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Erratic and Delayed Rains Likely to Reduce Season B Harvest in June

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Rwanda
  • March 2012
Erratic and Delayed Rains Likely to Reduce Season B Harvest in June

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Key Messages
    • Food availability and access improved following the season A harvests that ended in January. The current situation of good availability is the same across all livelihood zones except for areas that depend on marshland farming which had a relatively poorer harvest for season A. Above normal rains during season A reduced the production of beans and maize. They have both since risen in price. 

    • The delayed start of season B is likely to affect crop production, primarily for maize and beans. Labor opportunities have also been affected in most livelihood zones. While longer term forecasts suggest a near normal season, short term forecasts call for below average rainfall to continue in early April. A delayed start of the long rains, delayed planting of crops, and below average short term rains suggest that the harvest starting in June could be below average. 

    • In the Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming Livelihood Zone, households will likely be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) by the April to June 2012 period as poor households are drawing down food stocks and assets earlier due to the late start of the rains and poor access to casual labor for planting.

    Current Situation

    During the post harvest period from season A in December to early February, most poor households continued to rely on households stocks for food. Dependence on market purchase increased in areas which rely more on market purchases including Eastern Congo Nile Highland Subsistence Farming livelihood zone and Eastern Semi-Arid Agropastoral livelihood zone. Planting for season B typically runs from February to early March and provides the landless and other poor households with opportunities for casual, agricultural labor.

    This year a dry spell has prolonged the planting season into the third week of March. The very late planting is likely to produce a below normal harvest. Recent field assessments revealed that households in Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming, Eastern Semi-Arid Agro-Pastoral, and Eastern Agro pastoral livelihood zones in mid-March farmers were not yet done with planting. Generally, a little over half of land had been already planted, primarily under beans. However, due to the low volume of rain, many have not continued planting. Planted beans and maize are at the germination stage, and further growth may be reduced by below average rains in March (Figure 4). While some rain is likely to fall over the next two weeks according to the Global Forecast System (GFS), if maize and beans do not receive rain during this period, some fields may become anomalously dry. This would likely further reduce season B yields. While cumulative rainfall for Season A and Season B remains at or above average, rainfall since January has been anomalously low across Rwanda(Figures 3 and 4).

    Recent field assessments reveal that wheat planting is ongoing in the Northern Highlands Bean and Wheat zone. In the Central-Highlands Irish Potato, Bean, and Vegetable Zone planting is also ongoing for the majority of farmers, but some have reported difficulties acquiring bean and maize seeds this year due to high prices.

    Poor households reliant on income from casual and agricultural labor are experiencing a decline in labor demand due to the slowing down of planting activities caused by erratic rain. Prices have risen of some important staple foods such as Irish potato (Figure 5). Cassava flour and beans have also slightly increased in price in some markets. The recent rise in the Irish potato price has been attributed to reduced supply due to infestation of potato leaf miner insect.

    Over the longer term, prices of staple foods continue to increase due to the gradual depreciation of the Rwandan franc (RWF) against the U.S. dollar (USD) and other factors. Fuel prices are another medium term cause of rising food prices. Also, every year, larger quantities of food commodities are exported to neighboring countries. District officials and local traders indicate that larger volumes of maize, cassava, and Irish potato are being exported to Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Tanzania each year. This increasing demand is driving up prices over time in all markets.

    The Eastern Semi-Arid Agro-Pastoral and Eastern Agro-Pastoral Livelihood Zones

    The long rains have been poorly distributed such that rain totals have been slightly below average in these areas. This reduced opportunities for casual, agricultural labor. With reduced income for the poor during the period before the season B harvest in June, and the possibility of reduced income from crop sales following the season B harvest in June due to potentially below average yields, households will have less income than usual through June. The impacts would become most noticeable in July and August when households in this region, at least in part, consume their stocks from the season B harvest. Poor households will need to sell assets such as goats or poultry or search for casual labor in order to sustain their ability to make market purchases of staple foods during July and August. Also, households are likely to substitute less preferred, less expensive staples such as sweet potatoes, instead of maize. Availability and prices of these substitute staples could change expected food security outcomes due to the impact of these factors on food access in July and August.

    East Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming Livelihood Zone

    Households are currently meeting their food consumption through a mixture of stocks from season A and market purchases. Poor households normally have less than half a hectare of land, so they rely more heavily on agricultural labor for middle and better-off households to fund market purchases of food. With the late start of the long rainy season, agricultural labor opportunities in this zone have been limited during February until the rains started in March. For poor households, this loss of labor during a period when typically there is peak agricultural labor demand may have lead them to completely draw down their stocks of food from season A or to sell some small stock such as goats, pigs, or rabbits, if they are available, to continue purchasing food in March and April. Other households may have sent household members to urban areas in search of temporary, casual labor to cover costs. While households likely have been able to cover their food needs in February and March using typical livelihood strategies, they employed these strategies longer than in years when the long rains began on time and are more evenly distributed.

    While the rains have been erratic in terms of both distribution and totals since they started, the reduced access to agricultural labor due to the anomalous behavior of rains since start of season may have a residual effect in this zone. Labor rates have been lower due to short supply of labor opportunities. Some year-round labor is available on tea plantations and in urban areas, but traveling to these areas has a cost for poor households. Demand for casual labor is low, and it is lower than usual for the long rainy season. Poor households have already drawn down season A stocks and already completed some of their other usual livelihood activities in February and March. After income from providing labor for planting for season B has been interrupted in some neighboring zones by the dry spell, poor households will conclude the season with reduced income. They are likely to need to make additional, unplanned sales of small stock or of other livelihood assets to cover market purchases during this year’s lean season in April and May. While poor households should be able to meet their food needs through these sales, some households may begin to strip some livelihood assets starting in April.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Most-likely food security outcomes (March 2012)

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Most-likely food security outcomes (March 2012)

    Source: FEWS NET Rwanda

    Figure 3. January and February 2012 rainfall anomaly, mm rainfall below 2001-2011 average

    Figure 3

    Figure 3. January and February 2012 rainfall anomaly, mm rainfall below 2001-2011 average

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 4. March 1-28, 2012 rainfall anomaly, mm rainfall below 2001-2011 average

    Figure 4

    Figure 4. March 1-28, 2012 rainfall anomaly, mm rainfall below 2001-2011 average

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 5. Price changes for main staples in Kigali’s Kimironko market from January 2011 to February 2012

    Figure 5

    Figure 5. Price changes for main staples in Kigali’s Kimironko market from January 2011 to February 2012

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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