Sources

Flood And Famine: Turning African Swamps Into Fertile Farmland

In Burundi, what was once marshland is now yielding crops each harvest season.

A Burundi rice farmer
A Burundi rice farmer
Gabby Bugaga

The Cankuzo and Ruyigi marshes have been drained, and the farmers of eastern Burundi are starting to smile again.

For years, the small, dried-up tracks of land left this territory with a shortage of food and income. But the swamps have now been turned into fertile soil to plant new crops and reap much more plentiful harvests.

Locals hope the regular famines of the past will not return again.

On the road towards the border with Tanzania, the first sight that catches your eye are the beautiful green squares, carefully taken care of, where rice, cabbage, beans and other vegetables are growing.

Men and women are plowing the fields, irrigated by the canals that were created when the marshes were drained. “Five years ago, this area was a swamp full of papyrus, and therefore was useless. Now, as you can see, it’s full of agricultural opportunities,” declares Mathias Musaniwabo, a local political leader.

With the help of German investments, a large portion of these fields were converted, explains Sylvestre Muyamara, provincial head of agriculture policy. “We drained the water out of the marshes and cleared the farmable lands, we’re very proud of the result,” he said.

Stagnant water was rerouted to give life to the farmable lands that are now providing harvests every two or three months. “The exploitation of the swamps is tricky business, if you don’t drain it right, the swamps can dry up and become acidic,” explains Baptiste Sindayihebura, an expert in agricultural engineering.

This redirection of the marshes was a blessing for the local farmers who could no longer sustain their families from produce on their lands, and were increasingly choosing to migrate to border towns inside Tanzania. This was what finally pushed local leaders to start looking for solutions, says Leon Barikwinshi, communal agronomist.

Eat and sell

“We were planting 10 kilograms of seeds and only reaping five bean plants. Before that, we could harvest enough to eat and even sell some,” says Mwura sector leader Anselme Ntirubaruto.

The region had been fertile, but erosion was slowly ruining the land, and the essential nutritive agents were flowing down into the swamps. “I moved to Tanzania because I couldn’t produce enough to feed my kids,” says Sabine Muhagaze, mother of four, who'd cultivated bananas and sweet potatos. “We didn’t know about these opportunities, and they turned out to be very efficient. I came back two years ago, and now we couldn't be happier.”

Marcien Manirakiza, a researcher in sustainable development, says the agricultural vulnerability was caused by rocky and acidic soil, and the lingering dry season.

"As long as we’ve been living in the valley, our vegetables have been our main source of revenue. We have a healthy range of vegetables: cabbages, carrots, cucumbers, potatoes and so on,” claims 70-year-old farmer Joseph Ntakabasoba.

Some locals are now in the fruit and vegetable business thanks to these swamps. “It used to be really hard to harvest what we sowed, but now, it’s enough to meet our needs. Of course, it’s not regular, but it’s still an improvement,” says Pascal Baribesha.

Another farmer added: “Today, every one of us has a chance to live a decent life, meaning being able to eat, pay for studies, put a tin or brick roof over our heads.”

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Society

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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