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High food and fuel prices likely to drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in east

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Burundi
  • August 2023
High food and fuel prices likely to drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in east

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through January 2024
  • Key Messages
    • The Eastern and Northern Lowlands and the Eastern Dry Plateaus livelihood zones are anticipated to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels of acute food insecurity from August to September. This is attributed to a decline in food stocks from the 2023 Season B harvest, an increase in food prices, and restricted cross-border activities with Tanzania and Rwanda. Notably, the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone, with labor wages 65 percent below the national average, is particularly susceptible to abnormal food price hikes. This zone is expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during the lean period from October to December 2023. However, more typical access to food and income is likely to sustain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes in the central and western regions of the country until January 2024.

    • The 2023 Season B harvest played a role in stabilizing prices; however, prices remained significantly high, ranging from 50 to 75 percent above the five-year average and 30 to 80 percent above the previous year’s prices. This surge in food prices is attributed to regional inflation, elevated costs of agricultural inputs, and increased expenses for fuel and food transportation. Notably, in early August, significant price hikes were observed in several essential commodities that are regulated by the government. For instance, there was a 32 percent increase in sugar prices, a 25 to 50 percent rise in prices of processed products, and a 30 percent increase in the price of cement.

    • During the Season A period from August/September to January, rainfall patterns are expected to deviate from the norm. From August to September, rainfall is anticipated to be below average. However, as the season advances, rainfall is likely to become above average, particularly during the peak of robust El Niño events between October and December. This shift in rainfall is likely to bring about flooding in the Imbo Plains livelihood zone and along the main rivers situated in the central and eastern parts of the country.

    • According to WFP, funding shortfalls resulted in around 56,000 refugees and asylum seekers receiving in July 70 percent of their usual food ration. These households are expected to face Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes, with the assistance, covering just over 70 percent of their monthly caloric requirements, preventing worse food insecurity outcomes. Approximately 1,800 individuals who have returned to their home have been provided with a complete ration, including hot meals during their stay in transit centers and a three-month package for their reintegration. Additionally, humanitarian support has been provided to over 9,000 individuals who have been affected by climatic disruptions in the Imbo Plains and Northern Lowlands livelihood zones through both in-kind and cash transfers, ensuring that the recipients' caloric needs are fully met.

    Current Situation

    Agricultural production and food availability: The food security situation in the second half of the year depends largely on the success of Season B crop production. The 2023 Season B benefited from above-average rainfall between March and May, along with increased availability of government-subsidized fertilizers, resulting in a harvest close to the national average. However, the bean harvest, which constitutes around 30 percent of the Season B output, was below-average due to reduced cultivated area resulting from the overlap of Seasons A and B and the susceptibility of the crops to excessive rainfall. Most crops that can withstand abundant rainfall, including cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, rice, sorghum, and bananas, produced average harvests, helping offset the decline in bean production.

    Food security in August is characterized by a seasonal decrease in food stocks due to the near-normal 2023 Season B harvest. This drives a greater dependence on markets for obtaining food. However, administrative measures have influenced this situation. Restrictions on exporting crop harvests to neighboring countries like Tanzania and Rwanda, along with limitations on food transport between provinces, have curbed speculative trading activities. These traders typically buy crops at lower post-harvest prices and sell them at higher rates in October. These administrative actions have led to a dual impact: a slowdown in crop sales by farmers and a preservation of household food stocks. Furthermore, August is marked by agricultural tasks like weeding for the 2023 Season C and plowing for the 2024 Season A, providing labor opportunities for poor and very poor households.

    Income sources: As per WFP Food Security Monitoring System (WFP/FSMS) in August 2023, roughly half of rural households rely on staple crop production as their primary income source. Labor and livestock contribute around 24 and 16 percent, respectively, to the income of rural households. Petty trade and cash crops constitute the main sources of income for 7 and 3 percent of households, respectively. The 15 percent increase in labor costs compared to last year is benefiting poor households by increasing income earned from labor, although the rise in food prices reduces these gains. This situation is especially pronounced in the Eastern Dry Plateaus, High Altitude, Eastern Lowlands, and Buragane livelihood zones, where wage increases range from 30 to 45 percent compared to the previous year. The creation of new labor opportunities is improving the income prospects of poor and very poor households, which, in turn, is contributing to enhanced access to food.

    The reopening of borders and the removal of COVID-19 testing requirements for entry into Tanzania have allowed poor and very poor households from the Eastern Lowlands, Eastern Dry Plateaus, and Buragane zones to expand their cross-border opportunities. This includes engagement in farming activities, petty trade, and labor-based work. Moreover, daily wage earnings in Tanzania are 60 percent higher than in Burundi, which further incentivizes employment opportunities across the border, supporting household income and alleviating competition for local jobs, particularly in the Buragane livelihood zone.

    In the High Altitude livelihood zone, a relatively recent practice of converting grazing land into sweet potato farming has generated fresh job prospects for local communities. This transition has a positive impact on livelihoods, especially for poor and very poor households. According to the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Livestock (MINEAGRIE), 75 percent of modern sweet potatoes lands in the 2023 Season A were located in the High Altitude livelihood zone, and this pattern is expected to continue into the 2024 Season A. However, in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone, where the labor wage is lower at 65 percent below the national average, poor and very poor households continue to grapple with elevated food prices. These prices are a consequence of global inflation and the increased cost of food transportation.

    Economic conditions: Given annual depreciation of the Burundian Franc (BIF) at a rate of approximately 10 percent, the Burundi Central Bank (BRB) aimed to narrow the gap between the official exchange rate and the parallel market. This strategy led to a 35 percent increase in the official exchange rate of the BIF, raising it from 2,084 BIF to 2,817 BIF per 1 USD in May 2023. As a result, the gap between the official exchange rate and the unofficial market decreased from around 75 percent to roughly 45 percent below the parallel market rate. Concurrently, the average annual inflation for June 2023 increased to +26.3 percent, up from +25.5 percent the previous month. This increase in inflation can be attributed to the prices of food products, which experienced a notable surge of 38 percent. The most pronounced inflationary pressures were observed in the prices of imported food items, which have been on an upward trajectory. This price increase is substantially influenced by transactions occurring within the parallel exchange rate market. Furthermore, the absence of consistent exports and the lack of clear strategies to stabilize the BIF are compounding inflationary pressures in the country. These factors collectively create challenges in effectively managing and controlling inflation, leading to higher prices for imported goods, particularly food products.

    Food prices: The substantial 36 percent rise in fuel prices between January and mid-July 2022 has been a key factor behind increased transportation costs for food items. This situation has been further compounded by a recent decree on July 21, 2023, which introduced a 22 percent increase in fuel prices and public transportation expenses. As a result, food transportation costs and overall food prices have undergone additional increases. These combined influences have widened food consumption gaps, especially for impoverished households and even more so in the northern region, where labor wages are lowest. Prices of essential goods, which are regulated by government authorities, further increased in the beginning of August. For example, the price of sugar surged by 32 percent, climbing from 2,500 to 3,300 BIF. Similarly, price increases for industrial products ranged from 25 to 50 percent, while the cost of cement went up by 30 percent.

    Elevated food prices are common across Burundi, primarily due to the increased costs of agricultural inputs, along with higher expenses related to fuel and food transportation. Although staple food prices remained unchanged between June and July 2023, they have remained significantly above the norm, ranging from 50 to 75 percent higher than the five-year average and 30 to 80 percent higher than the previous year's prices (Figure 1). Additionally, the substantial inflation rate, coupled with limited access to hard currency, has constrained imports and contributed to a rise in the Consumer Price Index, diminishing household purchasing power.


    Figure 1

    Staple food prices, national average
    Staple food prices, national average


    Humanitarian food assistance: As of July 2023, approximately 55,000 refugees are residing in camps and entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance. These refugees have been provided with cash assistance and in-kind food items. Due to funding shortages, the assistance has been reduced by 30 percent, covering about 70 percent of recipients’ caloric needs. Additionally, 913 asylum seekers have received rations covering nearly 65 percent of their energy needs. According to WFP, the supply pipeline will start running out of stock in August 2023 until the anticipated arrival of an in-kind rice donation from the Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance (BHA)/USAID, which is scheduled for November 2023. However, there are plans to provide Comprehensive Specialized Nutritious Foods (CSB++) assistance to 16,250 prioritized children from July to December 2023. Additionally, CSB+ will be distributed to 10,875 pregnant and lactating women until November 2023.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Burundi Food Security Outlook for June 2023 to January 2024 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • Season A rainfall (August/September to January) is likely to be near average overall, although models suggest the season may start with average to below-average precipitation and progress to above-average rainfall later in the season at the peak of strong El Niño events (October–December), with expected floods in Imbo Plains livelihood zone and along important rivers in the center/east of the country.
    • The humanitarian response plan for 2023 is only 25 percent funded and facing a huge funding gap, heavily affecting the food security sector. This will likely lead to humanitarian food assistance gaps, with refugees receiving rations reduced to nearly half the levels of normal assistance since April 2023.
    • In addition to the rise in fuel prices by 36 percent between January and mid-July 2023, the recently decreed nearly 25 percent increase in fuel prices and public transportation costs on July 21, 2023, is expected to further increase food transportation costs, food prices, and other expenses, reducing purchase power for poor households. 
    • Increased labor wages are likely to increase poor households’ purchasing power temporarily and mitigate the impact of high food prices, slightly increasing access for the poor during the lean period of October to December 2023. However, agricultural input prices are expected to increase for the 2024 Season A, likely limiting the use of inputs in September/October. 

    Projected Outlook through January 2024

    The Northern Lowlands livelihood zones are projected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity outcomes from September to December 2023. This is primarily due to the depletion of 2023 Season B food stocks and expected further increases in food prices, limited access to cross-border opportunities with Rwanda, and very low labor wages, which are 65 percent below the national average. The lean period is particularly challenging for households, given other non-food expenses such as school fee payments at the start of school in September and agricultural input purchases for the 2024 Season A, making it harder to purchase food. Additionally, above-average food prices during the October to December lean season are likely to further exacerbate the situation. Although access to cross-border opportunities in Tanzania has improved due to the removal of COVID-19 testing fees and local agricultural labor opportunities for the 2024 Season A, the Eastern Lowlands and the Eastern Dry Plateaus livelihood zones are still expected to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes during the lean period from October to December 2023. Additionally, poor and very poor households in these areas will likely face limited access to food from markets due to below-average income from cross-border opportunities with Rwanda and Tanzania, further exacerbating the impact of below-average crop production and increased food prices.

    Between June 2023 and January 2024, most households in the western part of the country are likely to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food security outcomes. This is due to near-normal access to typical food and income sources, maintaining nearly average access to market purchases despite food price increases. These households will likely be able to meet their food consumption needs after depleting their food stocks during the lean period from October to January. However, the occurrence of floods or landslides is anticipated to displace a larger number of people, affecting around 100,000 individuals between September 2023 and January 2024. This figure accounts for approximately 8 percent of the total population in that area. These displaced individuals are projected to confront Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, coupled with a decline in nutritional status. Malnutrition levels are expected to fall within the Alert range (GAM 5–9.9 percent) until the subsequent harvest season. Food stocks from the relatively average 2023 Season B are anticipated to sufficiently support the basic food requirements of most households during the post-harvest period in August and September. 

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. Burundi Food Security Outlook Update, August: High food and fuel prices likely to drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in east, 2023. 

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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