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Cross-border trades and Season A harvest improving food availability

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Burundi
  • April 2023
Cross-border trades and Season A harvest improving food availability

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar For A Typical Year
  • Key Messages
    • Across most western parts of the country, the Season A harvest is increasing food availability and access, supporting Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes. However, the below-average Season A crop production, coupled with high food prices and below-average income from limited labor opportunities for poor and very poor households, is driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone during the April to May 2023 minor lean season. The Season A harvest is contributing to improvements in food security in the Eastern Lowlands, supporting improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity. In the Eastern Dry Plateaus livelihood zones, households will also be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) amid limited labor opportunities and above-average food prices.

    • The Season A harvest is expected to be between 10 and 15 percent below average as a result of the two-month delay in rainfall at the start of season. Food stocks’ for poor and very poor households will likely last until the April to May. These households will rely on market purchases for food until the Season B harvest starts around June, particularly in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone. High soil moisture from above-average rainfall has been promoting favorable growth and development for Season B crops since January 2023. The favorable rainfall during Season B expected to enhance the crop production in June, likely to minimize the impact of reduced cultivated areas for the season.

    • The Burundian Franc (BIF) continues to depreciate as headline inflation persists at over 30 percent in April. Meanwhile, the parallel exchange rate is between 75 and 100 percent above the official rate. The government of Burundi is introducing a new policy to liberalize foreign currency exchange by allowing commercial banks to open their own exchange offices. This policy is expected to narrow the gap between the official exchange rate and the parallel market, which could support the stabilization of the price of imported foods. However, increased food prices persist mainly due to the delay in cultivation, the below-average harvest, and high global food costs related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

    • According to WFP, approximately 56,000 refugees and asylum seekers have received half of their ration in the first week of April due to funding shortages, which covers around 50 percent of beneficiaries’ monthly caloric needs. It is expected that the refugees and asylum seekers are likely Stressed (IPC Phase 2). As WFP faces limited financial resources, some nutrition responses were downscaled and reduced the ration size.

    Current Situation

    Agricultural production: Season A crop production contributes about 35 percent of the annual crop production in Burundi, and rainfall for this cropping season – although average with favorable distribution – was delayed by two months in the central north and central south. The late start of rainfall led to late planting, which extended the maturation of Season A crops  to February/March for beans and March/April for maize, mainly cultivated in low-altitude areas of the east and north. This resulted in a delayed Season A harvest and extended the lean season to February/March. Food stocks from Season A crop production for poor households are expected to be exhausted by April/May. Households may sell at least a portion of their produce to access basic needs, to repay debts, or to purchase agricultural inputs for Season B farming. Overall, Season A crop production is estimated to be 10 to 15 percent below average, though beans and maize production is estimated at 20 to 25 percent below average. This will have a significant impact on limiting access to food and income among poor households, especially in the Northern Lowlands, where income and production was below-average compared to the other livelihood zones.

    Above-average rainfall has been reported nationally since January 2023, favoring enhanced productions. The increased soil moisture supported healthy crop growth and favorable conditions for the Season A crops while facilitating for favorable Season B cultivation. Although there was a reduction in the cultivated area of the Season B crops due to the overlap with Season A, the favorable rainfall during the 2023 Season B vegetative phase is expected to drive high yields, resulting in near-average crop production levels, improving food security in most parts of the country.

    While favorable rainfall supports healthy crop growth, the government has also supported agricultural production through various measures, such as subsidies to agriculture cooperatives and promoting fertilizer manufacturing. The supported agriculture cooperatives have focused on cultivating more resilient crops that adapt to climate change and improve food security. As a result, food consumption is expected to improve from the green harvest of legumes, mainly from beans, which is crucial in mitigating the food gap resulting from the below-average Season A harvest.

    Economic conditions: The Burundian Franc (BIF) continues to lose value against USD, with the official exchange rate depreciating around 10 percent annually with monthly inflation ranging from 25 to 30 percent. The increasing gap between the official and parallel exchange rates also contributes to higher monthly inflation, especially for imported goods. The parallel market exchange rate has been up from 75 percent in February 2023 compared to the official exchange rate and around 100 percent in April. The inflation rate in Burundi increased from 28 percent in February of 2023 to 32.6 percent in March, while food inflation increased from 42 percent in February to 48.90 percent in March. In line with inflation, prices of most foods increased by 80 percent compared to last year and 180 percent above the five-year average for beans. Increased food prices are due to high fertilizer/input costs, high transportation expenses, below-average Season A crop production, and the extended lean season due to the delay in the harvest of Season A harvest. The government’s recent policy to liberalize foreign currency exchange by allowing commercial banks to open their own exchange offices at a freely negotiated rate is expected to reduce the gap between the official rate and the parallel market.

    Income sources and food access: According to a WFP Food Security Monitoring System (WFP/FSMS) survey conducted across Burundi in March 2023, households earn nearly half of their total income from staple crop production/agriculture, 21 percent from livestock-related activities, and 19 percent from labor sales (Figure 1). Although better-off households with better production are able to raise their earnings as they sell a large proportion of their production for cash income, the increased labor costs (approximately 25 to 48 percent above average) largely offset these gains, particularly in the Eastern Dry Plateaus, High Altitude, Eastern Lowlands, and Buragane livelihood zones. Among poor households, new employment opportunities are increasing their prospects of earning income and contributing to improved access to food. Specifically, the re-opening of borders and the removal of COVID testing for Tanzania is allowing poor and very poor households from the Eastern Lowlands, Eastern Dry Plateaus, and Buragane to access cross-border opportunities such as farming activities, petty trading, and labor-based employment. Furthermore, income from daily wage in Tanzania is 60 percent higher than in Burundi. The increased employment opportunities in Tanzania help to enhance the income of the households and to reduce competition for locally available jobs.

    The fact that labor wages in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone are 65 percent lower than the national average is a concern, particularly in light of the increasing food prices, lowering the terms of trade. Poor and very poor households in this area who rely on markets for food purchases are likely to experience the effects of rising food prices amid limited income.

    Figure 1

    Share of total household income by source among rural households, based on a national survey in March 2023 (n=2705 households)
    Household income by source

    Source: WFP/FSMS

    The relatively new practice of converting grazing land to potato farming in high-altitude areas is observed, which can have both positive and negative impacts on the local communities and the environment. On the one hand, it can create new job opportunities for local populations and improve their livelihoods, especially for poor and very poor households. This can lead to increased income and improved access to food. However, the conversion of grazing land to potato farming can also lead to environmental degradation, as the land may become overused and vulnerable to erosion, soil degradation, and water depletion. This can have negative impacts on the long-term sustainability of the local ecosystem, leading to a loss of biodiversity and reduced livestock productivity.

    Humanitarian Assistance: Based on the information from WFP, around 56,000 refugees and asylum seekers have received half of their ration in April, due to funding shortages, that is enough to cover approximately 50 percent of their monthly caloric needs. Also as a result of funding shortfalls, WFP is restricting its malnutrition assistance to five refugee camps and their neighboring districts, causing a likely gap in treatment for malnutrition for refugees. Refugees and asylum seekers are likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes during the projection period. Besides over 880 returnees who have received a one-time assistance package were able to cover their basic food needs for three months and are likely to experience Minimal! (IPC Phase 1!) food security outcomes. WFP has also provided food assistance to around 3,880 people in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone and to 258 IDPs in Imbo Plains, preventing food insecurity and supporting Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes until the June harvest.

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Burundi Food Security Outlook for February to September 2023 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • Near-average 2023 Season B crop production is expected as a result of the average to above-average rainfall forecast from January to June 2023. Subsequent improvement in food access from own crop production is expected from June to September 2023.
    • Income is expected to recover to near-average levels for poor and very poor households for June to September because of the improved access to Tanzania cross-border opportunities following the removal of COVID-19-related fees. 
    • The new government policy adopted at the end of April to liberalize foreign exchange by allowing commercial banks to open their own exchange offices at a freely negotiated rate is anticipated to reduce the gap between the official exchange rate and that of the parallel market. Food inflation is likely to decline as a result.

    Projected Outlook through September 2023

    The Northern Lowlands livelihood zone is expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during the lean season between April and May 2023, driven by the below-average Season A harvest, below-average income access, and very high food prices. When most households cannot meet the daily required basic food need, coping mechanisms like reducing food consumption and cutting the number of meals, and sending family members to other places in search of income are employed. The Northern Lowlands livelihood zone faces an extended lean period of about two months. It is anticipated many poor and very poor households in this livelihood zone are consuming seeds that were reserved for the next planting season, withdrawing of children from school, mortgaging land, selling livestock, or searching for labor opportunities far from residential villages. 

    The deterioration of food security and livelihoods has been followed by the degradation of the nutritional status in the area. According to the Ministry of Health’s nutrition survey system (PRONIANUT), around 28 percent more children were admitted at national level, for treatment from malnutrition in March 2023 compared to February 2022, higher than the usual admissions. . Further deterioration in malnutrition levels is expected until the harvest period of Season B in June, particularly in the Northern Lowlands and High-Altitude livelihood zones.

    From June to September 2023, household food stocks are expected to improve from the anticipated near-average Season B crop harvest. It is also likely to improve food access from own production, leading to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone. However, high food prices in the context of below-average access to income will continue to limit food access in the area. Improvements in food access and food consumption, especially for the Eastern Lowlands livelihood zone, will shift Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through September 2023.

    The improvement of access to Tanzania cross-border opportunities, combined with harvests of Season A, has increased food supplies in markets and enhanced food availability, particularly in the eastern part of the country. Most of the Season A crops have been harvested in March and April due to the delay in harvesting by about two months. The harvest has improved food security outcomes in the Eastern Lowland livelihood zone likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from April and May 2023. The Stressed acute food insecurity outcomes will likely extend through September, as parts of the harvest will be sold or exhausted to repay debts accessed during the lean period and to repay for agricultural input costs during Season A and B cultivation. Also, high food prices are expected to reduce food access for poor and very poor households, as the access to cross-border opportunities remain below average, although the improvement has been noticed since early 2023. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes are expected through September in the Eastern Dry Plateaus and the Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones. It is anticipated that the remaining part of the country will face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through September 2023.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal Calendar of atypical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. Burundi Food Security Outlook Update, April 2023: Cross-border trades and Season A harvest improving food availability, 2023. 

    This monthly report covers current conditions as well as changes to the projected outlook for food insecurity in this country. It updates FEWS NET’s quarterly Food Security Outlook. Learn more about our work here.

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