Chinese Company in Burundi Turns Vast Marshland into Farmland

Burundian farmer John Ahiboneye wearing rainboots stood in rippling green rice on a December morning. He was harvesting rice in the rice field which stretches beyond sight.

The rice field located in the southwestern suburbs of Kirundo Town, chief town of Kirundo Province, northeastern Burundi, was unfit for growing rice and was even hard for people to stand on the ground, until Chinese firm STECOL Corporation conducted an irrigation and water conservancy project here for over 538 hectares of land.

The Chinese firm started construction in September 2014, with an completion inspection of the project done last December. The project has improved the land condition, turning vast areas of marshland into farmland.

"In the past, mud here reaches my waist, in some places my whole body could get stuck in mud," said the 42-year-old farmer. "I had to lift my hands above mud in order to plant seedlings in mud."

"But now I'm able to stand on the land and plant them," he said, dusting off his leg.

He could grow rice once a year from January to May before the project was implemented, but now he can grow at least twice, said Ahiboneye.

Around 75 percent of the target land of the project was marshland, which could not be farmed throughout the year, said Guo Huaiguang, project manager. Parts of the land could be farmed only during the rain season, as it faced water shortage during the dry season, he said.

The Chinese firm built dams and network of irrigation and drainage channels to guide the water saved in the dam into the land when the land needs. The channels also enlarge the size of irrigated area.

The water in the marshland flowed away through the channels and the fresh water will be saved in the dam instead of flowing into the land directly, according to the design.

The firm also constructed a water pumping station, which pumps water from the land when it rains heavily, Guo said.

Because of the project, the whole target land has turned into farmland, he said. The firm also built roads connecting areas which were divided by water in the past, according to him.

While implementing the project, the Chinese firm built a soccer field, leveled the ground of a school and a bus station for locals, Guo said.

Over 4,000 families in Kirundo Province have received the land renovated by the project, including families who didn't have land in the past, said Kirundo provincial engineer Jean Baptiste.

Statistics from the government of Kirundo Province showed that the total population of the province stands at around 780,000.

The agriculture in Kirundo Province is underdeveloped, as it is constrained by the weather, low quality of rice seeds, poverty and so on, Governor of Kirundo Province Melchior Nankwahomba told Xinhua in an interview.

"The project helps improve life of local people," he said.

According to Guo, STECOL overcame many challenges to complete the project, such as complicated geological condition of the marshland, high risk of malaria, lack of skilled workers in Burundi and difficulty for purchasing materials.

"After the project's completion, the Burundian government and others gave accolades to it. Many people outside Kirundo Province tell me it is a good project," Guo told Xinhua. "I feel my effort and sweat are worthwhile." 

From Xinhua News