Despite being surrounded by lush farming valleys and lakes full of fish, the commune of Busoni, a northern border district in Burundi, has been recently plagued by food shortages and even famine. The effects of climate change have extended dry seasons and interrupted harvests. 

Additionally, before the 2015 social-political crisis, Burundian entrepreneurs on the border used to trade coffee, chickens and beans in exchange for Rwandese Francs. While Rwandan entrepreneurs would travel across the border to trade kitchen utensils, shoes and clothes. These cross-border market linkages allowed young people to generate sufficient income to invest in farming. However, with political sanctions and civil unrest, small traders have stopped doing business. Commercial cars based in Burundi no longer enter Rwanda and as such, people cannot afford the basic tools for farming or fishing, resulting in food shortages.

Eric Niyoyitungiye, a 28 year old entrepreneur explained: “We have three types of fishermen: those who work during the day, those who work overnight and those who work all week long. Fishermen [and women] are prone to malaria due to long nights spent on the rivers and lakes. Without toilets on the boats, it is the same water they consume or cook with that they urinate in, which can result in diseases”. 

Despite this, young people enrolled in an entrepreneurship course were recently asked to select a profitable and sustainable business sector to invest in. Almost all of the aspiring agri-entrepreneurs chose farming or fishing, lacking other innovative business ideas.

However, following leadership and business development trainings with SPARK and Burundi Business Incubation Network (BBIN), and financed by UNDP, Eric decided to follow a different path. Now, from 6am until 6:30pm Eric transforms locally grown cassava and maize harvests into flour. 

Eric noticed that for miles around there were only two other flour mills, only one of which was operational and providing a service to over 1000 farmers! Farmers choose to preserve their harvested cassava and maize by transforming into flour that they can then sell on. Eric saw the demand for a flour mill and an opportunity to fill the gap in Busoni’s market. 

He rented a tiny workspace just 2m wide and 4m long, bought a second hand diesel engine and opened his flour mill, called Association des Jeunes Actifs Patriotique de Ruheha (AJAPRU). The mill is now generating a steady profit and has hired 16 workers. With the savigs earned, the team has been able to construct a shop in Nyagisozi town where AJAPRU is able to sell its flour and provide the community with other food products, such as maize, cassava, salt and cooking oil.

Innovative businesses such as AJAPRU go further in combating the negative effects of climate change and conflict by adapting to the needs of the communities. Entrepreneurs like Eric help support subsistence farmers to work their way to commercial farming by prolonging the shelf-life of products, providing more sustainable income and contributing to local economies.

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