Eyes On Burundi Building Resilience Where It's Needed Most

People in Burundi are no strangers to challenge.

With 90 percent of the 11.4 million people relying on subsistence agriculture and food shortages in different periods during the agricultural seasons, serious interventions are needed to boost production and enable farmers to bring their food to market. However, challenges such as political unrest, susceptibility to climate change, soaring malnutrition, huge post-harvest losses, and severe issues with erosion make agricultural progress in Burundi an uphill battle.

Despite these challenges, people in Burundi show true resilience. Since 2012, IFDC has worked with smallholder farmers, finance institutions, and government leaders to increase agricultural productivity with great success. Many farmers have adopted IFDC methods and technologies, and now PAPAB is continuing IFDC’s efforts in the country.


PAPAB — Projet d’Appui à la Productivité Agricole au Burundi in French, and Support Project for Agricultural Productivity in Burundi in English — is a project funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Burundi that aims to sustainably increase food production in Burundi by promoting market-oriented, climate-resilient, and sustainable agricultural techniques, supported by targeted fertilizer subsidies. This subsidy system, known as the Programme National de Subvention des Engrais au Burundi (PNSEB), was an IFDC project that generated great successes and became the bedrock on which PAPAB is primarily built.

But what exactly is PAPAB? Combined with the PNSEB subsidy system, its foundation relies on guiding farm households to make conscious decisions about their future. Household members discuss these decisions together as a family – youngest to oldest, men and women. This includes developing partnerships with other farmers in their villages (scattered across hills called “collines” in Burundi), project teams, government agencies, and private sector partners. It seeks to create a vision that sees farmers empowered through these partnerships, access to finance and financial literacy, and education on sustainable farming practices.

PAPAB is a huge, holistic project with many interlocking parts that affect nearly all aspects of farmers’ lives. Often, its current scope and future potential are daunting, but the program can be understood by dividing it into a few essential components.

Subsidy Support

The PNSEB subsidy program that underscores PAPAB’s success is truly powered by IFDC. By carrying out PNSEB activities and providing technical support, the subsidy component of PAPAB reaches more than half a million households.

Despite the social and economic crisis affecting Burundi, the PNSEB demand continues to increase – from 18,000 tons of subsidized fertilizers purchased during the first PNSEB subsidy year in 2013 to 50,000 tons purchased in the current agricultural year. This means farmers are using more than eight times the amount of fertilizer than before PNSEB began.

There is also a strong increase in demand for locally produced dolomite used as calcareous amendment for acidic soils, with a current demand of 9,000 tons per year. It’s not just about using more fertilizers: it’s about using better fertilizers. Fertilizer advice currently promoted in Burundi is based on trials and knowledge dating back several decades. Thanks to extensive soil analysis and nationwide fertilizer trials, new fertilizer formulas are being tested and approved by the Burundian Agricultural Research Institute with the assistance of experts from IFDC. These new formulas focus on micronutrients, which can be supplemented through the application of this calcareous amendment to overcome the high acidity levels throughout the country.

The PIP Approach: Developing Households from the Ground Up

The Integrated Farm Planning approach called PIP (from the French Plan Intégré du Paysan) is a bottom-up approach that increases resilient farming systems through collaborative efforts. This approach was developed by the research partner in PAPAB, Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra). The idea is to help farm households create a long-term vision for their futures and inspire them to take charge in changing their realities. This is done by working with all members of the household — from the youngest to oldest, each is empowered to provide input and participate in the decision-making on what will make their family succeed. The PAPAB project will work directly with 80,000 farm households using the PIP approach in 14 communes scattered across the country.

By collaborating with each other and other farming families to grow more food while conserving their land and developing their community, these smallholder farmers will be able to join together to shape their collective futures.

The approach is heavily used by IFDC throughout Burundi and is based on instilling the following principles in farmers:

  • Empowerment: to believe in their own ability to change their reality, see opportunities to improve, and have intrinsic motivation to undertake action.
  • Integration: to be aware of the importance of farm resilience and develop an attainable future farm vision with integrated activities.
  • Collaboration: to exchange knowledge and learn from others to improve and carry out actions together to achieve wide-scale sustainable impact.

The PIP approach is as central to the PAPAB project as the PNSEB subsidy system. The integration and importance of the PIP approach are visualized on the left.

Grow More, Sell More, Stay Resilient

By working with implementing partners ZOA, Oxfam, Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra), Auxfin, and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as OAP, ADISCO, and Reseaux Burundi 2000+, PAPAB strives to sustainably increase food production by promoting market-oriented, climate-resilient farming. The PIP approach is what makes that happen, by focusing on healthy soils and motivated people. PIP enables PAPAB to provide integrated solutions at the household level by addressing many challenges that stand in the way of farmers’ success.

Main institutions, organizations, and implementing partners of PAPAB:

  • Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Burundi
  • Ministry of the Environment, Agriculture and Livestock
  • Financial institutions (banks and microfinance institutions)
  • Private operators (mainly importers and distributors of fertilizers)
  • Structures of the local governments
  • Agronomic research institutes
  • International NGOs: Alterra, ZOA, Oxfam
  • Local NGOs: ADISCO, OAP, Réseau Burundi 2000+

PAPAB Farmers Shape Their Futures


My name is Genevieve Manishimwe from Gatobo Hill. I was born to a poor farming family that relied on subsistence farming. I always thought we could achieve more. When I got married, I knew we weren’t practicing agriculture as effectively as we could. The advent of PAPAB with its PIP approach provided a solution because it improved the way I cultivated my crops. By using the project’s techniques, our production increased considerably, and now my home is food secure.

The project worked with my entire family to teach us how to plan and schedule activities in our household. Before the project interventions, the heavy rains would wash away almost all of our produce. Now we have set goals to properly landscape and protect our soil so that it is fertile and safe from erosion. We are also determined to apply other good agricultural practices and modern livestock breeding. For this reason, we have drawn four contour lines through training provided by PAPAB, and we plan to supplement our soil with organic matter like manure. To have manure, we bought a cow, pig, and goat. Because of modern breeding practices, the cow that we bought at 550,000 francs (U.S. $312) was sold at BIF 2,000,000 (U.S. $1,100). PAPAB and the PIP approach have stabilized our farm and our future, and I would like to see other hills participating.


The PAPAB project taught us how to join a Savings and Loans Group. We learned how to save money to provide our day-to-day needs, and with 30 members banded together, we now have access to small loans. We have also planted 300 avocado trees as an income-generating activity. With each tree generating a potential BIF 47,000 (U.S. $26), we expect to earn BIF 14,100,000 (U.S. $8,000), which will benefit our families and enable us to improve our living conditions.


Since I began farming, I had never arranged my crops into neat patterns. With trainings from PAPAB, I learned to develop my plot by planting in rows and focusing on how I can collect rainwater to use during the dry season and prevent erosion. I dig small ditches to reroute and collect the water. The ample water allows me to produce considerably more bananas. My future plans are to build a better house for my wife and seven children.


All photos copyright IFDC, 2018.

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