Former refugees are discovering the dignity that comes through restoring and working the land. As land is restored and as food security increases, poverty decreases. Plant With Purpose farmers are creating a more peaceful and prosperous future for their families and their country.
Renathe is an example of one of the farmers that Plant With Purpose works alongside:
Renathe Ntacobakimvuna is a farmer and mother of three in Burundi. She and her husband rely on their small plot of land to survive. Since partnering with Plant With Purpose six years ago, her family eats more nutritiously and can afford basic necessities. “I lacked seeds for planting and I had hunger,” she remembers. “Now I can overcome that.” Planting trees on her plot has also equipped her to spend less money on food and firewood.
Renathe shares that she has grown in dignity since joining a VSLA group. Her involvement allows her to better provide for her family and gives her more of a voice in the household, something Burundian women are not guaranteed. “I get respect and value from my family because I contribute to our day-to-day survival,” she says. Families in my village truly do live day-to-day, but VSLA groups increase financial stability for the future.
Today, Renathe and her family eat well and even have enough savings left over to afford education for the children. “My family can go to the hospital as well without problems thanks to the money I get from [crop] production,” she says. VLSA groups foster accountability and support within the community, and members of the group are learning to live in peace and rely on one another for support. “We have cultivated together and help each other if we have problems,” says Renathe.