Farmers in southern Burundi are some of the poorest people in the world. High population density, small land holdings, unpredictable climate, and decreasing soil fertility make conditions in the landlocked East African country pretty desperate. Not to mention dubious democratic institutions, political violence, and a refugee crisis. With 90 percent of Burundians being small-scale farmers, ensuring the rural economy works is vital to the nation’s prosperity.
In one part of the country, the entrepreneurial spirit of – largely women – farmers has started to change their fortunes and created a mini business boom. Remarkably, the source of this transformation, sunflowers, has been sitting in their gardens all along. For the farmers who scrape a living trying to grow beans, vegetables or maize, the brightly coloured plants that grew around their modest homes were of little interest. That was, until a local charity, Warubizi, funded by Christian Aid, encouraged them to harness the economic potential under their feet. Gertrude Ntiranyibagira, a 40-year-old widow, said: “I never knew about the sunflower crop. We used to have them in our gardens but we took them just to be flowers with no financial value.”
From Sunflowers to Sun Power
By spreading the word about the cash to be made from sunflowers, Warubizi has helped to trigger a series of money making ventures. The enterprising Jacqueline Niyukuri, 38 and a mother of two (who also cares for an orphan), has turned her sunflower seeds into solar panels. “In the last season, I got 237kgs of sunflower seeds, and from selling them I made enough money to buy two pigs. I recently sold seven piglets. And the money I got from that business also helped me to build my house – before that I was renting. I’ve also bought a solar panel so my children can now study after dark.”