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DRC-Burundi: forests and parks fall victim to land scarcity and infertility

Potato field in the Monge forest nature reserve. Farmers are taking over the land at Monge, cutting down trees, tilting them over tree trunks and burning the grass/Photo taken on 26 August 2023 by Arthur Bizimana

The average family farm size is falling in DRC and Burundi’s rural areas as a result of demographic pressure. Fertility is lost as a result of over-exploitation. The population is consequently getting hold of forest areas to make fertile fields and is threatening the boundaries of parks and forests. There is wildlife predation and the use of practices such as slash-and-burn agriculture. These farmers’ new fields are weakening rivers such as the Rusizi in Burundi. In the DRC, migrations to the rainforests are no longer solving the problem of the fields, for more reasons than one, as this collaborative report, produced in Burundi by Arthur Bizimana and in the DRC by Hervé Mukulu edited by Annika McGinnis from InfoNile, with the support of the Rainforest Journalism Fund in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, explains.

In Burundi, forests are making way for farmland; in the DRC, Virunga Park under threat

Grass under fire and cut trees leaning on old tree trunks in the Monge natural forest reserve. This is the panoramic view of the area around the Kayombe hill in the Bugarama zone and commune of Rumonge Province in southwest Burundi. The forest is gradually making way for potato and cabbage fields.

Here, farmers are growing crops beyond Mahuba river, which forms the boundary between the Monge natural forest reserve and private farms, removing all vegetation on the way.

When the Monge natural forest reserve was created in 1989, it covered an area of 5,000 hectares and was home to 47 indigenous households, explains Cyprien Niyongabo, who is responsible for the Monge natural forest reserve.

However, its size has decreased significantly over the years. It currently covers 3,200 hectares. More than 30 years after its creation, about 2,000 hectares out of the 5,000 hectares of the Monge natural forest reserve have already vanished, according to Niyongabo Cyprien.

“The indigenous people took possession of land in the Monge forest natural reserve and sold it to Burundians from the southern region (Mugamba) who migrated there in search of fertile arable land and pasture for their livestock,” Niyongabo says.

“The number of natives and new occupants has increased. As a result, their plots of land have shrunk. They have expanded their farms in the forest,” explains the Monge natural reserve manager.

“In the past, these bare stretches of land were used for farming. When they were no longer suitable for cultivation, until grass could no longer grow on them, farmers moved onto other farmland in the forest. Households living in the forest are a threat to Monge,” complains forest ranger Bizoza Léonidas.

Bare infertile land abandoned at the expense of a still fertile cultivable area: Local people clear the areas of the Monge natural reserve, abandoning them when they are no longer fertile and clearing others that are still fertile /Photo taken on 26 August 2023 by Arthur Bizimana.

The same degradation that occurred to the Mukungu-Rukambasi protected landscape is now happening to Monge, says Professor André Nduwimana, an ecologist and lecturer in the environment department at the University of Burundi. Set in the south of the country, around 80 km from the Monge forest natural reserve, the Mukungu-Rukambasi protected landscapes cover some 8,500 hectares.

“A few years ago, Mukungu-Rukambasi was densely forested, but now it’s a desert. The farmers exploited it just once, removing all the vegetation on the way, arguing that the forest is fertile,” Nduwimana said.

“When it rained, because forests are often located on slopes, erosion carried this fertile layer to the river. This is now becoming a problem. The land, which was once fertile, has become barren. Nothing grows there.”

This experience also applies to Monge, which has turned into “barren land,” Nduwimana said.

If nothing is done to preserve the forest as soon as possible, the forest reserve could disappear, warns Cyprien Niyongabo.

According to the source, who requested to remain anonymous for their safety, some of the farmers illegally occupying the Monge natural forest reserve are acting on their own behalf, others with the complicity of eco-guards.

“To grow crops there, they pay the forest rangers a bribe known as “Ikibando”. The intermediaries between farmers and forest rangers collect money, which is equivalent to the cost of renting plots of land to local farmers and offering it to the forest rangers.”

“In such cases, crops are grown without disturbance: this practice dates back to a long time ago, when Monge was still densely forested. You see now, the forest is making way for crops,” explains this informant.

However, some other agricultural fields shown to us by the forest rangers at Monge belong to farmers who are illegally exploiting the forest areas, but who have refused to pay the eco-guards a bribe. “They are then prosecuted by the eco-guards,” he explains.

But if they had also agreed to pay the bribe, they would have been spared prosecution all along, the informant says.

The eco-guards, however, say that Monge forest is illegally exploited during off-duty hours.

Berchmans Hatungimana, director of Burundian Office for the Protection of the Environment, acknowledges: “Eco-guards are sometimes involved in the allocation of forest land. If caught, they are removed from their posts and then brought to justice.”

Pacifique Nininahazwe, head of Rusizi Park, said when he started his job in 2020,
“some OBPE agents were guilty of distributing arable land in the park and were punished.”

 

To the west of Burundi is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the second-largest country in Africa. Here at the border of Rwanda and Uganda, the boundaries of the 772,700-hectare Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest park, are constantly being called into question by people degrading the forest.

Agriculture here is mainly carried out using archAaic methods, resulting in insufficient production to provide for the needs of the populations.

A rural landscape in the vicinity of the rural commune of Kyondo, Beni Territory, North Kivu, DRC ©Hervé Mukulu

To hope to increase agricultural production in order to feed the growing number of families, farmers must use more land, resulting in increased pressure on natural resources. Since it is a survival agriculture and not intensive, once one field no longer produces, another must be created. For example, in 2004, Virunga National Park lost 1,500 ha of forest due to pressure from people from Rwanda. More than 90% of the area in the hunting area of Rutshuru is completely degraded and transformed into food fields (State of forests 2006) notes a study by Cifor on the virunga landscape. In addition, since June 2023, Virunga National Park, the oldest protected area in the DRC, has lost 964 hectares of forest according to alerts received by the monitoring tool Global Forest Watch, notes mongabay in November 2023.

Along with over-farming, there is also logging and the manufacturing of “black gold”: charcoal. The latter represents an illegal economy of around $1.68 million per month for armed groups.

“In order to grow crops in the park, there are some people who pretend to be traditional chiefs of the region, taking possession of park land and selling it to poor ignorant people, many of whom do not know the boundaries of the park or the territories of the neighbouring land chiefs,” explains Nzilamba Mukwahabiri Tridon, head of the AGRIPEL (service communal de l’Agriculture, pêche et élevage) agriculture, fisheries and livestock department in the rural commune of Kyondo, Beni territory, North Kivu province.

Some of the park’s boundaries are still in conflict between populations living in the villages bordering the park and the park managers over legal and traditional boundaries.

“When an individual starts farming in the park illegally, he is followed by others when they see his harvest,” continues Nzilamba Mukwahabiri Tridon. He even manages to sell them land.

When the fields become numerous, they are easily spotted by forest rangers, who come in to destroy their crops.

“They wait until the crops planted illegally in the park, such as rice and cassava, have almost ripened… just before ripening, they come and raze everything to the ground, thereby reducing the illegal work to zero by six months to two years, and also arrest the culprits,” he adds.

“To be released from the jails of the forest rangers, they even sell their belongings left here in the village to pay the fines,” creating a vicious circle of poverty, which is deplored by agronomist Nzilamba Mukwahabiri Tridon.

But people still go there because they have no choice. “”Because of land conflicts and landslides. they just go there. But it’s not that there’s no solution,” complains Kavira Kavalami Marie José, Director of the Centre d’Etude des Mécanismes pour le Développement Local, CMDL Kyondo.

Parks under threat, animals invade fields and homes

Wildlife in Ruvubu Park taken during our report/ Photo taken on 23 August 2023 by Arthur Bizimana

Over the past ten years, agricultural production in Burundi has fallen as a result of rainfall shortfalls or excesses, often accompanied by hail and violent tropical storms, notes Dr. Déo Guide Rurema, former minister for environment, agriculture and livestock. Torrential rain, strong winds and hail destroy more than just fields – they also accelerate soil degradation, Rurema adds.

More than 80 percent of Burundians are farmers who rely on rainfall to grow crops and produce. But since 2020, Burundi has been losing 5.2 percent of its surface area every year due to land degradation, according to a 2022 World Bank report, “Tackling Climate Change, Land Degradation and Fragility.”

The Imbo region is one of the regions most affected by climate change. Over the past 10 years, rainfall in this region has been both decreasing and irregular. According to a report by Burundi’s National Statistics Institute published in March 2023, rainfall at the Imbo weather station in western Burundi declined from 94.3 mm in 2011 to 66.3 mm in 2021.

In DRC, a study carried out over a 50-year period by Professor Sahani Walere, an expert in natural disaster management, shows that in the Butembo region, there has been a decrease in the average monthly rainfalls.

“There have already been very significant disruptions during the short rainy season. In other words, in terms of amplitude and length of rainfall, we’ve lost 25 percent in 50 years, which is a disaster in terms of natural risk management. And you can see that during the short rainy season, farmers in urban areas are completely disoriented in terms of what they can do,” explains Professor Sahani Walere, a lecturer in the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the UCG, who directs the research centre “Consulting Engineering in Territorial Planning and Natural Risk Management, GcATGRN.”

At the same time, average farm sizes have declined. In 2016 for example, the average size of a farm for a Burundian household with 6 children was just 0.5 hectares. Climate change coupled with the small size and infertility of family land are leading farmers in Burundi and the DRC to extend their fields into parks in search of land that is still fertile. As a result, wild animals ravage their crops.

“We grow crops in the fields around the park. However, animals damage our crops. If they destroy the crops, the park officials make a note of it and leave. No one is compensated. On the other hand, if they catch the hunters in Ruvubu Park, they are punished,” says Hasabamagara, a farmer who cultivates in the surroundings of the Ruvubu national park in Burundi.

The Burundi Forestry Code of 2016 mandates a buffer zone of at least one kilometre between park boundaries and private fields. However, many farmers cultivate right up to the park boundaries or inside the park, according to Ruvubu National Park Manager Bakundintwari Marc.

Boundaries of protected areas in Burundi are controversial because they were set by a unilateral decision of the state authorities, without the involvement of the local population, according to ecologist Professor André Nduwimana, a lecturer in the environment department at the University of Burundi.

For this expert, what is lacking is this approach of sitting down together and taking measures that are agreed and accepted by everyone.

The lack of a buffer zone restricts the animals’ freedom: “When they go out into the parks, they end up in people’s households and fields,” Bakundintwari points out.

The Forestry Code in Burundi also provides for the creation of a forestry fund that will compensate farmers when their fields are ravaged by wildlife. However, Bakundintwari Marc states that this fund has not yet been set up.

Berchmans Hatungimana, director of Burundi Office for the Protection of the Environment, says that it is difficult to set up such a compensation fund now due to limited financial resources, and instead advises farmers not to grow crops such as rice and sorghum in the vicinity of the parks, which attract animals such as buffalo.

Farmers have responded by organising nightly rounds to prevent the animals from entering their gardens and lighting fires at night in their fields, which deters small animals, says farmer Hasabamagara Marc.

But if farmers are absent for even a single day on their nightly rounds, these animals can wreak havoc. They say they only sleep at home after the harvest. And large mammals still cause a lot of damage.

“If buffalo come, we run away, because buffalo are very scary. To be honest, this year nobody harvested. The buffalo ravaged everything and attacked us right into our homes. They killed a man in Rwamvura and wounded others. It’s as if they were mad,” says Hasabamagara.

The shores of the Virunga National Park in North Kivu in DRC are also affected by the conflicts between humans and wildlife.

“In the south, fishing villages such as Kamandi, Kisaka, Muramba and Kyavinyonge, which existed before the park was created and are still growing, are expanding into the park, while in the north, villages such as Mayangose, Nyaleke and Kanyatsi no longer have fertile fields and are taking over fertile land in the park. Nevertheless, the farmers see the park’s animals destroying their crops in their own fields.”

Professor Paul Vikanza points out that “the challenges of boundaries and land cessions have not been clarified at the Kasindi, Isale, Karuruma and Lubirihya centres.”

In Burundi’s Monge forest reserve, farmers set traps for wild animals so that they fall into them if they come to ravage their crops, explains Léonidas Bizoza, an eco-guard. However, this trapping has contributed to the disappearance and reduction of the wildlife population in the Monge Natural Forest Reserve over the years. Today, only a few species of wildlife remain, says Léonidas.

Impacts of bushfires

Grass catching fire, giving way to agricultural fields in the Monge forest natural reserve, in south-west Burundi. The ash is used as an agricultural input /Photo taken on 26 August 2023 by Arthur Bizimana

Fires set by farmers are also contributing to the loss of forest land. In Burundi, farmers use slash-and-burn agriculture to clear forest land and remove weeds from agricultural fields.
“Bushfires blur the boundaries of the Ruvubu park and allow farmers to expand their fields into the park,” deplores Marc Bakundintwari, the manager of the Ruvubu park.

Around the Ruvubu National Park in eastern Burundi, farmers burn the grasses they have removed from their fields and use it as agricultural input to support the growth of beans and maize, according to Sylvie Ndikumana, a farmer on Rwamvura hill. The forest is sometimes cleared by fire to grow cassava, says Surwanone Gloriose, a farmer from Bweru commune in Ruyigi province.

But in some cases, these bushfires worsen and spread uncontrollably. This destroys park land and contributes to pollution.

“In some cases, the fire may double in intensity and exceed the fire starter’s fire-extinguishing capacity, spreading over hills and parks,” says Surwanone.

In other cases: “we can burn grasses in the daytime when the sun is still shining. If we go home without checking that the fire has gone out, it can spread to other places. Thus the bush fire is born”, she continues.

Burundi loses a lot when bushfires break out. “Bushfires release smoke that contributes to atmospheric poisoning, without forgetting that they decimate grasses, trees and a great deal of biodiversity,” explains Berchmans Hatungimana, director of the Burundian Office for the Protection of the Environment.

Bushfires in The Rusizi National Park / Photo taken on 30 August 2023 by Arthur Bizimana

While Burundi lost 366 hectares of humid primary forest between 2001 and 2022, representing 1.1 percent of the country’s loss of tree cover, the DRC lost 6,330,000 hectares of humid primary forest over the same period, according to Global Forest Watch, an open-source global forest monitoring platform.

According to this application, the primary forest loss in Burundi has moved up and down: from 5 hectares in 2012 to 28 hectares before fluctuating around 5 hectares, while in DRC, the loss of forest cover has increased in ten years, rising from 212,000 hectares lost in 2012 to 500,000 hectares lost in 2016 before fluctuating around 513,000 hectares in 2022.

The loss of tree cover has generally been increasing in both Burundi and the DRC. In Burundi, 871 hectares were lost in 2012, while 1.61 Kha in 2022, while in the DRC it rose from 631 Kha in 2012 to 1.22 Mha in 2022.

Such habitat destruction is one of the factors contributing to the disappearance and decline of wild animals. According to the researcher Benoît Nzigidahera, Burundi has already recorded more than 10 species of animals that have disappeared since the end of the 1950s.

In 1958, Dr. Kai Curry-Lindahl, a Swedish zoologist and author, reported the presence of 200 elephants in the Rusizi plain. Today, there are no elephants left. The last elephant was exterminated in December 2002 in Rusizi National Park.

The extinction of wildlife species also affects other biodiversity – flora and fauna in the ecosystem. In this case, the difficult regeneration of false palm trees in Rusizi Park:

“Research has shown, for example, that breaking the dormancy of the seeds of the endemic Hyphaene species, commonly known as false palm, should pass through the intestine of the elephant. But since the elephants have disappeared, the regeneration of this species is so slow that it is on the brink of extinction,” reveals Berchmans Hatungimana, director of the OBPE. However, It is because of this species that the vegetation of the Rusizi park still retains its forest appearance, according to the study on Hyphaene petersiana carried out by researcher Benoît Nzigidahera

The Rusizi Park’s agricultural fields are undermining the banks of the Rusizi River

Fields of vegetables (cabbage) on the banks of the Rusizi River, in the Rusizi National Park, western Burundi/Photo taken on 30 August 2023 by Arthur Bizimana

Originating in Lake Kivu, the Rusizi River flows through three Central African countries, including DRC, Rwanda and Burundi, before emptying into Lake Tanganyika. Rusizi National Park in Burundi owes its name to the river Rusizi. The river forms the border between Burundi and the DRC.

On the banks of this river in the Palmerai sector, the agricultural fields of maize, rice, cabbage and others are teeming. These fields touch the river. The farmers do not leave any legally required gap between their fields and the river.

In Burundi, to irrigate their crops, farmers dig wells under the ground on the banks of the Rusizi river and the water rises. “We then start drawing water from these wells with watering cans,” explains Ryarambabaje Philippe, a farmer we met on the banks of the Rusizi sarcling his maize plantation. “These crops are harvested between October and November when there is famine,” he says.

“We grow our crops on the banks of the Rusizi river, because we have easy access to water to water our crops,” adds farmer Agnès Irakoze.

However, these wells make the banks of the Rusizi river soft, and this leads to their collapse.

“Farming on the banks of the Rusizi river has weakened the riverbanks. When it rains, the river Rusizi overflows its banks, causing flooding and washing away part of the riverbank. The width of the Rusizi river increases. This widening of the Rusizi river is the result of the clearing of the vegetation that protects the banks of the Rusizi,” reveals Ininahazwe, the head of Rusizi park.

As Rusizi grows and takes its banks with it, it is also eating up forest space. Pierre Ntahomvukiye, an eco-guard, fears that Rusizi will soon pass close to national road number five in the Kagwema area.

The flow of the Rusizi river has experienced changes. “For example, towards Kideheri, Rusizi has taken a different path that diverges from the main river and heads towards the DRC. Even in the dry season, the water continues to flow towards the DRC,” explains Ryarambabaje Philippe. He remembers that in the early 2000s, Rusizi did not flow where it does today.

Is the galloping population a source of land disputes?

“I was born into a family of 10 children. We have three small plots of land. After dividing up the land left by our parents, no one inherited a piece of land where you can sow three kilograms of beans,” Kamariza Emelyne told us when we met him in Nyarurambi, in Gatara commune and Kayanza province, in northern Burundi.

Gatara is one of the most densely populated communes in Burundi. According to Ndikubwimana Donatien, adviser in charge of political, administrative, legal and social issues in the commune of Gatara, the population density in Gatara commune is 847 inhabitants per square kilometre, whereas the national average density is 310 inhabitants per square kilometre.

In DRC, Agronomist Professor Paul Vikanza, Dean of the Faculty of Agronomic Sciences at the Catholic University of Graben, who specialises in the management of natural resources, uses the expression “A demographic powder keg” to describe the Lubero region: 17,095 square kilometres, crossed by the Virunga and Maiko national parks, where galloping demography has become a real danger. It is the most densely populated area in the DRC, 114 habitants per square kilometre, with more than two million inhabitants.

It is a region made up of land stripped of crops and exposed to erosion, exacerbated by rudimentary farming techniques involving repeated ploughing with no crop rotation or fallow land, according to Professor Paul Vikanza.

In some rural agglomerations with more than 50,000 inhabitants, such as Kyondo, “today, if you have a large field, it’s hard to make two plots,” explains agronomist Nzilamba Mukwahabiri Tridon. “It’s these two plots that he subdivides to plant cabbages here, onions there or potatoes… And production becomes insufficient,” adds Kavira Kavalami Marie José, director of CMDL Kyondo.

Today, given the number of children in a family, a 25-metre plot can be subdivided into three portions for three sons. It’s a very complicated process. With land shared for both farming and livestock rearing, land has become very scarce. “There is overpopulation in our town,” says Kasereka Kataliko Charles, Administrative Secretary of the LUUTU rural commune.

Settlement of a land dispute in Kisanzi, on the outskirts of Luotu. The men of the village met to divide up 5 sons of the same father who were fighting over a piece of land. Two of them had gone elsewhere in search of arable land; when they returned, they had no more land in their families.

In Burundi, the division of family farms is often the subject of conflict between family members.

“Our family farm is badly divided, because I’m poor. Our father was a polygamist and married two women. I was born to the first wife. My brothers and sisters from the first wife all died. Those from the second wife survived. After dividing up our inheritance, most of the land went to the children born to the second wife. You can understand that there was injustice,” Ngendabanyikwa Venant, a farmer, told us when we met him in Muhingira, in the Gatara zone and commune.

If financial resources improve, Ngendabanyikwa plans to take his case to court again.

In 2017, 80 percent of the conflicts received in Burundi’s courts concerned land. According to Ndikumana Vianney, head of the Kayanza provincial governor’s office, land disputes force the people of Kayanza to spend a large part of their time behind bars. Sometimes, the piece of land that is the subject of the dispute is very small and can’t yield much, he says.

“Social relations are strained between family members, so much so that they accuse each other of witchcraft when one of them falls ill,” argues Ngendabanyikwa Venant.

Currently, famine is also leading some people to steal from agricultural fields. “Hardly a day goes by without resolving disputes relating to theft from the fields,” says Sixte Ndayizeye, chief of Nyarurambi hill.

He added: “Sometimes, the overstepping of land boundaries can get so bad that people fight each other with fists and machetes.”

On the Mugera hill, in Kabarore commune of Kayanza province, a 30-year-old man beat his father with machetes as a result of a land dispute, Radio Isanganiro reported on 26 October.

To free up the residential courts, the Burundi government relaunched the council of notables management structure at the end of 2022. Each council of notables is made up of 15 members on each hill, who receive complaints from disputing parties and give their opinion on all civil matters falling within the jurisdiction of the local courts.

“Since the council of notables was set up about a year ago, we have received 47 disputes,” says Nyabenda Gordien, one of the notables of Nyarurambi hill. “However, more than 30 of these conflicts relate to land disputes,” says Nyabenda Gordien.

According to the Burundi Statistical Annual Report published in March 2023 by the Burundi National Institute of Statistics, out of 18,892 disputes received in 2017, 15,237 were land disputes: about 81 percent.

INSBU also reports that these land disputes have tripled in four years: from 5,307 land disputes in 2013 to 15,237 land disputes in 2017.
(Graph showing the number of land disputes)

“When registering land ownership, Burundians tend to overstep the boundaries of their farms,” explains Boniface Niyonkuru, head of the land tenure department in Gatara commune. This leads to conflicts.

According to Ndikumana Vianney, Head of the Office of the Governor of Kayanza Province, the small size of the land is a source of conflict between parents and children. “We have already seen cases where children ask their parents why they brought them into the world. Imagine as a parent if a child asked you that question. It’s shameful,” he said.

According to Professor Aloys Ndayisenga, a geographer and lecturer at the University of Burundi in the Faculty of Arts and Human Sciences, “Burundians are very attached to the land and to children. This attitude can be found even among those who have had a long period of study. And it goes back a long way.”

“Traditionally, children were seen as a source of wealth, a source of social prestige for parents and a protection against old age. Having many children meant having a free workforce for agriculture,” explains the researcher. This mentality has not changed,” says the expert.

Land passed down from father to son has been the cause of land fragmentation for several decades. “Nowadays, families are faced with the fact that their land is too small,” says this expert.

“The scarcity of land has had a number of consequences, including widespread poverty, famine, unemployment, reduced agricultural production, over-exploitation of the land and its impoverishment,” analyses this expert.

Migration, malaria and war

Migrating to Virunga Park in search of land for cultivation, the people of Lubero are facing two major challenges: war and disease.

Dr Soheranda, Head Doctor of the Oicha rural health zone since 1983, says: “People who came from the highlands where the climate is cold have serious problems in the lowlands where the climate is hot. There are diseases that are typical of hot climates, such as malaria.”

As a doctor, he saw these people suffer, mistreated by malaria. Some died, others adapted and some were forced to return to their areas of origin.

This health zone recorded 548,846 cases of malaria at health facilities from 2017 to 2022, including 2,1976 severe cases and 240 deaths.

“In this region, many farmers live in the fields, a long way from towns with a basic health structure,,” explains Archip Kule Kyusa, epidemiological monitoring and evaluation officer in the Oicha rural health zone.

In 1992, 30 years ago, farmer Paluku Musunzu Evary made the courageous decision to leave his native village of Malende, on the outskirts of the city of Lubero, to start anew in the territory of Beni, near the city of Oicha.

“I ended up here fleeing problems in my family linked to the distribution of land. When I came here, I found that there’s plenty of space and you can do what you want. You can take as much field space as you like without being told that it’s your grandfather’s or someone else’s field. You start a new life,” he recalls cheerfully.

He left alone and lived there for six years before his wife joined him with their child. Integration was easy for Paluku Musunzu Evary.

“When I arrived, I had a good amount of blood,” the doctor told me. “I didn’t have malaria. That helped me to adapt easily.”

In the popular conception, having enough blood allows you to resist malaria. Because malaria causes anaemia, a significant reduction of blood in the body and which is fatal for many.

However, it wasn’t easy for his wife and children.

“On our arrival, we got to the point where we were advised that my wife and children should return to Butembo in the cold because of the lack of blood. Doctor Kambale helped us a lot, because he took my blood to transfuse it into my child. Then, little by little, they adapted and the malaria in their blood diminished,” says Paluku Musunzu Evary.

Farmer Paluku Musunzu in his plot of land in the rural commune of Oïcha, capital of Beni territory, North Kivu, DRC. Green Afia

Kanyere Amande Des Anges, a teacher at Chamboko primary school and a farmer with fields in Aveyi, Potobu and Maleki, villages around 10 kilometres from the rural commune of Oicha, found herself in the region as a result of the same circumstances, but the war is gradually destroying her dreams.

“In Masereka, we didn’t have enough fields because the family had grown so big, and that led to conflicts between family members. So we were told that here (Oicha) we could have fields, cultivate and harvest whatever we wanted. So we came. We had fields. However, recently we’ve been unable to harvest what we’ve sown because of the insecurity in our fields,” she says.

This part of the Beni territory is facing insecurity caused mainly by a rebel group originating from Uganda known as the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which has decimated more than 10,000 inhabitants with machetes for a decade, in addition to a multitude of indigenous militias known as the mai-mai. These massacres have worsened since 2014, and several dozen civilians are killed by machetes, axes, knives, and other weapons regularly at night in Beni, Ituri and south of Lubero.

These security challenges are forcing some people to return to their villages of origin, where they are not welcome, as the challenges of sharing land within families remain.

A path to solutions

To protect Burundi’s fourteen protected areas, OBPE has just launched in September activities to demarcate protected areas using geo-referenced reinforced concrete markers.
“This is an activity that we have just launched in Rumonge province in the Nkayamba natural forest reserve, because previously protected areas were demarcated by firewalls, and there are people with bad intentions who try to move a firewall. That’s why we’ve decided to install physics geo-referenced markers. We are going to take the geographical data and incorporate it into a machine in such a way that even after 100 years, the traces of these markers will be visible and easy to locate”, says Berchmans Hatungimana, Director of the OBPE.

Fencing off protected areas requires a lot of financial resources. However, we are planning to introduce new wildlife species into the Rusizi Park, and we will be obliged to fence off certain areas where we deem necessary to protect these animals,” continues Hatungimana.
Along with the Monge forest reserve, Hatungimana explains that the problem of land grabbing in natural reserves also arises in the south, in the provinces of Rumonge, Makamba and Bururi. The authority is working to address the problem in all regions, he says.

“When the government decides to protect an area, all the necessary prerequisites, including compensation, must have been met before anyone can carry out an activity there. Even in the Monge forest natural reserve, the necessary steps were taken before it was demarcated. We are currently working with the authorities to see how the people who have taken over the land in the nature reserves can leave these areas so that they can be reserved solely for protection,” he points out.

“The fertility of the parks and banks of the Rusizi stems from the fact that it is a protected area. If an area is protected, it easily recovers its fertility. Under no circumstances can we tolerate farmers exploiting the banks of the river or inside a park, claiming that it is fertile land, because the Ministry of the Environment, Agriculture and Livestock subsidises organo-mineral fertilisers, organic manure and selected seeds, and is raising awareness among the Burundian population to use them when cultivating,” explains Hatungimana.
The OBPE director concludes that they will punish the offenders once they are caught.
On bushfires, those who are caught lighting fires must be punished in accordance with the law, says Hatungimana.

Learn about our traditions, the law and innovations to better manage our lands

In DRC, “land problems must be resolved by custom,” insists our interlocutor in Oicha, Paluku Musunzu Evary.

“To solve the problem of fields, what we can ask of our State is to see how families lived before. We have lost human dignity. Today, whoever has the money manages to seize a common good while everyone knows the real truth. And they tell you that the land law is not like that because they follow the white people’s laws. However, we lived in our villages while each knowing their share of land which gives them the right to citizenship,” Evary says.

“Land conflicts begin now when the patriarchs (old village elders) have all just died. When they were there, there was no land conflict. It is a big mistake to fight for the fields. The fields are very traditional. It’s not good to fight for that,” insists Kahindo Malime, 82, a wise man met in Luutu.

In the DRC, the crisis of family agricultural fields which is observed mainly in the territory of Lubero is caused by poor land planning. There was a lack of critical analysis of the social and economic parameters of the area, explains Katembo Juhudi Duparc, a geomatician from the Institute of Integrated Research of the Université Chrétienne Bilingue au Congo IRIN/ UCBC.

The Congolese parliament has accepted a new law on land use planning to help resolve the problem.

“At the national level, there was a legal vacuum. Fortunately, the country has just adopted a national land use planning policy and a passed law. With these tools, the provinces will adopt provincial plans for land use planning and land interventions,” he rejoices.
This is work that UCBC carries out in partnership with the Provincial Coordination of the National Land Reform Commission.

The new policy will make it possible to implement models of integrated territorial management, explains Shukuru Kyowero, lecturer in the department of water and forests at the Catholic University of Graben (UCG).

“We need models of integrated land management with integrated agriculture where crop rotation, forestry and livestock are applied,” he encourages.

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