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Humanitarian assistance remains essential to save lives in northern Burkina Faso

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Burkina Faso
  • December 2023
Humanitarian assistance remains essential to save lives in northern Burkina Faso

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through May 2024
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • Faced with a volatile security environment, poor households in blockaded areas in the Sahel region, particularly in the commune of Djibo, will likely see their situation worsen if aid is not strengthened. Initially reduced amid logistical and security constraints during the lean season from July to September, aid in Djibo was suspended in mid-October. This interruption occurred despite the pivotal role of assistance as the main lifeline, aimed at safeguarding lives and averting the risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) in Djibo
    • On December 7, the government successfully transported around 550 MT of emergency food aid under military escort. This should cover up to 50 percent of the caloric requirements for recipients, sustaining at least 25 percent of the population for one month. The food will likely be shared more widely, thereby reducing the size of the rations. While this aid will help alleviate significant consumption deficits and the proportion of people in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) until January, it is nevertheless insufficient to prevent Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. From January to May, an increase in the number of people in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) is likely, as other sources of food and income will remain marginal or will further diminish, eventually becoming negligible during the lean season. Children and adults will be exposed to significant deficits in food consumption and acute malnutrition. There remains a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) if the conflict restricts already low levels of crops, food aid, and market supplies more than is currently anticipated. 
    • Starting in February, a decline in food access is anticipated in other regions that are also significantly impacted by insecurity and have a substantial population of internally displaced persons (IDPs). This is attributed to insufficient harvests and meager incomes, primarily stemming from vegetable cultivation, as a response to expected levels of higher-than-average prices for essential commodities. In the provinces of Loroum, Séno, Oudalan, and Yagha, where several communes are under blockade, disrupting most livelihood activities, the Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes will persist at least until May. In the provinces of Yatenga, Loroum, Gourma, Tapoa, Kompienga, Komondjari, Koulpélogo, Kossi, Sourou, and the provinces of the Center-North region, IDPs and poor host households will have depleted their marginal stocks between February and May and will be forced to rely more on the market despite little income, facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity outcomes.

    Current Situation

    The security situation in the country remains worrying, although the number of incidents reported by ACLED decreased slightly by 18 percent from January to November compared to the same period last year. However, over the same period, deaths associated with these incidents increased by 118 percent, with more significant losses recorded among the ranks of armed terrorist groups (ATGs). While tactical successes are being achieved by the defence and security forces (FDS), supported by the Volunteers for the Defence of the Homeland (VDP), ATGs continue to demonstrate their ability to mobilize. This is evident in the large-scale attack on November 26 against FDS positions in the city of Djibo, which also resulted in loss of lives among the civilian population. Cases of the return of displaced populations have been facilitated in several localities (in the North, Center-North, Center-East, Hauts-Bassins, and Boucle du Mouhoun regions), estimated at 343,383 individuals between January and November (according to the Ministry responsible for humanitarian action). However, movements remain limited, and new cases of internal displacement are being recorded. The blockade extends to about 30 communes, and the flow of goods is possible only with military escort along major supply routes in the Sahel regions (Kaya-Dori, Dori-Sebba, Dori-Gorom-Markoye, Dori-Arbinda, Kongoussi-Djibo), East (Fada-Kompienga, Fada-Kantchari, Fada-Gayéri), North (Ouahigouya-Titao), and Boucle du Mouhoun (Dédougou-Nouna-Djibasso, Dédougou-Solenzo, Dédougou-Tougan, Toma-Tougan-Dî).

    The agricultural season has been relatively successful, with an anticipated cereal production of 5,246,405 tonnes, comparable to the previous season, and a modest 4.35 percent increase compared to the five-year average (according to the Ministry of Agriculture). However, insecurity and the enforcement of blockades have resulted in notably below-average harvests in specific regions of the northern and eastern parts of the country. The situation is particularly concerning in the Center-North, North, and Sahel regions, where over 60 percent of households will not be able to meet their food needs from their own production.

    On the markets, cereal availability has improved thanks to the new harvests. However, the overall supply level remains below that of 2022, as well as below the seasonal average, with significant supply shortfalls observed in conflict-affected areas. Physical access to markets by producers and buyers remains limited due to insecurity along the routes, and the flow of commodities from the production areas in the west to the deficit regions in the north is heavily disrupted. This is because it depends on convoys under military escort, with often lengthy delays. In blockaded areas, supply lead times reach 3 to 5 months in general. For example, the Djibo market was supplied on December 7, after the last delivery on June 20, 2023. Insecurity takes a significant toll on livestock markets as well. The main markets in the pastoral area in the northern part of the country remain closed or are operating at a slow pace. In addition to insecurity, the erosion of livestock assets has reduced livestock supplies to the point that they are barely sufficient to meet the needs of local butchers in blockaded areas.

    Although lower than during the same period in 2022, the prices of agricultural products remained high in November,. These prices recorded five-year increases ranging from 32 percent for maize and millet to 44 percent for white sorghum. In blockaded areas where market supply is contingent on military escorts, the prices of staple commodities are volatile, with five-year variations reaching 160 and 171 percent, respectively, for millet and sorghum in Sebba and 243 percent for maize in Kompienga. Unusual increases compared to the average are also observed for rice (over 60 percent) and cooking oil (between 67 and 178 percent) in most of the localities under blockade. 

    The sale of cash crops, particularly peanuts, cowpeas, sesame, and cotton, constitutes the main sources of income, especially for households in relatively calm areas in the west and south of the country. Despite this, the income derived from these sales is declining compared to the average, as the slight increase in prices is not enough to offset the decrease in marketable volumes and the extra expenses incurred due to the rising costs of fertilizers. Furthermore, producers must be able to reach the main markets to benefit from these prices. In the northern half of the country, access to the usual sources of income remains limited. In the blockaded areas in particular, IDPs and poor host households generate meager incomes by selling firewood or fodder, selling water, and carrying out gold panning, all while risking their lives beyond safety perimeters. According to key informants, approximately 20 to 40 percent receive monetary transfers from relatives who have migrated or who are living outside of the area. 

    Due to a substantial number of municipalities facing blockades, there is an increased demand for food aid, either through military escort or by air. This heightened need stems from the loss of own-production or the early depletion of stocks among households that had the capability to produce. The FDS and VDP have facilitated access to some sites for the initiation of vegetable production in the municipalities of Djibo, Kelbo, Arbinda, Gorom-Gorom, Seytenga, and Solhan. In the municipality of Djibo specifically, airborne food distributions have been suspended since mid-October due to security threats. Confronted with a shortage of food, there is an increase in begging incidents, the sale of precious belongings to acquire food, and increased demand pressure on decentralized social services. These services had already exhausted their reserves before the convoy arrived on  December 7, bringing approximately 550 tonnes of food rations. The current distribution (50 kg of cereals per household) could temporarily meet at least 50 percent of the needs of around 26 percent of the population, based on official estimates of around 300,000 people. 

    Before the distribution of aid on December 19, households in Djibo were struggling to meet their food needs, and daily rations were reduced in quantity and quality. According to key informants, visible signs of malnutrition were increasing, especially among children and women. There were also reports of an increase in miscarriage cases, and breastfeeding women did not have enough breast milk, negatively impacting the nutrition of infants. The admission data for malnutrition cases at the Djibo health district level indicate a trend towards an increase in cases of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), with death rates reaching critical thresholds of 10 percent for inpatient care and 3 percent for outpatient care in October (Figure 1). The aid received in the convoy will make it possible to reduce the large consumption deficits until January, but this is not enough to prevent the need for extreme coping strategies that expose households to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. Also, with the expansion of the military’s offensive in the area, we are seeing new arrivals of populations in the city of Djibo, which will further increase the need for aid. 

    Figure 1

    Monthly numbers of SAM and MAM admissions in 2023 in the Djibo health district
    Graphique de nombre d'Admissions a Djibo

    Source: Nutrition cluster/Entrepôt des données sanitaires (National Health Data Warehouse - ENDOS) of Burkina

    Most other blockaded localities in the Sahel region received market supplies with military escorts between October and December, after three to five months. Although discussions are taking place between traders and the authorities to avoid price inflation, households do not have enough resources to buy food, settling for occasional retail purchases. These escorts are accompanied by food intended for distribution by government services. Humanitarian actors also take advantage of this opportunity to deliver voucher programs. While complete capitalization is not available, key informants indicate that the ongoing aid targets approximately 50 percent of IDPs and 20 percent of host households, meeting at least 75 percent of their needs in the municipalities of Kelbo and Arbinda (in the Soum province), Gorom-Gorom and Markoye (in the Oudalan province), and in the municipality of Sebba (in the Yagha province). In these localities, where household assets have been eroded, this aid is helping to reduce extreme food access behavior, albeit that, for fear that it will be stopped, households are continuing to limit both the frequency and size of meals consumed per day, remaining in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), particularly in the provinces of Soum, Loroum, and Yagha. In the province of Oudalan, where the majority of the population is concentrated in the communes of Gorom-Gorom and Markoye, more than 20 percent of the province's population receives humanitarian aid, sustaining Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) up until January. 

    In the relatively calmer areas of the south and west, households have typical access to food from their own production, and the majority experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes.


    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions in the October 2023 to May 2024 Food Security Outlook report remain unchanged, with the exception of the updated assumptions below:

    • Security situation: With the more extensive deployment of the FDS and VDP across the country and the pressure of the offensive against armed terrorist groups (ATG), security incidents against civilian populations could decline compared to previous year. However, it is likely that the death toll will continue to rise due to more intense fighting by the FDS against ATG positions and the fact that ATGs may be stepping up their repressive actions against civilians. The long-term dynamics aree very difficult to predict because, while the FDS is growing in power, the ATGs also continue to demonstrate their capacity for rapid mobilization. The localized tactical successes of the FDS will temporarily alleviate the pressure on certain blockaded areas. However, overall, ATG threats around these areas and others will persist, restricting population movements, commodity flows, and the proper delivery of humanitarian aid.
    • Dry season yield: Government and partner support through the agropastoral offensive program in terms of resources and equipment is expected to facilitate the revival of dry season production activities in relatively calmer areas. However, this program will remain difficult to implement in the blockaded areas, and the local unavailability of resources could limit vegetable production in these areas. Furthermore, low water levels in the northern part of the country will compromise the continuation of production activities starting in April. Overall, the high cost of resources, on one hand, and difficulties in selling due to the absence of potential buyers, on the other hand, could lead to a decrease in income for producers.

    Projected Outlook through May 2024

    The highly volatile security environment will continue to weigh heavily on households' access to income and food in several regions of the country, in particular in the Sahel region and surrounding areas where livelihoods are already eroded, leading to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. Between December and January, the marginal seasonal harvests will no longer be available in most blockaded areas. In the commune of Djibo, vegetable production around the dam is likely to be compromised by the early drying up of the water from April onward. Already marginal, this food source will no longer be available. With irregular market supply and volatile commodity prices, households’ low incomes from selling water and wood and remittances from relatives abroad will not be sufficient to prevent them from facing significant consumption gaps and malnutrition conditions between February and May. The risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) exists if the conflict restricts already low levels of crops, food aid, and market supplies more than is currently anticipated. The level of concern for the risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) will intensify as the siege persists and food aid remains suspended. An immediate resumption of humanitarian aid deliveries, supported by guarantees of humanitarian access, is urgently needed to save lives, and decision-makers should not wait for confirmation of the existence of Famine (IPC Phase 5) before taking action. 

    In the communes of Arbinda, Kelbo, Sebba, and Markoye, which are also under blockade and where livestock assets have been eroded, income from remittances from relatives and from water and fodder sales is insufficient to meet market needs. IDPs and poor host households will continue to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes between December 2023 and May 2024. Extreme and prolonged consumption deficits will expose a proportion of people to Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). 

    A decline in food accessibility is anticipated in other regions that are also significantly impacted by insecurity and have a significant population of IDPs. This is attributed to insufficient harvests and meager incomes, primarily stemming from vegetable cultivation, as a response to expected levels of higher-than-average prices for essential commodities. These are the provinces of Yatenga and Loroum (North region), the provinces of the Center-North region, the provinces of Gourma, Tapoa, Kompienga, and Komondjari (East region), the provinces of Kossi and Sourou (Boucle du Mouhoun region), and the province of Koulpélogo (Center-East region). In these areas, IDPs and poor host households whose livelihoods have deteriorated are expected to limit both the number and size of meals and will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between February and May.

    In the relatively calm south and west, average harvests should provide a typical diet for poor households to remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) until May. However, the decline in income from the sale of agricultural products will not enable the complete protection of their livelihoods. Although IDPs in these host areas will have relatively more opportunities for income from labor, the sale of wood and charcoal, and gold panning, these incomes will not be sufficient to meet both food and non-food needs. These households will continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout the period 

    Events that could change the scenario

    Please see the Food Security Outlook report for a comprehensive analysis of events that may change the scenario.

    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario
    AreaEventsImpacts on food security outcomes
    Soum Province of the Sahel Region, Livelihood Zone BF07

    Even greater than expected reduction in already marginal food sources

    If fighting intensifies between the national armed forces and ATGs, this would reduce access to vegetable production and wild products, causing humanitarian logistical problems and significantly reducing or preventing deliveries of food aid by air. As a result, it would be highly probable that acute food insecurity levels would deteriorate rapidly. If conflict or financial or logistical factors lead to an even greater than expected reduction in already minimal household food sources, Famine (IPC Phase 5) is likely to occur.

    Although the situation remains the most serious in Djibo, the blockades of Arbinda, Kelbo, Markoye, and Sebba have now been in place for over a year. These areas face infrequent market supply deliveries and difficult humanitarian access. Available information suggests that restrictions on population movement are relatively less severe in these areas, allowing a relatively higher level of crop production, albeit only marginally. FEWS NET will continue to closely monitor the risk of a further deterioration in the severity of acute food insecurity in these areas.  


    Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Burkina Faso Food Security Outlook Update December 2023: Humanitarian assistance remains essential to save lives in northern Burkina Faso, 2023.

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

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