Burundi: “Lost crop” sprouts again in local fields (Syfia Grands Lacs)

| November 17, 2008

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Hélène Nzirubusa proudly grows taro plants in the Mukazye River valley of Rutana province, southeastern Burundi. Taro – also known as elephant ear – had disappeared from the country some 10 years ago. But today, this hardy crop is sprouting in fields across the province. Taro has been revived in thanks to the efforts of a crop multiplication centre, which makes taro cuttings and distributes them to farmers.

Joseph Ndikumana is another farmer who grows taro in Rutana province. He remembers that, during his childhood, elephant ear ensured there would be enough food on the table from February to April. Now, Taro is an important staple food in Burundi – more popular even than sweet potatoes and cassava.

Ms. Nzirubusa works at the multiplication centre. She says that the return of taro is a huge step towards making famine a thing of the past in Burundi. Elephant ear is drought-resistant, well-adapted to local soil conditions, and simple to grow. All you have to do is plant a cutting with some manure. Four to six months later, it’s time to harvest.

Taro crops yield between 10 and 30 tonnes of tubers per hectare. Traditionally, Burundians store the tubers by burying them underground. Taro is very high in starch. It is usually eaten with beans or with amaranth and a bit of salt.

Léonard Butoyi is the engineer who supervises the work at the multiplication centre in Rutana province. In collaboration with the Burundian Ministry of Agriculture, the centre multiplies a variety of taro that is imported from Uganda. Mr. Butoyi says that this imported variety is high yielding and therefore helps meet the nation’s food needs. Even through Rutana is the only province that receives the improved cuttings, taro sprouts are beginning to emerge from the soil in all parts of the country. These sprouts foretell a better future for farmers.