Food Security Outlook

Lean season underway across the country

October 2012 to March 2013

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.
Partners: 
NUR

Key Messages

  • Agricultural season ‘A’ is ongoing across most of the country. The season started about twenty days earlier than normal, prompting farmers to plant early as well. However in eastern areas of the country, September rains were below-normal and unevenly distributed, negatively impacting crops at the germination stage. Therefore, crops in these areas need to be re-planted.  

  • Staple food prices were stable during the post-season 'B' harvest period (July – August), but have begun to rise since September due to high demand from poor, market dependant households. Prices will likely remain 30 percent higher than the five-year average until the season 'A' harvest in mid-December. 

  • Poor households across the country are entering the lean season. During this time, household food stocks are generally depleted, casual labor wages are low, and some households migrate elsewhere in search of labor opportunities.  The Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming livelihood zone and the Western Congo-Nile Crest Tea and Food Crops livelihood zone will be most significantly impacted and will have Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity from October through December. Once the season 'A' harvests begin, most households throughout the country will be food secure (IPC Phase 1).   

National Overview

Current Situation

The agricultural season ‘A’, which occurs normally from September to February, is underway across most of the country. The season started approximately twenty days earlier than normal, prompting farmers to start planting earlier than normal as well. However, the September rains were then below-average and unevenly distributed in the eastern parts of the country (Figure 4). This had a negative impact on crops in the germination stage and as a result, crops in certain areas of eastern Rwanda (Rweru, Nyamabuye, Mayange and Ngeruka sectors in the Bugesera district and Kigarama, Nyamugali, Mahama and Nasho sectors in the Kirehe district) are currently being replanted. In the Karama, Ndego, Kabare, Mwili, Rwinkwavu, Kabarondo and Mulindi sectors of the Kayonza district, delayed rains have also occurred and farmers are still in the process of planting their crops.

Landholdings among poor households in Rwanda are generally small (less than 0.5 ha on average). This means that household crop production generally do not last more than three months and there is no overlap in food stocks between the two major harvests. The lean season immediately before each major harvest is characterized by low or completely depleted household food stocks, and market dependency among poor households. This year's main lean season (September - November) has begun. To varying degrees depending on the locality, season 'B' harvests in July through August were poor meaning that household food stocks in recent months have been below-average. This has made the current lean season more difficult on poor households than usual.

In addition to crop income, poor households also earn income from other activities, including livestock and casual labor. In agro-pastoral areas of eastern Rwanda, sufficient pasture and water availability are improving livestock body conditions. However, the lean season is typically characterized by a larger number of animals supplied to local markets as households sell livestock in order to finance market food purchases. This high market supply usually causes livestock prices to decline. Similarly, supply for casual labor is generally high during the lean season, causing wage rates to be low. Low wages, coupled by rising staple food prices that are now at least 30 percent higher than the five-year average, have created unfavorable terms of trade for poor households who depend on market purchases for food.

According to the CFSVA (2012), a fifth of all households have seasonal issues with food access corresponds with the Rwanda's two lean seasons (February to May; September to November). To overcome these issues, some poor households employ consumption-based coping strategies during the lean season, such as limiting portion sizes, reducing the number of meals per day, restrict food consumption by adults so small children can eat, and switching to less expensive foods. In Ocotber, the Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming livelihood zone and the Western Congo-Nile Crest Tea and Food Crops livelihood zone are most significantly impacted and are Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

Assumptions

The most likely scenario for October 2012 through March 2013 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

  • Harvests: Season 'A' rains (October to January) will be above-normal to normal (Figures 5 and 6). As a result, a normal season ‘A’ harvest is expected. Season 'C' harvests (September through December in marshland areas) will also be normal. However, season 'C' is a smallest of Rwanda's three annual harvests and is not expected to significantly off‐set current low food stocks.
  • Food stocks: Poor households have depleted their household food stocks and will be dependent on market purchases until mid-December when the season 'A' harvests occurs. Season 'A' harvests will replenish food stocks, which will then be at normal levels through the end of scenario period in March.
  • Cereal prices & Livestock prices: Until the green harvests of beans and maize begin in December, prices of staple food crops (maize, Irish potatoes, beans, and banana) are expected to rise and will be at levels exceeding prices from last year and the five-year average. Food prices will then stabilize or slightly decline through March 2013. Due to a large supply of animals during this year's lean season, livestock prices are expected to decrease to unusually low levels until the season 'A' harvests. After the harvests, supply will decline and prices will rise from December to March.
  • Agricultural labor: From October through January, agriculture labor demand is expected to be at normal levels. However, high labor supply during the lean season will result in low wage rates, reducing household purchasing power during this period of rising market prices. Wage rates will improve during the peak harvests in January when agricultural labor demand is high.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

Household food stocks have depleted earlier than usual this year, causing a particularly difficult lean season this year. Supply of casual labor and livestock have increased as a result, causing wage and livestock prices to decline to unusually low levels, reducing household purchasing power. Most poor households will rely on market purchases until early harvests start in December. Then households will be able to rely on their own production needs.

Despite the difficult lean season, households in most areas of the country will still be able to meet essential food and non-food needs from October 2012 through March 2013 and will be food secure (Figures 2 and 3). Exceptions to this are households in the Western Congo-Nile Crest Tea and Food Crops Zone and the Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming Zone (see Areas of Concern below) which are likely to be Stessed (IPC Phase 2) through December.

Areas of Concern

Western Congo-Nile Crest Tea & Food Crops Zone

Current Situation

Food crop production, local labor activities, and small livestock rearing are the main livelihood activities in this zone. Year-round labor opportunities at tea plantations are particularly significant. Given these livelihood activities, households rely on both own production and market purchases to access food. The area is particularly vulnerable to soil erosion caused by heavy rains, as the zone is quite mountainous. Other common hazards for this zone are hail and prolonged dry spells.

Due to the poor rainfall performance of season 'B' (February-May 2012), maize and bean harvests were below-normal. Across the livelihood zone, food commodity prices are high, ranging from 12 to 67 percent above last year at this time. The September to November lean season is also contributing to price increases at markets in the zone.

Season ‘A’ cropping activities are ongoing. Some farmers are in the process of replanting crops that were destroyed by heavy rains and hail. For example, 150 ha beans, 70 ha maize and 10 ha of banana in Rusizi district were destroyed and had to be replanted.  Given the difficult lean season, the supply of labor is higher than normal this season, causing wages to drop to unusually low levels. This has created unfavorable terms of trade for poor households who are market dependant at this time. However, the small number of households who have members employed at tea plantations in the region will earn enough income from this activity to access food on the market as usual.

Given particularly low food stocks and low wages, poor households in this livelihood zone can only afford essential food needs and some are engaged in various coping strategies, including selling additional small animals (ex. rabbits, chickens), limiting meal portion sizes, reducing the number of meals consumed per day, and restricting adult food consumption levels to ensure small children have enough to eat. Households in this zone are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2).  

Assumptions

The most likely scenario for October 2012 through March 2013 for the Western Congo-Nile Crest Tea & Food Crops livelihood zone is based on the following zone-level assumptions:

  • Rainfall: Forecasts are predicting above-normal to normal rainfall from October to December, which will cause localized flooding. As this zone is particularly vulnerable to excessive rain, this above-normal rainfall will negatively impact crop production in the zone, especially maize and Irish potatoes which are the main staple foods consumed by the poor. Road conditions are not expected to be impacted by the floods.
  • Food Sources: Due to the poor rainfall performance of season 'B' in the zone, household food stocks are depleted and households will be dependent on market purchases for food until December. Very poor households, who earn income primarily from casual labor, are currently relying on in-kind payments to access food. After the harvests begin, households will become more reliant on their own food stocks through March 2013.
  • Prices: Prices will remain high throughout the lean period until harvests begin in mid-December. Prices will then decline slightly after the harvests through March 2013.  
  • Labor opportunities: From October to December, the primary source of income for poor households will be casual labor. Labor opportunities, such as employment at tea plantations which requires year-round labor, will continue to be source of income for poor households during the entire outlook period.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

Some poor and very poor households in this zone will only be able to meet essential food needs and therefore, will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until the harvests start in December. However, once the harvests begin, households will be able to replenish their food stocks and will face no acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1). 

Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming Zone

Current Situation

The key livelihood activities of the poor households in this zone are casual labor, cash crop production (especially coffee and vegetables), and rearing of small livestock (ex. pigs, rabbit, poultry). For casual labor, poor households either work on the farms of the better-off households in exchange for in-kind payment or they migrate to nearby towns to work at construction sites (mainly during the lean season in October – November). Due to limited land availability and a high population density, poor households in this zone typically have small gardens from which they generate a small level of food stocks. High poverty rates, acid soils, and steep terrain prone to erosion also increase households' vulnerability to hazards in this zone. 

As usual, many households in this livelihood zone have currently shifted to market purchases to meet their food needs due to a reduction in household food stocks. October and November are peak lean season months, similar to that of the rest of the country. The area produces sweet potatoes, which is a poor-weather resistant crop that often serves a bridge food crop. Sweet potatoes are currently being harvested and are supplementing market food purchases.  

Food commodity prices are high across the zone, ranging from 7 to 67 percent higher than last year at this time. The depletion of household food stocks during the lean season, and the fact that food commodities sold in local markets generally comes from other districts of Musanze, Nyabihu and Muhanga are contributing factors to these high prices. The region's vegetable (cabbage and tomatoes) production from season ‘C’ did not get many buyers and was mainly a loss. A combination of factors, such as poor road conditions and traders finding it more profitable to purchase these vegetables in other regions of the country, likely led to this loss.

Given depleted food stocks and high prices, poor households in this livelihood zone are currently having trouble accessing food and some are engaging in various coping strategies, such migrant labor, working more days than normal, limiting meal portion sizes, reducing the number of meals per day, restricting adult food consumption in order for small children to eat.

Refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo who are present in the zone are entirely depending on food assistance from World Food Programme. A lack of land (for agricultural purposes) and income-generating actives are preventing refugees from earning incomes or becoming less dependent on food assistance.  

Assumptions

The most likely scenario for October 2012 through March 2013 for the Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming Zone is based on the following zone-level assumptions:

  • Rainfall: Above-normal to normal rainfall levels are expected (Figure 5 and 6). Since this zone is vulnerable to soil erosion, this will likely negatively impact the seasonal performance of crops, such as Irish potatoes and beans.
  • Crop production: It is expected that season ‘A’ crop production will be close to average this year, based on the amount of rainfall that this area has already received (34mm) and above-normal rainfall forecasted for the remainder of the season. Despite the anticipated close to average harvest, poor household food stocks from this upcoming harvest are not expected to last more than three months, due to small landholdings. 
  • Prices: Prices for staple crops will remain high throughout the lean period. After the harvest and through March 2013, prices will decline slightly.
  • Agricultural labor wages: Wages will be low until November and will then improve during the December to February harvest when demand for labor is high. Market prices in the areas surrounding the refugee camp will be higher than normal due to  increased demand from the refugees.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

For the October to December period, poor households will be more dependent on market purchases, and casual labor will be their main source of income. Some poor households will remain at Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity until the harvests start December. Wage rates improve during the harvest period as demand for labor increases, enabling households to earn higher levels of income. Staple food prices will also decline as most households access food through their own production and consumer demand declines. Households will no longer need to use insurance coping strategies, such as selling additional small livestock animals, and most households will be able to access both essential food and non-food needs. As a result, most households will be food secure (IPC Phase 1). 

Events that Might Change the Outlook

Area

Event

Impact on food security outcomes

West Congo Nile Crest Tea zone and  Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming Zone

Rainfall  behaves normally throughout the farming season. Soil erosion and floods do not occur.  

No crop losses will occur and crop production will be higher.  

Eastern Congo-Nile Highland Subsistence Farming Zone

Positive change in the political situation in the DRC  encourages refugees to return home.

Consumer demand at markets near refugee camps will be reduced and food prices will decline. Food access improves for market dependant households.

About Scenario Development

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.

About FEWS NET

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on approximately 30 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, USGS, and CHC-UCSB, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica.
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