Burundi: Agriculture Sector Taps Into Belgian Funds

Bujumbura — The international donor community is showing signs of renewed interest in Burundi's research and development (R&D), with a Belgian initiative aiming to rebuild human capacity and research facilities in a major agricultural sciences institute.

The Burundi civil war brought research activities across the country to a standstill when it broke out in 1993, according to Nkurunziza Gelase a researcher at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences (ISABU), Burundi.

During the war, Gelase tells SciDev.Net, seven ISABU research centres across the country were inaccessible, compromising research activities. Some research centres were burnt down and important hybrid crop varieties such as 'Kitale maize' were lost.

Since the war ended in 2005, R&D funding has been trickling back into the country. A number of donors are funding research projects and institutions.

One such project is the Institutional and Operational Support Programme for the Agricultural Sector (PAIOSA), an initiative by the Belgium Technical Cooperation - the Belgian development agency - to provide ISABU with institutional and operational support for the agricultural sector.

The project, which kicked off in December 2012 and will last until 2017, aims to rebuild the institute's human capacity and research facilities. Some of its priorities include buying new equipment and building new laboratories.

"We intend to create stronger human and infrastructural capabilities at ISABU [to enhance] organisational effectiveness," says Valerie Claes, international technical assistant for the programme.

BTC has also established a competitive research fund of more than US$220,000. To tap into this, researchers are expected to come up with innovative research ideas to address national agricultural problems.

According to Denis Manirambona, UN consultant on food security in Burundi, the competitive research fund component is a welcome move as it will encourage researchers at ISABU to come up with good research ideas to help address the problems facing agriculture.

The programme will also enhance information dissemination from the institute.

According to Claes, BTC gave more than US$260,000 to ISABU in February 2013 for research and to purchase laboratory equipment.

"The money will be used to support infrastructure improvements - including renovating and putting up new buildings at various ISABU research stations - and to buy equipment for the biomedical laboratory and equipment for chemical analysis, such as spectrometers and PH meters," says Claes. Part of the money will also be used to put up and equipping a biochemical laboratory at the institute.

An equivalent amount of money has also been set aside for training of ISABU researchers and other staff.

It is expected that when the project ends, ISABU will be in a position to efficiently run its own research activities.

"The country does not have enough researchers, especially in agricultural research, as most of them fled during the war," says Cyprian Banyiyereka, head of the department of land management and cropping systems at ISABU.

To ensure effective agricultural research, he adds, ISABU needs more support to rebuild its research capacity.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

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