More than three million people are currently facing acute food insecurity as Burkina Faso grapples with COVID-19 and conflict.
This is happening as a $3.5 million contribution from the IKEA Foundation is supporting efforts by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to empower refugees and their host communities in one of the world’s largest displacement crises.
The partnership will help vulnerable populations in Kenya and Uganda to generate a reliable source of income, by helping them to cultivate in-demand crops and connecting them to market opportunities.
Eastern Africa is currently home to one the world’s largest displacement crises: estimates indicate there are currently more than 1.9 million refugees living in Kenya and Uganda alone.
Most of the refugee population reside in camps, though the number living in urban areas has continued to rise in recent years.
Many of the refugees have been present in the countries for long periods of time; some have fled past conflicts in neighbouring countries such as Somalia, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda, and Eritrea, but others have been forced from their homes by famine or environmental events such as droughts and floods.
FAO Deputy Director-General, Beth Bechdol, says “agriculture has the potential to offer solutions even in some of the most challenging environments. Thanks to the IKEA Foundation, we will be able to support some of the world’s most vulnerable communities in using agriculture as a means to create sustainable livelihoods.”
The support from the IKEA Foundation will allow FAO, in partnership with UNHCR, to help 17 000 refugees and local residents earn a decent income by growing high-quality crops, using regenerative farming methods that protect the environment.
The initial phase of the project will run for four years, and will link the farmers with local food companies which need to develop a reliable supply base for these products.
The initial collaboration will focus on passion fruit and groundnut production and will involve two local private sector companies: KadAfrica, which operates in Uganda and exports passion fruit pulp, and INSTA Products, a Kenya-based company that manufactures Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) items where the main ingredient is groundnut paste.
Both groundnut and passion fruit production offer refugees and host communities alike the possibility for a steady source of income, helping both communities to increase self-reliance and improve socio-economic integration.
By encouraging the cultivation of in-demand products, the partnership hopes to lay the groundwork for increased agribusiness investment in the area.
Although refugees living in both countries have some access to farmland and rights to work, the majority are still dependent on food aid: more than 70 percent of refugees in Uganda and more than 80 percent in Kenya depend on UN agencies or their partners to meet their basic food needs.
Those who can grow their own food often lack ways to sell any surplus, as agricultural production is not linked to market opportunities. In Uganda, for example, only 22 percent of refugees and 45 percent of host communities manage to sell part of their produce.
As the duration of displacement increases, sustainable, long-term solutions beyond humanitarian assistance become more urgently needed.
In Uganda, FAO has supported refugees and their host communities at multiple sites, helping to stabilize livelihoods by providing key farming inputs and knowledge, building livestock assets and promoting production diversification through the introduction of high-value crops.
In Kenya, FAO and UNHCR have worked closely in and around the Kalobeyei refugee settlement, promoting sustainable agricultural expansion through land rehabilitation, irrigation development and training for improved food and nutrition security of both the refugee and host community population.
In the meantime, citing alarming new data, FAO and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) say urgent and sustained action is needed to address worsening food and nutrition insecurity in Burkina Faso.
Some 3.3 million people are estimated to be facing acute food insecurity during the current lean season, that period which precedes the harvest in September.
The latest analysis by the Cadre Harmonisé indicates an increase in acute food insecurity of more than 50 percent since the situation in Burkina Faso was last assessed in March.
Experts say the crisis has been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 on people’s ability to earn money to cover their daily needs in a country already reeling from conflict and climate change.
Two provinces in the Sahel region – Oudalan and Soum – have been driven into the Emergency phase of food insecurity, as defined by the Cadre Harmonisé.
Some three percent of people in these northern areas are said to be experiencing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity and facing extreme food consumption gaps, also resulting in alarming levels of acute malnutrition.
Many of those worst affected have been displaced from their homes by fighting in the region.
WFP Country Director and Representative in Burkina Faso, David Bulman, says “we’re seeing an alarming deterioration in food security across the worst-hit parts of the country. We need to take immediate action to reverse this trend in the two provinces. It would be nothing short of a disaster were a whole generation to be crushed by conflict, displacement and hunger.”
FAO Representative in Burkina Faso, Dauda Sau, says “the COVID-19 pandemic is further exacerbating a crisis that was already deteriorating at a worrying pace, pushing more and more people into severe food crisis and acute food insecurity.
“We can reverse this trend if we act now by supporting the Government to protect livelihoods, rapidly increase local food production and availability, and support rural populations to access food.”
Many of those most at risk are subsistence farmers and livestock herders. While urgent humanitarian life-and livelihood-saving assistance is needed to address immediate needs, so too is a longer-term investment in rural livelihoods and social services which, say experts, can help reinforce social cohesion and contribute to peace.
FAO and WFP have been responding to the crisis in Burkina Faso by providing food assistance coupled with livelihood protection and support for displaced people and the host communities that receive them.