BUJUMBURA, 28 April 2011 (IRIN) - Heavy rains in March in Burundi's eastern province of Ruyigi destroyed beans, banana and cassava crops, leaving thousands of people desperate for food aid, agricultural officials said.
"With regards to the 2011 B agricultural season [February-June], farmers in Ruyigi are expecting nothing from their fields after heavy rains, accompanied by hailstorms, devastated their fields and they lost all the beans, bananas and cassava crops," Festus Ntihabose, agricultural director for Ruyigi, told IRIN.
According to Ntihabose, at least 8,000 families, or 40,000 people, now require urgent food aid and seeds to prepare for the next planting season.
The most affected communes are Butaganzwa, Nyabitsinda, Kinyinya and Bweru and, to a lesser extent, Gisuru, Ntihabose said.
Agricultural officials say the 2011 B agricultural season is the most important in Burundi, accounting for 50 percent of national food production.
Méthode Niyongendako, a consultant with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the provinces of Ruyigi and Cankuzo (in the east) were the most fragile and "likely to face a serious food crisis during the first semester of the current year. The risk of low production in June is very high in those provinces, which means the food crisis can be prolonged."
Pontien Hatungimana, an adviser to the Ruyigi governor, told IRIN that since an appeal for assistance in February, humanitarian organizations had, so far, not responded.
"Only routine [food] distributions to vulnerable groups were made; but no relief aid, as such, has reached us," Hatungimana said.
However, in February, the Ministry of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender distributed 61MT of rice and beans to the affected population. The ministry also distributed 5MT of rice in March.
"This response was a simple support to sustain the population but it is still very little, since the needs are huge," Hatungimana said.
Appeal for seeds
Agricultural officials in Ruyigi have appealed to charitable organizations to provide seeds for the farmers to plant during the next planting season.
"They need to prepare for the next season [season C in wetlands]; they need vegetable seeds and sweet potato cuttings because these are very rare as a result of the rains," Ntihabose said.
Niyongendako said approximately 15,000 households would receive seeds for vegetables, sweet potatoes and cassava cuttings as well as Irish potatoes for season C.
Weathermen attribute the rain deficit in the north and east of Burundi to the La Niña weather phenomenon, which cut crop production in season 2011 A.
Niyongendako said the food deficit for the period between January and June 2011 is estimated at 490,000MT of cereals.
However, Niyongendako said the northern province of Kirundo, which is annually prone to food shortages, seems promising this time because farmers planted early and were likely to have a good harvest.
In its April issue, the monthly bulletin of the Burundi Food Security Monitoring Early Warning System said throughout March 2011, countrywide, the UN World Food Programme assisted 244,531 beneficiaries with 1,626MT of food, mainly through general food distribution, food-for-work, as well as aid for the most vulnerable.
"The cumulative food deficit of 1,922 tonnes for all foods is predicted between May and October, equivalent to [US $]1.96 million," according to the bulletin.