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Near-average 2023 Season B crop production and access to typical income sources are supporting Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in western parts of the country through January 2023. However, poor and very poor households in the Eastern and Northern Lowlands and Eastern Dry Plateaus livelihood zones are likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through September, driven by below-average bean production, high food prices, and below-average income as cross-border trade with Tanzania and Rwanda remains below normal.
During the lean period of October to December 2023, it is anticipated that there will be rapid depletion of the 2023 Season B food stocks in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone. This, coupled with the expected increase in food prices, very low labor wages (which are 65 percent below the national average), and below-average income levels, will further restrict the purchasing power of households in the region. It is expected that the Northern Lowlands will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during this period. Limited food availability, high prices, and constrained household resources will persist during the lean season.
Food prices were stable and slightly decreased in May and June 2023, driven by the near-average harvest of the 2023 Season B crops. However, prices for staple food items remain significantly higher than average. Compared to last year, prices for beans, maize, rice, cassava, and sweet potatoes have risen by 50 to 75 percent, and they are currently 30 to 80 percent above the five-year average. The rise in food prices is driven by a lower supply of food compared to previous years and depreciation of the Burundian Franc (BIF) by 35 percent compared to last year, making imported food more expensive. High production costs, including labor, fertilizers, and inputs, have further contributed to the overall increase in food prices. Weak currency reserves have worsened the situation, resulting in a parallel exchange rate that is significantly higher than the official exchange rate by 50 to 75 percent. Overall, the inflation rate remains high, surpassing 30 percent during the reporting period.
According to forecasts, the normal dry season is expected to take place from June to August in Burundi. The short rains season from September to December 2023 is anticipated to be above average, primarily due to the projected occurrence of El Niño during the second half of the year. Above-average rainfall is likely to result in localized flooding, landslides, and damage to infrastructure in the Imbo Plains livelihood zone and along major rivers.
According to WFP, a funding shortfall has resulted in approximately 56,000 refugees and asylum seekers receiving only half of their regular food ration. This shortage in food assistance is likely to contribute to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes among these populations until September. Refugees and asylum seekers heavily rely on support from organizations like WFP and other partners, as they have limited opportunities for income generation or employment. The combination of reduced ration size and above-average food prices is expected to further worsen the food insecurity situation for these households and limit their ability to meet their daily food needs. To address this situation, the government has granted access to labor employment outside the refugee camps to provide refugees and asylum seekers with an opportunity to increase their income and improve their access to food. However, local employment prospects are limited due to low labor demand.
Agricultural production: Household food access is improving in June with the start of the anticipated near-normal 2023 Season B crop harvest. The Season B harvest typically provides households with around 50 percent of their annual crop production, while Season A provides 35 percent of annual crop production, and Season C provides around 15 percent of annual crop production.
Above-average March to May 2023 rainfall (Figure 1) and improved availability of fertilizers subsidized at 60 percent by the government led to a near-average 2023 Season B harvest nationally. However, the bean harvest (representing around 30 percent of the Season B harvest), tubers, cereals, and bananas are expected to be below average, due to reduced cultivated area following the overlap of Seasons A and B and the sensitivity of the crops to excessive rainfall. Most crops tolerant of abundant rainfall, such as cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, rice, sorghum, and bananas, are expected to yield an average harvest, mitigating the reduced bean crop production.
Source: FEWS NET/USGS
Food stocks from the 2023 Season B are likely to be depleted rapidly in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone, where staple food is the main income source, sold in June to repay debts contracted for Season B inputs in March and for food access during the lean period of April and May. Food stocks will also be affected in the Eastern Lowlands, Eastern Dry Plateaus, and Buragane livelihood zones bordering Tanzania, where the decreased value of the BIF encourages Burundians to sell beans and cassava in Tanzania, despite official regulations limiting informal exports across the border.
The period between March and May 2023 brought favorable rainfall, which had a beneficial effect on the production of cash crops such as coffee, tea, and palm oil. This resulted in average yields, providing a consistent income for approximately 45 percent of crop owners, primarily from better-off and middle households. The improved crop production also created employment opportunities for poorer households, allowing them to earn income through labor activities related to crop cultivation and harvesting. The favorable rainfall had a positive impact on the income stability of different households within the community, contributing to their economic well-being.
Income sources: 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 2). Better-off households with better production and a near-average 2023 Season B harvest are able to increase their earnings, as they sell a large proportion of their production for cash income. At the same time, the increased labor costs (approximately 25 to 48 percent above last year) benefit poor households by providing increased income from labor, particularly in the Eastern Dry Plateaus, High Altitude, Eastern Lowlands, and Buragane livelihood zones. Among poor households of the four livelihood zones, new employment opportunities are increasing their prospects of earning income and contributing to improved access to food. The reopening of borders and the removal of COVID-19 testing for Tanzania are allowing poor and very poor households from the Eastern Lowlands, Eastern Dry Plateaus, and Buragane to increase their access to cross-border opportunities such as farming activities, petty trading, and labor-based employment. Furthermore, income from daily wages in Tanzania is 60 percent higher than in Burundi. The increased employment opportunities in Tanzania help to enhance the income of households and to reduce competition for locally available jobs in Buragane livelihood zone.
The relatively new practice of converting grazing land to potato farming in the High Altitude livelihood zone creates new job opportunities for local populations and improves their livelihoods, especially for poor and very poor households. This can increase income and improve 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.
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 increasing food prices, which lower 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, given their limited income. On a positive note, the price of coffee cherries has increased by 60 percent for producers, from 800 BIF in March to 1,280 BIF in May 2023. This price increase benefits around 35 percent of households engaged in coffee cultivation, improving their income and economic situation.
Economic conditions: The depreciation of the BIF has continued, with the official exchange rate depreciating around 10 percent annually for over five years. The parallel market has experienced even greater depreciation, with rates ranging between 75 and 100 percent higher than the official market. In an attempt to address BIF instability and to narrow the gap between the official and parallel markets, the Burundi Central Bank (BRB) lifted the ban on foreign exchange bureaus in October 2022. Additionally, BRB increased the official exchange rate of the BIF by 35 percent, and the exchange rate rose from 2,084.43 BIF to 2,817.66 BIF per 1 USD on May 2023. However, despite these measures, the official exchange rate remains approximately 50 percent lower than the unofficial market, affecting the price of food and non-food items.
In Burundi, there has been a steady increase in inflation, with the inflation rate reaching 32.61 percent by April 2023. This represents a significant rise of approximately 80 percent compared to the previous year's rate. Inflationary pressures are particularly evident in the prices of imported food, which have been on the rise. This increase is largely influenced by transactions conducted in the parallel exchange rate market.
The absence of consistent exports and a lack of clear strategies to stabilize the BIF are further contributing to inflationary pressures in the country. These combined factors create challenges in managing and controlling inflation, leading to higher prices for imported goods, including food items.
Food prices: The residual food stocks from the 2023 Season A harvest, combined with the harvests of the 2023 Season B, have temporarily resulted in price stability for maize, cassava, and sweet potatoes. There has also been a slight decrease in the prices of rice by approximately 10 percent and beans by 25 percent. However, the prices of most food items have increased significantly compared to the previous year, ranging from 50 to 75 percent higher (Figure 3), and are also above the five-year averages. These price increases can be attributed to several factors, including high costs of fertilizers and inputs, expensive transportation costs, and the overall high inflation rate. Additionally, increasing insecurity in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has limited local crop production, leading to an increased demand for exports to the DRC, particularly for rice and maize. Despite administrative restrictions on crop harvest exports in provinces bordering Rwanda and Tanzania, households and traders are still engaging in unofficial exports of beans to these neighboring countries. This ongoing trade activity is likely to result in the early depletion of food stocks from the 2023 Season B harvest, exerting further upward pressure on food prices. Top of Form
Humanitarian food assistance: Due to insufficient funding, humanitarian food assistance to refugees has been significantly reduced, resulting in a halving of the required food aid provided to approximately 56,000 refugees in May. This reduction in ration size, combined with above-average food prices, is expected to exacerbate the food insecurity situation for these households and limit their ability to meet their daily food needs. As a result, refugees and asylum seekers are likely to face Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes. To address this challenging situation, the government has taken measures to grant refugees and asylum seekers access to labor employment opportunities outside the refugee camps. This initiative aims to provide them with opportunities to increase their income and improve their access to food. Due to financial constraints, the treatment of moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) is now limited to five refugee camps and neighboring health districts, where MAM rates range between 5 and 10 percent. The WFP continues to provide assistance to 30,000 people affected by climatic shocks in the provinces of Muyinga, Cibitoke, and Kayanza, out of around 250,000 people who are in need of humanitarian food assistance and likely to continue until July. Three months of humanitarian assistance was provided through cash-based transfers (CBT) to nearly 20,000 people, and food assistance was distributed to 3,370 people displaced by flooding in the Imbo Plains livelihood zone.
Conflict and insecurity: Security incidents have significantly decreased, with a notable 40 percent decline compared to the same period in 2022. Burundian forces have been actively involved in supporting the Congolese military since August 2022 in their operations against non-state armed groups in the South Kivu province of the DRC. This collaboration is part of the regional force established by the East African Community (EAC). The government's efforts to demilitarize political activities have yielded positive outcomes, leading to a decrease in armed attacks and killings targeting opposition supporters. These efforts aim to create a more stable and secure environment, promoting peace and stability within the country.
Current Food Security Outcomes
The Eastern and Northern Lowlands, as well as the Eastern Dry Plateaus livelihood zones, are anticipated to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. This is primarily due to high food prices and reduced income opportunities, especially resulting from the closure of the Rwanda border in the northern region. Most poor and very poor households have sold most of their 2023 Season B harvest to repay debts accrued for food access during the lean period of April and May, as well as for purchasing agricultural inputs for the current season. Consequently, these households continue to rely on the market for food access, facing consumption gaps due to high food prices and limited income. The expected harvest for the 2023 Season B in June and July is projected to be near average. This is likely to improve food availability for approximately 90 percent of households that rely on their own crop production. In most western areas of Burundi, income sources remain at an average level, allowing households to meet their additional food needs through market purchases. As a result, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes are expected in most western parts of the country. Similarly, for the Imbo Plains livelihood zone, average Season B crop production is likely to increase food access, income earned, and labor opportunities for poor and very poor households, driving Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food security in the area during the harvest period of June to September 2023. However, reduced humanitarian food assistance is expected to drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes for 45,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from floods (4 percent of the area population) and around 25,000 returnees (3 percent of the area population). During the harvest and post-harvest period, levels of acute malnutrition are expected to remain in the Acceptable range (GAM<5%), with increased food access improving nutrition outcomes.
The Season B harvest is expected to improve household food access and seasonal nutrition improvement through September (Figure 4), contributing to acceptable rates of acute malnutrition (GAM WHZ <5 percent). However, an alert level of acute malnutrition is expected in the Eastern and Northern Lowlands as well as the Eastern Dry Plateaus livelihood zones, due to increased food prices and below-average income levels limiting poor households’ access to food.
Source: FEWS NET
Source: Ministry of Health
Between June 2023 and January 2024, the projected food security outcomes are based on the following national-level assumptions:
- While a normal dry season is likely to occur from June to August, the September to December 2023 short rains season in Burundi will most likely be above average, given the El Niño forecast for the second semester of the year. Excessive rainfall would lead to localized flooded areas in the Imbo Plains livelihood zone and along important rivers, but localized landslides, erosion, and crop losses are also likely in the Congo Ridge Millet livelihood zone.
- Season C crop production, which occurs primarily in the marshlands, is expected to be normal. Above-average rainfall between March to May 2023 created favorable soil moisture in the marshlands for normal growth and development of plants. Government fertilizer subsidies are mitigating the increased price of agricultural inputs. Season C accounts for around 15 percent of annual crop production, particularly for the estimated 45 percent of households possessing marshland plots in localized valleys and along rivers.
- The 2024 Season A crop production is likely to be average, driven by government programs promoting agricultural improvement (fertilizer subsidies, close supervision of agricultural groups) and the forecasted above-average rainfall from September to December 2023. However, bean crops, which are highly sensitive to excessive moisture, are expected to be below average in areas likely to flood, leading to localized below-average crop production in the Imbo Plains livelihood zone and along river basins.
- Near-average 2023 Season B crop production and improved supply of national organo-mineral fertilizers (FOMI) are likely to motivate farmers to work hard in 2023 Season C, improving labor opportunities in June to July to near average levels. Expected above-average rainfall from September to December 2023 is likely to lead to a normal start of the 2024 Season A, providing labor opportunities for poor and very poor households. An increase of 25 percent compared to last year of the labor wage at the national level would encourage poor and very poor households to be more engaged in agricultural labor, the main income source for around 40 percent of the total population.
- Income is expected to recover to near-average levels for poor and very poor households in the east and south through the projected period because of improved access to cross-border opportunities in Tanzania following the removal of COVID-19-related fees.
- Inflation of the BIF is likely to further increase, expanding the gap between the official and unofficial BIF exchange rates through the projected period and contributing to higher imported food prices.
- The sale of maize and rice in DRC is also expected to increase as a result of increased demand in eastern DRC due to high insecurity, limiting access to local agricultural activities and better prices.
- Staple food prices are expected to be higher than last year’s prices and above the five-year average through the scenario period. Generally following the national trend, bean prices are expected to be 60 to 180 percent higher than last year, and around 150 percent higher than the five-year average in Busoni market (Figure 5) in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone, the main provider of beans. Similarly, maize prices are expected to be 25 to 50 percent higher than last year and 80 to 120 percent above the five-year average (Figure 6). The above-average prices are being driven by food stock shortages in the first semester of 2023 due to the below-average Season A harvest, expected decreases in food imports, increases in unofficial food exports, and increased fuel and transportation costs.
- Seasonal food access is likely to increase during the harvest period from June to September 2023, contributing to improved nutrition outcomes. The acute malnutrition level is expected to be in the Acceptable (<5%) range, and the number of severe malnutrition admissions is expected to be 3,000 to 4,000, considering the averages of 2020 to 2023. However, during the lean period of October to December 2023, more districts in the north and east are likely to have an Alert (GAM 5–9.9%) level of acute malnutrition, with a total malnourished situated between 4,000 and 6,000. Alert levels of acute malnutrition are expected in the Northern Lowland livelihood zone through the analysis period.
- The number of IDPs is expected to increase by 10 percent between October and January 2024. This increase is likely due to the projected floods resulting from above-average rainfall in January 2024. Furthermore, a 10 to 15 percent increase is expected in the number of refugees from the DRC due to persistent insecurity in the eastern part of the country. Nutrition supplementation programs in health centers, school feedings, and assistance to returnees and victims of natural disasters are expected to remain below average levels. Refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from the DRC, are expected to receive 50 percent of normal food ration sizes throughout the projected period.
- Following the normal dry season, the number of IDPs is expected to be stable in the Imbo Plains livelihood zone at 60,000 through October 2023, but this number is likely to increase after October and to reach around 100,000 in early 2024.
Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes
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 the 2023 Season B food stocks, expected further food price increases, 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 with other non-food expenses such as school fees payments during the school start in September and the purchase of agricultural inputs 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 there is improved access to cross-border opportunities in Tanzania due to the removal of COVID-19 testing fees and local agricultural labor from 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. The 2023 Season B bean harvest, the main food and income source in these areas, is anticipated to be below average, leading to reduced access to food and income for households. Additionally, poor and very poor households in these areas will likely face limited access to food from the market 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, allowing for near-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 number of people displaced by floods or landslides is expected to increase to 100,000 between September 2023 and January 2024 (around 8 percent of the total population of the area). These people are expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes and nutrition deterioration, with malnutrition levels likely to be in the Alert (GAM 5–9.9%) range until the next harvest season.
Events that Might Change the Outlook
Table 1. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario
Impact on food security outcomes
Below-average rainfall during the 2024 Season A
Below-average rainfall in localized areas would result in below-average 2024 Season A crop production, especially in localized semi-arid areas of the Eastern and Northern Lowlands, Eastern Dry Plateaus, and Imbo Plains livelihood zones. Below-average crop production would lead to further food price increases and below-average food access in early 2024 at the national level, likely leading to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone and an increased number of households in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in the Eastern Lowlands, Eastern Dry Plateaus, and Imbo Plains livelihood zones.
Heavy rainfall in early 2024
Possible extension of El Niño in early 2024 would lead to above-average rainfall and further floods in the lowlands, along rivers, and at Tanganyika Lake, along with localized landslides, erosion, and crop losses, as well as an increased number of IDPs due to floods and landslides. Above-average rainfall in early 2024 would damage 2024 Season A plants during their maturity stage in January and February, leading to below-average crop production and likely increasing the share of the population facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
Further devaluation of the BIF
Further devaluation of the BIF, beyond what is already anticipated, would further decrease food imports and availability and further increase food prices. Increased food prices would decrease access to food for poor and very poor households, especially during the lean period of April to May, increasing the number of households in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
Northern Lowlands livelihood zone (Figure 7)
The Northern Lowlands Livelihood zone is located along Burundi's northern border with Rwanda, with a population of around 1.14 million people. The area includes Kirundo province (Bugabira, Busoni, parts of Kirundo and Ntega communes) and Muyinga province (Giteranyi commune) (Figure 7). The livelihood zone has been affected by dry conditions, which have impacted crop production. Very poor households rely on subsistence farming as their main source of food and income, with 65 percent of households earning income from local agricultural labor opportunities and cross-border labor opportunities. Although the cultivated area for the 2023 Season B was around 30 percent below average, above-average rainfall from March to May 2023, coupled with improved availability of subsidized fertilizers, led to a near-average harvest for the 2023 Season B. This has helped alleviate the food insecurity crisis conditions that the area faced between October 2022 and May 2023.However, food stocks from the near-average 2023 Season B are expected to deplete rapidly, particularly for poor and very poor households. Crop production, mainly consisting of beans, serves as the primary income source and is expected to be sold at above-average rates in June and July to repay debts for Season B inputs in March and for food access during the prolonged lean period from April to May.
Limited access to the border with Rwanda has reduced cross-border trade and income-earning opportunities for poor and very poor households. Normally, these households would increase their reliance on income from cross-border opportunities when crop production is affected by shocks. However, in the absence of such opportunities, they depend on local labor opportunities, which offer wages three times lower than those in Rwanda (~7,000 BIF). Due to limited opportunities, daily wages have stagnated at around 2,000 BIF in the Northern Lowlands compared to the national daily wage of 3,600 BIF. Additionally, high food prices and below-average income further constrain household purchasing power and limit market food access.
In the past three months, the Northern Lowlands livelihood zone has received humanitarian assistance from the WFP and other organizations, but the assistance reached less than 25 percent of the population in need. Out of a total population in need of 171,200 persons, only 38,495 people received three months of assistance (March, April, and May). The humanitarian assistance provided includes a three-month return package consisting of cereals, pulses, oil, and salt for returnees upon arrival, which has improved overall food availability in the area and within households. Other safety nets include school feedings (twice a week) and cash transfer programs under the MERANKABANDI program. Additionally, over 2,300 malnourished children receive 200 grams of super cereals per day each month for the treatment of moderate acute malnutrition, while around 1,800 pregnant and lactating women receive 250 grams of nutritional supplements throughout the projection period.
Source: FEWS NET
In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:
- Limited access to cross-border labor opportunities in Rwanda is expected to persist throughout the analysis period. This situation will have a negative impact on the income of poor and very poor households, who rely on agricultural labor opportunities. Labor wages in the area have remained stagnant at a low level, which further reduces the purchasing power of these households, especially considering the increase in food prices.
- Social safety nets are likely to continue at below-normal levels due to the decrease of funds available. Despite the resumption of the MERANKABANDI program, which should assist 6,831 households, it is expected that all safety nets will be maintained at below-average levels. Moderate acute malnutrition treatment should continue for nearly 2,100 children suffering from moderate acute malnutrition and 2,500 pregnant and lactating women. The repatriation assistance program is also expected to continue at below-average levels due to the unwillingness of some refugees to return from exile. From October to November, the WFP could carry out a three-month CBT distribution to 10,000 targeted households.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
During the harvest period from June to September 2023, the near-average crop production of Season B is expected to improve food access and food availability for poor and very poor households, leading to a transition from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes. Moreover, following the harvest trend, acute malnutrition levels are projected to stabilize, maintaining Alert (GAM 5–9.9%) levels of acute malnutrition.
As food stocks from Season B are depleted, poor and very poor households are likely to increase their dependence on the market for food access. The combination of above-average food prices and limited access to cross-border income-earning opportunities will likely result in below-normal income and reduced purchasing power. This situation is expected to drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes through January 2024. Similarly, acute malnutrition levels are anticipated to deteriorate, with an increase in the number of severely malnourished children, although overall acute malnutrition levels are likely to remain in the Alert (GAM 5–9.9%) range.
Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Burundi Food Security Outlook June to January 2024: Below-average harvest drives Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in the east, 2023.
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.