Agriculture is driving Force Behind Economy

Odette Kayitesi, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, explains that agriculture is Burundi’s life blood and the driving force behind the country’s economy. She outlines her ministry’s policies and projects aimed at fostering the development of this key sector.

European Times: What are your ministry’s main goals for developing the agriculture sector?

Odette Kayitesi, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock
Odette Kayitesi, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock

Odette Kayitesi: Burundi is predominantly an agricultural country and over 90% of the population is involved in farming. Our farmers breed cattle and grow food crops or other crops such as coffee, tea and cotton to generate revenues. Much of our agriculture is still at the subsistence level, however, our main goal is to make the most of Burundi’s significant advantages in the agriculture sector to move beyond subsistence farming. Our first priority is to produce enough food to achieve food security for Burundi’s growing population, and then we need to step up our production of agricultural products for export and to add value to our agricultural products. This means increasing production, implementing mechanisation and improving our infrastructure.

We have obtained over half of the funding we need for our current national agricultural investment programme and we have received important commitments from the World Bank, the EU and individual countries, including Belgium, as well as other global funding partners. However, in our development plan for agriculture for the period 2012 to 2017, we need much more funding to reach our goals, and we are counting on private-sector support.

European Times: What are the main challenges the agriculture sector faces?

Odette Kayitesi: In addition to the poverty of our population and our need for funding to implement modern machinery and farming techniques, Burundi has faced periods of droughts and floods and struggles with crop diseases. We are working with local, regional and international partners to find solutions to these problems. Burundi also needs to increase the amount and variety of its agricultural exports. Our main exports today are coffee and tea, but we have the potential to produce many more crops for export. In addition, climate change has caused new problems in Burundi’s agriculture sector, as it has in other countries, and to deal with these new challenges means that we must all work together for the benefit of the world in general and for Burundians.

European Times: Why should investors target Burundi’s agriculture sector?

Odette Kayitesi: Burundi is now stable and at peace, and there are many opportunities for exporting agricultural products from Burundi to Central and East African markets and beyond. Burundi offers fertile soil, adequate water, a skilled workforce in agriculture, and varied conditions that allow to produce a wide range of crops, from rice and maize to bananas, oil palms, soybeans, sugarcane, peas, tea and coffee, among others. Burundi also has the potential to produce new kinds of crops, including cocoa. Most of Burundi’s crops are grown organically, which is a big advantage given the growing demand worldwide for organic food crops.

In addition, our tea, coffee, potatoes and other crops are well known for their unique character. I recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with international partners for a coffee project, Kahawatu, which aims to produce very high-quality coffee in Burundi. We would like to double or even triple Burundi’s coffee production over the next five years along with upgrading quality. Burundi’s fisheries sector also has strong growth prospects; there are many fish in Burundi which do not exist anywhere else.

European Times: What about livestock production?

Odette Kayitesi: Livestock production is another high-potential activity which suffered during the war years but is now being revived. We are in the process of providing farmers with new breeding stock to help get livestock operations off the ground. For example, we are distributing 230 milk cattle to farmers in the Isale and Mubimbi communities outside Bujumbura so that they can produce milk for local consumption and for markets in the capital. The manure from these cattle can be used as natural fertiliser.

European Times: How can foreign investors enter the market?

Odette Kayitesi: There are many public-private partnership opportunities in Burundi’s agriculture sector, and we are in the process of privatising various enterprises which will also offer investment potential. Our ministry organises a meeting every month with representatives of the private sector to discuss future developments and investment opportunities in the agriculture and food-processing industries. We also welcome investment in research activities in the agriculture sector, which is crucial for the sector’s sustainable growth. We would like to see more projects like the International Rice Research Institute’s research centre here
in Burundi.

European Times: What is your personal message to investors?

Odette Kayitesi: For investors in agriculture, Burundi has the right soil, climate, natural resources, skilled labour and strategic location. We welcome foreign investors to help us realise the great potential of our agriculture sector.