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Atypical staple food price increases observed before the usual start of the lean season

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Central African Republic
  • February 2020
Atypical staple food price increases observed before the usual start of the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in conflict-affected areas, where household food stocks will be depleted early, market functioning remains compromised, and income-earning activities are periodically disrupted by conflict.  The lean season is expected to begin early in March.

    • The security situation remains of high concern, with an increase in armed group activity and intercommunal conflict expected during the remainder of the dry season. Although some of the population previously displaced by floods have returned home, new displacement occurred in January and February due to conflict in Vakaga and Haute-Kotto. In addition, there are numerous reports of farmer-herder conflicts and damage to fields linked to the seasonal movement of transhumants in the dry season.

    • In February, staple food prices ranged from 30 to 50 percent above February 2019 in most key reference markets. High food prices continue to limit the purchasing power of poor households. The main drivers of high food prices include localized crop production losses, regular disruptions to food supply flows and market functioning, and illegal taxation. Additional factors are exacerbating the situation, including an ongoing outbreak of cassava disease originating in Kemo prefecture as well as favorable conditions for fires during the dry season, which have destroyed homes and granaries.





    Despite an overall decline in conflict since the signing of the peace agreement in early 2019, a volatile security situation persists. In January and February, Vakaga and Haute-Kotto experienced renewed tensions between armed groups and intercommunal conflict that displaced local populations. In addition, seasonal transhumance movements have been linked to farmer-herder conflict. Although some flood affected IDPs have returned home, at least 670,000 people were displaced at the end of January (OCHA).

    Staple food prices have remained atypically high during the post-harvest period, ranging from 30 to 50 percent above prices recorded in February 2019. The main drivers of high food prices include low supply in areas affected by conflict or recent floods; illegal taxation on food commodities and traders; and regular disruptions to trade flows or market functioning as a result of conflict. A cassava disease outbreak and fires have also contributed to reduced supply.

    A hotter and drier than-normal dry season is likely heighten farmer-herder tensions during the peak livestock migration period through until April.

    The security situation is expected to continue remain volatile throughout the projection period, primarily in the east, driven by conflict between armed groups for the control of resources, inter-communal conflict, and farmer-herder conflict. Presidential, legislative, and local elections are scheduled in December 2020 and early 2021, and there is high concern that rising political tensions could complicate the implementation of the peace agreement.

    Household market dependence is likely to be higher than normal as early as March, marking an early start of the lean season. Food prices will remain high until the start of the next harvest in July, limiting the purchasing power of low-income households.


    The overall security situation improved in 2019 compared to previous years, although it remains volatile. On IDP sites, population movements remained generally stable between November and December. However, a resurgence of violence since December, notably in Alindao (Basse-Kotto), Birao (Vakaga), and Bria (Haute-Kotto), caused more than 13,500 people to be displaced. In Birao, specifically, conditions deteriorated in February despite earlier community negotiations and despite the strengthening of UN force patrols (MINUSCA), as armed groups vie for control of the city and foment intercommunal clashes.

    In addition, satellite-derived data indicate conditions were hotter and drier-than-normal in January and February, especially in the south. A little rainfall is usually received between January and February, but this was not the case this year. The exceptional dryness has caused several fires, which have damaged homes and granaries. Seasonal transhumance movements have intensified as the dry season has progressed, triggering conflict with local populations over the damage caused by livestock movements across crop fields. The dryness has negatively affected the production of cassava, a perennial crop, as harvesting cassava from the ground becomes more difficult when the soil is dry. Further, cassava production has been reduced by the ongoing cassava mosaic disease outbreak in Kemo and surrounding prefectures, raising concern for additional cassava price spikes and reduced availability of cassava cuttings for the next planting season.

    Although the 2019 production of staple food and cash crops was above the five-year average on the national level, areas affected by conflict, floods, or cassava disease saw production shortfalls. Poor households are expected to become increasingly dependent on purchasing food from the market during the upcoming lean season period, which will start early in the south in March. Market dependence and vulnerability to high food prices is high overall, with 53 percent of households reporting that markets were their principal source of food during the harvesting period in October/November (WFP, ENSA 2019). Market supply is atypically low in several sub-prefectures due to local crop losses from floods (Bangui, Mobaye, Alindao and Zémio), cassava disease (Bangassou, Kemo, Ombella-M'poko, Ouham), conflict between farmers and herders (Paoua, Ndélé, Berberati, Kaga-Bandoro and Bangassou), or violence carried out by armed groups (Bria, Birao, Alindao, Bambari).

    According to key informant information, the prices of staple food commodities have generally remained atypically high throughout the post-harvest period and are likely to rise in the lean season. In February, the following price increases were observed compared to February 2019 in key reference markets in Bambari, Bangui, Berberati, Bangassou, Kaga-Bandoro, Ndélé, Paoua and Bria: 50 percent for cassava, 25-50 percent for corn, 20-50 percent for rice, 40-50 percent for beans, and 30-50 percent for sorghum and local palm oil. In addition to local production losses mentioned above, illegal and high taxes imposed by armed groups also contribute to high prices. In Bambari, for example, levies are imposed on the sale of agricultural products and animals (up to XAF 25,000 per cattle sold), on traders and managers of shops, and on dwellings.

    However, price trends are more dynamic in areas that receive humanitarian food assistance. Key informant indicates that food assistance has played a role in stabilizing staple food prices in Zemio, Obo, and Bozoum markets, where prices reductions compared to February 2019 are 30 percent for beans, 55 percent for edible oil, and 50 percent for cassava. On the other hand, speculative behavior by traders has led to price spikes in local markets during periods when cash transfers are issued to beneficiaries.

    New information available from WFP, OCHA, and other humanitarian actors indicate that food assistance delivery has continued since November at levels higher than previously reported but still well below planned levels. For example, assistance only reached around 50 percent of planned beneficiaries in December due to lack of resources or insecurity. Food assistance has been delivered by air to some localities that are difficult to access; in other instances, deliveries have occurred by truck, despite difficult road degradation and insecurity. In Birao, for example, around 25,000 IDPs and members of the host community received a 3-month ration in January. In addition, the CAR Cash Working Group reported that the use of cash transfer programs is gaining ground, with this modality reaching one-third of all beneficiaries targeted for food security and other program assistance in 2019. An estimated 570,000 people received cash assistance in 2019, equivalent to approximately USD 44/person over the course of the year. Cash transfers reportedly reached 20-67 percent of the population in Kaga-Bandoro, Bocaranga, Paoua, Bria, Bouar, Berberati, Batangafo and Kouango in 2019, though monthly amounts are low.

    From February to September, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected during the lean season in conflict-affected areas in the east and southeast, including Vakaga, Ouaka, Haute-Kotto, Basse-Kotto, Mbomou and Haute-Mbomou. In these areas, food availability will be low as household and market food stocks decline throughout the lean season, while food access is expected to remain constrained by high food prices and the impact of insecurity on livelihoods activities and physical access to markets. Although food assistance and the availability of wild foods is likely to mitigate large food consumption gaps, food assistance delivery is likely to be increasingly irregular after the start of the rainy season in April. IDPs living on sites, flood victims, and poor households in areas with a high presence of IDPs are the populations of highest concern.

    Meanwhile, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in central and southern prefectures, where food stocks are relatively more available and insecurity is lower, which permits higher engagement in typical livelihoods activities and better humanitarian access. From February to June, poor households will be able to obtain some food and income from vegetable gardens, though the market will be the main source of staple foods. In July, the start of the local and Cameroonian green harvest will begin to improve household and market supply. In more secure western prefectures, where farming is more developed and accounts for almost 50 percent of national cassava and maize production, household stocks will likely be available through March/April. During the lean season, most households are more likely to remain food secure based on anticipated, normal agricultural cultivation and labor activities in 2020 and relatively better access to food in local markets until the green harvests in July.

    Figures Title: Central African Republic seasonal calendar
Description: Rainy season is from April through June in the south and from

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices. Learn more about our work here.

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