Burundi: the hungriest country in the world? A review of the indicators

The level of hunger in Burundi is “extremely alarming” according to theInternational Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In this light, it might seem surprising that the government recently withdrew BIF 900 million from the agricultural sector.-By Diane Uwimana

 Farmers working their land ©Iwacu

Farmers working their land ©Iwacu

The IFPRIcombines three equally weighted indicators: the proportion of people who are undernourished, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and the mortality rate of children under five.  With a food consumption of 1600 Kcal per person per day, Burundi is the lowest consumer of the sub region. Micronutrient deficiencies constitute a real public health risk in Burundi. According to the most recent health demographic survey (EDS 2010) 45% of children younger than five yearshave anaemia.

Arecent global analysis on food security, nutrition and vulnerability conducted by the World Food Program (WFP) in May 2014, shows that around 816 214Burundian children under five years suffer from chronic malnutrition, of which 332 098 are severe cases. A further 79 453 suffer from acute malnutrition, noting 12 197 severe cases in Burundi.
According to Gaston Nkeshimana, a nutrition program officer for the WFP, malnutritionalso includes excessive consumption of dietary energy from macronutrients, such as fats and carbohydrates. It is therefore also related toobesity.

In the survey conducted by WFP, there are some determinants that indicatefood insecurity such as the rate of population growth, small areas of land per farming household (0, 52ha), over-exploitation of soils, declining fertility and soil quality, low use of fertilizer (28%), low irrigation despite abundance in water (only 3% of agricultural land was irrigated (in 2011) and erosion of the purchasing power of households, particularly because the relatively highinflation rate.

“Burundians are poor”

TheBurundian Governmenthas taken several stepsby including the inclusion of food security and nutrition on the political agenda through the strategic framework of growth and the fightagainst poverty. During the “Nutrition for growth” meeting held in London in June 2013 the Government of Burundi made strong commitments. One of which is to reduce chronic malnutrition in children by 10 percent(from 58% to 48%) before 2017. To achieve this, Burundi will implement several nutrition interventions.

Despite the current stateon malnutrition and starvation, the president has recently signed a decree withdrawing BIF 900 million from the agricultural budget and transferred it to the election process. Odette Kayitesi, the Minister of Agriculture and Livestock dismisses the worry about the budget move, stating that it is only a small part of her general budget and the lack of funds is not to blame for Burundi’s top position in the Global Hunger Index. “Burundian people are poor and do not have money to buy what they don’tcultivate. Their purchasing power is weak”, she explains.
Without going into details, she refers to other sectors that fail to generate income for the rural poor. “Even tourism revenue doesn’t trickle down to the population, while unemployment gains ground.”