Most Burundians are subsistence farmers. They
grow beans, cassava, corn, sorghum, potatoes, bananas, sugar cane,
maize, peas, beans and groundnuts. Surplus fruits and vegetables are
sold in local markets and the money used to buy goods and food that
farmers cannot produce themselves.
Some farmers raise cattle, sheep and goats. Wealthy farmers employ people to tend the animals. The hides of these animals are an important export. Some cattle are slaughtered for meat, but most are kept for milk and as status symbols. The wealth of a family is often measured by the number of cattle it owns.
Some people work for plantations where cash crops
are grown. Coffee is the most important of these crops; Burundi derives
80% of its export earnings from coffee. Tea and cotton are also grown
Burundians are skilled craftspeople and artists. Useful objects such as baskets, once made for domestic use, are now sold to tourists. Modern technology has facilitated the production of metal craftwork. Burundi also has a few nickel mines and some commercial fisheries around Lake Tanganyika.
About 6% of the population is employed in services, in government and in manufacturing industries. Manufactured products include processed foods, such as coffee, tea and sugar, and consumer goods, such as soap, glass, blankets, clothing, cement, shoes, beer, insecticides and cigarettes. Some electricity is produced, but wood continues to be the primary source of energy. Most banking, insurance, communication, technical and trading services are located in Bujumbura.
Tourism remains insignificant, in spite of promotional
efforts by the government. Although travel guides describe Burundi as a beautiful
country, they also warn against the danger of ethnic violence.