DR Congo

"Household Economy Analysis of the Rural Population of South-Western Bwito, Rutshuru, North Kivu, DR Congo" - SCF report

Originally published


January 2003
Undertaken with the financial support of the European Union

Report written by Yuvé Guluma
(Food Security Advisor, SC-UK)


This report looks at the economic characteristics of different wealth groups in the war-affected population of Bwito district, Rutshuru territory, North Kivu province, in the East Democratic Republic of Congo. The study was carried out in October/November 2002 by the Save the Children Food Security Team, in the organisation's project axis. The main objective of the assessment was to describe the household economy of the population's different socio-economic groups, in order to identify the appropriate interventions to address their most important needs.

The key findings of the report are the following:

  • Security returned to Bwito in 2001 and the return and reintegration process of the displaced population began the following year. The year 2002 was the first time since the onset of the conflicts in 1992/3 and 1996 that the population has been able to restore some of its economic activities -- mainly agricultural and petty trade.

  • The population of south-western Bwito is composed almost entirely of agricultural households, of which the majority own or rent around half a hectare to five hectares of land for subsistence and income-generating farming. Before the conflict, most households were involved in livestock rearing and during this period, the number of livestock owned by a household was considered a primary determinant of wealth. Today, due to the total decimation of herds during the conflict, livestock numbers have taken a secondary position in defining wealth. Noticeably, however, the importance of small and big livestock in the region is making a timid return.

  • Based on local concepts of wealth (amount of land, livestock, and local beer produced), the HEA assessment identified three socio-economic categories or wealth groups -- 'poor', 'middle', and 'better-off.' These wealth groups account respectively for, 45-55 percent, 30-40 percent, and 10-20 percent of the population. This report focuses primarily on the household economy and the level of vulnerability to food insecurity of the 'poor' category.

  • 'Poor' households rely on two major sources of food. The first and most important source is market purchase, followed by labour exchange (working on the fields of 'middle' or 'better-off' households). The crop production of 'poor' households contributes least to their food needs. In contrast, 'middle' households depend on their own crop production for up to three-fourths of their food consumption requirements.

  • Income sources for 'poor' households are more diverse than the other wealth categories, although less stable. The most important source of income originates from labouring in the fields of wealthier households. This activity accounts for more than half of yearly cash income for 'poor' households. The annual estimated income of 'poor' households (around 35,000 Francs Congolese (FC) (140 USD) compared to that of 90,000 FC (360 USD) for the 'middle' category), which typically compromise seven members, covers approximately 75 percent of a minimum consumption basket (essential food and non-food items) valued at 4,080 FC/month (16.30 USD/month) each month.

  • Expenditure for 'poor' households is limited to the most basic of needs. Up to 85 percent of yearly income goes towards purchasing food. This signifies that very little remains for other important needs, such as education and health. 'Poor' households can rarely afford to send more than one child to school and often incur debts from treatment at health centres.

  • The degree of access to food and income depends significantly on seasonal variants. During certain months of the year (i.e. October, November, September) food availability, job opportunities, and certain expenses are more or less prevalent. For example, before the harvest months, 'poor' households deplete food stocks. In the same period, on-farm labour opportunities are greatly reduced. It is during these crisis months that 'poor' households seek other sources of income or, if doing agriculture work, ask for payment in kind.

  • Before the war, and as its consequence, the 'poor' category has developed a range of 'coping strategies' to meet household needs. These strategies include minimising risk instead of maximising profit in crop production, reducing the quality and quantity of meals, migrating to other areas for job opportunities, obtaining payment in food during the crisis months and therefore reducing income for other essential needs, etc.

  • The main constraints (past and current) to food security in Bwito are the following: poor access to land; low prices of staple food items (due to loss of access to markets in central and western DRC); isolation of certain zones, which creates an obstacle for farmers to accessing markets to sell produce; isolation of certain zones and, as a consequence, raised prices of goods unavailable locally (imported); loss of livestock during conflict; insecurity and population displacements; loss of crops to disease; and, over-dependency on the agricultural sector.

  • The most likely scenario for the next six months is a continuation of the current security in the zone and of normal agricultural production in Bwito. This should allow for a preservation of or an improvement in the current economic and food security situation of the population. SC-UK's immediate and potential programmes will develop in this context.

  • The appropriateness of seed distributions in covering the most urgent or important needs of the population is questionable. Quality seeds are available in more than adequate quantities on the local market. Rather, the issue here is the lack of sufficient land area per household as well as the lack of financial and labour inputs and of time to intensify production.

Evidence from the field has shown the adequacy of the recommendations outlined below with the real needs and priorities of the population in south-western Bwito.

Addressing Short-term Needs
Programme Area
1. Distribution of tools (hoes and cutlasses) for improved efficiency in cultivation.
1. Increasing availability of and access to small livestock (chickens or ducks, goats, etc.) to improve economic and food security - pending security, feasibility research, and analysis of risk (a 'do no harm' approach).
Infrastructure Development
1. Rehabilitation of main and secondary roads to improve access to markets - outflow and influx of goods and cash. The rehabilitation of roads will also improve access to health centres.
1. Cash for work. A more important priority for vulnerable households is cash and not food. It would be more appropriate to remunerate in cash manpower for infrastructure rehabilitation programmes.
2. Support of alternative livelihoods/income-generating activities in addition to agriculture.
1. Study of the appropriateness of certain seeds for crop cultivation and for improving the household economy and nutritional status of its members (e.g. vegetable seeds). Document lessons learnt.
2. Evaluation of initiatives by other agencies to carry out livestock programmes in the region. Document lessons learnt - failures and successes. This could also include an investigation of livestock epidemics and potential solutions for prevention, control, and eradication.
3. Investigation of crop diseases, such as those affecting cassava, taro, and Irish potato, their economic impact on the household, and possible solutions.
1. In the context of a specific shock, advocate for the appropriate targeting of interventions to address the needs of the most vulnerable groups.
1. Technical advice and plant/animal health components in conjunction with livestock and agricultural programmes. This should be adapted to the local context/reality.
Addressing Medium to Longer-term Needs
Programme Area
1. Assess mechanisms for improving poor farmer's access to fair market prices for their produce (i.e. through co-operatives).
Study areas for building local capacity to fabricate or produce items imported regionally and internationally (i.e. tools - entails improving
1. Assess mechanisms for improving poor farmer's access to fair market prices for their produce (i.e. through co-operatives).
2. Study areas for building local capacity to fabricate or produce items imported regionally and internationally (i.e. tools - entails improving access to raw materials -, processed foods, etc.).
1. Advocate for access to land for those with insufficient land surface to adequately meet food and income needs.
Addressing Short-term Needs
Programme Area
1. Improved co-ordination between humanitarian actors to avoid overlapping/duplication.
2. Improved accountability regarding humanitarian interventions through the development of appropriate monitoring and impact indicators.
Addressing Longer-term Needs
1. Study the effects of household poverty on the education of children, with a focus on the girl child.

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