Skip to main content

Vulnerable urban households face worsening food insecurity due to COVID-19 lockdown

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Rwanda
  • April 2020
Vulnerable urban households face worsening food insecurity due to COVID-19 lockdown

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the government of Rwanda put the country on lockdown beginning March 21, requiring the population to stay indoors, and closing all non-essential businesses. Of high concern are urban residents who earn their living from the informal sector and currently do not have access to sufficient income to meet their needs; this is estimated at over 20 percent of Kigali’s population. Currently, private citizens, church organizations and private sector donations are providing assistance to many of these households. Prior to COVID-19, local authorities in Kigali were delivering assistance to populations of concern including the poor, jobless, and those with disabled heads of households. Although there is a combination of resources and assistance being provided to households in need, it is unclear exactly how much and whom is receiving it, therefore a (!) is not used in mapping the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes occurring in April and May in the Kigali administrative unit. Other areas of the country are expected to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes.

    • Rural areas have been less impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as farmers have been allowed to continue working in their fields. With an above average Season 2020 A harvest which ended in March, farmers are expected to have increased access to food from own production. The February to June B season is progressing well and crops are in the flowering stages.  The above-normal rainfall forecast for that period is likely to lead to another normal harvest in May-July. Food imports from Tanzania, including maize and rice, continue to partly compensate for the loss of Ugandan food imports as the main border post of Gatuna remains closed. The above-average heavy rains and strong winds in March-April caused localized flooding earlier than is typical and destroyed crops, homes, and roads in affected areas. Displaced households are expected to be adequately assisted at the district level.

    • According to UNHCR,  Rwanda hosted 148,268 refugees and asylum seekers as of 31 March 2020, a reported 1.6 percent decrease in total population between February and March. Ongoing humanitarian support- including basic services, cash transfers, and food and nutrition assistance- is expected to continue throughout the lockdown, supporting Minimal! (IPC Phase 1!) outcomes. However, an estimated 11,470 urban refugees in Kigali are not receiving food assistance. With a likely reduction in remittances and the lockdown-related loss of income-earning capacity they are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).


    Current Anomalies

    Projected Anomalies

    Urban areas

    National lockdown requiring the population to stay indoors and closing all non-essential businesses. 

    Many urban households are expected to begin resuming normal income-earning activities in mid-May. However, economic recovery is likely to be slow with income-earning unlikely to return to previous levels for several months. 



    The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed by Rwandan health authorities on March 14, 2020. One week later a national lockdown was announced. The lockdown included closing non-essential sectors, suspending all transport except goods and cargo, and implementing strict social distancing measures. In rural areas, farmers were permitted to continue growing and selling food. As of April 29, the Ministry of Health reported a total of 225 COVID-19 confirmed cases, with 98 recoveries. Over 90 percent of cases are in Kigali.

    Due to the lockdown, people employed in the informal sector, particularly in urban areas, have been unable to earn an income to cover all food and essential non-food needs.  According to key informants, an estimated 300,000-400,000 people across urban areas were likely employed in the informal sector and have experienced significantly reduced access to income. Although private citizens and organizations have been providing some food or monetary assistance, there are reports that households are borrowing and asking better-off relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors for assistance. Although there is a combination of resources and assistance being provided to households in need, it is unclear exactly how much and who is receiving it, therefore a (!) is not mapped. Food security conditions are therefore likely Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for at least 20 percent of Kigali’s population. The government has set fixed food prices and started delivering food assistance from the National Strategic Grain Reserve to locally identified urban households who were already vulnerable before the COVID-19 outbreak. Support from multiple organizations, including the IMF (US$ 109.4 million), the World Bank (US$ 14.25 million) and the US Government (US$ 4.7 million) has been provided to support the Rwandan public health sector and address economic impacts of COVID-19. Many urban households are expected to begin resuming normal income-earning activities in mid-May. However, economic recovery is likely to be slow with income-earning unlikely to return to previous levels for several months. Beginning in June, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected in the presence of continued assistance from private citizens and organizations.

    In rural areas a favorable Season 2019 A harvest has improved food availability and access in the typically lean month of April. The Season 2020 B harvest in May/June is currently anticipated to be average. In the Eastern province an estimated 10 percent of planned acreage was not planted or was planted late, since daily laborers have been unable to travel to the province due to lockdown travel restrictions. Heavy rains, flooding, and strong winds in March and April mainly in Kigali, Ruhango, Gakenke and Muhanga districts caused localized damage to crops and roads. Impacted households, especially displaced households, are receiving food and non-food assistance and will likely remain in None! (IPC Phase 1!) though some worst-affected households are expected to be in Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) or worse. Border closures are also negatively affecting workers and farmers in western Rwanda who rely on cross-border commerce with the DRC for work or to sell produce, but they are expected to remain None (IPC Phase 1) assuming Season B harvests in May-July are average.

    According to the NISR consumer price bulletin, the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages increased by an estimated 4.0 percent and 2.5 percent in rural and urban areas, respectively, between February and March 2020. In rural areas, the index for bread and cereals (driven by cereals) decreased by 3.6 percent but the index for vegetables (mainly non-cereal staples) increased by 8.1 percent during this time. The sharp increase in non-cereal staples is likely due to the above average rainfall which damaged moisture-sensitive crops such as beans and Irish potatoes. The lockdown-related travel restrictions and the police checkpoints put in place to control vehicles and motorcycles have created bottlenecks between the local collection and assembly markets and the regional semi-wholesale markets. This has caused some perishable products such as vegetables to rot in local markets for lack of buyers while being scarce and costly in Kigali. 

    By the end of March 2020, according to UNHCR, Rwanda hosted an estimated 148,268 refugees and asylum seekers, a 1.6 percent decrease in total population from February. The monthly arrival rate of Burundian asylum seekers fell to 166 in March, down from the annual average of 240-250 people per month. With refugee camps also under national lockdown restrictions and unable to work outside, about 136,000 camp-based refugees are solely dependent on WFP and other humanitarian organizations assistance. Despite reduced access to own incomes, most are still likely in Minimal! (IPC Phase 1!) food security outcomes as donors are providing necessary resources to sustain assistance. Approximately 11,568 refugees (91 percent Burundian) living in urban areas, mainly in Kigali, have lost their income-earning capacity because of the lockdown, and are likely Stressed (IPC Phase 2); their condition will likely deteriorate further without assistance.  

    Figures Number of active cases of COVID-19 in Rwanda.

    Figure 1

    Figure 1.

    Source: Worldometer

    The retail prices of maize and dry beans in Kigali

    Figure 2

    Figure 2.

    Source: RATIN

    In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices. Learn more about our work here.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top