Farmers adapt to climate crisis on Burundi’s precarious hillsides
It was a late evening in April 2018 when Philbert Ntaciyica, exhausted from the non-stop heavy rain battering his roof, wondered if his farm would survive this latest storm.
When the 12-hour downpour finally eased in Nzove, a village perched on a hillside in north-eastern Burundi, Ntaciyica emerged from his home to find no crops or topsoil. All had been washed downhill by the deluge, and along with them, his livelihood.
“We had nothing left,” said Ntaciyica. “We were forced to sell our livestock. Our children couldn’t eat well. They went from two meals a day to one.”
Along with most other men in the village, the father-of-six was forced to leave his wife and young children behind and travel to neighbouring Rwanda for work.
“The consequences for the community were enormous. Some children abandoned schools,” the 35-year-old said. “We had to stay strong.”
The storm that ravaged Ntaciyica's village is part of a wave of extreme weather that has struck Burundi in recent years, a product of climate change, scientists say. Although the nation releases fewer greenhouse gas emissions per capita than almost any other country on Earth, it bears a disproportionately heavy burden from the climate crisis.
Philbert Ntaciyica tends to his farm in Burundi’s Nzove village. Like many farmers in the area, increasingly erratic outbursts of heavy rain are washing his crops and topsoil downhill into the lake below. Photo: UNEP/Lisa Murray
Adapting to the climate crisis
The situation is only set to deteriorate. Temperatures are expected to rise between 1.5 -2.5 degrees in the country by 2050, while rainfall patterns are projected to become more extreme, leading to protracted dry seasons, more flooding and increased erosion. This will put a mounting strain on agriculture, food security and access to safe water across the country.
In the years to come, Burundi, like much of Africa, will face the monumental challenge of adapting to these changes. Countries will need solutions, like developing drought-resilient agriculture, building seawalls to protect coastal cities, improving water security to withstand droughts, and a whole lot more. Recent studies have predicted African countries, on average, may have to spend up to five times more on climate adaptation than they do on healthcare.
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