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Unusually high staple food prices restrict food access

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Burundi
  • March 2013
Unusually high staple food prices restrict food access

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  • Key Messages
  • Projected Outlook through June 2013
  • Areas of Concern
  • Key Messages
    • The season 'A' harvests (December to February) were slightly below normal due to an above-average prevalence of several plant diseases and poor rainfall performance. However, most households are currently consuming their own crop production and will face Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity through June 2013. 

    • Several groups within the country (returnees, internally displaced people, and poor households living in the Dépressions de l'Est and the Hauts Plateaux Humides zones) will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity between now and the next harvest in late June. Several factors driving this food insecurity are: poor season 'A' harvests in localized areas, crop diseases, elevated food prices, and poor households' relatively high vulnerability to food security-related hazards. 

    • Most farmers have completed their planting activities on time for the agricultural season 'B' (February through May). These planting activities provided agricultural labor opportunities for poor households and improved seasonal income levels.  


    Projected Outlook through June 2013

    Season 'B' planting activities were completed in late February to early March. The agricultural season 'B' (February through May) usually makes up about 50 percent of Burundi's total crop production with major crops including beans, taro, cassava, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and wheat.  In much of the country, rainfall deficits during the first ten days of March were estimated at about 10-25 percent. However, forecasts by the Burundi Meteorology Office are predicting near normal rainfall for the March to May period. Exceptions to this near normal forecast are: 1) the northeast where below-normal rainfall is expected and 2) the Bugarane region where above-normal rainfall is forecasted.   

    While official production estimates have not yet been released, poor distribution of rainfall and an above-average prevalence of plant diseases (Banana Xanthomonas Wilt and cassava brown streak) suggest that the recent season 'A' harvests (December to February) were slightly to moderately below-average. Nevertheless, the recent harvests have replenished food stocks and have enabled most households to meet food consumption needs through their own production. Household food stocks are expected to last two to three months, compared to four to five months during a normal year. The government and its partners (ex. the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)) are working to educate farmers on how to treat fields affected by plant diseases through the removal of infested plants but for the near future, crop diseases are expected to continue at status quo levels.

    Burundi has been experiencing significant price increases for staple foods compared to 2012 levels and the five year average (Figure 2). Several factors driving these price increases are:

    • Population growth:The population of Burundi has been growing at a faster rate than increases in crop production levels. As a result, per capita crop production has been on the decline, contributing to long-term increases in food prices.
    • Declining exchange rate: The exchange rate of the Burundian Franc (BIF) has been steadily declining in recent years. For example, the average exchange rate in February 2013 was 1,548 BIF/USD, which is a 20 percent increase compared to the same time last year and a 28 percent increase compared to the five-year average. These declining exchange rates are making food imports from neighboring countries increasingly expensive.
    • High fuel prices: The gradual reduction in the government fuel subsidy since last year has increased transportation costs and has translated into higher food prices.
    • Changes to cross border trade: While official cross border trade statistics are not available, several changes in trade flows are believed to be contributing to price increases in Burundi. First, the overall volume of food imports, which are generally more expensive than locally produced food, has increased. In addition, trade restrictions implemented by the Tanzania government in 2011 has contributed to higher prices and reduced quantities of Tanzanian imports. Quantities of maize imported from Uganda have also substantially declined as Uganda has increased exports to South Sudan. This reduction in trade with Uganda and Tanzania has resulted in Burundi increasing its imports of maize from Zambia, where maize is generally more expensive.

    Food prices are expected to increase sharply starting in June 2013 when the government reinstates a tax on food commodities that was lifted in response to high food prices in May 2011.

    On January 27, 2013, a large fire burned down Bujumbura's central market. Media reports indicate that approximately 5,000 merchants were affected. However, this fire was not found to impact February prices for staple foods in Bujumbura as prices declined slightly (-1.4 to -13.5 percent) compared to January 2013.

    Labor opportunities are seasonably stable as planting activities have now been completed. Wages from casual labor, the most important economic activity for the poor, are at normal levels (1,500-2,000 BIF). This, coupled with increasing food prices, has meant that household purchasing power is declining. While most households are currently consuming their own production, this declining purchasing power will reduce market food access, especially during lean season (April-May) when household food stocks will start to deplete. However in most areas of the country, households will be able to use their normal livelihood strategies to meet essential food and nonfood needs.

    Except for areas/populations of concern described below, households will face Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes through June 2013.


    Areas of Concern

    Several populations/areas within Burundi are facing increased levels of food insecurity and require close monitoring:

    • Dépressions de l'Est: In this zone, rainfall distribution during season 'A' was poor, causing crop production levels to be approximately 40 percent below average. Food stocks in this area were estimated to last about three months after the harvests, which is one to two months shorter than normal. Given that early harvests began in December 2012, most poor households have now depleted their stocks.
    • Hauts Plateaux Humides: Crop diseases, low input usage, and poor rainfall performance also contributed to below average production in this zone during the 2013 season 'A'. Given that households in these areas have high vulnerability to food security-related hazards due to structural problems (ex. high population density, small landholdings generally less than 1/4 ha), the poor season 'A' harvests have caused increased levels of food insecurity.
    • Returnees: Since 2002, Burundi has received approximately 500,000 returnees from camps in Tanzania that have closed. Most recently, about 33,819 returnees entered the country during the last quarter of 2012 from the Mtabila refugee camp. Returnees who were able to access land (about 90 percent) have been able to rebuild their livelihoods faster than those who went to villages de paix to wait to receive land allocations. A large number of returnees have settled in the eastern regions where land is more available. However, these areas are prone to recurrent dry spells, which frequently lead to crop losses. Ongoing humanitarian assistance programming for recent returnees include: 1) a six month ration of food (100 kg of rice and 100 kg of beans), 2) cash for work programs, 3) free medical services for six months, 4) seed distributions, and 5) shelters (for about 50 percent of returnees).  
    • Internally Displaced People (IDPs): About 78,798 IDPs (41,716 women and 37,082 men) are currently living within Burundi. This population is not receiving any humanitarian assistance and is being encouraged to return to their respective villages. However, most are unlikely to return as the reasons for their displacement are often still present in their home villages. 
    • Refugees: The Burundi office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are about 40,000 refugees present within Burundi. These refugees are living within camps and are receiving adequate assistance to meet their food and nonfood needs. 

    NGOs and the government are assisting vulnerable populations through a variety of programs including supplemental feeding for pregnant women and children up to 24 months, food assistance, cash for work, malnutrition prevention programs, and assistance with farming and other income generating activities. School feeding programs conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) have temporarily been suspended in some areas due to budget constraints although they will likely resume later this year in the eastern provinces. 

    With the exception of the refugee population, who is receiving adequate assistance, over 20 percent of households in the  areas/populations of concern described above are having trouble meeting food and nonfood needs and will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through at least June 2013. These groups are facing food consumption deficits and/or are employing atypical coping strategies, such as reducing the quantity and quality of food consumed, migrating to neighboring countries, removing children from school, and atypical levels of remittances and animal sales. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Changes in February 2013 food prices compared to 2011 levels and the five-year average; Bujumbura, Burundi

    Figure 2

    Changes in February 2013 food prices compared to 2011 levels and the five-year average; Bujumbura, Burundi

    Source: FEWS NET

    In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices. Learn more about our work here.

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