By Millicent Zighe
More than 1.6 million Burundians are acutely food insecure and are in dire need of emergency food assistance, the UN food agency World Food Programme(WFP) has warned.
In a report, the WFP has said that the ongoing conflict in the Eastern African nation has affected the agricultural sector resulting in limited access to farm inputs, declining food import capacity and high food prices. Most of the affected people are in the provinces of Kirundo, Muyinga, Cankuzo, Ruyigi, Rutana and Makamba.
The situation is further worsened by an estimated 400,000 people who have fled agricultural productive areas in Burundi to the neighbouring Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and DRC. Many experience food shortages in their refugee camps. Internally, an estimated 125,000 Burundians have been displaced, which has greatly hampered agricultural activities in the country.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the country’s economy. However, poor farming practices, prevalent drought and political instability have contributed to low productivity in the sector. The country has the lowest agricultural productivity levels in Eastern Africa.
“Food insecurity is mainly the result of land scarcity, which leads to overexploitation, fragmentation and the use of marginal land, resulting in soil degradation and low agricultural productivity. This situation is exacerbated by insufficient access to quality inputs and factors of production, inflation, intensifying climate shocks and declining non-farm income opportunities” the World Food Program report reads.
Maternal and infant deaths have doubled in war-torn areas of Burundi in recent years reversing recent gains. An estimated 56 percent of children have stunted growth resulting from poverty, malnutrition and poor hygiene. WFP further reports that two thirds of the children in the country finish their primary schooling. In an effort to minimize the gravity of the crisis, the organization has assisted 570,000 school girls with food to encourage school enrollment and retention. Chronic malnutrition in Burundi is among the highest in the world.
Apart from conflicts, natural disasters have greatly hampered agricultural progress in rural areas. Burundi returnees are said to have occupied areas prone to floods. The country lacks the capacity to cope with climatic disasters such as drought and floods.
Nonetheless, there is still hope for internally displaced people and refugee returnees as several international aid organisations have promised to provide food assistance. Plans are also underway to provide capacity strengthening to government and humanitarian partners on early warning systems, emergency food security assessments and analysis, and food security and market monitoring.
WFP in conjunction with other UN agencies have come up with strategies to curb food insecurity in Burundi. The plan is to provide food or cash assistance to food insecure households. Furthermore, the two organizations will provide meals to school children and support national institutions in formulating a homegrown school meal policy and social protection programmes.