17% Inflation in Burundi, Actually a Good Thing

Written by Plant With Purpose on July 19, 2012 in General

Earlier this month, an article by Reuters caught the attention of Christi Huizenga, Plant With Purpose’s Program Officer for Africa. Now we invite you to grab a cup of coffee and jump into her reflections on why this tiny story about Burundi’s 17% inflation rate is actually a good thing for the country—and how Plant With Purpose Burundi is addressing the needs of those most affected in one of the world’s poorest countries.  

From Christi: 

Here’s a Little Background:
A 17% inflation rate sounds harsh—and it is— but it’s actually down from recent inflation rates that have been at 22% or higher. To put this in perspective, the Great Depression peaked at a 23% inflation rate in 1920, and things in the U.S. pretty much fell apart. Burundians are seriously resilient.    

Burundi competes with the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the lowest GDP per capita, per person. Almost all Burundians are subsistence farmers. It’s too expensive to buy food, and prices keep going up. So the majority of the people there eat what they can grow. The problem is that Burundi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, which means limited land—and limited crops. Plus, many areas of Burundi have very poor soil quality. At the same time, disease has been attacking cassava and banana, Burundi’s core staple crops. All of this makes subsistence farming quite challenging.

And a Little on Improving Soil Quality:  
According to scientists at CIALCA, two of the provinces where Plant With Purpose works, Gitega and Rutana, are experiencing some of the poorest soil quality in the country. Plant With Purpose Burundi is coming alongside farmers for long-term, sustainable soil improvement. By doing things like planting green manures that fix nitrogen into the soil (Velvet Bean, Pueraria, or pigeon pea) and experimenting with fertilizing trees (GliricidiaTephrosia, or Faidherbia), farmers are improving the quality of their land—and their chances at better harvests. Farmers are also planting nutritious crops such as leafy green vegetables and pineapple, which thrive better in poor soil. Our hope is that efforts like these will help families eat more food, higher quality food, and a larger diversity of foods—without requiring much cash.  

And a Little on Fighting Disease
The disease affecting cassava and bananas is a huge problem in Burundi. It spread during the years of civil war in Burundi when fields were not maintained. To combat this problem, Plant With Purpose is working with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and CIALCA to carefully reintroduce varieties of cassava, banana, vegetables (leafy greens, okra, etc.), and potatoes in a way that diversifies crops and minimizes disease. We have partnered with these research organizations to provide seed through Plant With Purpose farmer associations. So far it has been successful. Banana has increased in health to the point of the opening of Plant With Purpose macropropagation sites for banana. Farmers are also producing more cassava and then processing that cassava to make it last longer. The goal that we are moving toward is helping farmers have a more predictable and diverse food supply, which means improved nutrition and health for children and families.  

And a Little on Saving Money: 
Through Village Savings and Loan Associations, people come together to save and mobilize their own money. Many people wonder why we would encourage cash savings in a place that has such crazy high inflation and currency devaluation. It’s a good question, but what we are finding in practice is that saving cash is all the more important because of inflation and devaluation. For example, the rains came really late this year, and many farmers lost everything. Because these farmers had not built a buffer of savings, they had to make some tough choices. Even though saving is difficult, poor and vulnerable farmers can’t afford not to save. As farmers increase their crop production, they will have more to sell and more money to save. They will also be able to save things like processed cassava, which can be stored and then sold a little at a time as cash is needed.

This goes to show:  
A 17% inflation rate is surprisingly good news in Burundi, but that still doesn’t mean life is easy for subsistence farmers. Yet, as Plant With Purpose Burundi works with farmers in places like Gitega and Rutana, women and men are experiencing hope and resilience as they work hard to implement creative solutions to the problems they face.

A 17% inflation rate? This is surprisingly a good thing for the country of Burundi. Improved soil and crop production? These are really good things for families living in Burundi.

Have any questions or comments? Leave them here, and we’ll be sure to respond.    

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