Great Lakes: IRIN Food Security Overview Paper, 12/23/96

Great Lakes: IRIN Food Security Overview Paper, 12/23/96

Department of Humanitarian Affairs
Integrated Regional Information Network

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Fax: +254 2 622129

23 December 1996



This paper gives a brief overview of food supply and food security issues in Kenya, Rwanda, eastern Zaire, Uganda, Burundi, and Tanzania, drawing on available information from UN agencies, NGOs, donors and others. Given the rapidly evolving situation in east and central Africa, most notably in Rwanda and eastern Zaire, the situation will need to be reviewed and preliminary conclusions revised in the light of changing circumstances.


Kenya will experience a major food deficit this year (1996/97), which will require the importation of an estimated 1.14 million tonnes of food, or approximately one-third of consumption needs. At the same time Kenya faces a very acute food situation in areas in the north and east of the country hit by drought, and some 1.6 million people will need relief assistance until the next harvest in February, 1997.

Kenya's major staple crop is maize, which normally makes up about two-thirds of national production of all foodcrops. The total estimated maize production for the 1996/97 season, at 2.2 million tonnes, is 18% lower than the 2.7 million tonnes harvested in the 1995/96 season. The FAO attributes this to the low price of maize in 1995, which encouraged some farmers to shift from maize to wheat production, and also to reduced use of fertilizer and high quality seed by farmers, believed to be the result of high prices (1).

Total pulse production will also be down on last year; the crop is estimated at 377,500 tonnes, some 25% below the 1995 figure. There will, however, be increases in the production of sorghum and millet, and with long-rains production estimated at 109,000 tonnes and short-rains production estimated at 90,000 tonnes, this represents a 49% increase in production over the previous year. Wheat production is expected to be 350,000 tonnes, a 12% increase over the 1995 total, while paddy production is expected to be similar to that of a year ago at 47,000 tonnes.

These estimates are, however, very uncertain as it is unclear at present whether the short rains, which usually last from mid-October to January, will provide the rainfall that is required. The short rains began late this year, in some places at the beginning of November and in some places in mid-November, and appear by mid-December to be drawing to a close.

The failure of the short rains in 1995 as well as the long rains in 1996 in the Eastern, Coast, North East and lower parts of the Central provinces has already created what FAO describes as a `tight food situation'. The most affected areas are the districts of Mwingi, Kitui, Kieni, Muranga, Machakos, Kwale and the pastoralist zones of the North Eastern province, where a food crisis can only be averted by relief interventions. In some cases these are already underway, and the Government of Kenya, UN agencies, donors and NGOs are closely monitoring the situation.

If this year's short rains do fail, the effects of this will be felt at both the local and the national level. The short rains are particularly important for the Eastern and Central provinces, where short rains production accounts for 70% and 40% of the local annual production respectively. At the national level, the Eastern and Central provinces collectively account for up to 60% of national short rains production (2).

Poor rainfall in the short rains season would thus have two main effects. It would exacerbate the situation in Eastern and Central provinces, which are already suffering from the failure of previous rains, and lead to a desperate situation for these people, whose coping mechanisms are already under enormous strain. At the national level, it would cut into the estimated 1996/97 production figures given above, requiring a further major increase in imports to compensate for the shortfall.

In this situation, the Office of the President estimates that 3.2 million people would require relief assistance for a period of six to nine months. In practical terms, it seems likely that the Office of the President would continue to provide relief aid to affected districts, NGOs working in the arid or semi-arid zones would seek to assist target populations and WFP would consider expanding its existing school feeding project into a larger operation.

Even in the optimistic scenario of average short-rains, it will be necessary for Kenya to cover a food shortfall of over 1 million tonnes, This will not be possible as long as the Government maintains its two-year ban on imports. FAO's latest report on Kenya, therefore, makes a series of `essential' recommendations to the Government, one of which is to `review its trade and import duty policies with a view to facilitating commercial food imports of the order of magnitude forecast'. It will also be important for the Government to `develop a contingency plan under the scenario of another short-rains crop failure' (3).


Rwanda is now in the process of attempting to reintegrate over 800,000 people who have returned from Zaire and Tanzania in recent weeks, and who may be joined by several hundred thousand more in the coming weeks and months. This has major implications for the country's food security in the short-, medium- and long-term. At the same time, there is an emergency situation in the south west of the country, where poor rains have hampered food production. Between 350,000 and 400,000 people are believed to be in need of relief assistance.

Rwanda has made considerable strides in improving its food situation since the country was devastated by the genocide and refugee crises in 1994. Food crop production for the second harvest (season `B') in 1996 was estimated to be up by 15% compared to the same season in 1995, with an increase in the planted area averaging 7%. This reflected improved stability within the country and the resumption of agricultural activity by returning refugees, as well as generally favourable growing conditions. Total production was, however, 23% below the 1990 level for the same season (4).

In terms of Rwanda's food production during 1996, FAO had been using a working estimate of 10,000 people returning to Rwanda every month, and on that basis had estimated import requirements of 35,000 tons of cereals and 28,000 tonnes of pulses. After allowing for likely commercial imports, FAO had estimated a deficit of 24,000 tonnes of cereals and 19,000 tonnes of pulses in the second half of 1996. Once again, before the recent influx of refugees, FAO expected Rwanda to require food aid for about 576,000 people during the second half of the year.

A FAO/WFP team is currently carrying out an assessment mission to factor in the return of the refugees and make predictions for 1997. The mission is expected to report on its findings next week. Meanwhile, WFP and its NGO partners have distributed 9,646 tonnes of food (cereals, pulses and oil) to returnees from Zaire; this represents monthly rations for 462,000 people. High malnutrition rates among returnees from Zaire, particularly those from southern camps, have been reported, and supplementary feeding programmes are being established.

According to WFP, returnees from Tanzania appear to be in a good nutritional state. Having received two-week food distributions just prior to their departure, many will arrive in their home communes to find food has already been pre-positioned. WFP reports that food has been pre-positioned in all the communes in Kibungo which are expecting returnees, as well as in Byumba and Umutara. WFP plans to cut food distributions by 30% after one month, and also to scale up its food for work programmes in relation to `free' distributions.

In the short-term the return of the refugees is likely to create some problems for resident populations, as refugees may well sell some of their high-quality rations and buy local commodities, thus pushing up prices. This will reduce access to food for poor rural households and low income urban households. Yet in the medium-term the returnees will improve the country's food security, by increasing the labour pool, thus reducing the cost of farm labour, and by putting more land under production.

The extent to which these food security gains can be maximized will depend upon how thoroughly and quickly the returnees can resume farming. It is currently uncertain what proportion of the former refugee caseload will be able to return to unoccupied land and start farming straight away. It is also uncertain how quickly land and property disputes can be resolved.

On the basis of past experience, notably that of Ruhengeri, whose food production benefitted greatly from having 96% of its former population back on the land relatively early on, it seems likely that despite these problems the returnees will enable substantial food gains to be realized. For those returning to unfarmed land, productivity is likely to be good, as the soil will have benefitted from a long fallow period, something which had become rare before the events of 1994.

Beans are the most important source of protein for most Rwandans. As poor rains in the current agricultural season hit bean production countrywide, prices are now nearly three times above historical levels. Farmers in the south west who have been unable to cultivate beans for consumption, will often find it impossible to buy beans at their current market price.


Any analysis of the situation in eastern Zaire must be tentative in view of the limited amount of information about conditions on the ground and the very fluid situation. There are no reliable estimates of the total number of Zaireans displaced from their homes, and anywhere up to 400,000 Rwandan and 80,000 Burundian refugees remain in Zaire. Although large groups have been located, such as the estimated 150,000 refugees in the Lubutu area, the 50,000 displaced people and refugees near Shabunda, and 50,000 displaced people near Katshungu, the overall picture is far from clear.

In eastern Zaire altitude is a major influence on what crops are grown and harvested when. In areas of high altitude (>1800m) around the Virunga volcanoes and the Mitumba mountain range (in the Fizi, Uvira, Mwenga, Walungu, Kabare, Masisi and Lubero zones) beans would normally be sown at this time of year, while potatoes would be being harvested. In low altitude areas (c.1000m) on the Rift Valley floor, in Rutshuru and the Tanganyika plain near Uvira, people would normally have planted beans and maize in October and November and be harvesting them now or in January. In addition, crops such as sweet potato and cassava, which are less seasonal, would also be in cultivation.

By staggering cropping, filling in with less seasonal crops and trading between higher and lower altitude areas, people would normally be able to ensure almost constant food supplies. In the current situation, however, this way of living and working has been violently disrupted. People who have remained in their villages have had crops taken or destroyed by combatants and have been prevented from planting or harvesting. Looting by combatants will have undermined the asset base which Zairean farmers would normally use to purchase food in lean times. People displaced from their homes, and refugees, are on the move, living a hand-to-mouth existence. Town dwellers meanwhile, are faced with rising prices, which will erode the food security of the poor.

It is therefore safe to assume that the food security of hundreds of thousands of people, Zaireans and Rwandan and Burundian refugees, is being rapidly undermined by the current insecurity. This is confirmed by malnutrition observed among some Zairean displaced people who have been reached, and by the levels of malnutrition observed among Rwandan refugees in Zaire and among those who have returned to Rwanda. Although aid agencies are being allowed a limited amount of access, and food is being provided by agencies such as the ICRC, WFP, UNICEF and LWF, it seems clear that they are scratching the surface of a much larger problem. If and when a counter-offensive by the Zairean Army is forthcoming, these problems are sure to become yet more acute.

Furthermore, the food security crisis in eastern Zaire will also have implications for other parts of the country. North and South Kivu were major food exporters to neighbouring regions, Shaba and Kasai as well as to Kinshasa. As a direct result of the conflict, beans have become scarce and prices have rocketed. Although the rate of exchange remained relatively stable in November, white beans increased in price by 88% and red beans by 124%. Prices of vegetables normally supplied by the Kivus also increased; potato prices were up by 117% and manioc and maize prices increased by 55%. These price rises threaten the food security of Kinshasa's poorer residents.


National food production for 1996 has generally been below normal with particular problems experienced in the east and north of the country. Whereas in recent years Uganda has exported large quantities of maize and beans, as in 1994 when the country exported 300,000 tonnes, this year any surplus will be used largely for domestic consumption. At present it appears likely that only two districts, Kasese in the west and Kapchorwa in the east, will have a grain surplus this year (5).

While western and mid-western districts are expected to have an average to above average harvest this year, harvest prospects for the current season in the east are very poor. The eastern districts of Kumi, Pallisa, Iganga and Kamuli received poorly distributed rains, while cassava mosaic has drastically reduced cassava yields. The result will be food shortages until the next harvest in June or July 1997. This will be exacerbated by below average yields for the first season this year (March to June) which left food stocks low and resulted in staple foods reaching record prices.

In the north and north-western districts, food insecurity is a major problem as agriculture has been severely disrupted by the insecurity resulting from rebel activities in the area. In Gulu district, for example, up to 200,000 people may be displaced from their homes, half the district's population. The harvest, which would have been very good this year due to well distributed rains and low levels of pest infestation, will be severely reduced by the inability of many farmers to work their land. The presence of rebels, fighting between rebels and the Ugandan army, and mines lain on roads and in fields are preventing farmers from harvesting their crops. Food insecurity is growing as prices increase; in Gulu market, millet is selling for Ush 430 per kilogram, more than three times its average price for October.

The Government of Uganda has appealed to WFP to undertake a programme for displaced persons, and WFP is implementing a food aid programme for 60,000 people in Gulu and 40,000 elsewhere. But the agency faces the same operational constraints as everyone else trying to work in the area, and WFP admits it can only help the most vulnerable. In the medium and long-term major improvements in the food security of the population will only be achieved when the insecurity has been brought to an end.


Overall, Burundi's food production appears to have held up reasonably well in 1996, given the insecurity in large parts of the country. The FAO estimates that total food production in 1996 will be 3.5 million tonnes, which is 3% down from the 1995 output and 4% below the 1988-93 pre-crisis level. There are, however, major food security problems in the northern parts of the country most affected by insecurity, and medium- and long-term concerns about the impact of sanctions on the country's food security.

The total food production figure for 1996 consists of 273,000 tonnes of cereals, 340,000 tonnes of pulses, 1.36 million tonnes of roots and tubers and 1.54 million tons of bananas and plantains. When normal consumption requirements are taken into account, this will leave a deficit of 53,000 tonnes of cereals and 69,000 tonnes of pulses to be covered by imports. These demands will not, however, be fully met, as a result of the sanctions which have limited the importation of food since June. The FAO believes that, `[A]s a result of the embargo on food imports, the nutritional status of the population in general and of the internally displaced and dispersed populations in particular, is likely to be seriously affected.'(6)

The FAO distinguished three categories of provinces in Burundi in its last report on the food supply situation. Group I provinces, comprising Kayanza, N'gozi, Kirundo, Muyinga and Cankuzo, enjoy a `stable food supply position' achieved through normal harvests in 1996. Group II, comprising Gitega, Muramvya, Rutana, Ruyigi, Makamba, Bururi and Bujumbura rural `show signs of a tight food supply situation' due to below average harvests in 1996 second and third seasons, resulting from unfavourable weather conditions. Group III, comprising Bubanza, Cibitoke and Karuzi, `is experiencing a serious food situation'.

The food insecurity in the north of the country, particularly in Cibitoke, Bubanza and Karuzi provinces, is a direct result of the conflict. The insecurity has led to very high levels of population displacement as well as reduced planting and harvesting in 1996. Such problems are compounded by the difficulties experienced by humanitarian agencies seeking to provide emergency food aid. Production in these provinces is estimated to have been reduced by as much as 50%, and widespread malnutrition is reported among women and children in Karuzi province. Countrywide, the incidence of malnutrition is reported to have increased from 6 to 12% of the population.

The effect of the sanctions on Burundi's food security is also an issue. Commercial importation of fertilizers has been brought to a complete halt, and although FAO has been allowed to bring in about half of an approved 4,000 MT, its distribution has been slow. No insecticides have been imported and although these are mostly used in coffee production this will have an impact on food security by weakening this crucial sector of the economy. The lack of fuel in the country has also increased transport costs and hence food prices, as well as hindering the distribution of seed from surplus- to deficit-producing areas. It is also through their impact on the country's economy as a whole, that the sanctions will contribute to growing food insecurity.


Tanzania has a generally satisfactory food supply and food security situation, with considerable potential for increased production. While the rainfall performance in this year's short-rains season has been very poor in the northern and Lake Victoria regions, elsewhere crops have been doing well. A major concern among donors is the Tanzanian Government's ban on maize exports, which was put in place in September and will hit farmers in the south of the country hard.

Although rains began early in September and October, they did not continue as expected in November, the normal period for the onset of the short-rains season. The rains have been very poor in the northern regions of Arusha, Kilimanjaro and Tanga, and around Lake Victoria, particularly Karagwe and Biharamulo districts in Karagwe region, Magu and Kwimba districts in Mwanza region and Musoma rural and Bunda districts in Mara region. It is estimated that only 50-60% of the cultivated land in the north has actually been planted and many households have been forced to skip food production altogether for the short-rains season.

Short-rains maize, beans and sorghum crops in other parts of the country, notably elsewhere in the north (such as Serengeti and Mara region) and in Coast region to the east, are reported to be doing fine. At the local level, hailstorm and gusting winds destroyed 280 hectares of food crops in parts of Kagera region, while cassava diseases and pests have damaged the crop in Mara region. These areas are expected to experience food security difficulties in the first three months of 1997.

A major policy issue troubling donors is the Government's ban on the export of maize, imposed in September in response to localized maize deficits. The immediate effect of the ban has been to eliminate southern highland farmer's main market. These farmers normally sell surplus maize to exporters, who then sell it in Burundi, Zaire and Zambia. Unable to sell their crop outside the country, the southern farmers presently have an estimated surplus of over 300,000 MT. While the ban has stopped maize from being exported, it does not include measures to encourage the movement of maize within the country from food surplus to food deficit areas. At present, the extra cost of transporting maize from the south to the north is more than the extra profit to be made from the higher price of maize in the north of the country.


Nearly all of the countries of the region face food deficits at the present time. In the long-term, improved food security will not only depend upon addressing issues which underly the short-term crises, such as the conflicts in Uganda and Burundi, but also in economic development enabling countries to afford the imports they require. For the issue that faces countries such as Rwanda and Kenya, as well as eastern Zaire, is that of mounting population pressure outstripping the ability of the land to meet the growing demands made upon it. Improvements in agriculture alone may not be sufficient to provide food security for present and future populations; economic development will provide the key to making food security for all a reality.


1. FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Kenya, 16 December 1996.

2. Famine Early Warning System (FEWS), Kenya Vulnerability Update, December 1996.

3. As for 1.

4. FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Rwanda, July 1996.

5. FEWS Bulletin, 27 November 1996.

6. FAO, Crop and Food Supply Situation in Burundi, Special Report, 5 December 1996.


[Via the UN DHA Integrated Regional Information Network. The material contained in this communication may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN DHA IRIN Tel: +254 2 622123 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: for more information. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.]

Date: Mon, 23 Dec 1996 17:41:45 +0300 From: UN DHA IRIN - Great Lakes <> Subject: Great Lakes: IRIN Food Security Overview Paper 23 Dec 1996 96.12.23 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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