It’s 11 a.m. on the plain of Imbo and the sun is almost at its peak. The plain is the main rice-producing area of Burundi and farmers are busy transplanting rice for the second planting of the year.
Among them is Zénos Nzabampema, a 30-year-old farmer who has a lot to be proud of. He has doubled his rice yields over the last two years. He used to harvest about three tonnes of rice from his single hectare plot. But, he says, “Today, I harvest about 5.5 tonnes or even six tonnes. This is the best production I have ever had as a rice farmer.”
How was he able to achieve these returns? It all started when Mr. Nzabampema’s co-operative obtained two motorized tillers with the support of an international non-profit organization called the International Fertilizer Development Center, or IFDC. The tiller is a piece of motorized farming equipment that enables farmers to prepare land more quickly.
Odette Ntirampeba is president of a local rice co-operative called Girumwete-Dukore, which means “we work with courage.” She says that in two hours, one farmer with a tiller can do the same amount of work as 10 farmers with hoes over two days. At seven million Burundian francs each (4,500 American dollars), the machines are too expensive for the average farmer. But the co-operative negotiated to get two tillers on credit from IFDC. Co-op members contribute to an account used to repay the loan.
All farmers on the Imbo plain benefit from the tillers, whether or not they are members of the co-operative. Farmers who wish to use the equipment pay a fee based on the amount of land they plan to till. Co-op members pay a lower rate.
Mr. Nzabampema says: “Before, when we did the work by hand, leveling was difficult work. With the tiller, leveling is very simple, which makes it even easier to transplant rice in rows.” As an added benefit, he can use the tiller to bury weeds after he is done leveling. Burying weeds improves the soil, and is much more difficult and time-consuming with a hoe.
A few years ago, Mr. Nzabampema was considering abandoning rice farming because it did not earn him enough money. Labour fees cost him dearly, chipping away at his income. Today, that’s no longer the case. The cost of producing one hectare of rice has been cut by more than half. Even better, he now grows two rice crops a year.
Mr. Nzabampema says, “Over the past two years, my life and my family’s life have changed. Thanks to my new yields, I have earned a lot.” With the new income, he purchased three Friesian cows. Now his family has milk to drink and extra to sell. They also enjoy living in a new, modern home, with enough income to cover their needs and more.
Encouraged by his recent harvests, Mr. Nzabampema is making plans. In the near future, he hopes to buy his own motorized tiller and more land to cultivate.