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Seeds of economic growth, security lie beyond agriculture for many in Africa

Seeds of economic growth, security lie beyond agriculture for many in Africa

Published: August 10, 2012

Claudette is part of an income-generating program with Biraturaba, an AFSC partner that works with returnees, internally displaced people, and ex-combatants in Burundi.

Photo: AFSC / Biraturaba

Dependence on the land has long been a source of conflict in Burundi. Its soil can’t keep up with the rate of population growth—among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa—and the courts are crowded with cases of conflicting claims to property.

At the root of the problem is the fact that many Burundians’ livelihoods are tied to agriculture while the land is increasingly infertile, says Triphonie Habonimana, AFSC program officer. Food shortages, combined with high unemployment rates, spur conflict.

Other African countries with these problems have turned to nonagricultural industries in response, developing areas of the economy other than farming where prospects for generating jobs and income are better.

With a need for both basic services and jobs, Burundi would like to do the same.

To learn firsthand from entrepreneurs who have found success and to give Burundians a chance to exchange ideas with their peers from other countries, AFSC recently organized a workshop focused on income-generating activities.

Participants came from eight countries, including Benin, Mali, and Burkina Faso—where there has been a nonagricultural focus for some time—and Zimbabwe, where AFSC has worked to train educators who can help entrepreneurs start businesses in areas like manufacturing and services that meet the needs of their communities.

The workshop participants discussed best practices, areas where entrepreneurs’ time is best spent, and what kinds of training are needed to help entrepreneurs become self-sufficient. On their list of activities for generating income was everything from transportation services such as motorbikes and taxi cabs to manufacturing and a range of crafts—pottery, carpentry, hairdressing, and recycling iron for use in kitchen utensils or water cans.

Of course, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

Needs vary by region, so the type of businesses that can be successful in an area really depends on what resources and unmet needs a community has. “For instance, in a rural area, it would be impossible to do photocopying services or word processing because there is no light in the majority of places, and there are not many people who need those services,” explains Triphonie.

Burundians live in rural areas for the most part and they are on the move, traveling as far as 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) on foot to reach transportation that can take them to jobs. In such areas, a taxi service could flourish and make a real impact on the local economy by making it easier for people to get to jobs.

Being able to identify the right business opportunities is a big part of the equation.

“I think it's a matter of being trained and being able to identify a true income-generating activity that may work in a particular environment,” says Triphonie. “Another thing that makes businesses fail is [a lack of] variety… in a distance of one kilometer, you can find five small shops with the same articles,” she says.

With more trainings and opportunities to exchange ideas, AFSC will continue to teach strategies for developing sustainable small businesses that prove more fruitful for Burundians.