Dr. Ir. Willy Irakoze is the current Director of Research at Burundi Institute for Agricultural Sciences (ISABU), he is also a researcher and Lecturer at the University of Burundi. He spoke to Joella Niciteretse on irrigation and agriculture production in Burundi.
Could you tell us the common irrigation technics used in Burundi?
There are 3 main methods of irrigation such as the sprinkler irrigation, this is a method applied to a controlled manner where water is sprayed.
For instance, I saw this method in Bururi at the seed multiplier. The second irrigation system is drip irrigation, this system saves water while hydrating plants. Water drips to the roots of a plant in the right amount at the right time. This allows plants to get what they exactly need when needed. The drip irrigation system is way too demanding in terms of currency (expensive), time and modern technology. For example, it is the technique we use here at ISABU. And the third method is surface irrigation. This method is affordable and easy to set up. It is the best process and the most used in Burundi (imbo plains, ponds regions in Ngizi, Gitega ) as we have water supply. The only advantage of using the surface water is that farmers waste a great amount of water.
What are the eminent challenges farmers face with the different irrigation systems?
All of the above techniques cannot be used countrywide. We cannot apply the surface method in the hills, it affects the country because the majority of farmers are located in mountains. This handicaps the techniques, Imagine hydrating the hill, all the water and the seeds spill. Yet other techniques are expensive. As the matter of fact, irrigation in the mountain regions requires modern technology, and we do not have that. Besides that, these other methods are very expensive and we cannot afford. Modernizing our irrigation system is a millions of foreign currency investment for sure because we do not have materials and technicians. It is obvious that farmers do not much benefits from cultivating crops for them to afford buying these materials. Besides all of the above reasons, the population is not aware of the techniques required to increase the production.
We understand the Burundi agriculture products still struggle at the international market, what could be the possible impediment?
Burundi Bureau of Standards (BBN) cannot issue acceptable certificates in several countries, mainly western countries. Certifying our products to the Kenyan Bureau of Standards (KEBS) will not benefit the country because first of all the Burundian Avocado or tangerines will become Kenyans (lose their identity or independence). Which means Burundi loses its name on the international market. Secondly, we export so as to earn and bring foreign currencies, that goal cannot be fulfilled because those bureau of standards have to maximize the costs to analyze and certify our products. We lose the profit we were expecting to get due to analysis process in Kenya. In other words, Burundi will benefit less than Kenya.
After all the above mentioned irrigation methods, what is the way forward for farmers?
The Government needs to support our farmers. They do not have means and can’t afford modern technology, so the Government alongside its partners need to look for technicians and provide appropriate materials. The population may contribute via their cooperatives. They can gather a colossal amount of money through the above cooperatives so as to construct tanks.
As a State institution what have you done so far since it is among the priorities in the country’s National Development Plan 2018-2027?
Talking of the ecological management research program, ISABU has so far developed several irrigation and drainage techniques that can be used in the country and affordable to the farmers. We have technically finished conceiving and designing the sheets which match with the citizen’s means. We have already started raising awareness to the Government and external donors.
However we are blocked somewhere because ISABU does not have a budget to install those modern materials at their respective households or raise awareness to the population.
What needs to be done to modernize our agriculture sector to increase production?
Actually this goes beyond irrigation. For sure water is an important input that is why I call the government to think about capitalizing the water we have so that it can be used during the dry season. Comparing to the means injected in some development projects this is possible since it does not require a lot of things. The State needs to think about it so as to increase the scale of production during the dry season.
We have always explained to the Government that there is a multiplication of people who practice agriculture and the extension of the surfaces on which farming activities have been practiced. We ask the government to create other units which can help the existing structures to produce enough organo-mineral fertilizers. As of now, we have subsidized chemical fertilizers, seeds but we did not subsidize pesticides. While we are in a tropical environment where it is hot, it is too humid and there are pests and diseases. That is the reason why it is a must to subsidize because farmers cannot afford on their own and at 100%. However, ISABU still needs support so as to produce the large quantity of selected seeds. We cannot expect good agricultural production when we sow a bad seed no matter what we used either irrigation or pesticides. That is why ISABU has to be more supported so as to produce those seeds. Moreover, ISABU needs to vulgarize because the majority of our farmers are not informed that these varieties of seeds exist. So ISABU has to raise their awareness and tell them the advantages of using selected seeds.
Why is the country not able to export diversified agriculture products?
The routine is actually a problem for developing countries like Burundi where there is no mechanism to evolve, to be able to think and promote the accreditation. Talking about the exportation, it is obvious that we export less but Burundi has a lot that can be offered to the international market. I think we could capitalize on avocados, we sometimes produce a lot of fruits such as tangerines, tomatoes. We can export this but the population has to be sensitized about how to export that, we have to remember that the international market requires quality. Talking of quality it means that the country needs an internationally certified laboratory. This laboratory has to meet the requirements. It could help Burundians to give accreditation to their export products.