Can the cycle of recurrent food insecurity among the population of Busoni, Kirundo, Bugabira and Ntega be reversed?
The early cessation of rains combined with excessive rainfall and hailstorms have led to the destructions of crops in Kirundo and deteriorated the food security situation during the first cropping season of the year. In Kirundo province, nearly one season out of three has been underperforming since the early 2000s, and households find themselves in a vicious circle of loss and rebuilding of livestock and harvest for the lean season. Due to frequent destruction of crops for the past 20 years, households have had to plant new seeds every two years. With the right weather conditions, the region has high production potential. For example, 2018 was considered a normal year, with Kirundo province becoming the leading producer of pulses and the second largest producer of cereals, accounting for 13 per cent and 10 per cent respectively of national production (source: ENAB 2017-2018). In 2021, however, households in eight zones of Busoni, Bugabira and Kirundo communes have lost seeds and crops because of the water deficit. The water deficit in some localities of Kirundo province, coupled with excessive rainfall in others, has affected some 20 per cent of households in the Northern Depression – or Bugesera – livelihood zone, representing 36,372 households in the communes of Busoni, Bugabira, Kirundo and Ntega, according to the estimates of the multisectoral assessment mission that took place from 21 to 23 January 2021. This new assessment identified 19,500 households in urgent need of seed and food assistance. As the shocks have occurred at the crucial flowering and ripening phase of the season’s crops, the damage to the 2021A season’s crops is significant, especially for cereals and pulses in the most affected areas. Elsewhere in the province, production is considered normal. With regards to nutrition, the preliminary results of the SMART survey of September 2020 concluded that the nutrition situation in Kirundo is precarious with a Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rate of 7 per cent, up from 4 per cent in 2019. Since the beginning of the situation in December 2020, the following has been reported:
Loss of pulse and cereal crops from the 2021A season with corn and sorghum stalks in fields used only as fodder for livestock;
Dozens of households have left the province for other provinces in search of livelihood opportunities (for example, displacement to Cankuzo province);
Cases of school dropouts, particularly in primary schools where the school feeding program has been suspended by the World Food Program (WFP) due to lack of funding (for example, according to monitoring reports by the provincial education inspectorate, one school in Cewe reports that a quarter of the school population or 200 students out of 800 have dropped out). WFP plans to resume the program in 30 targeted schools in the near future;
Reports of increasing cases of malnutrition, including severe malnutrition and oedema, according to Concern World Wide (CWW). The peak of cases is expected during the lean season between March and May 2021;
Increasing cases of begging and numbers of street children;
Reports of disruption of Income Generating Activities (IGAs) and Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), due to migration (for example, a CWW-supported pig farm whose members have informed the organization that they are unable to continue managing the farm while they go find food for their families; case of CARE GROUP volunteers affected by current displacements, etc.);
Limited dry food stocks;
Market availability is improving, particularly for beans with the advent of the 2021 season crops in the unaffected hills;
Regarding crop prospects, while the affected hills expect no cereal and pulse crops for the 2021A season, crop prospects are good for the other unaffected localities, despite the risk of overlap with the 2021B season, particularly for sorghum.
The needs are compounded by aggravating factors, particularly those related to the significant movement of returnees from Mahama camp in Rwanda since August 2020 (nearly 70 per cent of Burundian refugees in Mahama camp are from Kirundo province), the reduced coverage of the school feeding program (37 schools compared to 62 previously), the impact of Covid-19, painted grasshoppers (Zonocerus variegatus) and swine diseases. The administration has called for local and national solidarity to support the affected households, as well as for the strengthening of crops in the marshes. Resilience activities have been accelerated, including with the initiation of a project to install weather stations, with UNDP assistance, to improve local early warning capacity. There are also plans to set up a hill irrigation project on Lake Rweru with the support of UNDP, the National Fund for Communal Investment (FONIC) and FAO. In addition to this, there is a need to provide seed assistance before March through seed fairs or cash activities . This should be combined with food assistance during the lean season in the lead up to the 2021B harvest (June 2021), as well as with the acceleration and scaling up of ongoing resilience actions, namely the UNDP-FONIC-FAO irrigation project, the strengthening of small-scale irrigation, the continuation of the school feeding program, and reforestation activities. Should no assistance be provided, the following scenarios could occur:
The affected households risk missing the 2021B cropping season without seeds and, in turn, the June 2021 harvest. As a consequence, food insecurity is expected to persist and deteriorate until the end of the year;
Affected households will need assistance during the lean season, with the risk of households resorting to negative coping mechanisms that could affect livelihoods (displacement, sales of productive and non-productive assets);
Lack of support for nutritional services could lead to the degradation of nutritional status and overburden of ongoing programs for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM).