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Growing season A marked by normal rainfall and declining participation

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • October 2020 - May 2021
Growing season A marked by normal rainfall and declining participation

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Growing season A started on time in the eastern part of the country. While it is experiencing normal rainfall, the season is impacted by low household participation because of the pandemic and insecurity throughout the region. This situation suggests that there will be poor performance during the growing season, with lower than normal harvests expected.

    • The spread of COVID-19 in 21 of the country’s 26 provinces continues to affect populations’ livelihoods. Restrictive measures have been reduced since the health emergency was declared over in August 2020. As a result, certain borders have reopened and activities have gradually resumed across the country. According to the National Institute of Statistics (INS), however, nearly 39 percent of heads of household remain unable to carry out their activities due to the effects of the pandemic throughout the country.

    • At this time of year, despite the relative lull observed in the provinces of Ituri, Tanganyika, and Maniema, there are still many displaced households that have abandoned their livelihoods. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the third quarter of 2020 counted 92,137 displaced individuals with a 42 percent rate of return. This situation reinforces the expectation of low participation in the current growing season.

    • Considering the lull noted in certain eastern zones, during the peak of the 2020 lean season the food security situation could transition to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in the more stable northern and central zones, including the provinces of Haut-Uele, Bas-Uele, and Tshopo and a portion of the Kasaï region. Meanwhile, the Irumu territory in Ituri; Beni, Masisi, and Rutshuru in North Kivu; and Nyunzu, Kabalo, and Manono in Tanganyika will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The Djugu territory will remain in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).


    Current situation

    The COVID-19 pandemic and other epidemics: COVID-19 continues to spread day after day throughout the country. According to the technical secretariat of the Multisector Committee to Combat COVID-19 (CMR), 21 of the country’s 26 provinces have been affected to date. Although active cases are decreasing, health services estimate that there are still a number of unidentified cases in the community. The government has put a series of measures in place to slow the spread of the virus. It has declared a health emergency, made testing available in all Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) cities including Kinshasa, established restrictions, and closed borders with neighboring countries. With progress made in response to the pandemic, the borders have now been reopened. Other measures taken include testing centers in all DRC provinces, case tracking, contact tracing, and mandatory quarantine for positive and suspected cases. However, despite official border openings, requirements involving mandatory fee-based testing and quarantine after crossing the border present a significant obstacle for small, informal cross-border traders.

    Since September 2020, the pandemic response has improved in the DRC with a decrease in cases and an increase in recoveries, which are estimated at 90 percent of recorded cases.

    In addition to COVID-19, the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic, declared in Mbandaka and Bikoro in the Equateur province on May 31, 2020, continues to claim victims. According to the Health Cluster, a total of 128 cases (119 confirmed and 9 probable), including 53 deaths (equaling a 41.4 percent fatality rate), were recorded as of October 10. This epidemic is currently affecting 42 health areas, spread across 13 health districts. Furthermore, it is important to note that for nearly two years, the DRC has been experiencing the largest measles epidemic in the world, which has killed more than 6,600 people in 100 health districts (representing one fifth of the country). Since January 2020, approximately 50,000 measles cases have been officially registered and over 600 deaths recorded.

    Security situation and population movements: The security situation remains precarious in the DRC, particularly in the eastern provinces. Clashes between armed groups, in addition to inter-community conflicts, continue to cause significant population movements. Between July and September 2020, various OCHA alerts reported more than 386,283 newly displaced persons and 467,688 returnees. In addition to the eastern provinces (Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika, and Maniema), other provinces such as Haut-Katanga, Tshopo, Kasaï, and Kasaï-Central have experienced population movements because of various conflicts. All of these displaced persons are forced to abandon their homes and other possessions to settle in a new environment.

    Moreover, political instability in neighboring countries continues to bring new refugees to the DRC from South Sudan, Burundi, and the Central African Republic. As of June 30, 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates 528,367 refugees and asylum-seekers in the DRC, of whom just over half (54 percent) are from Uganda and Burundi. Additionally, the latest figures from the same date report 5.5 million displaced persons, nearly 65 percent of whom are concentrated in the three northeastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, and South Kivu.

    Economic situation: According to the Central Bank of the Congo (BCC) report from September 2020, the DRC’s trade balance at the end of the third quarter of 2020, i.e., at the end of September, shows a positive balance of 1.9 billion USD, resulting from exports valued at 8.34 billion USD and imports of 6.35 billion USD, according to BCC data. However, trade volume in 2020 is down compared to the same period in 2019, when the trade balance was 138.30 million USD, resulting from exports valued at 11.11 billion USD and imports of 10.97 billion USD. Foreign exchange reserves fell by 12.9 percent between August and September 2020. The central bank credits the decline in trade volume this year to falling export revenues, declining global demand, and shrinking economic activity.

    This situation was also reflected in both official and parallel exchange rates. In view of the above, a weakened macroeconomic condition is projected for the coming months, which will have a negative impact on the purchasing power of poor households.

    Agroclimatological situation: The 2020-2021 growing season started well across the country with a normal season expected for the most part. Weather forecasts show a negligible decrease in rainfall compared to normal from October to December 2020.

    Market operation and food prices: People have been restricted from crossing the border from neighboring countries since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the DRC. Considering the importance of informal cross-border trade with neighboring countries, thousands of households relying on small-scale informal trade between the DRC and these countries have been impacted by the border restrictions. Products from these countries are scarce on the local markets as a result. This has created a price distortion in products from Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and South Africa.

    Local markets throughout the rest of the country are facing the peak of the lean season after a growing season with a lower performance. Availability will decrease in the face of rising demand, given that many households rely on market purchases for their food supply.

    Livelihoods: According to the Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA) conducted by the WFP in 2017, food-crop production is the most mentioned subsistence activity (48.8 percent) at the national level, followed by public and private sector employment (skilled and unskilled labor, 11.5 percent). Handicrafts and small businesses represent 5.4 percent and 4.5 percent respectively. All of these sectors have been impacted by the effects of the pandemic, given that the impact of COVID-19 is mostly reflected in the decline in demand for products and services provided by economic units.

    Poor and very poor households who have lost all or part of their source of income must implement adaptation strategies such as the diversification of income sources or, in more severe situations, strategies related to food consumption.

    Nutritional situation: The current nutritional situation remains concerning, with increasingly high rates of malnutrition compared to recent years in regions that have recently experienced disease, natural disasters, and insecurity. Recent Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transition (SMART) nutritional surveys (weight/height) conducted in seven health districts in 2020 all showed global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates above the alert threshold (10 percent), particularly in the health districts of Minembwe in South Kivu, Manono and Ankoro in Tanganyika, Basankusu in Equateur, and Bukama in Haut-Lomami, with some above the emergency threshold (15 percent) in the health districts of Kamina and Bikoro. Chronic malnutrition (height/age) exceeds the critical threshold of 40 percent in all the surveyed health districts.

    Current food security situation: This October is the peak of the lean season, meaning that food access is even more difficult for households that have depleted their dwindling stocks from the previous season earlier than usual. This is especially true in several provinces experiencing conflicts (Ituri, Tanganyika, North Kivu, and South Kivu), as well as in other post-conflict provinces (Kasaï, Kasaï-Central, and Kasaï-Oriental). These households, relying mostly on the market for their food, have also seen their sources of income affected by conflicts and COVID-19 response measures. In the Djugu territory in the Ituri province, a large displaced population will face major food consumption deficits due to the loss of their sources of income and food if they do not engage in particularly negative adaptation strategies. These households are in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), while other areas of conflict and major displacement (South Kivu, North Kivu, Tanganyika, Ituri, Kasaï, and Kasaï-Central) are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The more stable regions of the provinces are in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and northern provinces remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1).


    The most likely scenario from October 2020 to May 2021 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    COVID-19 pandemic: Progress has been made confronting the pandemic in the DRC with decreasing new cases and increasing recoveries, which are estimated at 90 percent of recorded cases. Testing is available in all DRC cities, including Kinshasa. Considering these points, a gradual resumption of activities at the borders and international flights is anticipated, as is improved trade and trade flow with other countries in the region in the short and medium terms. However, noncompliance with restrictions within communities could bring a new wave of infections in the coming months. This could slow the easing of current restrictions and thus limit the reopening of the DRC to other countries in the region.

    Security and population movements: Given the continuous activity of armed groups in the eastern part of the country, especially during the post-harvest period (December to April) to obtain food, the provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, and Tanganyika could experience new population displacements that would destabilize household projections and cause an overall reduction of available stocks. In the territories of Fizi in South Kivu and Masisi, Rutshuru, Walikale, and Beni in North Kivu, the unprecedented activity and the emergence in recent months of armed groups in each territory community will be met with an offensive from the DRC armed forces (FARDC), with the goal of restoring order to these regions of the country. Following clashes, new population movements are expected to flee combat and seek safety, abandoning all efforts made for the ongoing growing season. This situation suggests worsening conditions in these zones, considered the breadbaskets of North Kivu and South Kivu, over the next six months.

    Agroclimatological conditions: Rainfall forecasts from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) and the Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) indicate a higher probability of normal to lower-than-normal rainfall in the DRC between October and December 2020, corresponding to the season A growing period in the northeast and central-east regions of the country. For the period from January to March 2021, the NMME forecasts relate to climatology, with higher levels of uncertainty. In this context, for planning purposes,  “normal” is considered the most likely scenario in the aforementioned period.

    Considering the near-normal to lower-than-normal forecasts for certain regions of the DRC (Tanganyika, the south of the Kasaï region, and the far northeast of Ituri), a normal start to the rainy season is expected with the potential for irregular rainfall in some of the central to southern regions. All of these agroclimatological conditions would promote a normal resumption of agricultural activities consistent with the existing seasonal calendar.

    Economic situation: The DRC’s economic environment during this pandemic period has been marked mainly by decreased production of various mining and agricultural products, coupled with declining reserves in the BCC’s coffers. Considering these facts, the DRC’s macroeconomic situation could be expected to weaken, in addition to exchange rate depreciation over the entire scenario period.

    Staple food imports and exports: Facing a weakened macroeconomic environment in the DRC, staple food imports will increase as their prices are generally much lower than those of local products. In the coming months, strong incentives could be expected in the eastern part of the DRC for foreign trade with Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania.

    Household purchasing power: According to the INS, the financial instability and economic recession resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced the purchasing power of most of the country’s agricultural households by approximately 30 percent, thus limiting their access to basic food and essentials. In the medium term, however, lower demand could keep prices more or less stable in the coming months. Additionally, households that have lost jobs because of quarantine measures could still face low purchasing power.

    Temporary daily work: According to a July 2020 INS survey, economic unit revenue has decreased by 47.3 percent compared to 2019 following government measures to fight the pandemic. The coming months will likely be increasingly difficult in terms of job opportunities, despite the state of emergency being lifted and commercial activities resuming for certain small and medium businesses.

    Humanitarian situation: Despite significant humanitarian efforts throughout 2020, the level of assistance is expected to fall below the level of need, which could lead to the distribution of half rations instead of the planned full rations. Donor countries experiencing economic recessions due to COVID-19 are providing fewer resources. In June, OCHA and its partners revised the humanitarian action plan to reflect an increase in humanitarian assistance needs from 15.6 million USD to 25.6 million USD (an increase of 64 percent). Humanitarian needs estimated at 1.8 billion USD have risen to 2.1 billion USD. Currently, the Food Security Cluster estimates that 10 percent of food assistance needs have been met.

    Most likely food security outcomes:

    October 2020 to January 2021: The peak of the lean season is expected during the first two months of this first scenario period (October and November). Poor households will rely mainly on making their purchases at the market, with generally declining income due to COVID-19. Household food consumption is expected to decline as they begin to implement adaptation strategies related to their consumption. This first period will be mitigated by the following two months (December and January), marked by the December 2020 green harvests and, lastly, the main season A harvests. The stable northern provinces (Haut-Uele, Bas-Uele, and Tshopo) will be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1), while the central-east provinces, particularly Sankuru, Lomami, part of Maniema, and part of Kasaï will be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2). A large part of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Maniema, and northern Haut-Katanga will transition to Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    February to May 2021: The first half of this second scenario period (February and March) will be marked by the main season A harvests. Food availability in local markets is expected to increase. Agricultural households will be able to consume their own production and thus improve their food consumption. Despite this availability in local markets, which will not last long given the small areas of cultivated land in conflict zones, stock exhaustion is expected to occur faster than usual (a month earlier). This period will also see the start of growing season B as well as the peak of the short lean season in season B, which lasts from March to June. With the low harvest levels expected in season A, some areas such as Kasaï, Ituri, South Kivu, and Tanganyika could remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). However, the provinces of Lomami, Sankuru, and Kasaï-Oriental will be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2). The provinces of Haut-Uele, Bas-Uele, Tshopo, and part of Maniema, which are generally stable, will be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

    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

    Border provinces of neighboring countries

    Lifting of restrictive measures imposed to fight the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic at the national level.


    Resumption of normal agricultural and cross-border activities, resulting in increased food availability in the country and less of the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika, Maniema

    Improvements in the security situation, end of conflicts, armed group surrender, and return of displaced populations to their communities.

    Access to arable land and other livelihoods and increased agricultural production. This situation could facilitate food access and thus reduce the number of people in Crisis.

    North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika, Maniema, Kasaï




    Repair of agricultural service roads.

    Improvement of internal trade and increased food availability in local markets. This would also promote integration of local markets.

    Irregular rainfall during the growing season.

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

    Figures Les IDP se trouvent majoritairement à l'est du pays

    Figure 1

    Figure 1


    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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