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Atypical increase in maize flour prices linked to ongoing Zambian restrictions

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • April 2023
Atypical increase in maize flour prices linked to ongoing Zambian restrictions

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through September 2023
  • Key Messages
    • The situation on the front lines in the south of North Kivu province is relatively calm. The 23 March Movement (M23) rebels have withdrawn and the regional forces of the East African Community (EAC) have moved in. This has reduced the violence and allowed the return of more than 50,000 people displaced between March 13 and April 1 in Rutshuru territory, enabling agricultural activities during this period of agricultural season B. However, the government continues to refuse any negotiations with the rebels which could undermine attempts at dialogue between the State and the M23 in the short term.

    • Atypical increases in commodity prices continue on the markets due to the instability of the local currency, the lean period in the southeast of the country, restrictions on exports to neighboring countries (notably Zambia), and the increase in transport costs. At the beginning of April 2023, the prices of staple foods showed variations of around 78 and 43 percent compared with the five-year average and the same period last year, respectively. The current circumstances foreshadow challenges in obtaining food for impoverished households, whose economic stability remains precarious. 

    • At the start of the lean season (season B), some areas in the east, which are experiencing the effects of prolonged conflict, will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), with an increase in the number of people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in certain health zones in the Rutshuru and Djugu territories experiencing extreme violence. In contrast, territories in the central-east and the southeast, having experienced a fairly full agricultural season, will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Stable areas in the north that are not currently experiencing food deficits will have Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes.

    Current Situation

    Conflicts and population movements: In February 2023, in the provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, the rebels of the M23 captured the towns of Musai, Rubaya, and Mweso during a push towards the provincial capital of North Kivu, Goma. In mid-March, the rebel group consolidated its positions outside Saké, around 15 km northwest of Goma, cutting off the main transport routes for supplies and food to these two towns. By April 10, 2023, the group had withdrawn from the occupied territories in Masisi territory, leaving Kitshanga and Mweso to allow full occupation by the East African Community Regional Multinational Force (EACRF), which is made up of Angolan, Burundian, Kenyan, South Sudanese, and Ugandan troops. The EACRF is fully deployed in eastern Congo to support the capacity of the Congolese army (FARDC) to maintain buffer zones and ensure the withdrawal of the M23 from the Masisi and Rutshuru regions. Despite the ceasefire renewed in March 2023, isolated clashes continue to be reported in the territories of Rutshuru and Masisi as withdrawal procedures continue. 

    The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) continue to demonstrate their ability to launch attacks outside their traditional areas of operation, shifting their focus from Beni territory in North Kivu to launch more attacks in the neighboring province of Ituri. According to the United Nations, more than 144,000 people were newly displaced between January and February 2023 due to increased attacks by the rebel group. In April 2023, more than 30 people were killed in a series of ADF attacks between the Irumu and Mambasa territories in Ituri, underlining the increased frequency and scale of ADF attacks against civilian targets, particularly farmers and herders, in recent months.

    In South Kivu, the security situation deteriorated during 2022, with more than 1.4 million people displaced within the province. In the Moyens and Hauts-Plateaux of Uvira in South Kivu, sporadic attacks between Banyamulenge groups, including the Twirwaneho and Gumino, the FARDC, and a loose coalition of Maï Maï militias, have continued in recent months.

    Inter-community violence: In addition to ongoing conflicts between armed groups, inter-community violence continues to cause sporadic displacement and disrupt typical livelihood activities. While the threat of militancy in Tanganyika has been all but neutralized in recent months, communal violence has persisted and continued at high levels in recent months. In April, inter-community clashes in the Tembwe region of Tanganyika province over a land dispute prompted local villagers to flee to Kalemie. In addition, in North Kivu and Ituri, the State is finding it difficult to cope with the threat of attacks by armed Maï Maï militias, exacerbating current levels of ethnic violence and prompting civilians to flee in search of better living conditions. In Mai-Ndombe and Kwilu, inter-community violence continues between Teke natives and Yaka non-natives in the Kwamouth and Bagata territories. Massive displacements of people fleeing renewed violence in their villages are taking place in the Bagata territory in Kwilu. 

    Expulsion of Congolese from Angola: The DRC continues to receive those expelled from Angola. These include the Kamonia and Luiza territories in the Kasai region and Kwilu province. Since March 6, an estimated 1,420 people have been evicted, excluding volunteers. At present, these recently arrived individuals, awaiting the intervention of UNHCR, live under precarious circumstances and rely heavily on community solidarity for the majority of their needs.

    Commodity prices and market functioning: The volatility of commodity prices continues. At the beginning of April 2023, commodity prices showed overall variations of around 43 and 78 percent above the same period last year and the five-year average, respectively. The reasons for this price volatility include the instability of the local currency, which has seen an annual depreciation of 10 percent, and the overall increase in fuel prices at the beginning of April 2023, which were 61 and 16 percent higher compared with the five-year average and the same period last year, respectively. There has also been an atypical increase in the price of maize flour in the southwest region, particularly in Haut-Katanga and Lualaba, as a result of recent restrictions on imports from Zambia aiming to protect its strategic reserves.

    Agricultural situation: The current period corresponds to crop maintenance activities in the northeast and cental-east for the agricultural season B, which have been disrupted by the insecurity in these areas. Harvesting has, however, begun in the unimodal zone in the southeast of the country. Despite disrupted rainfall, as evidenced by the flooding of certain production basins (Kasenga and Pweto) in the north, agricultural production in the north of the country will be below average and around 40 percent lower than in the previous season. 

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions in the February to September 2023 food security outlook report remain unchanged, with the exception of those updated below:

    • Conflict and population movement: In North Kivu, despite the M23's stated intention to withdraw from conquered territory, it is likely that it will continue to attempt to consolidate its territorial gains throughout the scenario period (September 2023). The incidents could increase in number and intensity, eroding confidence between the DRC authorities and Rwanda and further complicating the peace process. Continued M23 operations will likely lead to further population displacements. However, with the arrival of EAC forces, the M23 may have difficulty continuing its advance towards other territories.
    • In Ituri, despite a slight drop in attacks at the start of 2023, the level of violence and deaths will remain at its highest level since 2019, and a significant drop in 2023 is unlikely.
    • In South Kivu, the current level of tension is expected to be reduced, allowing for the probable return of displaced people to their villages and attempts to participate in the next agricultural season (season A). In addition, current trends in the Banyamulenge crisis in the highlands from Minembwe to Fizi mean that it is highly likely that the number of incidents and associated deaths will continue to rise as the year progresses, remaining similar to those observed in the second half of 2022.
    • In the provinces of Tanganyika, Kasaï, Kasaï-Central, and Maniema, the ongoing inter-community conflicts will continue sporadically with an intensity that is likely to remain similar to that of recent months. In addition, the conflict between the indigenous Teke and non-indigenous Yaka in the Kwamouth territory (Mai-Ndombe province) will continue to impact the resumption of the agricultural season and disrupt livelihoods.
    • Commodity prices and market functioning: The current volatility in commodity prices is likely to continue, particularly for cereals such as wheat and maize flour due to the conflict and population displacements, the expected low availability of cereals in the coming months, and the continuing increase in fuel costs. Imported rice prices will be impacted by the likely disruption of supplies from crisis-hit producer countries. The extreme volatility in maize flour prices in Haut-Katanga over the past two months is likely to lead to protests and could continue over the next three months, given the forecast of poor local harvests in the region.

    Projected Outlook through September 2023

    The end of the period from March to May 2023 should coincide with the season B food crops harvest, while the period from June to September is the sowing period in the northeast and central-east of the country. These areas will receive season B harvests, which will enable households to improve their food consumption for as long as their food stocks last. Despite the anticipation of below-average harvests, these households will enhance their incomes by selling their harvest produce. Additionally, they will have the ability to depend on their own agricultural production during the two months following the harvest. However, due to the context of poor harvests, household stocks from season B are projected to deplete atypically early, starting in August. From August onwards, with reserves virtually exhausted, most households will be dependent on the market for their supplies. The areas in the east that are experiencing the effects of the prolonged conflict will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), notably Ituri (Irumu and Djugu), South Kivu (Uvira and Fizi), and North Kivu (Beni, Nyiragongo, Rutshuru, and Masisi). There will be an increase in the number of people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), particularly in the territories of Djugu and Rutshuru. The provinces of Lomami, Sankuru, Kasaï Oriental, Kasaï, part of Maniema, and ex-Katanga, which are trying to stabilize, and where households have better access to food, income, and minimally adequate food consumption, will be in a Stressed (IPC Phase 2) context except for the territory of Kamonia, which will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with the influx of the latest DRC refugees from Angola, who are arriving in an already precarious situation in this territory. The provinces of Haut-Uélé, Bas-Uélé, and Tshopo, which have not experienced any major shocks and do not have a food consumption deficit, will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. DRC Updated Perspectives for Food Security April to September 2023: Atypical increase in maize flour prices linked to ongoing Zambian restrictions, 2023.

    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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