Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in Africa, ranking 181 out of 187 countries on UNDP's Human Development Index (2011), showing little improvement in recent years . High poverty levels, combined with the fact that Burkina Faso is landlocked, make the country's population particularly vulnerable to economic shocks such as high food prices, which limit vulnerable people’s access to food.
Burkina Faso has a population of 16.9 million people, nearly all of whom work in agriculture (92 percent). Literacy rates are extremely low at 28.7 percent (UNDP Human Development Indicators 2011) with large regional and gender disparities in primary school enrolment.
The country is prone to recurrent natural disasters such as drought, floods and locust invasions, which have grown increasingly frequent and severe. In 2011, Burkina Faso faced its third drought in five years, which led to the Sahel food and nutrition crisis in 2012. In addition, desertification in drought-prone areas is rapidly spreading and the impact of climate change is increasingly affecting the availability of water and pasture.
Food insecurity and malnutrition rates are chronically high. In 2012, Burkina Faso ranked 46 out of 76 on the global hunger index. An emergency food security assessment (EFSA) in September 2012 estimated that 1.7 million people in Burkina Faso will be at risk of food insecurity and unable to meet their food needs beyond three months after harvest in 2013. In addition, the influx of Malian refugees into the country has generated additional challenges for food security in Burkina Faso, for the refugees but also for the communities surrounding refugee settlements.
The global acute malnutrition rate (GAM) among children under 5 years old has not improved in recent years, and remains above the 10 percent 'serious' threshold at 10.9 percent (preliminary results SMART survey 2012). Levels of stunting have also not improved since 2008, remaining above the 'serious' threshold at 33 percent. Micronutrient deficiencies are also high: 88 percent of children under 5, 58 percent of pregnant women and 50 percent of lactating women suffer from anaemia.
Burkina Faso's economy is largely dependent on the primary sector, including cotton and gold, which contributes to a third of GDP. Agricultural productivity is poor and an increasing number of rural households have left the agricultural sector and migrated to urban areas or mining zones. An annual population growth of 3 percent makes it difficult for economic development and poverty reduction policies to achieve results.