Burundi: Collecting rainwater eases water problems

| May 27, 2013

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Immaculate Mukahigiro decided she had had enough of the erratic rainfall. The long drought showed no signs of ending. The 46-year-old farmer, from the village of Nyakizu in northern Burundi, had harvested nothing for three years.

So she decided to set up a system to harvest rainwater. Ms. Mukahigiro explains: “I could not collect more than one basket [of vegetables] per field and I could barely feed my family. In the market, vegetables are expensive. So I had the idea in 2011 to build a cistern to capture rainwater.”

Erratic rainfall is common in northern Burundi. It’s difficult for farmers to find water for household use or to grow food. Farmers struggle to water their kitchen gardens. The village of Nyakizu had only one source of drinking water. More than 600 households used it daily. Ms. Mukahigiro had to walk more than one kilometre to reach it.

Through a project funded by the international NGO, Oxfam-NOVIB, Ms. Mukahigiro built a tank to collect rainwater. The tank allows her to irrigate her vegetables and harvest enough to provide her family with at least two meals a day.

Mrs. Mukahigiro has four vegetable gardens now. She can harvest up to seven baskets from each garden. She adds, happily: “I grow cabbage, onions, tomatoes, carrots, eggplants and peppers. The family consumes 70% of the production and I sell the remaining 30%.” With the money she earned, she built a second tank to collect rainwater runoff.

The cube-shaped tank is built of wooden planks lined with a tarpaulin. It sits on a foundation of stone and concrete, and has a tap. A system of gutters collects the rainwater. With two tanks, Ms. Mukahigiro can store up to 8000 litres of water.

Joseph Nzimana is agricultural extension worker who is in charge of the project supported by Oxfam-NOVIB. He explains: “When our organization [Confederation of Associations of Agricultural Producers for development] received funding for the humanitarian project in this area, I immediately thought of Mrs. Mukahigiro’s project: building a cistern for collecting rainwater.” The project has built tanks for four households. There are plans to build 15 more to benefit other households.

Forty-four-year-old Joselyne Miburo is a beneficiary of the project. She says, “Mukahigiro inspired us. Everyone speaks of her in our village, and our lives have changed thanks to this innovation.” Ms. Miburo earned 120,000 Burundian Francs ($80 US) from her two vegetable gardens. She says, “It was my best production: six baskets per field. With [rainwater] runoff, we earn more.”

Ms. Mukahigiro’s 16 year-old daughter, Mireille Niyonzima, is proud of her mother. The rainwater tanks have changed their lives. She says, “Today, we drink water from the tank after it has been boiled. We can do the dishes and laundry every two days. It’s fantastic!”