DR Congo

"Update of the Household Economy Analysis of the Rural Population of the Plateaux Zone, Masisi, North Kivu, DRC" - SCF report

Originally published


January 2003
Undertaken with the financial support of the European Union

Masisi is a territory located in the east of the province of North Kivu, near the border with Rutshuru territory. The zone selected for this assessment is the Plateaux, which includes Save the Children - Goma's project axis (the villages of Nyakariba to Muheto). The Food Security Team conducted the HEA assessment in November 2002, with the aim of evaluating the economic changes in the zone as well as in the livelihood strategies of the population and the changes in the household economy of the 'poor' wealth category, in particular, since the last assessment was carried out in 1999.

The key findings of the HEA update are the following:

  • Since 1999, the security situation has improved considerably and the return and reintegration process is well under way;

  • Masisi has witnessed three waves of returnees from Rwanda since their departure from Masisi in 1994 and 1996. However, the majority of them has not returned to their villages of origin and tends to be concentrated in camps in eastern Masisi;

  • The displaced population found in the Plateaux zone in 1999 has either returned to their place of origin or integrated into the host population. The restoration of their livelihoods is underway;

  • Agriculture and petty trade remain the principal economic activities in the Plateaux. However, compared to 1999, there has been a noticeable intensification of certain activities such as brewing, the sale of wood, and the production of charcoal;

  • During the past two years, Masisi has witnessed an upsurge of humanitarian interventions. Programmes are principally related to the restoration process and in particular, infrastructure rehabilitation (i.e. roads, health centres, schools, etc.) and the provision of basic materials to some of these structures (essential drugs, school materials, etc.). Several agencies have recently initiated livestock activities;

  • Owing to the positive security situation, agricultural activities have regained momentum. However, crop disease and the ashes of the volcano Nyamulagira are two factors that frequently have had an important impact on production levels. More importantly, the lack of access to pre-war markets in Kinshasa and Western Congo has significantly reduced the prices of agricultural products since the supply is greater than the demand;

  • Access to seeds is not problematic. Rather, the issues are decreased access to land and absence of pre-war markets, both of which have reduced the population's access to income. The Plateaux of Masisi is therefore cash-poor and not food-poor;

  • Small livestock activities have significantly progressed since the last HEA study was conducted and at present, most wealth groups have acquired goats and other small livestock. However, epidemics have reduced the pig and chicken populations;

  • With the arrival of the returnee population from Rwanda and the reclamation of pastures, the possibility of a further reduction in the size of plots cultivated by the population cannot be ignored;

  • The wealth profile of the population has transformed. Today, only three wealth groups exist -- the 'poor', the 'middle', and the 'better-off' categories. In addition, the 'poor' category has reduced in size, while the 'middle' category has grown;

  • Sources of food have not changed since 1999. However, today, 'poor' households obtain a larger percentage of their food needs from their own harvests (most likely as a result of increased security overtime). There has also been a decrease in food needs, and subsequently an increase in income needs, originating from labour exchange, which goes to show that there is a stronger need for cash than for food for 'poor' households.

  • Sources of income have only changed in terms of the relative importance of each source. 'Poor' households have increased their reliance on agricultural labour for cash income and depend less on the sale of their harvests (again, a sign of a shift in the importance of food as a priority over cash to that of cash as a more important need);

  • Areas of expenditure remain similar to those of 1999. The only difference is in the number of children enrolled in school. 'Poor' households can no longer afford to send two children to school. Generally, only one child is enrolled in school and this child usually drops out before the end of the school year, due to the inability of the household to pay for school fees and related expenses;

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

This is an update of the Save the Children Household Economy Assessment (HEA) carried out in the latter part of 1999 in the zone of the Plateaux in Masisi Territory. The fieldwork for the update was conducted in November 2002 in Save the Children's project axis (Nyakariba to Muheto -- see map), with the aim of analysing changes in the economic conditions and livelihoods of the war-affected population since 1999.

The main objectives of the assessment update were the following:

  • To determine any changes in the general political, social, and economic context, as well as in the economic characteristics of the population and in the household economy of the 'poor' wealth group;

  • To determine the level of vulnerability of 'poor' households to becoming food insecure in the next six-month period according to the most plausible scenarios developed and the possible risks incurred;

  • To analyse the potential impact of the interventions outlined in the SC-UK project proposal on the restoration of the living conditions and on the food security of the target population;

  • To verify the adequacy of SC-UK project interventions in meeting the short to medium-term needs of the population.
2.1 Main Points from the Previous Study

At the time of the HEA study in 1999, stability had only recently returned to the zone of the Plateaux and large numbers of the population were still displaced by the inter-ethnic conflict that began in 1993. The main findings of the study were the following (for the full report, please refer to the Household Food Economy Assessment: Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Food Economy Zones of South and North Kivu Provinces, January 2000):

  • The following three main wealth groups were identified: 'poor', 'middle', and 'better-off';

  • Wealth, which was primarily determined by livestock ownership before the war was, at the time of the study, determined principally by land ownership and livelihood activities (e.g. agriculture, brewing, petty trade, etc.);

  • 'Poor' households in general cultivated one-fourth to one-half hectare of land and worked on the fields of 'middle' and 'better-off' households for food and/or cash;

  • 'Middle' households cultivated one to two hectares (typically one hectare) and employed some labourers;

  • 'Better-off' households cultivated three hectares and employed a large number of labourers;

  • The report also identified the 'poor landless displaced', who were reliant solely on labouring for others;

  • The following three main sources of food were identified: own crop production, market purchase, and (for the 'poor' and displaced) labour exchange. Wild foods were consumed in small quantities and gifts between wealth groups were rare;

  • Sources of income remained extremely limited and were largely related to agricultural activities;

  • Income sources for the 'poor' included crop sales, agricultural labour, and 'other' labour -- the latter including the purchase and sale of beer and activities related to the commercial market, such as transport, weighing, loading vehicles, etc. 'Poor' households obtained their income primarily from working on the fields of others ('middle' and 'better-off' households), followed by their own production;

  • Expenditure for the 'poor' included staple foods (cassava flour, root crops, beans, etc.), other foods (oil, small dried fish, vegetables, etc.), household items (salt, soap, blankets, clothes, etc.), health and education (two children in school and four episodes of illness per household per year), market taxes, and production inputs (such as tools);

  • 60 percent of total expenditure of 'poor' households went towards purchasing food;

  • The displaced population was only able to cover the costs of the basic staple food basket. Displaced households were unable to purchase necessary basic non-staple items, such as healthcare, education, blankets, etc. and had no flexibility in improving their diet;

  • Access to land was relatively easy for those who wanted to increase their cultivated land area or to replace cultivation in their usual fields with the cultivation of fertile ex-pastures of the plateaux. This was an unusual and temporary situation resulting from the flight of the rich cattle-owning population.
2.2 Rationale for Update

Since 1999, the political and economic situation in the Masisi Plateaux has significantly improved. However, the socio-economic situation of most of the population is still inadequate and humanitarian needs are therefore still present. Save the Children - Goma chose to study the socio-economic changes in the context and the evolution of livelihoods, especially those of the 'poor' population, since the last HEA study. Results were expected to lead to an analysis of the current needs of the population in order to adapt interventions.

2.3 HEA Methodology

2.3.1 Brief Description of the Household Economy Approach

The HEA describes the way in which typical households, with defined assets/wealth group characteristics, survive in 'normal' times -- the many ways that households meet their food and income needs and the many strategies they employ to reduce the negative consequences of crises. The HEA method is used to assess the current situation with respect to food and livelihood security and to predict the effects of changes in the external environment.

The first step in carrying out a HEA assessment is to identify food economy areas and populations. The intent is to look for areas with similar economies -- areas with populations within which most households obtain their food and cash by broadly similar combinations of means (e.g. a population that depends primarily on agriculture compared to one that depends primarily on livestock). Therefore, the division need not necessarily be by geographic area.

The second step is to give a description of the wealth profile of the population. The population within the food economy area to be studied must be broken down into wealth categories using indicators defined by the community itself. Usually, the groups identified are the 'better-off', 'middle', 'poor' and 'very poor'. Indicators of wealth differ from one culture to the next and can be related to land or livestock holdings, the amount of labour available, etc.

The subsequent steps of the assessment involve describing the household's access to food and cash income, and the types of expenditures incurred as well as how this varies from one wealth group to the next. The links these households have with markets and their potential coping strategies in periods of crisis are also assessed.

Lastly, scenarios are created based on problem specification where the likely impact of shocks on each wealth group is calculated as well as the likely impact of different programme and policy interventions, based on information gathered through previous steps.

The purpose of this HEA assessment was to update the above information, gathered from the previous assessment in the area. Household group interviews focused uniquely on changes in the household economy of the 'poor' category.

2.3.2 Interview Sample

The interview sample consisted of nine focus groups of key informants and seven groups of three to five women or men representing 'poor' households. Key informants were persons in the community who were very familiar with the local socio-economic context and had frequent contact with the population. In many cases these were local authorities -- district administrators, chiefs of posts, parish secretaries, nurses in health centres, school principals, women's associations, etc. Thematic group discussions were also held with specialised key informants -- e.g. agronomist, veterinarian, merchant, etc.

2.3.3 Areas Visited

Owing to the project focus, the study was carried out in Save the Children's area of operation -- the axis that includes the villages from Nyakariba to Muheto. This axis runs through most of the FEZ and the study therefore considers it as representative of the zone. Villages visited were Nyakariba, Nyamitaba, and Muheto.

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