The Social Life of Beans in Burundi – Part 2

Part 1 of this blog discussed the different steps used by smallholders here in Burundi in cultivating, harvesting and processing beans.  Below, a few more notes on these steps – together with thoughts on the challenges of emergency seed distribution following war and other disasters, and pictures of cooking and serving, followed by a traditional recipe – sombé:  manioc leaves and goat meat in a hot sauce, that is customarily served with rice and beans.

Down where we are on the Imbo - the sandy flatlands along Lake Tanganyika - soils fairly uniform.  Here, a landless farmer has planted beans and maize in a spare plot close to us.

Down where we are on the Imbo – the sandy flatlands along Lake Tanganyika – soils are fairly uniform and lacking in fertility in areas of very high sand. Here, a landless farmer has just planted beans and maize in a spare plot close to us.  The little mound of soil on the right is where he has dug a temporary shallow well.

Beating the Beans:

Part 1 of the blog mentioned a little video of bean processing that I couldn’t find.  Here it is:

Bukuru Beating the Beans – And here is an explanation:

One of the steps that is sometimes used in processing beans after harvests consists of energetically beating the bean vines in order to remove any beans that may remain on the vines.  The video [above] shows Bukuru, one of the farm workers who was with us for a while during the years of fighting and rebel rebellions here in Burundi, working both with the crops and – he one day disappeared and we later heard that he had joined a rebel group.  Neither we nor his family have ever seen him since.

Seeds – origins, micro-environments, and emergency distributions:

As many areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Burundi’s farm lands are often characterized by micro-environmental niches that can be associated not only with particular types of crops, but also with particular varieties of seeds or planting materials.  These niches can be so small as to be easily missed, and thus walking transects and characterizing each area can be the best way to site out a particular area.  One transect is shown in Part 1 of this blog.  Details of each (micro) ecosystem can be detailed.

After the major fighting ended and humanitarian organizations began to work both with the government and with local groups (about 2004-5), the provisioning of seeds became a critical component of this programming.  We were involved in distribution of seeds (primarily beans), in conjunction with the Emergency Coordination Unit of the Burundi FAO office.  This was the challenge:  initially, FAO contracted with local and regional suppliers to purchase and bring in seeds for redistribution, which we implemented to our program areas.  However, and in spite of attempts by FAO to assure quality seeds, not only was the quality of enormous variation and often old, moldy, or otherwise unsuitable, but we just had no idea where the beans were from.

Hence, in distributions, farmers would receive X amount of seeds with no chance either to inspect them, or to learn about their origin.  This resulted in continued problems of bad or inappropriate seeds, to the unhappiness and consternation of our farmers – but, not surprisingly, to happily financed seed suppliers.

Another problem was related to distribution.  We worked with local colline leaders, who were to select farmers receiving the seeds.  The ongoing difficulties related to who was selected or neglected, and resulting debates (or worse), often led to the need for ongoing dispute management.  This problem was gradually eased, although the issue of seed origin and quality was almost impossible to control.

Ultimately, in conjunction with several NGOs, FAO introduced a program of seed fairs and seed vouchers, which were to allow different types of seeds to be selected by producers while seed merchants also benefitted from these sales:

The use of vouchers in emergencies to provide resources to those affected by disaster has become increasingly popular since 2000, particularly for the provision of seed and other agricultural inputs.

Voucher-based programmes are thought to have various advantages over the direct distribution of seed and agricultural inputs: they are said to be straightforward, timely and cost-efficient in terms of implementation, to provide farmers with a choice of planting materials, to strengthen farmer seed systems and local markets, to offer an opportunity for farmers to test modern varieties, and to empower local communities…

Langley-Seed vouchers in emergency programming…, ODI

Experiences and lessons learned in Burundi and elsewhere with seed fairs and seed voucher programs were incorporated into operational procedures of the Emergency Coordination Unit of FAO-Rome.  These programs can help to transcend the problems mentioned above during and after emergencies, and in the meantime – over the past five years or so – seed multiplication at both national and local levels have been major concerns as the country recovers from war, destruction, and unrest.

Beating the Bugs:

Insects … the bane of farmers… Especially as after years of war and displacement,  knowledge of best seeds for specific ecosystems and their associated insect tribes has often been disrupted.  But beyond insecticides, (rarely used except for government-supported commercial crops), there are some very clever indigenous methods of beating the bugs.  The most clever, cost-effective, labor-saving – and successful is one I came about by accident.

Going by an outdoor shelf of one of our producers, I saw a series of little bundles of ‘somethings’ carefully wrapped in clinging paper.  The farmer took one of the packets off of  the shelf and opening it, examined the bundle of nearly-sprouted bean seeds therein.  This, it was explained to me, was quite an effective way to out-race the insects: give the seeds a running start by beginning to sprout them in little bundles wrapped in paper or another fabric that could be kept damp.  Once well-sprouted, the seeds are planted and – voila! – by pushing above and within the soil faster than ‘normal’, they can (at least partly) outwit the bugs wanting to munch on them under the soil.  Also, I was informed, this helps if the rains are a bit iffy.

Eating Sombé (manioc leaves) – with beans and all the trimmings:

Eliane, pounding sombé leaves prior to their being cooked.  Behind her is the normal type of charcoal cooker.

Eliane, pounding sombé leaves prior to their being cooked. Behind her is the normal type of charcoal cooker.

Here is a recipe for Sombé – Manioc Leaves & Goat Meat in a Hot Sauce, served with Rice and Beans I originally published the recipe on our ‘burundi goats’ website,  and it was later picked up by a culinary blogspot, here.

(found in Burundi; Rwanda; Eastern Congo)

Manioc – known also as cassava or yucca – originated in South America – probably Brazil – and due to its exceptionally hardy nature and ability to grow in poor soils and with little care, spread throughout the tropics and eventually on to the South Pacific – and then to all of tropical Africa. Both the tubers and leaves are eaten.

Sombé, the dish explained here, is popular in central Africa. It contains the young, green leaves of manioc (cassava; yucca). The leaves have high amounts of Vitamins A and C; ½ a cup of cooked sombé provides half of the daily Vitamin A requirements of a young child. Manioc leaves also contain iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium – all very important minerals in central Africa because very little meat is eaten.

The tubers of manioc are also an important source of carbohydrates and moderate protein and are the 3rd most important staple food in Burundi, after bananas and sweet potatoes. Recipes for manioc tubers are found elsewhere on the page.

After cleaning, the coarse leaves are either chopped fine or – as here in Burundi – are pounded in a large, wooden mortar with a long pestle.

The following recipe for sombé is a bit time-consuming and elaborate, and is therefore usually made for a celebration.


  • 1 kg Young [less than 2 months] manioc leaves (can use mustard or another coarse green), coarsely chopped
  • ½ kg goat meat, bone-in and chopped into small pieces
  • 2 lg onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 green pepper, coarsely chopped
  • ½ kg intoré (indigenous eggplants), coarsely chopped – or use ‘domestic’ eggplants
  • 1 leek, coarsely chopped
  • 1-2 red (hot) peppers – whole
  • ½ c finely ground dry peanuts – skins off
  • 3 T palm oil
  • salt & pepper, to taste


  • •Clean manioc leaves & remove from stocks
  • •Pound manioc leaves, leek & onion in a mortar until completely broken down [can use a food processor]
  • •Put in a large casserole & cover with water
  • •Cook about 40 minutes
  • •Add meat, oil, eggplant pieces, green pepper & red (hot) pepper
  • •Add more water to cover, if necessary
  • •Continue cooking about 1 hour or until meat is tender
  • •Add ground peanuts
  • •Cook for 2 minutes only
  • •Add salt and pepper to taste

To Serve:

Rice, manioc pate, beans cooked in a tomato sauce, and hot sauce are common accompaniments; fried plantains and fried manioc may be prepared as side dishes. The traditional method of serving and eating is as follows:

  • •Mound rice or manioc pate on a very large tray
  • •Mound a bean-tomato sauce mixture on top of the rice
  • •Put little mounds of sombé greens around this
  • •Place meat chunks all around
  • •Pour sauce from the casserole over the top
  • •Place tray in the middle of a table
  • •Invite guests to sit, giving each a large spoon
  • •Guests eat out of the common dish, selecting what they wish
  • •Have a large bowl of clean water beside, for people to wash their hands as necessary

Follow the meal with millet beer, banana beer or banana wine and fruit.

Eric (right) and a cousin chowing-in, with a daily favorite - rice with stewed beans, which I think were mixed with lenga-lenga (amaranth greens).  No not poverty stirken youth, but fresh from working in the field.  Eric attends university but also works on the family farm in the village.

Eric (left) and relatives, chowing-in, with a daily favorite – rice with stewed beans, which I think were mixed with lenga-lenga (amaranth greens). No not ‘poverty-striken’ youth, but fresh from working in the field. Eric attends university but also works on the family farm in the village.

Beans at the Beach:

Beans are also featured widely in buffets at the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika, just down by the Beach:

Chef Richard and staff preparing a bean dish with all the trimmings.

Chef Richard and staff preparing a bean dish with all the trimmings.

Sous-chef Theo with his bean dish.

Sous-chef Theo with his bean dish (right).

'Petit'-chef Claud, presenting rice cooked wth amaranth greens and beans.

‘Petit’-chef Claud, presenting rice cooked with amaranth greens and beans.

About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-Central, Agriculture, Burundi, Food, Food Aid, Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika2, Humanitarian Assistance, Imbo Plain, Recipes and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Social Life of Beans in Burundi – Part 2

  1. Pingback: Special Times at the Hotel Club du Lac Tanganyika – Come Visit!! | DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, the Middle East, Agriculture, History & Culture

  2. Pingback: Contract Farming in the Village: Farmer-Friendly Strategies | DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, the Middle East, Agriculture, History & Culture

  3. Pingback: Wild Coffee and other Indigenous Species in Central Africa | DIANABUJA'S BLOG: Africa, the Middle East, Agriculture, History & Culture

  4. Clanmother says:

    I have enjoyed this series. I was born in Brazil and grew up on beans and rice. To this day, decades later (and living in Canada), I still consider this meal as my most favorite. The spices and manioc make this meal delicious! More people would become vegetarian if they knew how good beans and rice tasted. So glad that I found your blog!!!!


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