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BURUNDI: Drought leaves thousands needing food aid

KIRUNDO, 23 February 2010 (IRIN) - Failed rains in northern Burundi have left tens of thousands of people needing food aid and prompted many to seek work in neighbouring Rwanda to earn enough to feed their families.

Some 35,710 households (about 180,000 people) in Kirundo province require food and seeds, according to government officials and UN agencies*, who last week visited the province.

“It is clear that the population of the communes of Busoni, Bugabira and part of Kirundo face a food shortage that can even worsen if nothing is done,” said Floribert Kubwayezu of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Charles Dei, the humanitarian coordinator in Burundi, who also serves as country director of the World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN that the lack of rain had adversely affected the January bean and maize harvest. This season accounts for 35 percent of Burundi’s total food production.

Rains stopped just after crops were planted and did not resume until mid-February, so many farmers had nothing to harvest, Benoit Miburu, the secretary of Busoni commune, told IRIN.

As a result, the little food on sale in local markets tends to be imported and therefore expensive. Whereas 1kg of beans usually sells for 300-350 francs (about 30 US cents), in Gatare market the price is now 900 francs.

Coping mechanisms

Many residents of the affected communes go to Rwanda in search of food or work.

“In Rwabikara and Marembo in Gasenyi zone you can see every morning 500 people leaving and coming back in the evening after a day’s work in Rwanda,” said Louis Ciza, an agronomist with Action Agro Allemande, a German NGO.

Domitille Vuguziga, a widow, was among many people IRIN saw returning home from Rwanda after a long day’s work, and an even longer commute.

“I left here at 2am and arrived there at six. I worked until [midday],” she said, explaining that she was paid with just enough maize to feed herself and three children for a day.

This flimsy safety net will be unavailable in March and April, when there will be nothing to harvest in Rwanda.

And even now, it is not a viable option for some, such as Pascaline Kanziza, 57, who cares for her sick husband and a 12-year-old grand-daughter in Busoni commune. “I am not able to go to Rwanda like others. So I try to find work here and there but at my age, it is not easy to get. They prefer young people who are able to work. If they see me working, they generally tell me not to come back the next day even if here is still work,” Kanziza said.

Conditions in Kirundo have prompted many people to move elsewhere permanently.

“When they see that there is no other option, they leave. Some first sell the house’s roofing or cattle at very low prices just to get food. At Murambi hill alone [in Gasenyi zone], some 253 households have fled the country since January,” Miburu told IRIN.

But Dei, the humanitarian coordinator, said the situation in Kirundo was not as bad as in some previous years. “The number of people leaving is decreasing,” he said.


Dei said food aid would first be sent to the most vulnerable people: such as children under five, the chronically sick, elderly and pregnant and nursing mothers. “We will also identify food-for-work activities whereby we can inject more food to [deter] people from moving,” he added.

New systems of seed distribution and better water management are required to mitigate the effects of future droughts, say aid workers.

In one longer-term project already in place, with help from Agro Action Allemande and funding from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), farmers are growing vegetables on the shores of Lake Cohoha in Busoni commune. The UN mission recommended the project be extended to the shores of other lakes.

* FAO, WFP, OCHA, World Health Organization, UN Children’s Fund; UN Development Programme and their partner organizations

See also: Jacqueline Kabagirwa, "How can I tell my children there is nothing to eat for a day or two?"


Theme(s): (IRIN) Food Security


Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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