Sustainable agriculture in rural Burundi: exploring the role of farmer groups’ entrepreneurial activities

Mupfasoni, Bélyse


In Burundi subsistence farming is practiced on fragmented farms and highly eroded soils that are becoming increasingly unproductive due to intensive farming. Sustainable agriculture (SA) is therefore crucial in order to maximize the economic and social benefits from the land while conserving it ecologically. Several support programs for SA have been implemented in Burundi over the past decade, but there is an urgent need for more action, as land is degrading at a very fast pace, and climate change increasingly impacts food security. Moreover, farmers have little or no capital to actually invest in agriculture for improving land quality. Promoting the collaboration among farmers in groups for sustainable entrepreneurship (SE) can be an alternative to stimulate SA. The overall aim of this study was to explore how developing entrepreneurial activities by farmer groups can contribute to more sustainable agriculture in Burundi.

Chapter 2 deals with the process of farmers entrepreneurial group formation for starting a collective entrepreneurial activity. It investigates the influence of group members’ internal states (group members’ sustainable values and motivation related to agriculture namely motivation to farm, land health and farm resilience) in group formation and joint sustainable business idea identification in a Burundian smallholder farming context. Findings reveal that farmer groups are formed based on both similarities (same level of internal states) and heterogeneity (difference in terms of gender, generation, experience and education). In many groups internal state patterns were different and such groups were formed on ‘compensation’ and ‘committed leadership’ principles, where one or two innovative farmers or leaders help to motivate and inspire the others. Moreover, prior sustainable behavior of members influences sustainability of new group business ideas and the nature (e.g. focus on farming) of that business idea.

Following up on the previous chapter, Chapter 3 focuses on the drivers and outcomes of sustainable entrepreneurship. It examines if farmer groups’ prior knowledge of the sustainability aspects (environmental, economic and social) and farmer groups’ motivation (entrepreneurial orientation, income motivation and knowledge motivation) are related to the quality of their “sustainable” business plan developed at the end of SE training by each farmer group. Findings reveal that having prior knowledge of a sustainable opportunity, being entrepreneurial oriented and being motivated to increase knowledge (i.e. showing aspects of altruists motivation), positively influence the quality of the business plan. This implies that more knowledge of the natural or communal environment and altruistic motives drive the recognition of opportunities for sustainable development.

The main lesson learned from chapters 2 and 3 is that farmers’ prior knowledge on the sustainability aspects is important in recognizing sustainable opportunities that contribute to sustainable agriculture.

Chapter 4 analyses the extent to which group training in sustainable entrepreneurship influences the knowledge and practices in sustainability aspects of the farmer groups. For assessing that influence, two categories of groups of farmers (trained and not-trained) were compared for two periods (just after the group formation in 2016 and three years later). Findings reveal that all groups trained and not-trained increased their knowledge and practice in all three sustainability aspects between 2016 and 2019, but that the trained groups perceived a higher increase than the not-trained groups. It was noticed that next to the trainings in the trained groups, peer learning and learning on the job through collaboration explain the observed increase both for the trained and not-trained farmers. Findings furthermore show that trained groups have more advanced levels of understanding and application of knowledge and practice in the three sustainability aspects as compared to not-trained farmers.

Chapter 5 focuses on the analysis of the influence of group training in sustainable entrepreneurship on households’ farming activities, particularly the three key components of sustainable agriculture (motivation to farm, good farming practices and a resilient farm). Results reveal that farmers belonging to trained groups in sustainable entrepreneurship are more motivated to farm, invest more in practices to restore the health of their land and are more advanced towards establishing a resilient farming system. Moreover next to sustainable entrepreneurship training, group members benefited also from peer learning and the support from more experienced farmers in their groups, which led to the replication and putting in practice of some sustainable agriculture practices.

The main lesson learned from chapters 4 and 5 is that sustainable entrepreneurship training and peer support in farmer groups contribute to more sustainable agriculture.

Chapter 6 presents the main insight from this thesis, namely that enhancing farmers’ knowledge and understanding of sustainability aspects – like done during this research by means of the intensive trainings on sustainable entrepreneurship given in organized farmer groups – is required to advance towards more sustainable agriculture.

The final chapter of the thesis concludes that prior knowledge of sustainability aspects is beneficial for recognizing “sustainable” entrepreneurial opportunities that sustain the farming system. Moreover, farmers who are trained in sustainable entrepreneurship are more motivated to farm, invest more in practices to restore the health of their land and are more resilient in their farms. It is therefore necessary to train them in sustainable entrepreneurship in order to enhance their production through sustainable agriculture and achieve food security. In addition to training, collaboration among farmers with different background and experience is important for continual learning and exchange of good and improved farming activities in the community. Hence, in order to invest in more sustainable agriculture for Burundian farmers, it is important that trainings are given in self-organized groups.