[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] A church-backed project to provide security for refugees living on a hillside in Burundi has resulted in the return of wildlife, including partridges and monkeys, to the once-barren landscape. A group of refugees settled on the hill in Rutana, southern Burundi, after leaving a refugee camp in Tanzania. But, because there were no trees on the hill, it suffered from erosion and was at risk of flooding from different rivers which flowed through the area.
But the area has been transformed thanks to a partnership between the Anglican Church of Burundi and local community groups, with the support of the US-based Episcopal Relief & Development (ER&D). The digging of anti-erosion trenches and the planting of trees and grasses has had a “dramatic” effect on the hillside.
Josiah Nduwayezu, a participant in the programme, and Chartier, a community volunteer, report that there are now “luxuriant plantations of forest trees on the Sabuvuge sub hills, lush plantations of agro forestry species in the fields and trench pits well-appointed.”
They told ER&D: “We observe with reforestation, a population of partridges and monkeys multiplies and constitutes an important ecological niche with a rich complexity of the ecosystem.”
The strong downward infiltration of rainwater to the groundwater has resulted in “three sources of spontaneous clear water” that is fresh and safe to drink. The commune has laid pipework to manage access to one of the new water sources.
The improved soil fertility means that the hillside is now able to grow crops and several families are now part of a “strong agricultural production” system. Crop yields have increased from 1,500 kg/ha to 3,500 kg/ha for maize; and from 800 kg/ha to 1,500 kg/ha for beans.
In 2014 the commune earned FBu 940,000 (BIF, approximately £441 GBP) from the sale of banana suckers; and in 2015, FBu 1,700,000 (£798 GBP) from beans; and FBu 480,000 (£225 GBP). The proceeds are used to fund house construction, solar power, schools fees, health care and other domestic needs.
The commune are using wood from the trees for firewood, but are using selective exploitation by band, rather than cuts, to ensure its usage is sustainable. The trees not only provide firewood, prevent erosion, and a habitat for the partridges and monkeys; the reforestation also means that the trees are protecting houses and crops from strong winds on the hillside.
ER&D say that the project is an example of how the 15th of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals can be put into practice. This goal is to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”