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FEATURE STORYJune 27, 2022

From Extreme Poverty to Entrepreneurship in Burundi

Mernkabandi couture

Mernkabandi couture. Copyright: Mvuyekure, 2021


  • A pilot social safety nets project designed to support women and children has significantly decreased the effects of extreme poverty in four Burundi provinces
  • Among those who have benefitted from the project, acute malnutrition has decreased, while agricultural and livestock production and schooling for children has increased to name only these
  • $150 million in new International Development Association (IDA) financing is expanding the project to all the provinces in the country

GITEGA, June 10, 2022—Like many other families in Gitega province, Hurbaine Nyarushatsi lived in extreme poverty, characterized by the lack of livelihoods, high levels of child malnutrition, high school dropout rates, and lack of general social services. For years, she and her family lived in a house with a roof that leaked so severely that when it rained, her children had to stand outside and wait for it to stop, including at night.

"We would have to find rags to put on the wet floor before we could go back to sleep,” Nyarushatsi said. “The children were going to school tired, hungry and their performances were very poor."

But ever since Nyarushatsi became a beneficiary of the Merankabandi Social Safety Nets Project, she has been able to change her family’s life for the better. The project, of which women and children are the main beneficiaries, provides cash transfers designed to enable them to meet their most basic needs but also to undertake income-generating activities.

"From the transfers of 40,000Fbu ($20) that I receive every two months, for the last three years, I bought two pigs to start a business,” said Nyarushatsi. “These two pigs had many piglets that I sold afterwards, and the benefits generated and allowed to renovate my house, to equip it with drinking water and a solar panel. My husband was able to buy a bicycle and he uses it as a means of paid transportation."

Through the project's support program, beneficiaries learn to set financial goals, manage household budgets, generate savings, and identify and undertake income-generating activities. Awareness-raising and training sessions on good practices in maternal and child health, nutrition, and early childhood development within the households as well as individual coaching through home visits are also provided.

"Now that I have everything I need to live decently and on a daily basis, I am in the process of building a second house, which I will put up for rent to generate more money,” said Nyarushatsi. “I also plan to buy a cow and expand my business.”

In addition to material goods brought by the project, family life also changed. “As a couple, we have improved our relationship, which used to be characterized by many fights due to poverty. We have a happy family now, and we are receiving together family planning training” said Darien Ndaruzaniye and Fidesse Manirambona, who also live in Gitega.

In the 30 months of the pilot project, which will end in this month, 56,090 households have benefited from cash transfers, and the project has increased and diversified agricultural production for 97.79% of beneficiaries and livestock for 92.20%. Schooling for children of 93% of beneficiaries has also improved, and there has been a significant reduction in acute malnutrition among beneficiary households, between 8.7- 4% compared to a prevalence of 20% among non-beneficiary households.

“Merankabandi has been an example for the region of a well-performing social protection project. It has helped alleviate poverty for over 300,000 people by coordinating efforts with government and development partners,” said Eric Zapatero the Task Team leader of the Project Merankabandi 1. “But more importantly, it has built a proper social protection system that will allow the government to scale up activities nationwide and contribute to poverty elimination and human capital development in Burundi. It’s a real game changer.”

To continue the success of the pilot project, which covered four provinces, the World Bank recently approved funding for a second project, Merankabandi 2, for an amount of $150 million, which will cover the country’s 18 provinces and targeting up to 1 million extreme poor beneficiaries.


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