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Food shortages in Burundi deepen as country embraces peace

BUJUMBURA, 16 March 2005 - Following Burundi's recent vote for a new constitution to end more than ten years of conflict, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Food Programme said today that two million Burundians would need emergency food aid this year, 40 percent more than last year.

A joint FAO/WFP/UNICEF/Government crop and food supply assessment report concluded that Burundi would face a total food deficit in 2005 of 310,000 metric tons of food (in cereal equivalent) compared to 259,000 tons last year, primarily because of unfavourable weather conditions since 2003, affecting maize and bean yields.

The food shortage was aggravated by the low production of traditional roots and tuberous crops such as yam, manioc (due to disease) and, to some extent, sweet potatoes.

With the 100 percent increase in prices of staple foods from last August, poor and vulnerable families have been completely unable to buy them. The food crisis is having a major impact on the nutritional situation. In January, supplementary feeding centres registered the highest number of admissions in three years.

Food shortages are particularly acute in the north, northeast and central provinces - areas traditionally regarded as Burundi's food basket. In these provinces, families have already resorted to selling their livestock and other assets, including the roofs of their houses, as well as migrating in search of casual labour or seeking alternative sources of food.

"This crisis comes just when Burundi is making some clear progress towards peace and stability," said Zlatan Milisic, WFP Country Director for Burundi. "After so many years of war, living conditions for most Burundians are very harsh and this drought is creating additional pressure on an already deeply impoverished people."

The food emergency has been worsening ever since the war broke out in 1993. The economy has been seriously debilitated, with high inflation and devaluation of the national currency. Roads and other key infrastructure have been damaged or destroyed, insecurity prevents the movement of people and farming has also been limited by insecurity. According to WFP's food security survey in September 2004, 16 percent of Burundi's total population of 7.6 million people are chronically short of food, while 68 percent live on the brink of chronic food shortages.

To address the food crisis and tackle the specific needs of the most affected people, WFP, FAO and other agencies plan to distribute 140,000 tons of food, 7.38 tons of seeds and 150,000 hoes to 369,000 families - the equivalent of 2 million people.

"To mitigate the impact of the gradual disappearance of cassava, the main inter-season crop, in certain provinces, FAO has embarked on a B-carotene-rich sweet potato cutting and healthy cassava material rapid propagation programme for 120,000 households", said Mustafa S. Cassama, FAO Representative in Burundi. FAO is also planning to run a taro propagation programme using indexed in vitro plant materials.

In 2004, WFP provided 73,000 metric tons of food assistance to over 1.8 million people, while FAO provided seeds and tools to 220,000 households (equivalent to 1,100,000 vulnerable people).

FAO Contact:

John Riddle
Information Officer
(+39) 06 570 53259

WFP Contacts:

Caroline Hurford
Public Affairs Officer
(+39) 06 6513 2330

Laura Melo
Public Affairs Officer
(+254) 20 622 336

Christiane Berthiaume
Public Affairs Officer
(+41) 22 917 8564

Isidore Nteturuye
WFP Burundi
(+257) 910295