“In the past, there were times when [crop disasters] happened… however, this time, the hailstorm was truly unprecedented. It felt as if the world was coming to an end.”
These are the words of Bukucuru Emmanuel, a 50-year old farmer who lives in Kirundo province, Burundi.
In December 2020 and January 2021, severe hailstorms destroyed the majority of the crops in this region, and families found themselves facing a significant loss of income. Then, the hailstorms hit again between February and May 2022, causing even more destruction and devastating post-harvest losses.
“Stepping outside, and seeing the devastating impact of the hail on our crops, I couldn’t stop myself from crying, even before my children started to cry,” says Emmanuel.
For residents in this region who already deal with chronic food insecurity due to poverty, conflict and low agricultural production, these hailstorms represent a crisis within a crisis. And like many others, for Emmanuel, his wife and their five children, farming is their livelihood.
“I was scared because I have young children. I feared that the hail was going to result in hunger and death. Our maize was still growing and got destroyed, our cooking bananas were also damaged… and our beans were ruined as well. Then we realized that hunger was coming.”
In response, Help Channel Burundi (partner of Mennonite Central Committee Canada) launched a six-month food assistance and seed distribution program for 1,200 vulnerable households in Kirundo and Rutana provinces. Households received rations of maize, beans and cooking oil, as well as amaranth seeds (for planting in kitchen gardens), maize seed and cassava cuttings (in time for the planting season).
When Emmanuel found out food was available for his family, he says they were “very happy” and the children were motivated to go to school.
With additional support from Help Channel to facilitate improved agricultural practices, Emmanuel has a brighter outlook for his future crops.
“Even if I have a small piece of land, it has become significantly more productive than it used to be. For example, if I used to harvest only 60 kg before, now I can harvest nearly 70 kg under favorable weather conditions. Thanks to the modern farming techniques they’ve taught us, we now have hope for a bright future. We can’t use the old methods anymore. I applaud Help Channel’s invaluable support.”
This story was originally published in the 2023 Fall edition of Breaking Bread. Download or order your copy here.