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Acute food insecurity remains high in conflict zones during the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • October 2023 - May 2024
Acute food insecurity remains high in conflict zones during the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Areas of Concern: Volcanic agricultural soils of Rutshuru (CD11) livelihood zone in Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province.
  • Areas of Concern: Northeastern highlands agricultural livelihood zone (CD14) in Djugu territory in Ituri province.
  • Key Messages
    • Despite multiple regional and international initiatives to restore peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the security situation remains precarious for populations in conflict zones due to the involvement of a multitude of local and foreign armed groups operating in the country's eastern provinces. Despite increased household participation in season A, the hostile environment will not encourage improved agricultural production and will continue to erode the livelihoods of affected households, particularly internally displaced persons (IDPs). Both North Kivu, affected by the 23 March Movement (M23) rebellion, and Ituri, where conflict between armed groups persists, will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with a proportion of households in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).
    • Despite government assurances, the state fuel subsidy system is encountering limitations. Since September, oil traders have staged strikes in several towns across the country, accusing the government of failing to meet its financial obligations for over a year. In the DRC, fuel prices have risen by more than 100 percent, negatively impacting food prices and access for poor households.
    • The measures enacted by the government to slow the depreciation of the local currency since August, notably the requirement to pay taxes and fees in local currency, and the increase in the key commercial bank rate from 9 to 25 percent, seem to be yielding positive results. The monthly inflation rate fell from 5.8 percent in July to 0.9 percent in August 2023. As a result, prices of staple foods have remained stable in recent months. As a result, prices of staple foods have remained stable yet high in recent months; for example, maize prices in Djugu are 70 percent and 158 percent higher than the same period last year and the four-year average, respectively. This limits food access for poor households in affected areas.
    • Taking into account the poor production of the previous season, the eastern part of the country will experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, particularly in the Kasai, Tanganyika, North Kivu, and Ituri regions, throughout the outlook period. It is, however, highly likely that a proportion of households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) will change to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) with the conclusion of the seasonal harvests due to increased food stocks. 

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Conflicts and population movements:  Conflict continues in eastern DRC, with a multitude of local and foreign armed groups operating in the country. In North Kivu province, the M23 rebellion persists, and the Congolese government continues to refuse to negotiate. Clashes between the M23 and the Wazalendo defense forces have resumed in the Rutshuru and Masisi territories. According to OCHA, there are currently 2.4 million IDPs in North Kivu province, of whom around 1.05 million are newly displaced and 513,000 have returned in the last six months. 

    In addition, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) and the Ugandan Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) continue their joint operations against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), which have been dispersed in the territories of North Kivu (Beni, Butembo, Lubero, and Oicha) and Ituri (Irumu and Mambasa). The ADF rebels have continued their reprisals against the civilian population. In Ituri province, the FARDC, supported by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), launched operations in September against certain strongholds of the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) militia in the Djugu territory. According to OCHA, since the beginning of January 2023, almost 220,000 people have been newly displaced in Ituri, bringing the total to almost 1.7 million.

    In South Kivu province, the FARDC continue to hunt down local and foreign armed groups in the Uvira and Fizi highlands with the support of the Burundian army. There are also reports of persistent community tensions in many localities, including Bwegera, Mwenga, and Fizi, encouraged by the activism of local armed groups. According to OCHA, armed violence and inter-communal conflicts in South Kivu have displaced 1.5 million people in the province of South Kivu in the last 12 months.

    The security situation in Tanganyika remains relatively calm, allowing hundreds of displaced persons to return to their respective villages. According to OCHA, since the beginning of 2023, Tanganyika province has recorded around 52,000 returnees. Participation of these returnees in agricultural activities remains low due to a lack of inputs at the start of season A. However, infrequent incidents of inter-community conflict persisted in the territories of Nyunzu, Kalemie, Kabalo, and Kongolo. In May 2023, Twa militiamen attacked Bantu people in several villages in the Kalemie territory, killing at least seven civilians and wounding around 20 others. These incidents occurred at a time when the two communities were engaged in peace talks which have been ongoing since last year.

    In Tshopo province, clashes between the Mbole and Lenga communities have been ongoing since February 2023. This new conflict in the Isangui territory has already claimed more than 500 lives and displaced around 70,000 people.

    Agricultural situation: August and September 2023, total precipitation was slightly above average, and CHIRPS estimates show favorable quantities of precipitation, particularly across the northeast and central-east of DRC (Figure 1). Rainfall totals for the provinces of Haut-Uele, Maniema, and North Kivu were good overall and should improve soil moisture and benefit season A crops with a favorable and typical start to the agricultural season, which started in September in the northeast and central-east. This shows favorable conditions for a normal start to this agricultural season. However, the lack of access to inputs for returnees due to the inadequate humanitarian response in many of the conflict zones, and persistent insecurity in cultivated areas, do not necessarily guarantee better production at the end season A.  

     

    Figure 1

    DRC, cumulative rainfall from August-September
    RDC, Situation pluviométrique août-septembre.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Total rainfall in the beginning to middle of September decreased compared to August across much of the country. However, parts of the northwest, notably Sud-Oubangui, Nord-Ubangi, and Mongala, received heavy rainfall in mid-September. Mongala province was hardest hit, with flooding and landslides reported in areas along the Congo River, although data on the extent of flooded fields are not yet available.

    Despite favorable rainfall, agricultural production is down for the third year in a row, as insecurity in eastern DRC limits access to fields. In addition, difficulties in acquiring agricultural inputs, particularly for returnee farming households, remain a challenge for production.

    The unimodal southeast is at the start of season A from September to October, and has not yet received any significant rainfall. This is also reflected in vegetation conditions, which have been below average since July. Initial precipitation estimates from the Climate Hazard Center (CHC) suggest a slight improvement in rainfall between mid-September and early October. 

    Market functioning and price trends for key commodities: Despite the economic situation on the international market, the local currency seems to have regained stability since the beginning of September 2023; the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has reported that the monthly inflation rate fell from 5.8 percent in July to 0.9 percent in August 2023, and year-to-date inflation stood at 17.7 percent in mid-September 2023. However, since the start of the year, we have seen extreme variability in the prices of staple foods and other essential goods. Despite the stability observed in the previous three months, prices of the staple foods continue an atypical upward trend. In the 16 markets monitored, prices for key products showed an average increase of 68 and 53 percent compared with the five-year average and last year, respectively. Prices increases can be explained by normal seasonal variations, but also by the uncontrolled increase in fuel prices, which has had an impact on transport costs. Overall, markets remain adequately supplied, although levels are below normal.

    Sources of income: Household income sources have been severely disrupted throughout the eastern zone. Throughout the eastern part of the country, the sale of agricultural produce remains the main source of income for almost 70 percent of households. These revenues are currently decreasing in some areas affected by conflict. Some poor households, particularly those who have not been able to grow crops, take on temporary agricultural work in a context of low demand in the face of growing, available, and cheap supply. Some payments are made in kind, providing workers with food. In the IDP camps, those who have animals sell them at an early stage to meet immediate household needs.

    Violence linked to the electoral process: Preparations for the scheduled December 2023 elections continued despite irregularities raised by civil society and the opposition. This situation has heightened political tension in the country, and the main opponents have requested MONUSCO's help in securing areas for the electoral process. This situation is indicative of possible unpredictable situations before or after the elections, which could once again disrupt people's livelihoods.

    Humanitarian interventions: The operation to activate the intensification of humanitarian operations, launched in July 2023, was marked by multiple challenges, including an unstable security situation (mainly in Ituri and North Kivu) and a constrained financial situation. The humanitarian community had launched operations in three provinces to bring emergency aid to a target of almost 5.5 million people. Despite challenges, the intensification produced positive results and reached almost half of the targeted population in the three affected provinces – around 2.7 million people or 49.6 percent – with some assistance in the form of cash, food, and farming tools. However, details of assistance by province are not available. Despite these efforts, the lack of sufficient resources has forced some humanitarians to focus on an even smaller number of communities, leaving millions of people with unmet needs or limited support. The humanitarian community as a whole decided to suspend all efforts in Rutshuru territory due to the difficulty of access and attacks on humanitarian convoys, but resumed efforts in early October, with more people arriving in the area to provide assistance. 

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    September 2023 saw the start of agricultural season A and the lean season, with the latter peaking in November. The low stocks of the previous season will be depleted faster than in normal agricultural seasons. Market supplies will also remain inadequate, especially in conflict zones, due to problems of access both in terms of security and roads (infrastructure), and continuing food consumption deficits following the early depletion of seasonal stocks. The conflict zones North Kivu, South Kivu, Ituri, the southern part of Tanganyika, and the extreme south of Kasai, will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Wealthy and middle-income households in these areas will depend mainly on markets for their food supplies, while the poor (especially displaced persons) will rely more on temporary farm work for wealthy and middle-income households as their main source of income. 

    The other zones, most of which are in a post-conflict context and have experienced near-normal agricultural seasons in the central-east (Sankuru, Lomami, parts of Maniema, and the Kasai region), will be able to rely on their own stocks until mid-season (October-November), considered to be the peak lean season. These post-conflict areas have received assistance to strengthen their resilience, and over the years are moving towards re-establishing a normal crop cycle. Household income is primarily based on the sale of farm produce and the supply of farm labor. Households along the river continue to sell fishing products during the lean season, particularly on the great Kasaï River which runs through the region. These areas are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for the first two months of the first scenario period.  

    The provinces of Haut-Uélé, Bas-Uélé, and Tshopo, in the heart of the forest zone, with their varied harvests throughout the year and their dependence on all-season harvesting, will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1). These areas, taken as a whole, do not have consumption deficits. In these areas, there is a year-round harvest of plantain, as well as firewood that is exploited by poor households, and a dietary diversity not found in other areas.


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

    Source: FEWS NET

    Assumptions

    The most likely food security scenario from October 2023 to May 2024 is based on the following fundamental assumptions, in relation to changes in the national context:

    Conflicts and population movements

    In the northern part of the province of North Kivu: Given the resumption of fighting between the M23 and the various self-defense groups (Wazalendo) who have regained control of several localities in the Masisi territory, we can expect a return to general hostilities, as the M23 rebellion may seek to strengthen and consolidate its positions in the territories of Rutshuru and Nyaragongo. Throughout the outlook period, belligerents may continue to attack each other. This situation could lead to increased violence and displacement of local populations.

    In Ituri province: As the Congolese and Ugandan armies (UPDF) continue their joint operations against the ADF, the ADF rebels will continue their reprisals against the civilian population. The level of militia violence in northern Ituri is expected to reach high levels during the outlook 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. This situation could continue to displace people, who could be cut off from their livelihoods.

    In South Kivu: The security situation is likely to remain unstable during the projected period, with continued clashes, violence, and attacks against the local population by armed groups active in the region, causing further displacement. 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.

    Intercommunal violence in Tanganyika: It is likely that the security situation will remain stable but precarious, allowing the continued return of displaced persons and therefore the return to agricultural activities of many households in the coming agricultural seasons.

     

    Demonstrations against MONUSCO and other foreign forces: Continued operations by M23 rebels in North Kivu and other regions will increase the population's antipathy towards foreign troops, particularly East African Community regional forces (EAC) and MONUSCO. This could lead to anti-MONUSCO and anti-EAC social unrest. MONUSCO's departure would create a vacuum and lead to further instability, enabling armed groups to increase their territorial control.

    Economic conditions: If the government is able to maintain the measures taken to reduce the devaluation trend, inflation of the local currency will be minimal. However, given the economic situation on the international market, the price of certain strategic products, such as fuel, may increase, leading to higher prices for key products.

    Natural disasters: Given the lack of territorial planning and the government's inability to relocate households on sites at risk of flooding and landslides, natural disasters are likely to continue during the period of heavy rains (September to January), impacting the livelihoods of thousands of households.

    Price trends for key local commodities: Beyond seasonal variations during the outlook period, prices for key products could continue to rise over the projection period, especially for imported commodities. Price increases could affect poor households, which will increasingly experience difficulties in accessing food.

    Agricultural production: Taking into account the anomalies of previous years, marked by poor rainfall distribution with sequences of excessive rainfall causing flooding in several areas, and reductions in planted areas following population movements, a similar situation could be expected, leading gradually to agricultural production around 10 percent below the average of previous seasons. Reduced production, which is occurring in deficit areas of the country that are under heavy pressure from refugees, displaced persons, and returnees, would lead to difficulties in accessing food in the short term, particularly for poor households.

    Mining workforce: With the improvement in world prices for raw materials, notably copper and cobalt, the workforce, particularly in the mines, could see an improvement in income in the mining areas, mainly in the south-east of the country (Lualaba and Haut Katanga provinces). 

    Agricultural labor: In the context of positive expansion in the mining sector at present, agricultural labor in mining areas, especially in the provinces of Lualaba and Haut Katanga, will remain the least available and least competitive. This situation could reduce the supply of the agricultural workforce to the zone's major agricultural producers, as this workforce could be channelled in large part to the most lucrative sector, mining.

    Other non-agricultural labor: Non-agricultural labor is more likely in the conflict zones and in urban areas, where some displaced people will depend on domestic work and goods carriers in urban markets. However, given the increase in the number of households engaging in these activities, income will fall. Such is the case of the displaced persons from Kanyaruchynia in Nyiragongo, who travel to Goma for this type of activity. These households will pursue these activities as long as they remain in their respective displacement sites. 

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    During the first scenario period, between October 2023 and January 2024, the lean season will peak in November 2023 in the northeast and central-east of the country. In October and November the food situation will be difficult for poor households, especially those who did not have the opportunity to cultivate during the past season due to displacement. These households will use coping strategies to meet their immediate needs, such as reducing the quality and quantity of meals, selling productive assets, and in some cases, begging. Between December and January, the arrival of green harvests may improve household consumption and thus  food access, as farming households are expected to depend on their own production. Households throughout the area will continue to have limited access to food due to the depletion of stocks. It is estimated that the green harvests in December will bring relief to populations who have begun to develop coping strategies that are often damaging. During this scenario period, some areas could remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), notably the provinces of Kasaï, ex-Katanga, Ituri, South-Kivu, and Tanganyika, for reasons mentioned above. However, the provinces of Lomami, Sankuru, Kasaï Oriental, Maniema, South Kivu, and Ex-Katanga will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to having become post-conflict zones and having experienced fairly complete agricultural seasons. The provinces of Haut-Uele, Bas-Uélé, Tshopo, and part of Maniema, which are located in forested areas with no security concerns, will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1). 

    During the second scenario period, from February to May 2024, there will be two sequences: the end of season A harvests in December and January, and the start of farming activities for season B in March. Between January and February, farming households will be relying on their own production, despite the low level of production for the previous season. Household food stocks could therefore be improved by the availability of stocks from the latest harvests. From March/April onwards, the lean season will occur in these areas, and the food situation will become difficult again until the next harvest in June 2024. As a result, some areas could remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), including Kasaï, Ituri, South Kivu, and Tanganyika, while the provinces of Lomami, Sankuru, and Kasaï Oriental will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). As in the first scenario period, the provinces of Haut-Uele, Bas-Uélé, Tshopo, and part of Maniema will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1). 

    Events that could change the scenarios

    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most likely scenario
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationalDeterioration of the overall political and security situation following the elections.Should the socio-political circumstances leading up to or following the election deteriorate, a general upheaval characterized by public protests is anticipated. This could immobilize economic activities in urban centers, particularly sources of income linked to transport and small-scale trade, among others, and lead to a probable increase in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes for populations in urban centers.
    Increase in natural disasters due to rain disturbances in the Eastern and Western zones.An increase in natural disasters would limit normal agricultural production and reduce the flow of local products into the country. An increase in areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) will be likely in areas of rainfall deficits.
    Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu, Tanganyika, Espace Bandundu, KasaïThe decline in the intensity of armed conflicts and the significant surrender of armed groups in response to current peace initiatives.The success of the peace processes underway in the region would lead to a reduction in new displacements and encourage people to gradually return to their villages of origin. This could increase household participation in agricultural activities and other livelihoods, thereby improving food access and income sources for poor households. It is highly likely that this improvement in participation in agricultural activities will shift some households from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). 
    Ituri, North Kivu, South KivuWidespread resumption of clashes.

    With the dysfunctioning of the DDRSC mechanism, the demobilization of armed groups is struggling to initiate. It is possible that generalized clashes could resume, leading to massive displacement of populations who might then abandon their livelihoods and face the threat of food insecurity.

    With the government's categorical refusal to negotiate with the rebels, and the radicalization of the latter, the self-defense groups (Wazalendo) will be able to launch widespread clashes, which could lead to massive displacement of the population, who might then abandon their livelihoods and face the threat of food insecurity. These waves of displacement could increase the proportion of households in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).


    Areas of Concern: Volcanic agricultural soils of Rutshuru (CD11) livelihood zone in Rutshuru territory in North Kivu province.

    Current Situation

    Security situation and population movement: The security situation remains volatile in Rutshuru territory due to the resurgence of armed clashes since early June, leading to population movements. This territory has been affected by multifaceted security and humanitarian crises linked to armed conflict between the FARDC and M23, which has had a considerable impact on the population. Despite a relative lull in hostilities since the arrival of the EAC regional forces, sporadic and regular fighting between the Wazalendo self-defense groups and the M23 rebellion continued to affect the communities by committing abuses against the local population and causing further displacement in this territory. According to OCHA alerts, around 61,279 people have been displaced in the last six months, mainly in the Bwito chiefdom, particularly in the health zones of Birambizo, Kibirizi, and Bambo. In total, more than 285,000 people are currently living in displacement in Rutshuru territory.

    Agro-climatic conditions: CD11 benefited from favorable agro-climatic conditions for a complete crop cycle on volcanic soil that was very rich in minerals. Food crops such as beans, maize, cassava, potatoes, and sorghum are the main crops grown during season B. In some parts of the territory, in the Bwito chiefdom and more specifically in Mirangi, Lusogha, and Kikuku, torrential rains have destroyed crops in full growth. In the eastern part of the territory, the dry season lasted until mid-March 2023, coinciding with sowing. This phenomenon is part of the climate change observed recently across the country.

    Figure 2

    Reference map of the Rutshuru territory
    Carte de référence du territoire de Rutshuru.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Seasonal progress: The territory of Rutshuru in the northeast zone is in the period of resumption of agricultural activities for season A, which covers the period from September 2023 to January 2024. This is a lean period, with a peak in November 2023. Farming households planted the area's main food crops; however, participation remains below normal. According to provincial agricultural inspectors, the sowing rate is around 30 percent, representing the proportion of farming households in Rutshuru that have resumed agricultural activities in the area and had seeds available for season A, including returnees who represent almost 10,000 households. A lack of agricultural inputs (seeds and farm implements) continue to hamper production, especially at a time when humanitarian access to the area is forbidden. Additionally, insecurity limits access to fields for households engaged in farming activities. 

    The latest harvests are from agricultural season B (March to June 2023). Normally, poor households farm around 30 acres of land, while the wealthy exceed 2 hectares. Despite the tentative return of displaced people to the health zones of Rwanguba and Rutshuru, harvests in agricultural season B were significantly lower than the previous season, with an estimated 50 percent decrease per the zone's agricultural inspectorate. The decrease has reduced food supplies in the area, which currently relies on sporadic humanitarian assistance. The agricultural sector is characterized by a lack of land, agricultural inputs, and manpower. Despite this, households were able to transport part of their harvest to the main market center (Goma), after negotiating with the occupiers of the territory and paying taxes.

    Constraints on resource exploitation: The rebels ransom access to fields by demanding a cash payment of 20 USD as a tax, illegally collected from poor households using their main source of income. The average monthly income of a poor household in the area is around 67,000 CDF (around 30 USD); this tax is therefore too costly for most poor households. This illegal practice is also observed on market day, when access is conditional on payment either in kind or in cash of a fee equivalent to around 1,200 CDF, and the payment of 5 USD as a slaughter fee per head of cattle has also been reported.

    Accessibility: The closure of the Goma-Butembo road on the RN2 has hindered the movement of essential goods. However, road routes such as Rugari-Katale-Kalengera-Rutshuru, centre-Kiwanja, and Kinyandoni are open, and rebels and various armed groups are collecting taxes for transportation. The Goma-Kiwanja and Kiwanja Ishasha roads are accessible despite the many barriers erected to collect various illegal taxes.

    Market functioning and food prices: The local market is being disrupted by high demand from displaced persons in Rutshuru territory and also in Nyiragongo, in a context of low food availability. At present, palm oil prices have increased along with vegetable oil prices, compared with last year and the five-year average. This is due to the lack of connectivity between the production basins, notably Beni, Walikale, and the town of Goma, and the difficulties of importing.

    This disruption of local markets is also due to the instability caused by the insecurity in the area since the resurgence of the M23 in March 2022, the poor state of agricultural service roads, the looting of crops in occupied areas, and the abandonment of fields after displacement.

    Availability of agricultural labor: With a current estimated population of 1,492,256 and a surface area of around 5,289 km ², or an average density of around 282 inhabitants/km², the Rutshuru territory has several constraints that limit the surface area of cultivated land and create a labor surplus, particularly in the eastern and western areas. The demand for labor is highest during the period of soil preparation, planting, weeding, and harvesting.  With the current conflicts and the multiple displacements of the population, the workforce is higher in the host areas, while in the areas of origin, the workforce is lower than normal.

    Livestock farming: Rutshuru is also associated with livestock farming. In the past, some households made a living from rearing large (cattle) and small (goats, sheep, pigs) livestock and poultry (chickens and ducks). According to information from the livestock division, in 2020, the area had around 20,160 heads of cattle, 12,381 heads of goats, and 9,009 heads of pigs, with 54 operational pastures. Due to the prolonged conflict, there has been a significant decline in livestock numbers, and almost all stocks have been decimated, with only a small proportion evacuated during displacement. During this period of conflict in the area, pastures are green, but the attacks by armed militias are leading to the theft and unorganized slaughter of livestock by warring parties. Zoonotic diseases such as foot and mouth disease and peste des petits ruminants, the lack of veterinary products, and the vandalism of pastures and watering places are not conducive to good livestock production in the area, threatening household food security. Cattle have also been killed by fighting forces, most recently in April 2023 on the Tongo-Kalengera axis. 

    Humanitarian assistance: Overall, humanitarian assistance is not meeting the needs on the ground, and the persistent deterioration in the security situation is affecting humanitarian access in the area. For the period from January to June 2023, the food security cluster estimated that only 39.4 percent of food assistance needs were covered in Rutshuru territory. The average duration of food assistance was estimated at 1.4 months instead of the 3 months prescribed by the cluster guidelines, while the various food rations distributed could only provide an average of 1,616 kcal/pers/day. Since last June, OCHA has increased its humanitarian response. However, the security situation does not allow actors to access populations in need. For example, security incidents led to the suspension of cash food assistance to 52,000 people in the Kibirizi health zone. During the month of September, more than 10,000 displaced and returned households received seeds and agricultural tools distributed by the NGO HEKS-EPER in the health zone of Birambizo, Rutshuru territory. In addition, humanitarian actors continued to provide primary health care interventions in the Rwanguba health zone, benefiting nearly 15,000 people.

    Current food security results: October is marked by maintenance work on seedlings planted a month earlier (September 2023).  Almost all poor households have almost completely exhausted their stocks from last season and are now dependent on the markets for food supplies. The main source of income for this category of households is agricultural labor for seedling maintenance work for large-scale farmers. Given the ban on humanitarian assistance in this area, the consumption deficit will persist, keeping this territory in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Assumptions

    The most likely food security scenario from October 2023 to May 2024 is based on the following fundamental assumptions, in relation to changes in the national context:

    • Insecurity and population movements in the Rutshuru territories: Sporadic and regular fighting between Wazalendo self-defense groups and the M23 rebellion will continue despite the presence of the EAC regional force, which has interposed itself between the front lines. Furthermore, following the government's stated intention not to negotiate with the rebels, the latter will continue to seek to consolidate their positions in the territories of Rutshuru, Masisi, and Nyiragongo. This situation is likely to generate a permanent climate of violence, and deaths associated with rebel and militia attacks are likely to be on par with the current period.
    • Agricultural production: Although rainfall is favorable in this territory for the current 2023/2024 agricultural season A, the crop cycle has yet to get underway against a backdrop of intermittent clashes between elements of the M23 rebellion and various Wazalendo groups, despite the lull observed on the front lines with the FARDC following the deployment of EAC troops. This situation prevents displaced populations from returning to their respective villages. And for returnee households, access to seeds will remain a challenge. There will therefore be a significant reduction in household production capacity in this area, which was formerly considered to be the primary food source for the Kivu region. This situation foretells difficulties in accessing food over the projection period in the medium and long term, particularly for poor households. 
    • Market functioning and commodity prices: Given the lower-than-average agricultural production that may be expected in the CD11 zone as a result of persistent insecurity and massive population displacement, staple food prices will increase overall throughout the projection period, remaining above the five-year average with atypical fluctuations compared to the previous year, despite periods of temporary decline when the first harvests in December stimulate market supply.
    • Small-scale trade: Given that there are several barriers from different armed actors on the main road axes in Rutshuru territory and surrounding areas, small-scale trading activities have been reduced in these areas. Thousands of households that used to make a living from these activities and from cross-border informal trade (Bunagana and Ishasha) are deeply affected, as are the livelihoods of the most vulnerable households that used to make a living from these activities.
    • Nutritional situation: Since the latest escalation of violence in Rutshuru territory in September 2022, several rapid MRAs (Multisectoral Rapid Assessments) carried out among displaced populations have revealed a worrying nutritional situation. Nutritional screening carried out at IDPs sites in the Nyiragongo health zone in February 2023 revealed a GAM trend of 10.2 percent, indicative of a serious situation. 

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From October 2023 to January 2024, household food consumption is set to deteriorate during the first two months of the season A lean season (October-November), which came atypically early in Rutshuru, as part of household production was requisitioned by the M23 rebel administration in occupied areas. If this order has been followed by farmers, it is likely that local market availability will be the lowest. In this context, poor households in Rutshuru who are deprived of humanitarian assistance due to lack of access in the area will increase their consumption deficit and may use coping strategies to cover their food needs. They will depend mainly on buying from the market as a source of food supply. This situation will continue until the first harvests in December, which will probably improve household food consumption while maintaining the deficit observed. Rutshuru will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Between February and May 2024, farming households will be harvesting their crops. Food consumption will be improved by the availability of food in the area and food access for households, which will depend on their own production in February and part of March. Their current income derives from the sale of agricultural produce. After March, the last two months of the second scenario period (April-May; the lean season of season B) will again be the most difficult. Agricultural labor will be the main source of income for poor households, who will have exhausted their low stocks. In this second scenario period (ML2), this territory will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 


    Areas of Concern: Northeastern highlands agricultural livelihood zone (CD14) in Djugu territory in Ituri province.

    Current Situation

    Security situation and population movements: Djugu is one of the territories most affected by armed conflict in the DRC.  According to the EFSA conducted in July 2023, around 18 percent of the territory's population is displaced, with a total of 653,000 displaced people and 326,000 returnees. However, a partial lull has been observed in the area since July 2023, allowing an improvement in the security situation and consequently the return of around 20 percent of the displaced. 

    Around 80 percent of displaced persons live with host families, whose members are mainly returnees who do not have sufficient means to care for these new arrivals in their households.

    Figure 3

    Reference map of the Djugu territory
    Carte de référence du territoire de Djugu.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Agricultural season: The provincial agricultural inspectorate estimates that almost 60 percent of the last agricultural season B was lost due to the intensification of militia clashes, followed by the sudden displacement of populations who had sown their crops but not had the opportunity to maintain their fields throughout the crop cycle. Only farmers in the northeastern part of the territory (Linga, Rethy, and Lita health zones) took part in last season's agricultural activities. For the current agricultural season, the return of displaced persons and the assistance of humanitarian actors, for whom access to the area has improved in this period of calm, could increase the area sown by farmers. The main food crops (maize, beans, and groundnuts) were sown slightly later than normal (late September) due to the slight delay in the return of the rains.

    Livelihood: Agriculture is practiced by around 80 percent of the population, followed by livestock breeding and fishing. However, since the last agricultural seasons, the fields have been regularly abandoned due to the population's persistent displacement, which often takes place during the summer months. Fishing on Lake Albert remains a non-negligible contribution to livelihoods, although at a below-average rate compared to other methods. Compounding this issue is the insecurity faced by those who attempt to cultivate the fields, causing them to frequently refrain due to fear and other abuses. The theft of harvests by armed groups during each agricultural season reduces the income of households that have had to cultivate, and often exposes them to the premature end of their stocks atypically early. At present, with the easing of security tensions, there is an effective, albeit tentative, resumption of farming throughout the territory, particularly in the northeastern part of Djugu (Linga, Rethy, and Lita).

    Mining activities: Current atrocities are concentrated around the mines, with miners under regular attack. Both militia groups, notably CODECO and Zaire, regularly attack miners from opposing camps, destabilizing mining operations in the area. According to information received from the local mining administration, around 18 percent of households in Djugu territory made a living from this activity before the current crisis. However, the EFSA study carried out in July 2023 estimated that only around 8 percent of households currently mine. The Kilo Moto mining company, which has been bankrupt for several years, no longer offers a guarantee of labor to the local population, and limits itself to collecting mining taxes on artisanally mined areas and using the hydroelectric power it produces to supply the population of Bunia and the surrounding area. 

    Livestock farming and fishing: Livestock farming has been seriously affected by the conflict and the many atrocities committed by armed groups in this territory. As a result of the conflict, many heads of cattle were looted, and most of the herders of large livestock migrated to Aru and the neighboring province of Haut-Uele. The conflict intensified in the area and many heads of cattle were looted, and most herders of large livestock migrated to other, more stable regions. As for goats, more than 80 percent of animals have been destroyed and poultry farming has been systematically looted from the start of the conflict in January 2019 to the present day, according to the provincial livestock inspectorate. 

    Fisheries activities are carried out on Lake Albert, however, these activities also experience difficulties. According to statistics from the provincial inspectorate, these activities have increased 57 percent since 2010 due to growing insecurity on the lake and the activism of armed groups that promotes illegal fishing. Also noteworthy is the repeated tracking down and arrest of Congolese fishermen on the lake by the Ugandan navy following the failure to respect the maritime border. This situation is at the root of the scarcity of fish products on local markets.

    Functioning of markets and trade flows: Insecurity has reduced the movement of people and goods; people can no longer move more than 2 km from their respective villages. The markets continue to operate, but they are poorly frequented and to access them each person is required to pay a tax of 2,000 CDF to the fighters. Supply routes are also insecure because of militia activity. In addition, the advanced degradation of the roads caused by the rains that regularly fall on the region significantly hampers trade. Prices of key food products and fuel have increased, while household incomes have decreased sharply as a result of the shock. Maize flour, for example, the staple product of the zone, had price variations of 42 percent and 249 percent compared to the same period last year and the five-year average, respectively. 

    Humanitarian assistance: Access to and implementation of the humanitarian response plan for Djugu has improved over the last three months. Thus, some humanitarian actors such as Mercy Corps, Samaritans Purse, WFP, COOPI, and Aldi have delivered assistance to households in need. Since October 12, some 34,000 people have received multi-purpose cash. Last September, around 10,000 people were assisted with agricultural kits. However, this represents less than 20 percent of the territory's population.  

    Current food security results: Population movements and poor agricultural performance in recent agricultural seasons have exacerbated the food security situation, which has deteriorated over the years as a result of ongoing conflicts and population displacements. Due to these shocks and problems, local food supplies have been reduced; access to food at household level has been restricted and the various food sources have undergone changes as a result of the effects of the prolonged crisis. Households are thus experiencing a shortage of food. 

    The results of the latest nutritional surveys showed a relatively good nutritional status. The results of these surveys, carried out last April, show precarious Alert thresholds. The PRONANUT (National Nutrition Programme) believes that this status is the result of the multiple interventions of many humanitarian organisations in these areas, particularly in the camps for displaced persons. Thus, the nutritional situation would be worse were it not for the various interventions to treat and prevent malnutrition by the various humanitarian organisations on the ground. In fact, the number of new cases of malnutrition admitted to rehabilitation facilities is high, and an early case detection system has been set up.

    Assumptions

    The most likely food security scenario from October 2023 to May 2024 is based on the following fundamental assumptions, in relation to changes in the national context:

    • Population movements: Despite prospects of an improvement in the security situation due to the lull observed over the past three months, it is very likely that the current numbers of displaced persons are declining in favor of assisted returns to this area. However, the mechanism for demobilization and reintegration of armed groups planned by the government has stalled due to lack of adequate funding and strategy. Thus, the return of peace to encourage people to return to their living environments will not be possible.
    • Market operations and staple food prices: With the improved security situation in the area, traffic on the Bunia-Mahagi-Ouganda and Bunia-Aru supply routes will improve availability and thus stabilize prices on local markets. In addition, Djugu territory has significant economic exchanges with Uganda via Lake Edward and the Mahagi territory. Overall, compared with last year and the five-year average, food prices during the scenario period will continue to rise. 
    • Agricultural production: Given the presence of armed groups and the atrocities committed by them, many households were displaced during the past agricultural season; the number of households engaged in agriculture has therefore dropped significantly in Djugu territory. Given the increase in violence, population returns are not foreseeable in the short term, and the alternating movements of people in the camps to take care of agricultural activities have diminished significantly, which could further reduce agricultural participation for the coming season, particularly in the first scenario period.
    • Climatological conditions: Taking into account the lower-than-average precipitation forecast for the area during the 2023/2024 agricultural season A, rainfall disturbances are expected in some parts of the country. 

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From October 2023 to January 2024 there is a projected low household participation in agricultural activities during season B between March and June 2023 due to massive conflict-related displacement, resulting in much lower-than-average agricultural production. Food stocks are projected to be non-existent at the lean season peak in November. The first two months of the period will therefore see a deterioration in food consumption by poor households due to their lack of access to food because of loss of purchasing power. Food availability will remain insufficient in the area until the next green harvest in mid-December. Poor households that have been displaced will depend more on humanitarian assistance but also on the solidarity of host households. However, from mid-December to January, the situation may improve with the season A harvests, but without changing the phase. Djugu territory, which has experienced food consumption deficits, will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    From February to May 2024, seasonal harvests (although below-average) should improve food consumption for households that have been able to grow their own crops, and will be reliant on their own production in February-March 2024. Households that have not cultivated and/or lost their crops due to displacement will be dependent on low-coverage humanitarian assistance, and may develop damaging and often irreversible coping strategies to access food during the lean season from April to May 2024. Djugu will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with isolated pockets of households that will use negative coping strategies and may find themselves in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Democratic Republic of Congo Food Security Outlook October 2023 - May 2024: Acute food insecurity remains high in conflict zones during the lean season, 2023.

    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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