DRC has ‘gone green’ in Burundi to further empower the displaced communities. The Project Innovation and Business Engagement (PIBE) team with funding from Danida has supported a resilience design project in an environmentally degraded zone of Burundi. The project was aimed at enhancing livelihoods, increasing food security, and building climate resilience within a community made up of IDPs, returnees and the host community from Giharo in Rutana Province - south of the country.
Burundi is a small but densely populated nation in East Africa. It borders Rwanda to the north, DR Congo to the west and Tanzania to the east. After decades of ethic-based civil conflict, Burundi is one of the poorest nations in the world and over 90% of its population relies on subsistence agriculture. It is, like much of the world, also suffering from significant environmental issues, due in part to poor land use management and unsustainable farming practices. This, alongside the climatic changes the globe is facing, means issues such as deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, drought and flash flooding are hitting displaced and disenfranchised communities hard and multiplies vulnerabilities.
The green DRC project, in collaboration with two local partners REMA and PELUM, focused on one hill (colline) and the community living and working on that hill. The programme was set up to work on three levels, the landscape level, the household level and the co-op level. The three levels were designed to work in harmony with each other, creating synchronicity across the entire programme and making sure that all parts of the environment worked together to improve lives of those living on the hill, as well as the ecology of the hill - not just through the project’s duration but long after its completion.
DRC provided demonstration and training at the end of 2019 to teach the community tools of agroecologically-based resilience such as earth and stoneworks for water harvesting, diversifying of crops, building of permagardens and grey water recycling - to name but a few. Through the use of these simple techniques it was envisioned that the community could revitalise soil fertility, stop topsoil run off, mitigate flash floods and harvest water for longer term use, increase crop production for communities personal use and livelihoods and restore the ecosystem for future generations.
The results of resilience building are not necessarily seen over night - but over time - as the environment repairs and the community’s ability improve their lives and their livelihoods also repairs - and goes from strength to strength in tandem. However, that being said, anecdotal evidence from team members working with community as well as community focus group discussions undertaken at the completion of the project have highlighted that there are already benefits being felt and seen by the colline! Food production has increased as a result of the permagardens, the water harvesting techniques have decreased water runoff and supported the redirection of water into much larger areas of the hill creating longer-term moisture storage in the soil and less damaging flooding. The community has seen how this has increased soil fertility which is already helping the growth of crops and trees and other foliage. It is expected that more and more positive outcomes will be felt as time goes on.
Natalie Topa, Regional Resilience and Livelihoods Coordinator for East Africa and Great Lakes
As Natalie Topa, the Regional Resilience and Livelihoods Coordinator for East Africa and Great Lakes (an activist and advocate with in DRC (and externally) for resilience programming based in ecology) says “displacement focused programming should be partnering with nature to find the solutions”. Programmes should not look for the quick fix ‘handout’ option but for the options that reinvigorate the community’s environment as well as strengthening livelihoods and making sure that long after the programme implementation finishes, the community has the tools to continue to regenerate the land and thrive with it.
This is more important than ever as environmental degradation and changes in the world’s climate are at unprecedented levels affecting all corners of the globe. Humanitarian organisations like DRC have an opportunity to innovate and reinvest into the environments it works in whilst also helping displaced communities rebuild their lives and succeed and prosper. DRC’s Resilient Colline Pilot Project in Burundi is just the beginning for DRC’s programming going green.