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Late start of short rains in localized areas delaying 2021 Season A; likely to extend the lean period

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Burundi
  • October 2020
Late start of short rains in localized areas delaying 2021 Season A; likely to extend the lean period

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Events that could change the outlook
  • Key Messages
    • To mitigate the spread of COVID-19, borders remain closed to the movement of people, reducing, in effect, cross-border income earning opportunities and imported food supply. This, along with above-average staple food prices, is increasing the severity of the October to December lean period for poor and very poor households in Eastern Lowlands and Imbo Plains livelihood zones. In these livelihood zones, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected through the outlook period.

    • NOAA, USGS, and ICPAC forecast that the October to December short rains will likely be near-average nationally (90-110 percent), with localized areas of slightly below-average rainfall (76-90 percent). The rains typically start in mid-September, but the start was delayed until the end of October this year and so far below-average rainfall has been reported in low altutude areas, particularly the Eastern Lowlands livelihood zone. The late start of the short rains in the third week of October is delaying 2021 Season A sowing by more than one month.     

    • At least 20,000 returnees who arrived from Tanzania and Rwanda in March through August were unable to cultivate 2020 Season B crops and have exhausted the three-month humanitarian assistance they receive upon arrival. Most returnees are located in the Eastern Lowlands livelihood zone. Without their own agricultural production and with limited access to income sources, it is expected that they will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout the outlook period. IDPs in the Imbo Plains, most of whom are displaced by flooding and are negatively affected by COVID-19 border restrictions, have reduced from 50,000 to 25,000 since the start of the dry season. It is anticipated that these remaining IDPs will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout the outlook period. Among the 81,000 Congolese refugees hosted in Burundi, 50,000 benefit from humanitarian assistance and are experiencing None! (IPC Phase 1!) outcomes. The other 31,000 refugees living in urban areas and are likely in Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Food security for the period of analysis is characterized by the lean period from October to December/January, following the depletion of 2020 Season B stocks but aided by 2020 Season C crop production, which accounts for 15 percent of annual production. Finally, the implementation of 2021 Season A will begin in October and be harvested in January and February, accounting for 35 percent of annual production.


    The 2021 Season A rainfall (short rains season) started normally in the middle of September in high altitude areas. However, a rainfall delay of near one month has been observed in the middle and lowlands areas of Northern Lowlands, Eastern Dry Plateaus, Imbo Plains, and Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones where rainfall didn’t begin in earnest until the final dekad of October.


    It’s estimated that around 60 percent of rural households will exhaust food stocks in October 2020 and food access will depend heavily on market access, as is seasonally typical, though purchasing power has fallen with increased prices. High dependency on markets will occur during a period of high prices. Food prices increased 22 percent and 12 percent for beans and maize, respectively, between July and September (Figure 1), as the lean season period began, contributing to seasonally reduced food access for poor and very poor households. In additional to seasonal increases, September 2020 prices remain six to 25 percent above the five-year average. Maize and rice, however, have benefitted from favorable conditions, keeping prices in line with the five-year average.


    The Ministry of Health confirmed 558 COVID-19 cases as of the end of October 2020. A slight increase in new daily cases was reported at the end of September, primarily from illicit travelers from neighboring countries. As a result, borders remain closed to the movement of people. Border closures continue to negatively affect market supplies and poor households’ livelihoods by reducing income-earning activities, particularly among those in Eastern Lowlands, Imbo Plains, and Buragane livelihood zones.


    Year on year inflation rate reached 6.6 percent in September 2020, driven in large part by an increase in food price inflation, which reached 11 percent. The BIF continued to depreciate against global and regional currencies since the beginning of the year. This is, in effect, making imports more expensive and incentivizing farmers to try to illicitly sell their production in neighboring countries such as Tanzania, both of which will have implications on food supplies and prices.


    Subsistence farming is the main source of income for almost 88 percent of households nationally according to WFP/FSMS in July 2020,  and agricultural labor is a particularly important income source in Northern Lowlands, Buragane, East Arid Plateaus, and Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones (Figure 2). Livestock and petty trade are also main sources of income for rural households. According to the September WFP mVam bulletin, the median 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 high population 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 the depreciation of the terms of trade. 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. Contribution 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 will impact the incomes of poor households who depended on remittances and limit their purchasing power for as long as the COVID-19 pandemic lasts.

    Humanitarian assistance

    Humanitarian partners including WFP provided emergency food assistance in populations affected by security and climate shocks and to the targeted communities: returnees, refugees, and IDPs. The standard assistance distributed to all three groups is 360 grams of cereals, 120 grams of legumes, 25 grams of oil and five grams of salt per person, per day, representing a nearly full ration.

    • Since June 2020, nearly 30,000 returnees have arrived in the country and have been assisted with a return package for three months.
    • 50,000 refugees hosted in five refugee camps are benefiting from a monthly ration. The WFP food basket is the main source of food and income for most refugees. For food items not provided in the food aid food basket, such as complimentary foods for children under two years old, refugees depend on purchases in the market.
    • Nearly 150,000 victims of the climatic hazards of March-April in Imbo Plains, and all other acutely food insecure communities are being assisted through December with by WFP with a monthly food basket.


    Despite 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, reporting indicates that these incidents have ceased, and that food and income sources are no longer affected in October.

    Current food security and nutrition outcomes

    With favorable 2020 Season B crop production, food consumption outcomes improved in July 2020. Data from the July 2020 WFP/FSMS food security assessment indicated that food consumption score (FCS) was acceptable for 84.1 percent of households in July, while the Hunger Household Score (HHS) was favorable for 83.1 (HHS=0) at the national level. Food consumption outcomes were however stressed in Eastern Lowlands and Imbo Plains livelihoods where FCS was acceptable for 68 percent and 75.1 percent respectively. The Hunger Household Score (HHS) was favorable only for 75.3 percent and 69.8 respectively. The WFP/FSMS assessment also indicated that 34 percent of households were practicing stressed livelihood strategies, while 16.3 developed crisis livelihood strategies. The above food security outcomes were collected during the harvest period and are expected to deteriorate during the lean period of October to January 2021.

    As for the state of nutrition, corresponding with the seasonal lean period, relatively higher levels of acute malnutrition are typically observed between October and December. Despite this, according to the National Nutritional Survey, which used SMART methodology, the national malnutrition prevelance remained between Acceptable (Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) <5 percent) and Alert (GAM 5-9.9 percent). The reported number of children admitted for acute malnutrition between January and June 2020 (Figure 3) show normal seasonal trends, but the total numbers are lower than that reported in the same period since 2017 reflecting a relatively better nutrition situation in 2020.


    Between October 2020 and May 2021, the projected food security outcomes are based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • According to NOAA, USGS, and ICPAC seasonal forecasts for October to December, a near-average rainfall (90-110 percent) performance is expected nationally, with localized areas of slightly below-average rainfall (76-90 percent). While Burundi receives an average of around 500 mm during the short rains, the slightly below-average forecasted rainfall is still expected to be sufficient for maize, beans, and pasture production, generally, but will likely negatively affect bean and maize production in lowland areas like Northern Lowlands, Eastern Dry Plateaus, and Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones. Below-average rainfall is also forecasted during March to May 2021 but soil humidity from near-average rainfall of November to January should reduce the negative impact.  

    • Season 2020 C production: Normal crop production is anticipated for the 2020 Season C, practiced almost exclusively in the marshlands. High rainfall between February to April 2020, 150 mm above average, created favorable soil humidity in the marshlands for normal growth and maturation of plants. Crop production of Season C represents around 15 percent of the annual crop production and supplies food between October to December for nearly 60 percent of rural households.
    • Season 2021 A production: From September to February, rainfall is expected to be normal in high altitude areas but delayed in low altitude areas by more than one month, delaying the cultivation of crops for the 2021 Season A, which typically starts in mid-September and consequently delaying the harvest until March in low altitude areas. Additionally, despite generally average forecasted national rainfall, below-average rainfall is forecasted between September to December 2020 in low altitude areas of Northern Lowlands, East Arid Plateaus, and Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones, which will heavily affect bean crops as they are less tolerant to water deficit. Under similar rainfall conditions as 2021 Season A, 2017 Season A crop production covered 75 percent of population food needs from January to March. In an average year, Season A production covers around 85 percent of food needs over the same period. The expected deficit will likely be covered by food imports and wild foods.
    • Season 2021 B planting: Delayed planting of Season A crops, nationally, will lead to a reduction in access to inputs and cultivatable land for the implementation of 2021 Season B in February and March. Season A crops will still be growing in fields during the typical Season B planting period. Season B bean seeds will also be unavailable as they typically come from season A crops.
    • The upward trend in staple foods prices is expected to continue from October until February with the peak expected in January 2021. Throughout the projection period, maize and bean prices are expected to remain roughly 20 percent above the five-year average and last year prices. While demand may increase due to the expected decrease of Season A crop production, with informal imports from Tanzania restricted due to the border closure, supply is expected to remain 10 to 15 percent below average, driving up pressure on prices. With inflation currently at 6.6 percent, food imports are expected to remain lower than normal due to expected decreased regional crop production caused by below-average rainfall in neighboring countries. There will likely be some illegal export of food to Tanzania through February 2021, despite restrictive measures.
    • The refugee population hosted in camps is expected to remain stable, around 50,000 people, due to border closures. This population will likely continue to receive in-kind food assistance through the outlook period. Returnees are expected throughout the outlook period, with an estimated 6,000 individuals arriving per month. All returnees will likely continue to receive in-kind and cash-based transfers throughout the outlook period. While floods of the previous rainy period had resulted, in part, in the displacement of nearly 50,000 people in April 2020, average to below-average rainfall expected in the Imbo Plains livelihood zone throughout the scenario period, could lead to a decrease in the number of IDPs by 20 to 30 percent, in April 2021, compared to the last year.
    • As positive cases of COVID-19 in Burundi continue to be imported from neighboring countries, it is currently expected that the borders will remain closed through December, likely opening at the beginning of January. Border closures will continue to impact livelihoods, market supplies, as well as income opportunities.  Until December, given movement restrictions, income opportunities will decrease by 20 to 40 percent compared to normal for poor and very poor households of the Imbo Plains and the Eastern Lowlands livelihood zones, the areas most affected by the border closure. These households will practice agricultural labor in Burundi and earn lower wages than they would have earned in Tanzania. In the same livelihood zones, the reduction in purchasing power will negatively affect households’ ability to purchase seeds and fertilizers, which will have a significant impact on poor households’ Season 2021 A production.
    • Due to COVID-19 movement restrictions, remittances from DRC, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa are estimated to reduce 30 to 50 percent from typical levels until December as money is typically sent in-person by crossing the border. The depreciation of the BIF is discouraging many from sending money through electronic services and preferring instead to wait to send with travellers. From January 2021, based on the assumption that borders will reopen until the end of the projection period, remittances will increase from their current level, but remain 15 to 20 percent below average, as some Burundians will remain hesitant to cross borders considering lack of certainty about income earning opportunities in neighboring countries, possibly high travel feeds, as well as the fact that they will have to pass through health screening check points.
    • Agricultural labor wages are expected to remain stable at BIF 2,000 to 3,000 per person per day from October to December 2020 due to weak employment opportunities. From January 2021 to the end of the forecast period, access to labor opportunities is likely to increase with the expected reopening of the Tanzanian border, as people migrate for labor opportunities. Domestic workers could demand increased wages given the devaluation of the BIF and the rise in the prices of goods and services. Therefore, a 20 to 30 percent increase in labor wages is expected
    • Inflation of locally produced and imported foodstuffs is expected to persist, increasing between five and 10 percent throughout the projection period. The increase in food prices will be driven by the anticipated below-average crop production of Season A and Season B, especially in the surplus-producing livelihoods zones of Eastern and Northern Lowlands, as well as the decrease of formal and informal food imports. The decreased value of BIF vis à vis the Tanzanian Shilling (TSH) is likely to encourage Burundians to sell food in Tanzania, despite regulations banning it.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Between October 2020 and January 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. The exceptions are the Eastern Lowlands and Imbo Plains livelihood zones, which are expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout the projected period.

    Food access is stable among poor households that grow cash crops and staple food crops, representing approximately 60 percent of the total population. These households are able to earn income to purchase food at markets and to support access to agricultural inputs for the 20201 Season A implementation in September/October. Poor and very poor households may exhaust their own production earlier in the lean period, in September and/or October, but will be able to access income from agriculture labor for 2021 Season A plowing activities in September and October, but also from other labor opportunities available during the period like construction and cash crop activities (weeding, harvesting, selling). Most households, therefore, are experiencing None (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes. 

    Poor and very poor households located near borders in the Imbo Plains and Eastern Lowlands typically depend on labor opportunities in DRC and Tanzania, respectively. In fact, around 25 percent of the population in Eastern Lowlands earns income from crossing the border into Tanzania while 16 percent of the population in Imbo Plains earns income from labor opportunities in DRC and 30 percent earn income from petty trade along the border. These income earning opportunities have been effectively banned since the border closure went into effect in March 2020. In addition to the border closure, forecasted below-average rainfall and a delayed start to the short rains is delaying the implementation of Season A and negatively affecting poor and very poor households who depend on agriculture labor as a main income source. Furthermore, the current lean period will be longer than normal in the middle and low altitude areas, with a one-month delay in sowing for the 2021 Season A and consequently a delay in the maturation and harvest of crops in those areas.

    Poor and very poor households typically depend on food purchases during the October-December lean period. Staple food prices are expected to remain above average throughout the outlook period for most staple foods, reducing purchasing power of households who are already facing reduced incomes and leading to area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes with some households likely to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    With humanitarian assistance expected to continue at historical levels, most IDPs, returnees, and refugees will likely experience None! (IPC Phase 1!) 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) 5-9.9 percent). Data on the admission of children with acute malnutrition for January to June 2020 show normal seasonal trends, but the total numbers are lower than that reported in the same period since 2017 reflecting a relatively better nutrition situation in 2020.  Food access will likely decrease during the lean period of October 2020 to January 2021 contributing to increased acute malnutrition. 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
    AreaEventimpact on food security outcomes


    Heavy rainfall during Season 2021 A and Season 2021 B (November to May 2021)

    Although below-average to average rainfall is forecasted, heavy rainfall could occur in localized areas, resulting in flooding in lowlands and along rivers. The impact on assets, crops, and food security will be worse than at the end of 2019 and the first semester of 2020. Soil water level is already high due to heavy rainfall and flooding from the end of 2019 through April 2020. Thus, additional rain will quickly surpass the water retention capacity of soils. This will happen while the aftermath of the floods on crop destruction and food security remains, especially in many localities of Imbo Plains livelihood zone. Especially in this livelihood zone, crops of 2021 Season A will be destroyed and lead to increased food insecurity with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely. However, above-average rainfall would benefit like Eastern Lowlands, Northern Lowlands, Eastern Arid Plateaus and Buragane livelihood zones where 2021 Season A sowing has been delayed one month due to late rainfall.

    Eastern Lowlands and Northern Lowlands livelihood zonesLarge repatriation following peaceful post-election periodWith increased security and socio-economic improvement following the peaceful transition to the new government, an increased flow of repatriation will be expected. Until June, Burundi welcomed returnees from Tanzania with an estimated monthly average of 2,500 returnees. Since September, the average of assisted returnees has almost doubled as the Burundian government, in collaboration with that of Rwanda and the UNHCR, have initiated the process of repatriating Burundian refugees in Rwanda. This sharp increase in returnees would increase the pressure on food resources in areas along the border from November to May. Thus, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) among returnees would be expected and, in that case, increased logistics and humanitarian capacity support will be needed beginning in November. Food and non-food (seeds, shelter) humanitarian assistance will be required for this group until May 2021 because for those who returned between October 2020 to January, the soonest they could harvest would be June 2021.   
    NationalMovement limitation related to COVID-19 extends past the end of 2020If the border closures remain in place past January 2021, poor and very poor households in border areas including the Imbo Plains, Eastern Lowlands, and Burgane livelihood zones, who depend on labor and petty trade as a main income sources, and who are already projected to face food insecurity during the current lean period of October 2020 to January 2021, could lead these populations to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes through the outlook period.  
    NationalFall Army WormThe Fall Army Worm (FAW) attacked Burundi in 2016 and thrives at times of rainfall deficit. An FAO study on the impact of FAW on 2018 A crop production estimated at 20 percent of maize plants were infected and resulted in a seven percent decrease from the expected harvest, equivalent to 10,000 tons or three million USD. With below-average rainfall expected from November 2020 to February 2021, FAW could damage maize crops on 2021 Season A and 2021 Season B and could drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes for poor and very poor households cultivating maize in the Imbo Plains, Eastern Lowlands and Northern Lowlands livelihood zones.

    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures Current situation map of Madagascar, colors indicate varying classification of food insecurity.

    Figure 1

    Current Situation for October 2020

    Source: FEWS NET

    12-month seasonal calendar.

    Figure 2

    Burundi Seasonal Calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    Price variation trends

    Figure 3

    National average commodity prices

    Source: WFP, FEWS NET

    Graph showing percentage of HHs engaged in various income sources

    Figure 4

    Household income from agriculture labor by livelihood zone, July 2020

    Source: WFP

    Admissions trends over time.

    Figure 5

    Admission data, January 2017-June 2020

    Source: Ministry of Health

    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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