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» 16.06.2003 - Strong growth in Rwanda's subsistence agriculture

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Agriculture - Nutrition

Rwandan food hardship nears its end

afrol News, 19 May - The main lean months for rural Rwandans are now ending, with the toughest period (April and early May) already passed. The first harvests of beans and root crops have just begun, and for most of the country, the food security outlook is positive.

According to the US agency Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS), Rwanda is now experiencing a "diminishing food crisis." The agency, in its latest report on Rwanda, especially refers to the end of the lean months, which have been tough for many rural Rwandans. Relatively good rains however provide hope for good harvests, which already have begun.

Assuming that moderate rainfall continues until around 20 May, preliminary crop production forecast for the ending season are normal in the western half of the country and perhaps also in the eastern provinces of Umutara and Kibungo, FEWS concludes.

The new and more favourable trend of rains, which started in the last part of March, had benefited crops, especially beans and sorghum, the two main food crops of the season. Harvests were therefore promising for great parts of Rwanda and the lean period is definitely heading towards an end.

- However, crop production shortfalls may occur in parts of central and southern Kigali Rural Province, where poor rainfall has caused crops to wither beyond recovery or to not have reached maturity if rains stop before the end of May, the US agency warns. This area represents about 15 percent of the country's total area. "Moderate to high food insecurity may therefore exist in that area."

In order to best address the current threat of food insecurity, a meeting between the government and humanitarian partners had convened on 8 May. The meeting had recommended that in addition to ongoing food security monitoring, a joint assessment be conducted late May or early June to gather more information on the estimates of the anticipated agricultural production. This could end in a decision to start emergency food distribution.

The months of April and early May are usually lean months in Rwanda. During this period, rural households, especially the poorest, have little reserves of food at home and face difficulties trying to earn the extra money needed to purchase adequate amounts of food from markets due to high prices. Many families cope by among other increasing their consumption of vegetables until the first harvests of the season in May.

This year, existing food assistance programs such as food-for-work schemes have helped to alleviating hardship for some poor families facing food shortages during the lean months. For example, a World Food Program (WFP) school feeding has had a mitigating impact in Bugesera Region, Kigali Rural Province, where the risk of food insecurity is currently most worrying.

However, WFP's current stock/pipeline availability is only sufficient to cover ongoing programs until end of August 2003, FEWS warns. Still, the agency has seen signs that the possible food problem in Bugesera "is likely to be better managed than in the past." The last severe crisis in Bugesera started in September 2000, after three successive poor harvests.

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