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Enhanced household food access in this season A harvest period

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • February - September 2021
Enhanced household food access in this season A harvest period

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In this season A harvest period, since mid-December, despite below-normal harvests, households are improving their food consumption, and currently rely on their own production. This improvement will bolster price stability and allow for sustained local market operations and decreased demand for imported staple food products.

    • Failing any confirmation of the new COVID-19 variant in DRC, based on the data provided by the government, the increase, to date, in the fatality rate and the number of positive cases from 3 to 20 percent respectively, suggest the potential progression of the virus. The DRC, which already has 23,889 positive COVID-19 cases, i.e., 40.2 percent increase in the last two months, could be facing a new wave of infection and is anticipating the possible tightening of the restrictive measures in effect.

    • In a context of below-normal harvests and households facing the effects of the recent flooding, and despite the relative lull experienced in certain areas of conflict, some regions of the country will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), particularly in the east and in Kasaï. On the other hand, the east-central and south-east territories, having had a complete agricultural campaign, will be facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity. The northern areas will be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1)


    Current situation

    Overall political context: The humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains concerning in the face of a complex and protracted crisis. In 2019, a political transition had been peacefully undertaken and the scope of the violence had diminished, particularly in the Kasaï region. In 2020, the humanitarian situation deteriorated in a context marked by persistent conflicts in the east, and heightened violence in several parts of the country. This was further compounded by the COVID-19 epidemic, which undermined the country's economic growth while the majority of the Congolese population was already in a situation of extreme poverty. The populations' limited access to quality basic social services is also noteworthy.

    Conflicts and population movements: Armed conflict and natural disasters continue to trigger significant population movements in the east of the country, as well as numerous serious protection incidents. The DRC is home to one of the largest populations of displaced persons in the world, and the largest on the African continent. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the country currently has 5.2 million internally displaced persons, including 1.4 million returnees and 527,000 refugees and asylum seekers from neighboring countries. Armed attacks or clashes and land and inter-communal disputes constitute the primary cause of internal displacement at nearly 98 percent. This displacement gives rise to the disruption, or even the loss of livelihoods for these populations, particularly farming households, who no longer have access to land. In some areas, the enhanced security context has contributed to movements of returning populations, particularly in the Kasaï region and the South-Kivu and Tanganyika provinces.

    An influx of Central African refugees into the South Ubangi and Bas-Uele provinces is also noteworthy. The insecurity observed in the wake of violent electoral clashes in the Central African Republic (CAR) has led to the displacement of Central African nationals in several of the aforementioned provinces. In the first week of January 2020, over 15,000 Central African refugees were registered. This recent arrival renders the indigenous community (around 3,500 people), whose livelihoods and other local resources are already under pressure, even more vulnerable.

    The COVID-19 pandemic and other epidemics: In the DRC, there are five diseases of epidemic potential that are being monitored in 2020: COVID-19, the Ebola virus disease (EVD), measles, cholera, and malaria.

    COVID-19, of which the first case was reported in the DRC in March 2020, continues to profoundly impact the livelihoods of the most vulnerable households. The second wave of the pandemic which the DRC is currently experiencing is more severethan the previous one, and continues to spread to new areas which had not yet been affected. The number of newly infected people continues to rise rapidly, particularly in the Kinshasa, Kongo Central, and North-Kivu provinces. In mid-February 2021, the DRC recorded 23,751 confirmed cases throughout the national territory, including 688 deaths (i.e., a fatality rate of 2.9 percent). The government had readjusted the restrictive measures taken earlier, by lifting the state of health emergency since July 21, 2020; this was followed by the reopening of markets, schools and places of worship, the resumption of economic, administrative and trade activities, meetings and public transit, the free circulation of people and goods across the national territory, the resumption of international flights and the reopening of the DRC borders; however, safety measures remain in place (mandatory mask wearing, social distancing). With the supposed new variant, the DRC government's strategy and that of neighboring countries is to make the test accessible by opting for rapid testing of the population; the objective is to screen as many people as possible and thus prevent infection since the sooner the results are known, the sooner the chain of infection is broken. To this end, the governments collaboratively proceeded to reduce the cost of the test, which went from $50 for the PCR test to only $5 for the rapid test.

    Furthermore, the measles epidemic, which claimed more than 7,000 lives in the DRC, was declared eradicated by the minister of health on August 25, 2020. However, cholera is still very present in the south-east of the country and has even spread to North-Kivu in the wake of the floods in the Uvira territory. Acute respiratory infections are still very prevalent in all DRC provinces.

    Also noteworthy is the resurgence of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) in this month of February, in the Biena locality, in the Lubero territory in North-Kivu in an EVD survivor, barely four months after the government declared it eradicated in the Équateur province after it caused 55 deaths out of a total of 130 reported cases. The situation in Beni remains under the control of the health care teams.

    Agroclimatological conditions: cumulative rainfall recorded in the DRC since the last agricultural campaign marks a clear deviation compared to the average of the last 10 years. It rains more than usual, with irregular and atypical distribution; this explains the floods recorded during the last agricultural campaigns in some areas of the country. For instance, for the 2020-2021 campaign, up to February, 1,992 mm of cumulative rainfall was recorded, whereas the average for the last 10 years over this same period was around 1,109 mm, according to the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) observations, a difference of 79 percent.

    Grain production in neighboring countries: Grain availability in the south-east of the DRC is significantly contingent on imports from Southern African countries, including Zambia, Tanzania, and South Africa. Agroclimatic conditions in these countries have generally been conducive to growing crops. These countries, which constitute maize production areas, have been subject to dry spells — during previous campaigns — which significantly impacted crop yields. During the last 2020-2021 agricultural campaign, weather conditions were conducive to achieving a normal agricultural season, despite a few minor variations. Thanks to government grants, Zambian farmers succeeded in producing three million tons as planned, which enabled them to cover the strategic stocks, estimated at 1.8 million tons. It is estimated that Haut Katanga is dependent on maize coming from these countries to cover 70 percent of its food needs.

    Also noteworthy as regards this agricultural campaign, is the invasion of African migratory locusts in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe since 2020; this poses a threat to agricultural production in these countries. Efforts on the part of governments and stakeholders to contain the locust plague are currently ongoing, and it is expected that the African migratory locusts' impact on agricultural production will be minimal, in light of the combative measures taken.

    2020/2021 agricultural campaign: Due to conflict, this 2020-2021 agricultural campaign was the least successful of the last three campaigns in the eastern area, with season A harvest yields estimated at below-normal; therefore, they can only cover the households' needs for the limited time that stocks last, estimated at one and a half months. There have been significant losses due to the flooding of cultivated areas, particularly in Tanganyika, which destroyed agricultural service roads rendering it more difficult to transport this small quantity of produce to the consumption centers. It is also noteworthy that despite the massive return of displaced populations to their areas of origin, the resumption of agricultural activities, although effective in the Kasaï region, has not been effective in all the territories.

    Markets and food prices: For the past two months, staple food prices in local markets have been stable overall, due to the season A harvests in the north-east and east-central areas of the country. These harvest yields have improved local food availability. In the Beni, Bukavu, Bunia, Goma, Kalemie, and Uvira markets, primary food crop prices are currently on a downward trend, compared to the previous month. However, compared to the month of January last year, primary food product prices have increased, following the devaluation of the local currency, which lost almost 12 percent of its value, compared to the US dollar, since the onset of COVID-19; this is according to the Central Bank of the Congo, in the wake of the collapse of the national economy. The local currency's (CDF) exchange rate, against the US dollar, has been stable since the month of January, thus supporting stable prices for imported products such as refined vegetable oil and rice.

    Exchange rate: During this month of February 2020, the economic monitoring committee (CCE) noted that the Congolese franc had stabilized at between 1,980 and 2,015 CDF to the US dollar; this situation augurs well for the prices of primary food products on the markets.

    Global Acute Malnutrition(GAM): Malnutrition remains a key humanitarian issue in the DRC, and has been for over two decades. The nutrition crisis affects the most vulnerable groups in particular (children under five years of age, pregnant and breastfeeding women, people living with HIV and tuberculosis). In the DRC, one out of every 15 children under the age of five and one out of every two children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition and stunted growth respectively. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), nearly 4.4 million people suffer from acute malnutrition, including 3.4 million children under the age of five. The prevalence of global acute malnutrition is 6.5 percent and that of chronic malnutrition is 42 percent. According to the National Nutrition Program's (PRONANUT) nutrition watch bulletin from the third quarter of 2020, considering all 519 health zones, 63 are on alert (i.e., 12 percent), 257 are to be monitored closely (i.e., 50 percent), and only 28 percent are under control. The four hardest hit provinces are Équateur, Kasaï Oriental, Maniema, and Haut Katanga. Inadequate food availability combined with the recurring measles and cholera epidemics warrant this situation.

    Humanitarian assistance: Many humanitarian assistance programs have been established, particularly by the World Food Program (WFP) and other humanitarian partners, which contribute to improving food security outcomes in places where there are vulnerable people in need of assistance. Due to the lack of up-to-date data, it is difficult to precisely assess the impact of this assistance on food security outcomes. However, in 2020, 15.6 million people were in need, including 8.6 million in dire need, and the humanitarian response, which covered 35 percent until November 2020, remains insufficient given the tremendous need.

    Moreover, humanitarian access to all populations in need remains a major concern in the DRC. Humanitarian actors' operations are restricted or hampered due to insecurity, the lack of infrastructure and the isolation of certain areas of the country.

    Current food security outcomes: In this season A harvest period, food consumption is improving in the north-east and east-central areas. However, many households, which did not have access to their farmland, are atypically obliged to resort to the market for their food. To this end, they adopt coping strategies in connection with new economic opportunities to recover their income level; for some, these include daily agricultural and non-agricultural labor, the sale of firewood, and small-scale trade. Some households are forced to employ food consumption strategies, including reducing the number of meals and the consumption of less expensive or less preferred foods, when they do not have access to these strategies.

    Consequently, many households in conflict zones and areas hit by natural disasters, including North-Kivu and South-Kivu, Ituri, Tanganyika, some keep facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity, while those in the northern area and a part of the central-east area are facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity, respectively.


    The most likely scenario from February to September 2021 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Overall political context: Given the sensitive political climate in the DRC, and despite the positive developments observed through the establishment of the sacred union and the new majority at the current national assembly, and the negotiations between the different groups throughout the country, in 2021 one would expect the status quo, with a level of violence similar to that of 2020. The existing political divisions will continue to be exploited, exacerbating the level of insecurity in crisis areas.

    Additionally, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) transition process in 2021 could impact the local environments in which it will be implemented, and lead to renewed insecurity in certain conflict zones.

    • Conflicts and population movements: Armed conflict and natural disasters, namely floods, and landslides after improper stormwater runoff, would continue to trigger significant population movements in the east of the country.
    • Agroclimatological conditions: Despite favorable weather conditions, based on the CPC's (Climate Prediction Center) forecasts, and given the likelihood of sustained conflict and population movements, which would disrupt the conduct of the subsequent agricultural campaign, one would expect a below-average agricultural season in the east of the country, but normal in the rest of the country.
    • Grain production in neighboring countries: Rainfall in Tanzania and Zambia have generally been conducive to growing crops. Seasonal forecasts for the rest of the 2020/2021 season indicate the likelihood of near-normal rainfall in most regions of these countries; agricultural production should thus be near average for the 2020/2021 season, despite the presence of the African migratory locusts in Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe since 2020. The impact on agricultural production could be expected to be minimal in light of the combative measures taken.
    • COVID-19 pandemic: Following the steadily rising number of new cases, the preventive health measures adopted globally and nationally should continue to affect the most vulnerable Congolese households' living conditions in 2021. Despite the gradual easing of the national measures implemented to contain the spread of the epidemic, particularly the end of the state of health emergency declared on July 21, 2020, the fact that several neighboring countries such as Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda still have not officially reopened their borders to the public suggests that the resumption of cross-border trade during the scenario period is unlikely. Households that are reliant on this type of activity will see their income decline.
    • Macroeconomic situation and local currency: Based on the data in the Central Bank of the Congo's (BCC) report which stipulate that, internally, the situation is still characterized by the macroeconomic context's relative stability, confirmed by the currency's stability on the foreign exchange market, and the economic operators' renewed optimism (the Congolese franc has depreciated slightly from 0.2 percent on a monthly basis with, exchange rates between 1,965 CDF and 2,019.2 CDF to 1 USD), effective economic recovery throughout the country may be expected.
    • Non-agricultural labor (mining): Despite the slight fall in the global prices of the DRC's primary export products, particularly copper (0.3 percent), cobalt (0.7 percent), and oil (1.3 percent), based on the report by the Central Bank of the Congo's (BCC) economic monitoring committee of December 2020, miners who are day laborers will continue to provide their services at the same level as they have in the past.
    • Market operations: With the Congolese currency's announced stability, and an agricultural season expected to be below-normal in the north-east and central east areas, harvests may be expected to improve local food availability for a short period, and stabilize food prices in the local markets. In the eastern part of the DRC, apparent food availability during this harvest period could be quickly depleted, and the markets will face strong local demand which will only be covered by external contributions through staple food imports.
    • Cross-border trade: with measures in place to cross the borders, which do not facilitate the effective resumption of small traders' activities, informal cross-border trade flows could be expected to decline; this will concretely translate into increasingly limited trade volumes and still below normal in 2021. This will be the case with Uganda and Rwanda.
    • Global acute malnutrition (GAM) changes: Given that currently, nearly 4.4 million people suffer from acute malnutrition, including 3.4 million children below the age of five, with prevalence at 6.5 percent for GAM and at 42 percent for chronic malnutrition, and given the seasonality of the diseases and the lean season in the period from April to June 2021, malnutrition is likely to increase during the projection period, then decrease during the June harvests, which will improve food availability and access in the area being analyzed.
    • Insecurity outside of the DRC: The instability of the security and socio-political situation in neighboring countries (The Central African Republic (CAR), Uganda, and South Sudan) could cause a new influx of refugees or hamper the return of refugees in the DRC to their countries of origin.
    • Humanitarian assistance: Out of a total population of 103.2 million inhabitants, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 19.6 million people need food assistance in 2021, i.e., an increase of 61 percent compared to 2020. Assistance is likely to continue to improve food security outcomes in some places, but precise data was not available when this report on humanitarian funding for 2021 was being drafted. Humanitarian access will continue to be restricted to certain areas due to insecurity or physical constraints, particularly during the rainy season.

    Most likely food security outcomes:

    Between February and May 2021: the brief lean season will be underway in the north-east and central-east areas, and simultaneously, the first harvests of the growing season B will begin. Households in the affected areas may have difficulties accessing food until the subsequent harvests in June 2021. Given that this lean season remains short, poor and very poor households will adopt coping strategies linked to food consumption, and sometimes to the sale of non-productive assets. The areas most affected by conflict and flooding, which limits access to food and livelihoods, will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), in particular Ituri, South-Kivu, North-Kivu, Tanganyika, and Kasaï Central. The provinces of Lomami, Sankuru, Kasaï-Oriental and ex-Katanga, which are recovering from recent conflict, have less access to their normal livelihoods, and still have displaced or recently returned populations will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, the provinces of Haut-Uele, Bas-Uele, Tshopo, and part of Maniema, which are calmer, will keep facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity, with normal access to food and income.

    Between June and September 2021: the long lean season will begin in the north-east, central-east, and south-east of the DRC; the situation will be increasingly difficult for households throughout the entire area in the second half of this period; there will be limited access to food due to the premature depletion of stocks; the June harvests could be expected to bring relief to the populations which would have begun to develop negative coping strategies. Some areas in the east that are experiencing the effects of the protracted crisis will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), including Ituri (Irumu and Djugu), South-Kivu (Uvira, Fizi), and North-Kivu; however, the provinces of Tanganyika, Lomami, Sankuru, Kasaï-Oriental, Maniema, and ex-Katanga, that are trying to regain stability, where the households have better access to food and income, will be facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity. However, the provinces of Haut-Uele, Bas-Uele, and Tshopo, which have not experienced significant shocks will keep facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity.

    Events that could change the scenario

    Possible events over the next six months that could change the most likely scenario at the national level.



    Impact on food security conditions

    Ituri, North-Kivu, South-Kivu, Tanganyika, Maniema

    Negative developments in the security situation

    A resurgence of violence of armed groups against the local populations and the military could increase the movement of populations, who would abandon their livelihoods. Access to people in need would be limited. Additionally, a larger number of households could switch over to a more severe phase.

    Ituri, North-Kivu, South-Kivu, Tanganyika, Maniema, Kasaï

    Continual deterioration of agricultural service roads

    Negative impact in the area which could weaken trade between territories and food availability on the markets

    Irregular rainfall during the growing season

    An excess, lack, or delay of rainfall that would impact the growth cycle and, consequently, agricultural production, and exacerbate flood damage.

    Deterioration of the global political situation

    This situation could result in an explosion of public demonstrations and increased conflict, thereby triggering new population movements.

    Figures Une grande partie des déplacés et réfugiés se trouvent dans la zone est, notamment au Nord-Kivu et en Ituri.

    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: UNHCR/OCHA

    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.

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