flag of BurundiRice has become an important crop for Burundi, which increased its rice production by 316% between 1984 and 2011. In 2010 Burundi was importing about one-third of its rice and making efforts to further increase production. IRRI has been officially collaborating with Burundi since 2008.

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 farmers planting rice

IRRI’s objective in Burundi is to enhance the national capability in research on rice and rice-based systems in the country. IRRI first started working in Burundi in 2008 when a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the country and IRRI was signed. The beginnings of this agreement were first born when current IRRI Liaison Scientist and Coordinator for Burundi, Joseph Bigirimana, attended the Rice Research to Production Training Course at IRRI in 2006 where he met with IRRI management.

Following this preliminary meeting and further work by Joseph in Burundi, the Burundian government officially asked IRRI to collaborate with it. In 2006, IRRI sent experts to Burundi to investigate the rice production environment and saw there were opportunities for collaboration.

IRRI has since established an office in the capital Bujumbura within the campus of the University of Burundi, where laboratory and other facilities are shared with the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences. IRRI now employs 19 staff in Burundi including  a regional coordinator,  two regional breeders, six researchers, eight technicians, and two administrative assistants.

In 2009, the first joint project with CARE Burundi was established with support from the Howard Buffett Foundation to train ex-combatant women in rice production. IRRI is also sharing rice breeding lines with Burundi that are being tested at a number of IRRI field sites around the country in different rice production ecologies.

In November 2010, two Ministers of Burundi government visited IRRI fields on the Imbo plain. The two Ministers were Prof. Julien Nimubona, Minister of High Education and Scientific Research, and Ir. Odette Kayitesi, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock. They were accompanied by the Vice-Rector of Burundi University. In their speeches following the visit, both Ministers congratulated IRRI for its important role in food security in Burundi. They also highlighted rice as one of the government’s priority crops for the country and encouraged IRRI to continue with rice research.

In October 2013, a new IRRI-Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office opened in Bujumura, Burundi. This will serve as a regional rice research hub to help support the development of the rice sector in Africa.

 women rice farmers in Burundi

Institutions involved in rice research in Burundi are IRRI, the Faculties of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Burundi and the University of Ngozi, and Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Burundi (ISABU).

IRRI’s objective in Burundi is to enhance the national capability in research on rice and rice-based systems in the country.

Rice production challenges in Burundi that research can help to address include:

  • Lack of high performance varieties
  • Production and postharvest technologies are employed at low level-in fields
  • Prevalence of diseases including blast and bacterial sheath rot
  • Poor rice fertility due to cold temperatures
  • Small land area that has been overused, with limited use of fertilizers
  • Iron and aluminium toxicity
  • Shortage of qualified researchers

Current research and development with Burundi

Developing locally adapted and high quality rice varieties

IRRI is extending its rice breeding in Burundi to develop more high-yielding rice varieties suited to Burundi’s ecology. IRRI is breeding new rice varieties with better tolerance or resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses – particularly blast, sheath rot, cold temperatures, salinity, and iron toxicity – while maintaining the high quality grain preferred by consumers.

Of 16 varieties tested in multilocation trials in East and Southern Africa – five promising ones have been selected for further development. In addition, nine pedigree lines have been selected and are ready for demonstration plots, six potential rice varieties have been chosen that are suitable for saline conditions, and one has been identified with cold tolerance in Akagoma.

Addressing blast

Blast is the most serious disease that affects rice production across Burundi and other parts of Africa. 29 monogenic rice lines, each containing one blast resistance gene, have been field tested in Akagoma and Kirundo which are hot spots for blast diseases. Results from that experiment showed that nine genes (Pita-2, Pik-m, Pik-h, Pi9, Pi20(t), Pi5, Pi1, Piz-5, and Piz-t) resisted to leaf and neck blast both in Kirundo and in Ngozi. It was suggested that breeding programs for blast resistance in Burundi should focus on these nine candidate genes.

This study was completed by field experiments in the dry season 2011, and by artificial inoculations in controlled conditions.

Introduce small-scale mechanization

IRRI has trained its technicians in Burundi to use its recently acquired two-wheeled hand tractor for cultivation and a thresher. We now aim to demonstrate the equipment in farmer plots to show how it can improve land preparation and postharvest practices. Using the machines can save time, labor, and money, which can help reduce rice prices, but it also reduces employment. 

IRRI-ESA is working with the Burundi Government to plan for increased efficiency in the rice sector that mechanization delivers, and to look at alternative employment options for farm laborers.

Key achievements

Three rice varieties developed for Burundi

IRRI-bred varieties Vuninzara (IR77713), Gwizumwimbu (IR79511), and Mugwiza (IR91028-115-2-2-2-1), adapted to the irrigated areas on the Imbo Plain, were developed to boost rice production and match farmer and consumer needs. These varieties were released in 2011 and 2016 and yield 6.5–7 tons per hectare on average, which is more than the global average of about 4.5 tons per hectare (2012).

Rice production training for women

In 2010, 398 ex-combatant women were trained in a joint IRRI-CARE project in all aspects of rice production as part of a Farmer Field School. This gave them access to rice production land, generate income, and develop new livelihoods for their families. The farmers were also involved in participatory varietal trials where they helped the scientists choose which rice varieties they preferred to assist with breeding locally suited rice varieties.

Regional rice breeder’s workshop

In May 2010, the Regional Rice Breeders Workshop for Africa was held in Burundi. 25 breeders took part to the workshop from 7 African countries: Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique and Malawi. They selected good rice material from more than 200 lines that were grown in Kireka and Muramba in Kirundo Province. They were also trained to use the International Crop Information System (ICIS).

Research facilities in Burundi

In addition to the regional office, IRRI constructed laboratories for research in plant diseases, molecular biology, and grain quality at the University of Burundi in Mutanga. These laboratories will be equipped and used for research and capacity building, not only for Burundi but also for the whole ESA.

Monitoring progress

In November 2013, IRRI-ESA held the 7th Annual Regional Breeding Workshop, during which the progress of the reinforcement of regional breeding nurseries and exchange of breeding lines were assessed. Thirty-two participants joined from Benin, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zanzibar.

Current Collaboration

To help advance collaboration and improve policy in Burundi, IRRI works with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences of the University of Burundi, Ngozi University, the Agricultural Science Institute, Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Burundi, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, nongovernment and farmers’ organizations, and other national, regional, and international stakeholders.

IRRI is part of the national committee for rice sector development in Burundi. It is supported by a range of partners, including the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Capacity building

IRRI encouraged and supported the education and training—through short courses and graduate studies—of rice researchers, technicians, and extension officers from Burundi.

For years, IRRI provided training for 38 rice researchers and two scholars to ensure that the latest developments in research, as well as technologies, are integrated into the country's rice production.

 farmers in Burundi choosing the best-looking white rice varieties

Rice was introduced in Burundi in 1890 from Tanzania, but it did not develop until 1968 when the first irrigated scheme of 2,550 hectares was installed in the Imbo plain.

Rice consumption

Traditionally in Burundi, rice was eaten only once or twice a year at feasts and festivals. In the 1980s however, research institutions introduced cold-tolerant varieties in the marshlands of middle altitude regions of the country which made rice an alternative crop for Burundians. Schools and the military were given rice to eat as it was not perishable and it rapidly became very popular.

Now, a lot of Burundians eat rice every day but the rice sector is not yet well-developed. Migration to urban areas further fuels this increase in rice consumption because as people leave rural areas, they also leave behind traditional rural foods such as bananas and yams. Rice is preferred by consumers because it is quick and easy to prepare. It also doesn't spoil easily.

National rice markets

There are two different markets for rice in Burundi. One includes the urban population in the cities and across the Imbo plain, which is the fertile plain area around the capital of Bujumbura. This group prefers the high quality, long-grained aromatic rice. If they are given poor quality rice they won’t be interested in it. The other market is in the elevated areas, where they are more concerned with producing enough rice to eat. For this group, rice with good resistance to locally-occurring biotic and abiotic stresses is the first priority. For both markets, rice that matures earlier, which allows them to grow a second crop following rice, is an advantage.

In general both markets prefer higher quality rice with good taste, aroma, and good cooking traits. However, the price for this high quality rice is typically higher than other types, which limits who can purchase it despite it being widely preferred.

Rice growing areas

There are three major rice-producing ecologies in Burundi which are the irrigated areas of the Imbo plain, the rainfed (non-irrigated) areas of Imbo and Moso lowlands, and the non-irrigated areas of the elevated marshland region (1,400 to 1,700 m). It is estimated that the land area in Burundi currently being used for rice production includes about 5,000 hectares in the irrigated Imbo plain, 15,000 hectares in the non-irrigated Imbo plain, and 30,000 hectares in the Moso lowland. The potential in the marshlands of high elevation ecologies is of 120,000 hectares. However, more accurate data on rice production areas in Burundi is needed.

The advantage of rice for Burundian farmers in high elevation regions is that rice can be grown when the land is too wet to grow anything else. So farmers do not have to change their other planting habits, but simply add rice to the mix and get more from their land.

Farm land in the Imbo plain is owned by the government, but farmers are given areas to grow crops. In return, they give some of their produce back to the government as a lease payment to cover the costs of irrigation, for example. Traditionally, women are the providers of farm labor.

The average farm size in Burundi is about 0.5 hectares per family, which is managed to produce food. Rice is produced for family consumption. However, as demand for rice grows, some farmers will also sell their rice. Farmers who grow rice more commercially on the irrigated Imbo plains are more likely to sell most of their rice crop and employ additional labor to assist with rice production.

Rice production

Rice is grown once a year in Burundi. The same land is also used to grow other crops. Average rice yields in the irrigated Imbo plain are 3.5 to 4 tons per hectare, close to the global average 4.5 tons per hectare. In the rainfed areas of the Imbo plain, they get about 2 tons per hectare. And in the high elevation marshland areas they are 2 to 2.5 tons per hectare.

In 2010, about 75,000 tons of rice was estimated to be produced in Burundi while another 40,000 tons of rice was imported. Typically it is the high-quality aromatic rice that is imported from places like Thailand and Pakistan, which the wealthier people can afford. Rice is imported to access quality rice, less to supplement quantity. Some rice also comes in from neighboring Tanzania, but these quantities are not well-known. Between 1984 and 2011, rice production increased from 18,000 to 75,000 tons per year – a 316% increase in 27 years.

To know more facts about rice in Burundi, go to ricepedia.org/index.php/burundi.

Dr. Joseph BigirimanaDr. Joseph Bigirimana

IRRI Regional Coordinator
Faculty of Agricultural Sciences
Tel: +257 77 788232

IRRI-East and Southern Africa Regional Office (IRRI-ESARO)

c/o University of Burundi
Faculty of Agricultural Sciences
B.P 5132 Bujumbura