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Early onset of the lean season in conflict zones in the east

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • August 2023
Early onset of the lean season in conflict zones in the east

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through January 2024
  • Key Messages
    • August 2023 marks the preparations for the start of the 2023/2024 season A in the central-eastern and northeastern regions, as well as the beginning of the lean season, which is expected to begin atypically early due to below-average harvests in previous seasons. Climate forecasts indicate a positive outlook for rainfall compared to the previous season, which bodes well for the vegetative cycle of the primary staple crops. However, the agricultural season is expected to be disrupted in conflict zones, particularly in Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu. This is due to challenges such as the inaccessibility or abandonment of fields, infrastructure destruction, and the impediments in accessing essential agricultural inputs.

    • The operations undertaken by the East African Community Regional Forces (EACRF) have effectively decreased the level of violence perpetrated by rebel groups against the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC). This success has, in turn, allowed for a cautious return of internally displaced persons (IDPs), despite the continued presence of the 23 March Movement (M23) forces maintaining their positions. According to OCHA, nearly 50,000 displaced persons have returned to the Rutshuru territory between April and September 2023. These returnees are likely to participate in agricultural activities during the major season A, which commences in September 2023.

    • During the month of August, the atypically early onset of the lean season, particularly in conflict zones, will cause households difficulties in securing access to food, perpetuating consumption deficits and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. In certain health zones within the territories of Djugu and Rutshuru, which are most affected by conflict, an increase in the population classified under Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is anticipated between September and December; however, this increase is expected to stay below 20 percent of the overall population. Households in the central-eastern and southeastern regions that manage to meet their minimum food needs and engage in a full agricultural season are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2). The other northern provinces not experiencing conflict-related impacts are classified as Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

    Current Situation

    Conflicts and population movements: Insecurity persisted mainly in the eastern part of the DRC, with a multitude of local and foreign armed groups operating in five provinces (Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika, and Mai-Ndombé). 

    Although the deployment of the EACRF since November 2023 has not effectively repelled the M23 forces in the North Kivu territories, the EACRF operations have successfully decreased the level of violence perpetrated by rebel groups against the forces aligned with the Congolese army (FARDC). Additionally, they have facilitated the gradual return of IDPs and the free movement of goods. According to OCHA, almost 50,000 displaced persons have returned to their respective villages in the Rutshuru territory, following the relative calm observed since June 2023. However, clashes between the M23 and the Wazalendo defense forces are ongoing in the Rutshuru and Masisi territories. This violence has continued to trigger population movements. 

    In Tanganyika, the security situation has shown a notable improvement over the last two months. This has enabled hundreds of displaced persons to return to their respective villages. However, infrequent incidents of inter-community conflict persisted in the Nyunzu, Kalemie, Kabalo, and Kongolo territories. 

    Agricultural production: The agricultural season B in the northeast commenced in March 2023 with low involvement from farming households, leading to an agricultural output roughly 30 percent below the normal level in June 2023. The duration of food stocks could not exceed one month of consumption (July). In this context, households quickly depleted their own stocks, relying on market purchases and foraging to obtain food. 

    Volatility of commodity prices and behavior of the local currency: Since the end of July and beginning of August 2023, commodity prices have been stable on all eastern markets, particularly for maize flour, excluding typical seasonal variations. This trend may increase during the two peak months of the lean season (October and November) before stabilizing at the end of December, with the onset of green harvests. Owing to the volatile exchange rate of the local currency – which has depreciated by 21 percent against the USD over the past two months – and amidst traders' speculations, the government has taken decisive steps to stabilize the currency. Noteworthy measures include the compulsory payment of all taxes and fees in local currency, alongside a substantial increase (from 9 to 25 percent) in the prime interest rate for commercial banks throughout the month of August. However, these measures have not been sufficient to reduce the prices of key local and imported products.

    Looting of livestock by armed groups: During this transhumance period within the agropastoral mountains (CD09) and the highland agricultural areas of the northeast (CD14), livestock farmers are grappling with substantial animal losses during the first week of August. Approximately 400 cattle were seized in Irumu by armed militias. These losses are becoming increasingly frequent, forcing some farmers to migrate to the northern areas (Haut-Uélé and Bas-Uélé) to save their herds. With the return of rain to the region, there has been a marked improvement in grazing, as lush greenery now facilitates easier foraging for the animals.  

    Epidemiological situation: The DRC is facing outbreaks of cholera. By the end of July 2023, around 1,040 cases had been reported in 13 affected provinces covering 83 health zones. This represents a 98 percent increase compared with the same period last year. 

    Humanitarian aid: Since June 2023, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) has declared an intensified humanitarian response in the provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu. This declaration aims to meet the growing demand for expanded operations to assist populations in need. An operational plan has been drawn up for a renewable three-month period, targeting 5.46 million people in need of humanitarian aid in the three provinces. This aid is primarily provided in cash for food aid at a rate of 36,000 Congolese francs per person per month (WFP). Thus, during July 2023, around 187,000 people received food rations in the territories of North Kivu. The distribution was as follows, proportionate to the total population of each area: Beni (5 percent), Lubero (2 percent), Masisi (1 percent), and Rutshuru (4 percent). In the neighboring province of Ituri, 178,000 people were provided with food aid and cash transfers in Djugu and Irumu during July, representing 8 percent of the total populations in both regions. In South Kivu, 46,000 people received assistance in July 2023 (0.6 percent). 

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Calendrier saisonnier pour une année typique.


    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions in the June 2023 to January 2024 Food Security Outlook report remain broadly unchanged, with the exception of those updated below:

    • December 2023 general elections: Restrictions on opposition activities are expected to increase in the run-up to the elections, potentially escalating existing tensions and giving rise to protest movements throughout the process. This is particularly likely if the parliament proceeds to adopt the controversial 'Tshiani' law, which requires both parents of candidates for high public office to be Congolese. 

    • Insecurity in North Kivu and Ituri: Despite a temporary decrease in hostilities observed between June and September in the clashes between the M23 and the FARDC, there is a strong likelihood that intermittent conflicts may re-emerge if the M23 seeks to fortify and solidify its positions in the territories of Rutshuru, Masisi, and Nyiragongo. Throughout the forecast period, it is highly probable that the M23 will launch attacks on the Saké axis and advance towards the provincial capital of Goma to force negotiations with the government and disrupt civilian and commercial activities. However, it is still very unlikely that the M23 will be successful in carrying out operations to seize Goma. The security situation in North Kivu is expected to deteriorate following the likely deployment of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional forces in June 2023, especially considering the East African Community's refusal to withdraw from the county, and its inability to collaborate with the SADC. 

    • Deaths associated with rebel and militia attacks in northern Ituri are expected to reach high levels during this forecast period due to political developments, territorial and ethnic conflicts, and the intervention of foreign states, but will not exceed the levels of violence observed in the second half of 2022..

    • Insecurity in South Kivu: During the projected period, the security situation is expected to remain unstable, with ongoing clashes, violence, and attacks against local populations by armed groups operating in the region, leading to further displacements. In the run-up to the election period scheduled for December 2023, the level of violence is likely to be higher than in the previous quarter.

    • Commodity prices and the functioning of markets: Despite localized variations driven by observed supply and demand dynamics in specific regions of the country, the prices of key imported and local food commodities are expected to remain stable, albeit above the five-year average. Typical seasonal fluctuations are expected in some markets, starting in September. 

    • Looting of livestock by armed groups: Given the ongoing substantial and gradual losses of cattle due to activities of armed militias, households relying heavily on the sale of livestock products can anticipate a significant decline in income.

    • Epidemiological situation: The lack of control over the cholera epidemic in the affected areas could lead to its spread into currently unaffected areas, thereby decreasing participation in agricultural activities for the upcoming farming seasons.

    Projected Outlook through January 2024

    August to September 2023: With an early onset of the lean season expected starting in August and depletion of reserves, market dependence will be the primary source of supply for most poor households in the eastern part of the DRC. In these conflict-affected areas, poor households unable to engage in cultivation will mainly depend on working as agricultural labor for wealthier households. They will have to source their food from local markets; however, in the majority of instances, this will be inadequate to meet minimum food needs. Therefore, the consumption deficit of these households will worsen before the next harvest in the area. Those areas in the east that are experiencing the effects of the prolonged conflict will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), including Ituri (Irumu and Djugu), South Kivu (Uvira and Fizi), and North Kivu (Beni, Rutshuru, and Masisi). The provinces of Lomami, Sankuru, Kasaï Oriental, Kasaï, a portion of Maniema, and the former Katanga, which have relatively lower levels of conflict, and where households have better access to food and income following complete agricultural seasons, will be in a Stressed (IPC Phase 2) situation. These populations have a longer duration of stocks (2-3 months) and the ability to consume their reserves through September. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes will persist in the provinces of Haut-Uélé, Bas-Uélé, and Tshopo, which have not experienced any major adverse events, and do not have a food consumption deficit. These are forested areas that rely predominantly on the forest, crops, and wild products year-round as their source of income and sustenance. 

    October 2023 to January 2024: This period corresponds to the peak of the lean season in eastern DRC. Household situations across the entire region will become increasingly challenging, with limited access to food due to depleted stocks. However, the green harvests in December could provide relief to populations that have started to develop negative coping strategies by improving the overall food consumption of households in the eastern region. Much of the northern and central areas of the DRC, including Bas-Uélé, Haut-Uélé, Tshopo, Sankuru, and Lualaba, recognized as a stable area with sufficient stocks to cover the lean season, would be facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, while the central-south and southeast, mainly Maniema, South Kivu, and Ex-Katanga, would evolve into a Stressed (IPC Phase 2) situation.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. DRC: Food Security Outlook Update, June 2023 to January 2024: Early onset of the lean season in conflict zones in the east. 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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