Burundi's food security remains precarious, despite a slight improvement in production during the latest harvest season, with an estimated 600,000 people needing food aid, according to a recent assessment.
Food production rose by 2 percent, but there remains a shortfall of 486,000 tonnes of grain, according to a report prepared jointly by Burundi's Ministry of Agriculture, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), following a joint assessment in January.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) will contribute a maximum of 77,000 tonnes of food in a bid to bridge the deficit. The agency estimates that 600,000 Burundians are experiencing food shortages and will need emergency aid in 2008, according to its director in Burundi, Jean-Charles Dei.
"With a population growth of 33 percent from six million to more than eight million since 1988, the average annual [food] production per capita has dropped by 41 percent," stated the report, which was released on 5 March. "Analysed by type of crop, the decline was 28 percent for cereals, 74 percent for pulses, 29 percent for roots and tubers, and 15 percent for bananas and plantains."
The decline in food output meant that 34 percent of the population consumed only 1,400 kilo-calories per day, and half of all households had inadequate consumption in terms of quality, quantity and diversity.
Even at harvest times, household dependence on bought food remained as high as 40 percent. Although an estimated 90 percent of the population derived its livelihood from agriculture, the rate of chronic malnutrition was still high compared with other sub-Saharan African countries, according to the report.
The report noted that preliminary results of a study by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health in August 2007 had shown a significant improvement in the rate of chronic malnutrition and underweight children, which was 46.0 percent and 35.2 percent respectively in 2007, down from 52.5 percent and 39.2 percent in 2005.
It called for sustained donor support to help Burundi improve food production and meet the immediate food needs of the most vulnerable. External support was crucial to help the country, which is emerging from more than a decade of civil strife, to create conditions conducive for the return of refugees and the implementation of ongoing reintegration programmes.
The report, however, noted that concerted efforts by the government and FAO had led to a gradual improvement of cassava production, a revival of large-scale gardening as a source of food and income for vulnerable households and a better banana and sweet potato crop.
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