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Stressed food security outcomes observed during the peak of lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Rwanda
  • April - September 2014
Stressed food security outcomes observed during the peak of lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Areas of concern
  • Events that might change the outlook
  • Partner
    Key Messages
    • The Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistance Farming and the Eastern Semi Arid and Eastern Agro-pastoral zones depleted their food stocks one month earlier than normal due to around 50 percent below-average season A harvests for maize and beans in January/February. In order to cope, poor households in these areas will engage in irreversible coping strategies and face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity until the next harvests in June, when household will be in Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) through September.
    • The long rainy (March-April-May) season started normally in early March, but poorly-distributed seasonal rainfall since mid-March has led to deteriorating ground conditions in southern and eastern parts of the country, threatening crop development. Normal Season B harvests in June/July are expected to replenish household food stocks across Rwanda, but areas of concern with proneness to dryspell and flooding should continue to be monitored closely.
    • Food prices are atypically high during the current lean season, up 30 to 60 percent against the two-year average. This is due to a lack of carryover stock from the below-average Season A harvest. Prices are expected to continue to increase until the arrival of the harvest in June. However, poor households in most areas are still accessing food through normal livelihood strategies and are facing Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    National overview
    Current Situation

    Household food stocks: Poor households across the country experienced below-normal Season A harvests during December to February, which did not replenish food stocks to normal levels. Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistance Farming Zone, as well as the Eastern Semi-Arid Agro-Pastoral zone, were hit by crop disease (maize caterpillar) and poor rainfall conditions last season, which caused crop damage and resulted in 50 percent deficits compared to the five-year average. Households in the affected areas depleted their food stocks by early March, which is one month earlier than normal. Poor households outside the areas of concern are currently employing typical coping strategies such as petty trade, switching for less preferred foods, and casual labor. In areas of concern where food consumption and non-food expenditure has decreased households are employing atyipical coping strategies of high animal sales and labor migration to obtain food and income.

    Progress of agricultural season B: Season B activities are underway across the country due to the timely onset of the long rainy season in late-February. Near-normal rainfall distribution was received in March, followed by reduced rainfall since early April. As seasonal rains have normalized in the third dekad (10-day period) of April, the increase in moisture is likely to positively impact crop development across livelihood zones. Cassava mosaic in the East Congo Nile Highland Subsiste Farming zone is threating production of cassava.

    Othe sources of income: Nevertheless, the ongoing agricultural season is providing on-farm labor opportunities for weeding in highland areas and planting sweet potatoes in marshland areas and cassava in the hillsides. Agricultural labor wages of 500 RwF/day are 30 percent lower they were during same time last year due to relatively high supply of labor from assetless reintegrated returnees from Tanzania into the communities, and to some extent refugees from the camps. Moreover, during this time of the year many people seek labor opportunities to help pay for school fees that are due after the Easter holidays. Poor households can also generate income from petty trade and government safety nets providing labor work relating to Vision 2020 Umurenge, where wage rates are considerably good at between 1,500 and 2,000 RwF/day.

    Markets and prices: Bean and Irish potato prices are 30-48 percent above the two-year average during the lean season, due to low market supply following the poor Season A  harvest (the reference markets are Birambo in East Congo Nile Higland Farming Zone and Nyakarambi for Eastern Semi-Arid Agro-Pastoral Zone, and current prices are for March). Maize prices have decreased since last month, as supply from Season ‘A’ harvests arrives later than other crops.

    Livestock conditions: Current rains have replenished pasture and water availability for livestock across the country, contributing to good livestock body conditions. Due to improved pastures, milk production has increased seasonally in April and prices are seasonally normal for milk during the peak of the lean season. However, high supply of animals to markets during April to May, as households raise cash for market purchases and school fees, may seasonally reduce livestock prices.


    The most-likely scenario for April through September 2014 is based on the following national‐level assumptions:

    Rainfall: Seasonal weather forecasts for March- April-May issued by Inter-Governmental Authority for Development Climate Prediction and Application Centre, and customized for Rwanda conditions, are predicting normal to above-normal rainfall across the country (Figure 1).

    Agricultural labor: Between April and May, there will be atypically high agricultural labor supply associated with migration to raise income for household food and non-food expenditure. Wage rates will be below average compared to the same time last year. Wages rates will peak again during the harvest in June/July and with land preparation activities in August/September.

    Food stocks: Low carryover household food stocks from Season A is forcing households to rely entirely on market purchases to meet their food needs until June, when the new harvest will be ready. This harvest will then replenish food stocks and enable households to consume own crop production normally through September.

    Price of staple commodities: Due to below-average supply of key staple foods as a result of poor Season A performance, prices of beans, maize, cooking banana, and Irish potato will continue to increase at a faster rate than is seasonally normal until the next harvest in June/July.  Prices are expected to decline in June until August following the Season B harvest, though prices will remain moderately above previous year and two-year averages throughout  the scenario period.  However, maize and bean imports from Tanzania to Rwanda are expected to increase further due to sufficient supply, the imminent start of the May to August (Msimu) harvest in the main producing southern highlands, competitive export parity prices, and high demand in Rwanda following below-average December 2013 to January 2014 production.

    Cross-border trade: Maize grain and bean exports from Tanzania to Rwanda are expected to increase further due to higher-than-normal supply, the imminent start of the May-to-August (Msimu) harvest in the main producing southern highlands, competitive export parity prices, and high demand in Rwanda following below-average Season A 2014 production (50 percent below average). Supplies from Uganda to Rwanda are also expected to increase further since exports to South Sudan are expected to be atypically low.

    Increases in supplies of maize grain, dry beans and rice from both Uganda and Tanzania are expected to moderate increases in prices (but will not significantly curve the trend downwards) in northeastern and eastern Rwanda.

    Season 'B' harvest: Harvests in June will be near average due to expected near-normal rainfall levels.

    Livestock conditions: Pasture and livestock conditions will be normal from now through June due to the ongoing rainy season, but are expected to deteriorate normally during the dry season from July through September and then improve as the rains start in second week of September.

    Livestock prices: Livestock prices will remain slightly below average until June due to above-average supply as households raise income for food purchases and pay for childrens’ school fees during end of April.

    Off-farm income activities: These activities will increase with labor migration mostly from western parts of the country to Kigali, where construction labor is widely available.

    Refugees and returnees: Due to continued civil insecurity, refugee inflows from the DRC will continue at current levels (approx. 2,600 persons per month). According to UNHCR-Rwanda, this will cause the total refugee population to reach a record 91,000 people this year.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From April until the early green harvests in May, most poor households throughout the country will rely on market purchases to meet consumption needs. Average labor and livestock incomes, above-normal food prices, and access to off-farm labor will enable most households to meet their food and non-food needs normally until June. For some households, market purchases will also be supplemented by milk from their own livestock herds and their own production of perennial crops, such as bananas and cassava. Due to a normal harvest in June that will replenish household food stocks, households will rely on their own crop production, as usual, between June and September. In most areas of the country, households will be at Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity during the entire outlook period. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes will be observed between April and May in certain areas of concern (the Eastern Congo-Nile Highland subsistence farming zones, and the Eastern Semi Arid Agro-pastoral zones) because of reduced food consumption patterns and atypical engagement in irreversible coping strategies, like increased sales of animals and elevated labor migration. 

    Areas of concern

    Eastern semi-arid agro-pastoral zone

    Current Situation

    The Eastern Semi-Arid and Eastern Agro-pastoral zone was hit by a dry spell during cropping season 'A', which caused 50 percent below-average maize and bean harvests in December/January. As a result, household food stocks in this zone depleted approximately one month earlier than normal at the end of February, compared to the end of March in a normal year. Households in this zone are currently dependent on the market to meet food needs. Cropping season ‘B’ is progressing across the livelihood zone, with crops already at the flowering stage and weeding providing on-farm labor for the poor. Crop conditions are progressing well following normal rains.

    Weeding is the main labor opportunity available at this time of the year, so it cannot sufficiently provide for the high supply of labor which is exacerbated by the labor migrants from the West of the country to the East. This has reduced  wages rates to 500 RWF/day, 35 percent below the situation of last two months and 20 percent below last year’s level. People in this zone also receive income from Vision 2020 Umurenge, a government program to support the most vulnerable households that pays 1500 RWF/day. Another source of income is the Land Husbandry, Water Harvesting and Hillside (LWH) Irrigation project in Nyagatare, Kayonza and Gatsibo and Dams construction in Kirehe districts, where poor people are employed in terrace construction and paid 1500 RWF/person/day.

    Following the 50 percent below-average Season A harvest in this zone, low market supply has triggered food price increases by  25 percent, 61.5 percent and 12 percent respectively for beans, cooking banana, cassava flour at Nyakarambi market, compared to previous month (February) prices. Prices for these commodities are also up 53, 183 and 29 percent respectively compared to last year’s levels.

    Households are meeting their food consumption through atypical coping strategies, such as engaging in typical on-farm labor migration and above-normal sale of animals to two to three goats/pigs compared to the typical one per season. Animal body conditions are better and milk availability is good. However, the high sale of livestock  as a coping strategy to reduce  food gaps also lowers the price compared to normal levels. 


    The most-likely scenario for April through September 2014 for the Eastern Semi-Arid Agro-pastoral zone is based on the following zone-level assumptions:

    Household food stocks: From April to May, households will meet their consumption needs through market purchases until the next harvests in June. This harvest is expected to be near normal and will replenish household food stocks until August. Households will then rely on the market again for food in September, as is typical for this time of the year.

    Prices: Prices beans, cooking banana, and Irish potatoes are expected to increase sharply during peak of lean season (April/May) due to reduced market supply. Starting in the end of May, green consumption from the Season B harvests will ease market demand and will cause prices to decline. Due to fresh harvests in June, food prices will decline in June and stay relatively stable, but moderately above last year between July and August until household food stocks begin to deplete again in early September.

    Labor opportunities: Weeding activities generally require less labor than other agricultural activities, such as harvesting, so labor demand will be seasonally low until June. Above-normal labor supply as households try to offset the effects of last season's poor harvests. Labor opportunities will then increase seasonally in June as the harvest begins in June and land preparation begins in August. Wages will be normal between June and September.

    Migration: Migration will peak seasonally in April-May during the lean season. Household members who have migrated to other zones, such as Southeastern Plateau Banana zone, will return in late June when green harvests are available. 
    Livestock: Despite normal body conditions, livestock prices will remain below average between April and May as households sell atypically high levels of livestock during the lean season. Once harvests begin in June, livestock supply will decline back to normal levels and prices are expected to be similar to an average year between June and September.

    Cross-border trade: Imports of staple food commodities from Tanzania and Uganda will not significantly change food prices in this livelihood zone, as most of them will be directed towards Kigali City.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Due to below-average Season ‘A’ 2014 harvests, household food stocks depleted one month earlier than normal this year and households are currently relying on market purchases to access food.  Atypically high food prices have caused households to currently have difficulties meeting basic food needs without employing irreversible coping strategies, such as above normal sales of animals and increased labor migration. Poor households in this zone are therefore classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) between April and then next harvests in June.

    Due to expected average Season B harvests, household food stocks are expected to be replenished to normal levels in June. These normal harvests, along with normal cash incomes from agricultural labor activities, livestock sales, and milk sales will enable households to access food normally and be at Minimal/None (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity between June and September.

    Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming Zone

    Current Situation

    This zone is characterized by steeply-sloped mountains with degraded lands, low fertility, and old soils that are vulnerable to erosion. Cash crops, food crops, livestock and casual labor are the main livelihood activities in this zone.

    In the East Congo-Nile Highland Subsistance Farming Zone, Season A harvests of beans and maize were 50 percent below average due to crop diseases and soil erosion as a result of heavy rains, and crop diseases. In addition, flooding and landslides damaged crops to worsen the seasonal production performance. The government-run terracing activities in the zone also reduced the quantity of land that was put under cultivation, further contributing to last season's below-average harvests. As a result, household food stocks in this zone depleted one month earlier than normal (in early March compared to the early April in a normal year) and households are currently relying on market purchases to access food.

    Similar to the rest of the country, the long rainy season is currently underway in this zone with normal cumulative rainfall levels and no major hazard resulting in crop losses have been reported.

    Poor households’ dependence entirely on market purchases during April and May in this zone has increased market demand and has exacerbated already above-normal food prices. Current food prices (March) are higher compared to  the previous month by 6 percent, 61 percent, 28 percent and 18 percent for beans, cooking bananas, Irish potato and cassava flour, respectively, at Birambo market.

    Currently, high labor migration to the Eastern part of the country has been observed for households seeking off-farm and on-farm labor opportunities. The rate at which they migrate is above normal according to reports from area of destination (Nyagatare and Gatsibo districts). Planting activities have ended and land husbandry activities for the poor are completed in Karongi, Nyanza, Huye and Ngororero. The households normally access labor in tea and or coffee plantations where they are employed and paid monthly. This income source however, does not reach many poor households since the number of people seeking this employment is above average.

    The zone is home to about 67,212 refugees from DRC. These refugees have put additional pressure on this zone as they compete with the local community for labor work, such as at local tea plantations, increasing supply and causing wages to fall. For example, in these areas, the current wage is 500 RWF/day, which compares to 700 RWF/day during a normal year at this time.  Refugees are also present at local markets, such as Birambo market in the Karongi district and Kabacuzi market in the Nyamagabe district, selling items such as food, oil, blanket, etc. to earn cash to purchase substitute foods and clothing. Another camp was established in Mugombwa Sector of Gisagara District to host refugees from Nkamira Transit Camp, this has increased market demand of certain market items and driving prices upward.


    The most-likely scenario for April through September 2014 for the East Congo-Nile Highland farming zone is based on the following zone-level assumptions:

    Food sources: Households have currently depleted their own food stocks one month earlier than normal and will rely on market purchases until the June harvests. After these harvests, households will depend on their own production through September 2014.

    Prices: Staple commodity prices will remain above normal throughout the first half of the outlook period and will be stable, but moderately above last year’s post-June harvests. This means that until the first harvests in June, prices will be unseasonally high due to low market supply during the lean season.  Prices will then decline slightly in July through August, before increasing again in September when market demand from households increases. 

    Livestock: Livestock prices will behave normally during the scenario period. Improved pasture availability during the rainy season between April and June will continuously improve body conditions and milk availability until August.

    Labor opportunities: Labor availability will increase during the June to July period as harvesting and land preparation for August begins. Labor opportunities from tea plantations are expected to remain stable throughout the outlook period.

    Remittances: Remittances are expected to remain stable during the scenario period.

    Cross-border trade: Imports of staple food commodities from Tanzania and Uganda will not significantly impact food prices in this livelihood zone, as most imports will be destined for towards Kigali City.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Households in this zone will entirely rely on market purchases to meet their basic food needs until June, due to the continuing impacts of Season A’s 50 percent below-average. From June until August, households will consume  their own-produced foods. In addition, above-average labor availability has caused wages in the zone to decline and reduce their purchasing power. To cope, households will employ consumption-based coping strategies, including skipping meals, engage in reduced non-food expenditure and using irreversible coping strategies, like higher-than-normal labor migration and will be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity. Once the harvests start in June, households will rely on their own crop production, including beans, banana plantains, peas, sweet potatoes, and fresh and dry cassava, and will be able to meet both essential food and non-food needs without engaging in any atypical coping strategies. Therefore, between June and September, households will face minimal to no food insecurity (IPC Phase 1).

    Events that might change the outlook

    Table 1: Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Food stocks in Tanzania are not as good as we assume.

    There will be insufficient supply from Tanzania to the Rwanda market and therefore prices will remain high and erode the purchasing power of the buyers

    A change in the political situation in the DRC allows refugees in  Rwanda to return home

    The return of refugees to the DRC would reduce labor competition and cause wages to return to normal levels.

    Eastern Congo Nile Highlands subsistence farming zone

    Refugee influx from DRC is likely to happen due to planned MONUSCO disarmament of Rwandan FDRL rebels based in DRC

    Increase labor supply, competition in available resources with host population like markets.




    Figures Figure 1. Seasonal Rainfall Forecast for the Horn of Africa, March to May 2014

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Seasonal Rainfall Forecast for the Horn of Africa, March to May 2014

    Source: ICPAC, GHACOF 36

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 2

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year


    Figure 2. Bean Prices at Nyakarambi Market, RWF/kg

    Figure 3

    Figure 2. Bean Prices at Nyakarambi Market, RWF/kg

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3. Banana Prices at Nyakarambi market, monthly average, RWF/kg

    Figure 4

    Figure 3. Banana Prices at Nyakarambi market, monthly average, RWF/kg

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4. Cassava Flour Prices at Birambo Market, monthly average, RWF/kg

    Figure 5

    Figure 4. Cassava Flour Prices at Birambo Market, monthly average, RWF/kg

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5. Bean Prices at Birambo Market, monthly average, RWF/kg

    Figure 6

    Figure 5. Bean Prices at Birambo Market, monthly average, RWF/kg


    Figure 4


    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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