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.
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
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.
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.