Unmasking the socio-economic potential of rice in Burundi: Outcomes of the East Africa Rice Conference 2021

As part of the 2021 East African Rice Conference (EARC), national workshops were held in six African countries: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

EARC aimed to identify policy reforms to transform Africa’s rice sector through scientific innovations, and the national events provided an opportunity to assess such opportunities in each of the six countries, individually.

Investments in the rice sub-sector, the expansion of production, and empowering and incentivising youth and women involved in the value chain can improve livelihoods of the people in Burundi.

The Burundi national rice conference 2021, held on 18th May, discussed the potential of rice, a priority crop in the country alongside beans, bananas and potatoes.

The conference convened experts, researchers, businessmen, the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock, farmers, rice processors, regional agricultural research institutes, and private companies engaged in rice seed production, importation of agricultural machineries and agro-chemicals to support rice sector development in Burundi and across the East African region.

The conference was facilitated by Eng. MBARUSHIMANA Jean Claude, cabinet advisor and focal point for Burundi’s National Rice Development Strategy.

In his introductory remarks, Jean Claude mentioned that the objectives of the conference were “to facilitate knowledge exchange on rice sector research and development at national and regional levels; take stock of public, private and donor-supported initiatives to inform policy-making and implementation; and to boost multi-stakeholder collaboration towards achieving national and regional rice self-sufficiency, increasing food and nutrition security, and alleviating poverty through inclusive and sustainable production and commercialisation.”

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Dr Abdelbagi ISMAIL, Principal Scientist and International Rice Research Institute Africa Representative stressed the importance and timeliness of the conference in his pre-recorded opening speech.

Dr Abdelbagi Ismail, Principal Scientist and International Rice Research Institute Africa Representative gives his remarks at the conference

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This was reiterated by Dr Yusuke HANEISHI, General Coordinator of the Coalition for African Rice Development Secretariat, who shared conference expectations and future engagements of the participating organisations in supporting rice sector development, at the national and regional levels.

Dr Yusuke Haneishi, General Coordinator of the Coalition for African Rice Development Secretariat gives conference expectations

Thematic presentations, discussions and suggested interventions
The conference discussed six key topics, rice research and development, inclusive markets, and value chains, rice-based livelihoods – gender and youth integration, integrated rice sector development in a changing climate, inclusive finance and investment, and agricultural policy reforms.

Discussions of these topics yielded key outcomes and suggested interventions explained below.

Rice research and development
This was discussed across two key themes, ‘innovations in rice mechanisation and post-harvest’ and establishing regional centre of excellence for rice.

The discussions revealed that smallholder farmers in Burundi have small pieces of land, lack funding, and therefore do not invest in rice mechanisation, and neither does the private sector which is not well developed.

To deal with these challenges, the conference suggested the use of small rice mechanisation​systems, land consolidation and sensitisation on entrepreneurship in rice mechanisation.

The participants also suggested that the East African Governments should invest in Rice Centres of Excellence.

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Inclusive markets and value chains
This was discussed across two main themes, ‘rice commercialisation and livelihood outcomes, and ‘the experience of rice processors in marketing and value addition’.

It emerged that Burundi’s rice sub-sector lacks well-developed regional and international commercial strategies to face global commercial requirements and low levels of post-harvest technologies continue to affect the quality of the milled rice.​

Development of commercial strategies for the rice value chain, strengthening the private sector​ and promotion of good practices in harvesting, threshing, drying, and winnowing would help the country to deal with these challenges.

Rice-based livelihoods – gender and youth integration
The conference discussed ‘gendered livelihood dynamics in rice-based food systems’ and explored ‘jobs, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for the youth in the rice sub-sector.’

The discussions revealed that rice production is highly demanding for women and youth in terms of effort, time, and financial investment. Also, the youth do not have access to loans and lack business planning skills.

Among the suggested interventions were empowering and incentivising youth and women, creation of favourable financial institutions for youth and women and capacity building on entrepreneurship.

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Integrated rice sector development in a changing climate
The conference discussed two key themes, ‘county experiences on integrated rice seed sector development’ and ‘enhancing sustainability and resilience in local and national rice system to cope with climate change.’

The discussions identified challenges, for instance, Burundi’s seed industry is not well developed ​and rice production is affected by calamities such as floods, drought, soil salinity and emerging diseases.

To cope with these challenges, the conference suggested sensitisation of private and public companies to invest in the seed sector.

Other interventions include early warning system​s, development of tolerant rice varieties, watershed protection and use of irrigation facilities adapted to climate change.

Inclusive finance and investment
This topic featured two key themes, ‘improving access to credit and finance for small producers and processors’, and ‘rice sector financing and public-private partnerships.’

It emerged that small producers and processors lack access to bank loans, and investors are reluctant to finance the rice sub-sector.

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The conference suggested the development of new funding approach adapted to small producers and processors, increasing awareness and insurance companies ​to enhance funding and security of such funds to the sector.

Agricultural policy reforms
Discussion in this topic included ‘agriculture policy reforms and foresight’ and ‘rice dietary changes, household food and nutrition security.’

Discussions revealed that funds are needed to implement rice policies ​and that there is increasing demand for rice due to urbanisation and high growing population rates.

The conference suggested interventions such as sustainable rice intensification, and mobilisation of funds for the implementation​ of rice policies.

Conclusion
Burundi’s national conference which culminated in the regional rice conference was a useful forum for stakeholders to reflect on the status of the countries rice sub-sector, share lessons, and review the existing challenges and opportunities for the growth of the sub-sector.

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