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An early lean season and weak start of growing season A due to COVID-19

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • August 2020
An early lean season and weak start of growing season A due to COVID-19

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook Through January 2021
  • Key Messages
    • The measures adopted to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on household food security in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). While the informal activities that thousands of people rely on to survive are being affected, the instability of the local currency and speculation by traders continue to destabilize food prices, which is undermining the purchasing power of poor households.

    • During this period when the ground is being prepared for the sowing of the next growing season A (harvests in January 2021) in the north-east and central-east regions of the country, the resumption of the 2020-2021 growing season is weak due to low production in the previous growing season and the reduced availability of inputs, including seeds. In this turbulent context, seasonal harvests could again be expected to fall below the five-year average. This would lead to an increase in imports to fill any gaps.

    • Despite the current presence of COVID-19, in the DRC, the activity of armed groups in the east of the country is increasing, with clashes occurring both between these groups and with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC). These clashes pose an ongoing danger for people living in the area. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 366,915 people were newly displaced in the period from June to August 2020, with limited access to their livelihoods and normal food sources.

    • The eastern parts of the DRC that have continued to experience conflict and high levels of displacement will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), while some less affected areas will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, especially during the October to January lean season. Households in Djugu territory, Ituri Province, will experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food insecurity during this period. Areas where there is little conflict will continue to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    Current Situation


    COVID-19: On 28 August, the number of COVID-19 cases increased to 9,915 and the pandemic continues to expand to new provinces and cities, which has noted increased infections as a result of improved COVID-19 testing in provinces.  Restrictive measures adopted to control the spread of the pandemic continue to have adverse effects on household livelihoods. The health emergency was declared over on 22 July and certain COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted: international borders have reopened and national and international air traffic resumed on 15 August, improving humanitarian access. However, the wearing of masks in public places, hand washing and temperature control are still mandatory.

    According to a July 2020 study by the National Institute of Statistics (INS), almost half of all businesses in the DRC reported a decline in turnover over the past three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All sectors of the economy have been affected by this slowdown, but the informal sector, which employs more than 70 per cent of households, has been more heavily impacted than the formal sector. Loss of income for informal workers and the unavailability of government social protection support has affected household access to food, while the high volatility of the local currency exchange rate is likely to lead to atypical increases in food prices, and an overall rise in the cost of a typical basket of food basket in some places. This is the case in Goma, where the cost of a basket of food increased by 15.2 per cent at the end of June, compared with the previous month.

    While the availability of many products remains normal with continuous supply, access to these products is becoming difficult for poor households that have experienced reduced purchasing power. Agricultural activities are also feeling the impact of the pandemic, due to limited access to inputs, which in most cases are imported from neighboring countries.

    Cross-border trade: There are three main entry points in the eastern DRC: Kasumbalesa in Upper Katanga, on the border with Zambia and the southern countries, Goma in North Kivu, on the border with Rwanda and other countries in the region, and Mahagi in Ituri, near the border with Uganda. Flows have been disrupted by border closures due to COVID-19, though this has improved since the end of the state of emergency and the reopening of borders. In Goma and Bukavu, small traders (such as those selling fresh vegetables) have organized themselves into associations to make group purchases that are then declared at customs, thus moving from informal to quasi-formal arrangements. In Tanganyika, traders from Moba (the neighboring territory of Kalemie in the south) and Kalemie have just made the first trips by lake to Kigoma in Tanzania. Improved availability of imported food can also be expected in the coming days. Trade with Burundi remains halted until the borders are reopened. In Kinshasa, on the other hand, merchants trading with Lufu, a Congolese town bordering Angola, have not resumed their activities because of the excessive increase in transport costs which have doubled.

    Remittances: Remittances from the Congolese diaspora, which normally contribute nearly US$ 1.5 billion per year to the DRC, continue to decline as a result of the recent overall contraction of the global economy. In some places, this has led to the loss of income for some diaspora members, who are no longer able to send remittances. This will continue to reduce the incomes of poor households dependent on this source and limit their purchasing power for as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

    Security situation and population movements: There are continuing hostilities in Ituri, North Kivu and Tanganyika with new population movements. Those displaced by these conflicts are unable to access their normal livelihoods and therefore have less income to purchase food in the markets. They often retain only a small portion of their assets and need several seasons to regain their livelihoods. FEWS NET is particularly concerned about recent displacement in the following territories: Djugu in Ituri, Moba and Nyunzu in Tanganyika, Fizi and Uvira in South Kivu, and Masisi in North Kivu.

    In North Kivu Province, Pinga in Walikale territory began hosting an estimated 5,250 newly displaced people, all from the Mutongo region, starting on 10 July 2020.

    In Ituri, militia attacks against the population continue and rising ethnic hatred is exacerbating the security situation. Leaflets were circulated in Mungwalu announcing an imminent attack and asking citizens of the Lendu community to leave the locality as soon as possible.

    In South Kivu, insecurity persists in the Fizi highlands and on the Ruzizi plain; armed clashes continue in the Fizi highlands and intercommunity armed groups continue to attack the population. According to OCHA, during July 2020, 10,000 displaced persons traveled to the Fizi Health District and Mikenge (Itombwe Health District), while others made their way to Bijombo in the Uvira Highlands.

    In Kasai Province, 2,724 deportees from Angola were registered at the Kamako border post in early July 2020, according to the Directorate-General for Migration (DGM). In this province, approximately 2,000 people from the Bakele group have also been displaced to the forest and nearby localities since 8 July 2020 as a result of the deterioration of the usual power struggle between the two clans of the Bakuba chiefdom: the Tchokwe and the Lulua.

    Humanitarian assistance: Restrictive measures to contain the virus continue to affect humanitarian activities. Social distancing measures imposed during humanitarian distribution means that relief operations take longer and require more resources. The restriction of movement across provinces and areas in the aftermath of conflict is preventing humanitarian access to populations in growing need of assistance. There has also been a reduction in resources from donor countries experiencing an economic recession due to COVID-19. For example, last June, OCHA and its partners revised the humanitarian action plan to reflect an increase in humanitarian assistance needs from US$ 15.6 million to US$ 25.6 million (an increase of 64 per cent). The humanitarian needs estimated at US$ 1.8 billion have risen to US$ 2.1 billion. Currently, the Food Security Cluster estimates that 10 per cent of food assistance needs have been met.

    Updated Assumptions

    The current situation has not affected the assumptions used for the most likely scenario projected by FEWS NET for June 2020 to January 2021. A full review of the scenario is available in the June 2020 to January 2021 outlook report posted on the FEWS NET website.

    COVID-19: Following the lifting of the state of emergency due to COVID-19, there are concerns that the application of restrictive measures by the population might be relaxed, which could lead to a new wave of infection through an increase in new cases. This could prompt the governments of each province to reconsider and tighten restrictions and lockdown measures to contain the pandemic.

    Agricultural production: The production constraints due to the current situation, in particular the poor availability of imported agricultural inputs, including quality seeds, could cause the next harvest in season A to once again be below normal. Limiting the movement of populations, especially farmers, could prevent maintenance work during the production cycle. This situation could adversely affect the availability of local products and result in an increase in imports to fill any gaps.

    Markets and prices: Given the low production during the previous growing season, which resulted in an early lean season, there are likely to be further and more acute market disruptions in the first scenario period from June to September 2020. These will be mitigated in the second scenario period from October 2020 to January 2021, due to the December 2020 green harvests. In view of the continuing collapse of the local currency against the dollar, household purchasing power is expected to continue to weaken during the above-mentioned scenario period.

    Conflicts and population movements: Since armed groups will continue to identify with communities, it is likely that community conflicts will be exacerbated by ethnic hatred and threats of intercommunity attacks. This situation may be seen in some provinces of the country, such as South Kivu (Fizi and Uvira territories), Ituri (Djugu and Mahagi territories) and Kasai (Mweka territory).

    The launching of the offensives planned by the new national army command against armed groups throughout the country in the next few days suggests that there is likely to be growing insecurity over the next six months. This would once again lead to possible population displacements during the agricultural production period.

    Income sources: Households that have experienced unemployment due to the lockdown measures will continue to have reduced purchasing power, and thousands of people who survive through informal trade at the border and who are no longer able to carry out their activities will find themselves extremely vulnerable during the projected duration of the pandemic. Future lockdowns in urban areas will affect all activities, especially those in the informal sector.

    Projected Outlook Through January 2021

    The August 2020 to January 2021 period will see the peak of the lean season, and the start of sowing for season A. Green harvests are expected in December 2020 throughout the eastern part of the DRC, with the exception of the former province of Katanga. Ongoing conflicts in different areas could limit population movements, especially of farmers, and prevent maintenance work for the current growing season from being carried out on time.

    The remaining two months of this first scenario period will see the sowing of the main crops and an earlier intensification of the lean season this year. Food prices will experience seasonal variations and households will have moderate difficulty in accessing food and will start to develop Stressed and Crisis coping strategies for food consumption.

    In the second scenario period from October 2020 to January 2021, which will coincide with the peak lean season period, the situation is likely to be more difficult in terms of food access. Households will have exhausted their low stocks from the previous season earlier than usual and may develop even more damaging strategies, such as begging and selling production assets in affected areas, including Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu, to meet their immediate food needs. In the absence of adequate humanitarian assistance, Djugu territory in Ituri Province, which will have suffered significant food shortages and where people will have exhausted their crisis strategies, may transition to an Emergency (IPC Phase 4) situation, while other areas that have experienced conflict and major displacement (South Kivu, North Kivu, Tanganyika, Ituri, Kasai, and Kasai Central) will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). More stable regions in these provinces will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, and the northern provinces will continue to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    Figures Title: DRC seasonal calendar Description: In the northeast part of DRC: cassava harvest if year-round. Rainy season is from m

    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    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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