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Below-average rainfall in November resulting in poor localized 2021 Season A production in the north

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Burundi
  • February 2021
Below-average rainfall in November resulting in poor localized 2021 Season A production in the north

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Events that could change the outlook
  • Key Messages
    • According to NOAA, USGS, and ICPAC seasonal forecasts, cumulative rainfall during the February-April main rainy season in Burundi is most likely to be average, with localized below and above-average rainfall. National average rainfall is expected to result in near-average national 2021 Season B crop production, whereas localized above and below-average rainfall will negatively affect 2021 Season B bean production, which is sensitive to moisture shocks.

    • Increased supply from 2021 Season A harvests eased prices from December to January, sweet potato, bean, and maize prices decreased 36, 22, and 11 percent, respectively, increasing food access. Due to localized below-average Season A bean production, however, bean prices in the Northern Lowland livelihood zone decreased to a lesser degree than previous years. Bean prices are expected to rise rapidly in March following household stock exhaustion.

    • Below-average rainfall occurred in lowland areas in November 2020, at the critical flowering stage, destroying beans, maize, and sorghum crops in localized areas. Poor 2021 Season A production, above-average food prices, and limited alternative income sources due to border closures are driving in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in the Eastern and Northern Lowlands livelihood zones through May. For some worst-affected households for whom more than 50 percent of 2021 Season A crops have been destroyed by dryness, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely through May 2021.  Due to expected localized below-average rainfall, resulting in below-average 2021 Season B harvests, and inaccessible cross-border income earning opportunities due to border closures, the Eastern and Northern Lowlands livelihood zones will likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through the projected analysis period.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Rainfall and crop production

    Typically, February coincides with the end of the Season A harvest and the Season B planting period. Currently, due to the delay of rainfall in September/October 2020, 2021 Season A planting and harvesting has been delayed by about one month. This dynamic has subsequently resulted in delayed 2021 Season B implementation as croplands are still occupied by Season A crops during the normal planting period.

    In addition to being delayed, 2021 Season A rainfall was irregular. At the national level, rainfall was near average from October to November, which allowed for a favorable start to crop development. Rainfall in December was above average and favorable for tubers, maize, and banana crops, but unfavorable for bean crops, which are very sensitive to rainfall irregularities (Figure 1).  As a result, although overall 2021 Season A bean production is expected to be five to 10 percent below average, overall crop production is expected to be five to 10 percent above average, driven by favorable maize, tuber, and banana production.

    There have been notable localized rainfall anomalies during 2021 Season A. The Northern Lowlands livelihood zone saw below-average rainfall in November, the critical flowering stage for beans, maize, and sorghum crops, which drastically reduced localized 2021 Season A production Preliminary results of the Multi-Sector Initial Rapid Assessment (MIRA) reported that 17 percent of households (about 36,400 households) in the livelihood zone saw more than 50 percent of their crops destroyed by dryness.

    Planting and preparing for Season B typically occurs between mid-February and mid-March. However, due to the rainfall delay at the end of 2020, some plots are still occupied by 2021 Season A crops in February, delaying the implementation of 2021 Season B in some areas. Under similar conditions in 2017, around 30 percent of agricultural plots were still occupied by 2017 Season A crops at the end of February and Season B crops were planted late. It’s anticipated that nearly 30 percent of croplands will be planted late this year as well and production will be affected by the dry season in June before crops reach their maturity stage. Moreover, Season A production typically provides bean seeds for Season B production. Due to the delay in the Season A harvest, bean seeds are not available at normal quantities for the start of Season B for poor and very poor households in low and middle altitude areas in February.  


    The first harvests of 2021 Season A led to seasonal price decreases in January. While rice prices remained stable between December 2020 and January 2021, sweet potato, bean, and maize prices decreased 36, 22, and 11 percent, respectively. Cassava prices increased 10 percent between December 2020 and January 2021 due to below-average production. January 2021 cassava prices are 22 percent higher than five-year average prices.

    Staple food price decreases at the beginning of the harvest period are driven by mass sales of marketable food (beans and maize) by poor and very poor households to pay back debts incurred during the lean period. This dynamic benefits wholesalers who take advantage of the supplies to build their food stocks to sell during the next lean period.

    Price trends in Busoni market, in Kirundo province, show that the January harvests following the long lean season did lead to month-on-month price decreases but not as significantly as in previous years. In a normal year, bean prices drop by up to 40 percent in January, following the harvest, compared to the peak of the lean period in November (Figure 2). In January 2021, bean prices decreased 25 percent compared to November 2020, suggesting that harvests are less significant than in an average year.


    An increase in positive cases of COVID-19 have been reported since January 2021 by the Ministry of Health. At the end of February, the seven-day average is trending near 30 new cases per day. The government reinforced the closure of borders to population movement, reducing informal flows that had been reported since September 2020. This policy is reducing access to cross-border income-earning opportunities and food sources for poor and very poor households in the Eastern and Northern Lowlands livelihood zones. Poor and very poor households living near the borders, for whom agriculture labor is a main source of income, are the most affected by border closures. It’s estimated that 40 and 60 percent of the population in Northern and Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones, respectively, depends on agricultural labor as a main income source (Figure 3). According to key informants, half of that agricultural labor depends on cross-border opportunities to earn income. Considering the restrictions, these households will engage in domestic agricultural labor and earn wages estimated at 34 percent lower than what they would have earned in Tanzania (2,000 BIF vs 3,000 TSH) for the Eastern Lowlands livelihood zone and an estimated 66 percent less than what they would have earned in Rwanda for the Northern Lowland livelihood zone.

    The impact of border closures is relatively low in the Imbo Plains livelihood zone near DRC. Poor and very poor households who had relied on cross-border opportunities for income have taken advantage of the relatively more diversified urban economy in the area and adopted other strategies, such as trade linked to the capital, cash crops (oil palm, coffee), intensive agriculture (rice, maize), and intensive livestock rearing.


    In December 2020, the national year-on-year inflation rate reached 7.5 percent, driven by elevated food prices, which increased 12.6 percent compared to the previous year. The BIF has continued to depreciate against global and regional currencies since January 2021, effectively making imports more expensive. Farmers are therefore incentivized to try to sell their production illicitly in neighboring countries such as Tanzania, which has negative implications on food supplies and prices.


    According to the July 2020 WFP/FSMS, subsistence farming is the main source of income for 88 percent of households nationally, and agricultural labor is a particularly important income source in the Northern Lowlands, Buragane, East Arid Plateaus, and Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones. Livestock and petty trade are also main sources of income for rural households. According to the September WFP mVam bulletin, the median national daily salary is estimated at 2,570 BIF and varies between 2,000 BIF and 3,660 BIF across the country. Wages are higher in urban areas like the Imbo Plains and Congo-Nile Ridge, and lower the Northern Lowlands and Eastern Dry Plateaus livelihood zones due to relatively dense populations and the scarcity of cultivable lands. Nationally, income earning opportunities are close to average; however, labor wages have remained stable for almost three years while food prices have increased, resulting in reduction of purchasing power. For example, from June to August 2020, the average daily labor wage increased by 2.4 percent, while bean prices increased by 23 percent for the same period.


    Remittances from the Burundian diaspora, while not a significant portion of GDP or income for most households, continue to decline following the recent contraction of the global economy. The contribution of remittances to GDP was estimated at one percent in 2019 and is likely to have fallen to near zero after remittances decreased 20 to 30 percent during the COVID-19 pandemic (World Bank). This dynamic is resulting in reduced incomes for poor households who depended on remittances.

    Humanitarian assistance

    According to WFP, nearly 50,000 Congolese refugees accommodated in five Burundian camps are assisted with 360g of cereals, 120g of pulses, 25g of oil, and 5g of salt per person, per day.

    In December and January, 11,549 Burundian returnees were assisted with the typical 90 days of assistance consisting of 360g of cereals, 120g of pulses, 25g of oil, and 5g of salt per person, per day. Nearly 28,000 returnees who arrived between July and November, however, have already exhausted their 90 days of assistance while they were waiting for the 2021 Season B harvest in May. Following the flooding of the Rusizi River in December 2020, the number of IDPs without assistance has increased from 25,000 to 40,000. These IDPs have limited income sources due to the absence of cross-border activities due to the border closure. In December, WFP provided 834 metric tons (MT) of food assistance to 73,810 food-insecure populations to mitigate the effects of the October-January lean season in Ngozi and Ruyigi provinces.

    In December, the treatment program for moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) continued in nutritional supplementation centers and WFP provided assistance to 8,292 moderately malnourished pregnant and lactating women (PLW) and 12,406 children aged 6-59 months (6,240 boys and 6,166 girls). 124 MT of specialized nutritious food were distributed in Kirundo and the program is expected to continue throughout the outlook period. In order to remedy micronutrient deficiencies, one MT of MNPs (Micronutrient Powders) was provided to 21,933 children aged 6 to 23 months in Bubanza and Bujumbura provinces. WFP also distributed 156 MT of Super Cereal Plus to 32,496 PLW and 65 MT of specialized nutritious food (Plumpy Doz) to 43,726 children aged 6 to 23 months in Cankuzo, Rutana and Ngozi provinces.


    Security has improved since September 2020, following localized security incidents between armed groups and the National Defense Force in August and September in the western part of the country bordering the Kibira Nature Reserve and along the DRC border. The stability of security is allowing for typical internal population movement for labor opportunities.

    Current food security and nutrition outcomes

    Expected to be slightly above average, 2021 Season A harvests occurring in January and February are the main food source for most of the 90 percent of national households. Apart from the Eastern and Northern Lowlands livelihood zones, where income sources are reduced due to border closures related to COVID-19, income sources remain typical in other areas, allowing households to access food. The typical access to income and food sources is driving Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes across most of the country. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in the Eastern and Northern livelihood zones, caused by below average crop production of 2021 Season A, increased prices, and reduced income earning opportunities.

    For the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone, food security outcomes from the SMART survey conducted in September/October are expected to continue through May 2021, found that acceptable food consumption was 52.5 percent, borderline for 36.2 and poor for 11.2 percent. GAM prevelence was arond seven in October for the Northern and Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones. The poor performance of 2021 Season A in those zones is not expected to considerably improve food access and nutrition status, and GAM prevelence will likely remain around five percent through May.


    Between February and September 2021, the projected food security outcomes are based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Rainfall: According to NOAA, USGS, and ICPAC seasonal forecasts, cumulative rainfall during the February-April long rainy season in Burundi will most likely be average, though localized eastern areas will likely receive above-average rainfall. However, despite likely average national rainfall, La Niña conditions, which have a 62 percent probability of occurring between March and May, are expected to be accompanied by below-average rainfall in low altitude areas including the Northern and Eastern Lowlands. Average rainfall would result in near-average crop production of 2021 Season B at the national level and the localized above and/or below average rainfall would provoke localized below-average production of beans, which are very sensitive to rainfall shocks. A normal dry period is expected during June to September, allowing for a typical 2021 C Season lasting from June to November.
    • 2021 Season B: The 2021 Season B planted area is expected to be below average. Poor and very poor households face difficulty purchasing seeds on markets and will be the most affected by reduced access to seeds. Rainfall is expected to be average during 2021 Season B period, with some localized below and above-average precipitation, similar to 2018 Season B. Based on this assumption, 2021 Season B crop production will be near average.  
    • 2021 Season C production: Normal crop production is anticipated for the 2021 Season C, practiced almost exclusively in the marshlands. Following excess soil moisture from above-average rainfall from October 2019 to May 2020, expected below-average to average cumulative rainfall between September 2020 and May 2021 will allow for soil moisture regulation. Season C crop production represents around 15 percent of the annual crop production and supplies food for around three weeks between October to December for nearly 60 percent of rural households.
    • Prices: Bean supplies are expected to be reduced through the projection period due to anticipated below-average 2021 Season A and B bean crop production driven by below-average rainfall expected in main supply areas (Northern and Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones). Thus, current above-average bean prices are expected to extend through the scenario period (Figure 4). Maize supply is expected to be below average due to decreased imports as a result of depreciation and COVID-19 related border closures. Consequently, maize prices are expected to remain above average through the scenario period (Figure 5). Other staple food prices (cassava, sweet potatoes, banana, and rice) are expected to be near average.
      Macroeconomy: Due to the shortage of foreign exchange in the official market (banks) and a difference of nearly 70 percent between the official market rate and the parallel rate, a volatile macroeconomic situation is expected to persist throughout the projection period and drive inflationary pressure on prices (Figure 6).
    • Refugees, returnees, IDPs, and humanitarian aid: Currently, nearly 375,000 Burundian refugees are in Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and elsewhere. Due to relative political stability as well as the messaging from Tanzanian and Burundian authorities, the number of returnees is expected to continuously increase during the projection period. Returnees will receive assistance for three months upon arrival. The number of Congolese refugees in Burundi is expected to remain stable due to the border closures and they will continue to receive humanitarian assistance. Internally, average rainfall expected in the Congo-Nile Ridge and the high-water levels in the Rusizi River are likely to cause flooding-related displacement in the Imbo Plains in April.
      COVID-19, income sources, and remittances: Border closures, which were reinforced in January, will continue to negatively impact market supplies and income opportunities, in particular for very poor households of the Eastern Lowlands livelihood zone, where they will likely continue to earn wages at 66 percent of what they would have earned in Tanzania if borders were open.


    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Between February and May 2021, most areas of Burundi are anticipated to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, supported by near-normal access to typical sources of food and income.

    More than 90 percent of rural households’ main food source is own crop production and 2021 Season A crop production is expected to be five percent above average, which will improve access during the harvest period of February and March 2021. Food access from crop production will be complemented by purchases during the April to May lean period. Even during the lean season, food access is expected to be stable as approximately 60 percent earn income from cash crops which will allow them to purchase food and agricultural inputs for the 2021 Season B implementation in February/March.

    The Eastern Lowlands livelihood zone, however, is expected to face area level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout the projected period. Poor and very poor households located near borders in the Eastern Lowlands typically depend on labor opportunities in Tanzania. In fact, around 25 percent of the population in Eastern Lowlands earns income from crossing the border into Tanzania and 30 percent earn income from petty trade along the border. In addition to the border closures, erratic late rains have delayed the start of the 2021 Season A, thereby reducing seasonal production, and reducing the availability of food and income sources of poor and very poor households.

    Poor and very poor households in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through the projection analysis. Below-average November rainfall and expected localized below-average rainfall February through May , will reduce 2021 A and 2021 B crop production, the main food and income sources. In years with poor rainfall, households in the livelihood zone typically access income by crossing the border into Rwanda for agriculture and domestic labor. The closure of the Rwandan border has therefore reduced one of the main strategies for accessing income and food when crop production is reduced by drought.   

    The 25,000 returnees who arrived between November 2020 and February 2021 have been assisted with 90 days of assistance and are expected to face None! (IPC Phase 1!)  outcomes until the end of February. However, 10,000 returnees who arrived in January and February will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes until the 2021 Season B harvest expected in May. The 50,000 Congolese refugees accommodated in five refugee camps and receiving assistance from WFP are experiencing None! (IPC Phase1!) outcomes. With remittances and some daily wages labor in the capital city, the 31,000 urban refugees will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes throughout the outlook period. The nearly 28,000 returnees who arrived before November who have exhausted their 90 days of assistance while waiting for the 2021 Season B harvest in May, as well as the 40,000 unassisted flood IDPs, will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food security outcomes throughout the outlook period.

    Based on past nutrition data, acute malnutrition rates in Burundi range between Acceptable (Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) by weight-for-height z-score (WHZ) <5 percent) to Alert (GAM (WHZ) 5-10 percent). Data on the admission of children with acute malnutrition for January to June 2020 show normal seasonal trends. Food access will likely decrease during the lean period of April to May 2021 contributing to increased acute malnutrition prevalence. During this period, more provinces are likely to have an Alert (GAM (WHZ) 5-9.9 percent) level of acute malnutrition. However, nutrition outcomes are expected to progressively improve to Acceptable (<5 percent) level from February 2021 in many provinces with increased food access after the Season A crop harvest.

    Events that could change the outlook

    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.

    areaeventimpact on food security outcomes
    Imbo Plans Livelihood zoneHeavy rainfall during Season 2021 B (February to May 2021)Although average rainfall is forecasted, heavy rainfall could occur in localized areas, resulting in flooding in lowlands and along rivers. Soil moisture is already high due to October to January rainfall. Thus, additional rain could quickly surpass the water retention capacity of soils. The Imbo Plains are especially vulnerable to flooding where 2021 Season B crops could be destroyed and lead to increased food insecurity with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes likely.
    NationalEarly stop to rainfall before end of MayThe normal end of the long rainfall period is at the end of May/early June. As has occurred in the past, rainfall may stop before the end of May 2021, bringing an early start of the dry period. Conditions could, therefore, be very dry for the 30 percent of 2021 Season B crops that are expected to be planted late in the second half of March, caused by the Season A planting delay. Beans crops, very sensitive to rainfall, will be the most affected.
    Imbo Plains Livelihood zone, near Kibira Natural ReserveBurundi armed groups activities from DRCLocalized security incidents were observed between armed groups and the National Defense Force in August and September along the western border near the Kibira Nature Reserve and along the DRC border. The security situation between December 2020 and February 2021 improved but armed groups remain active in Eastern DRC and remain a potential treat for the country. Possible attacks would disturb agriculture and income opportunities in the Imbo Plains Livelihood zone and in areas surrounding Kibira Natural Reserve, such as cash crops activities.



    Figure 1

    Current Situation for February 2021

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Burundi Seasonal Calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5

    Figure 3

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 6

    Figure 4

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 7

    Figure 5

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 8

    Figure 6

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 9

    Figure 7

    Source: FEWS NET

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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