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Blighted History, Central Control, and Natural fortunes

General Characteristics

Land in Burundi, a; in many agricultural countries, is of great cultural attachment and economic value to the people. It is even more intensely so in the case of Burundi, given the country’s unsustainable population density and consignment of agriculture as the critical national ‘breadwinner’. Economic activities in Burundi revolve around agricultural activities. Over 85% of the country’s population is engaged in the agricultural sector. Food crops, mainly for subsistence, represent 87% of the total crop production. Cash crops take the rest; coffee (8%), tea and sugarcane (1.7%), and others (3.3%). The following table breaks down the respective land area occupation in Burundi.

The significance of land use in Burundi has a blighted social history. A system of social and economic relationships existed between communities in the countries before the advent of colonialism. This system’s characterization as ‘feudal’ has been the subject of intense dispute between the Hutu and Tutsi in Burundi. Whereas many Hutus view it as the ultimate historical illustration of Tutsi exploitation, injustice, and domination, Tutis, and their Apollogist see it in the light of a flexible social and economic system.g5 The ‘feudal’ system, which was abolished by ex-President Braganza during the 2nd Republic when he assumed power in 1976, has existed in Burundi for a long time. Ubugerenua, as it is locally referred to, is closely associated with the advent of the monarchy and its intricate social and economic relations. In this system, a person would work for a more fortunate one, usually a Tutsi, without compensation. The ‘serf’ was referred to as Muumuu and the ‘lord’ as Umututsi. The parcel of land that the Muumuu was living on would never become his property or the property of his descendant. Muumuu and his children always faced the prospect of expulsion from the land on account of flimsy and unsubstantiated accusations for instance for allegedly plotting against the ‘lord: Injustice thus prevailed during the royal regime, especially through the capricious and unjust dispossession of the serf’s land and cattle.

First, land scarcity is evident in both rural and urban areas. Because it remains the principal capital for the household, there is the problem of intense competition. Secondly, cultural practices and traditions of land inheritance from father to son have led to the increased subdivision of land between sons, decreasing the economies of scale that would otherwise accrue from reasonable parcels. This increased subdivision has led to a general decline in soil fertility and productivity. Third, the traditional land tenure system of subdivision between male heirs has led increasingly to the shrinking of household land. Increasingly, the land is becoming too small for viable subdividesoon, effectively disinheriting some members of the household and leading to migration. Related to this is the limiting of shifting cultivation between pieces of land. The effects are over-exploitation of parcels, declining productivity, and the concomitant increase in food prices because of scarcity. Additionally, migrations are taking place from less productive areas to more vulnerable but uninhabited and thus fertile land: hillsides. The effect of increased erosion of vulnerable areas and the declining fertility and thus productivity of traditional farming areas has been multiple: food scarcity, increased areas under cultivation, reduced soil fertility, and menses competition for land.

Natural Resource Management

Burundi falls short of the minimum requirements for sustainable natural resource management and utilization. In part, this failure is part of a broader dynamic in the conflict in the country. The significance, nevertheless, of an appreciation of the importance of natural resource management has not been lacking. On the contrary, it has been viewed as an integral part of man’s relationship to his natural environment. This is illustrated by the tale of a monarch’s refusal to destroy the country’s sprawling natural forest to flush out mutineers to his rule. Oral sources report that in the early 20th century, Miami Gasbag refused to put the Kibira forest to fire where a rebellion had erupted under the leadership of one of his sons-in-law. The monarch advanced that this was because “Kabila Forest is the link between the sky and the earth, and therefore no one had the right to destroy it.

The uncoordinated character of natural resource management in Burundi has resulted from the lack of proper overarching environmental legislation. Its chaotic and coercive character has ensured that it did not strike a chord with the rural inhabitants who are the traditional custodians of the environment. The undermining of the traditional Bashingantahe conflict regulation institution has watered down public confidence in the peaceful resolution of disputes arising from the exploitation of natural resources.

Last word

An analysis of the framework regulating land use illustrates the disorderly and exclusive character of government approaches. The Land Law, a set of rules governing the use of land, is no longer in use. The Act, No 1/0088 dated 1986, which creates the Burundian Land law was intended to indicate different rights linked to national land ownership. Close examination of the act reveals that it does not include clauses that protect the land against degradation through erosion, over-exploitation, and inappropriate farming practices that would result in decreased productivity. Furthermore, rather than complement the Forest Act, the Land Act, which was issued one and a half years later, serves to limit the application of the former. Competencies for decisions regarding forest transfers or concessions are conflicting. Moreover, the Forest Act ignores traditional rights and habits. The following strategic guidelines were set up by the government of Burundi through the Ministry of Land and the Environment to redress the limitations


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