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Desert locust poses risk to food insecurity in parts of the greater Horn and South Sudan

  • Food Security Outlook
  • East Africa
  • March - September 2020
Desert locust poses risk to food insecurity in parts of the greater Horn and South Sudan

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Although the late 2019/early 2020 harvests have driven some improvement in food security outcomes in the region, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes persist in areas affected by conflict, macroeconomic shocks, or drought and floods, especially where household livestock holdings remain low or crop losses were high. Food security outcomes remain most severe in Yemen and South Sudan, where 17 million people and six million people, respectively, are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse and there is a risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5). In South Sudan, an estimated 20,000 flood-affected people in Akobo and Duk counties of Jonglei state are likely in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5), associated with extreme hunger and mortality. Deterioration in food security and an increase in humanitarian assistance needs are expected from June to September, which coincides with the lean season in South Sudan, Sudan, and western Ethiopia and the post-harvest period in bimodal areas of the Horn.

    • Protracted conflict and insecurity in Yemen, South Sudan, parts of Sudan, parts of Ethiopia, and southern and central Somalia continue to cause loss of life, displace populations, and disrupt livelihood activities. Although the formation of the unity government in South Sudan is an advancement in the peace process, intercommunal conflict and political conflict with non-signatory rebel groups remain of concern. In Ethiopia, ethnic violence and clashes between state and non-state actors in Oromia are of increasing concern in advance of August elections. Conflict-affected and displaced households have difficulty accessing food and income sources and face limited access to markets, labor opportunities, or humanitarian food assistance.

    • In Yemen, Sudan, South Sudan, and Ethiopia, macroeconomic shocks – including sharp increases in foreign exchange rates and reductions in foreign currency reserves – are driving inflation and local currency depreciation, resulting in high staple food, fuel, and agricultural input prices. In February, staple food prices and essential non-food commodities ranged from 30 to 320 percent above the respective five-year averages in these countries. Tighter-than-normal cereal supplies have also contributed to staple food price increases in Kenya and Uganda, reaching up to 50 percent above the five-year average. As a result, poor households are expected to have lower purchasing power during the bimodal and unimodal lean seasons.

    • The average to above-average March to May rainfall forecast is favorable for bimodal crop production prospects. However, desert locust and seasonal floods pose risks to food insecurity. Crop and pasture losses from desert locust are most likely to be significant in areas where control measures are limited and poor households are already food insecure with reduced coping capacity. An increase in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) population is expected in lowland areas in southern and eastern Ethiopia, Somalia’s border regions and northern regions, and northern and eastern areas in Kenya. An increase in the food insecure population is possible in northeastern Uganda and southeastern South Sudan.



    • Food security continues to be of concern due to flooding, protracted impacts of past poor seasons, conflict and insecurity, desert locusts, and poor macroeconomic factors, despite the favorable 2019 Kiremt and Deyr seasons. Poor household income and food access from livestock and labor has declined in parts of the country while food prices remain atypically high. As a result, much of the eastern part of the country is expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from February to September. Humanitarian assistance is expected to improve outcomes in some areas to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) and Minimal! (IPC Phase 1!)
    • The impact of desert locusts on crops and pasture has been localized with relatively minor crop and pasture losses. However, the ongoing desert locust upsurge in the lowlands of northern, eastern, and southeastern areas continue to threaten both crops and pasture. Crop losses in Belg-dependent areas are expected to be locally significant although have little impact on national production. In pastoral areas, some pasture losses are expected. However, the above-average pasture from the Gu/Genna season will most likely mitigate impacts during the dry season in southern and southeastern pastoral areas.
    • Conflict, insecurity, ethnic violence, and the clash between state and non-state actors across the country, specifically in western and southern Oromia continue. This is increasing the loss of lives and livelihoods and displacement. Displaced households have difficulty accessing incomes and food and in some cases humanitarian assistance. These conditions are expected to continue throughout the scenario period and further increase as the August elections approach.
    • Despite average national production, staple food prices across much of the country are atypically increasing, including in central and western surplus-producing areas. Staple food prices are anticipated to continue increasing as the lean season approaches and the election period begins. Conflict is expected to disrupt the movement of food from surplus producing areas to deficit areas. As labor rates are not expected to keep pace with price increases, household purchasing power is expected to further deteriorate.

    For more information, see the Ethiopia Food Security Outlook for February to September 2020.


    • Based on data collected during the 2019 short rains assessment, the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) estimates that 1.3 million Kenyans are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes, a decline of nearly 50 percent compared to the preceding long rains season. Although floods in late 2019 caused crop and livestock losses, the above-average 2019 short rains season led to favorable harvests in most marginal agricultural areas as well as above-average livestock sale values and milk productivity. Many areas of concern have improved to Stressed (IPC Phase 2), but Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists in Tana Riverine livelihood zone, where 55 percent of planted area was destroyed.
    • Desert locusts are present in 21 counties of Kenya, but the impact on food security has been localized and limited to date. In pastoral areas, rangeland resource availability is historically above normal and livestock migration is atypically low. In marginal agricultural areas, net short rains production is approximately 26 percent above the long-term average. Crop losses in late 2019 were primarily affected by heavy rainfall, including post-harvest losses equivalent to more than 10 percent of unimodal production in high and medium potential areas.
    • Food availability has improved in early 2020 compared to late 2019, but the delayed unimodal maize harvest, below-average beans harvest, and tight regional supply are still driving high maize and bean prices. In February, the retail maize price in key urban and rural reference markets reached up to 33 percent above the five-year average while wholesale bean prices reached up to 40 percent above the five-year average. However, livestock price increases have out-paced maize price increases and the goat-to-maize terms of trade ranged from 15 to 55 percent above average.
    • A forecast of above-average March to May rainfall is expected to consolidate recent gains in livestock production and lead to near-normal crop production, driving Minimal (IPC Phase 1) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through September. The negative impacts of desert locust are expected to be mitigated by current and planned control efforts, headwinds and cooler temperatures that discourage locusts from entering high production areas, and the likelihood that rainfall will regenerate pasture. Areas of greatest concern include Tana Riverine areas, where households are still recovering from the floods, and parts of Northeastern Pastoral livelihood zone, where insecurity will limit control efforts.

    For more information, see the Kenya Food Security Outlook for February to September 2020.


    • The above-average 2019 Deyr harvest, gains in livestock herd sizes, and sustained humanitarian food assistance have supported recovery from the preceding 2018/2019 drought and recent floods in rural areas. In February, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are prevalent in the presence of food assistance. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are observed in flood-affected Juba riverine areas, Addun Pastoral livelihood zone in central Somalia, and several internally displaced person (IDP) settlements. Based on food security data collected by FSNAU, FEWS NET, and partners in the post-Deyr 2019 food security assessment, an estimated 1.15 million people are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4).
    • Despite localized and limited negative impacts on food security to date, new desert locust swarms pose a significant risk of food insecurity in northern Somalia and in south-central areas on the border with Ethiopia and northeastern Kenya. In addition, there is a high likelihood of river floods due to a forecast of above-average rainfall in the south during the April to June Gu season. Crop losses from desert locust and river floods are expected to result in a Gu cereal production deficit of 15-25 percent. Although favorable Gu rainfall will likely mitigate pasture loss from April to June, below-normal pasture availability is expected in locust-affected areas throughout the July to September Xagaa dry season, which is expected to lead to atypical livestock migration and a decline in livestock productivity.
    • Given the existing high risk of food insecurity in the aftermath of recurrent climatic shocks since 2016, poor households in locust-affected areas have a reduced ability to cope with the loss of agricultural labor income, loss of own-produced crops, and costs of atypical livestock migration. From February to September, the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4), who need urgent humanitarian food assistance, is expected to rise by 40 percent to 1.61 million people. Meanwhile, more than 2.9 million people are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    For more information, see the Somalia Food Security Outlook from February to September 2020.

    South Sudan

    • In February, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes remain widespread in South Sudan. According to the January 2020 IPC acute analysis, the acutely food insecure population is expected to reach 6.01 million people in early 2020 even in the presence of humanitarian food assistance. This number includes 20,000 people who are likely in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in Akobo and Duk counties of Jonglei state, where the 2019 floods caused significant crop and livestock losses, destroyed household assets, and cut off pockets of communities from moving in search of other food sources. Of greatest concern are areas in Jonglei, Upper Nile, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, and Lakes states, where the negative impacts on livelihoods from the floods or from periodic intercommunal conflict have been most severe. Urgent food assistance is needed to save lives, protect livelihoods, and prevent more extreme food insecurity outcomes.
    • 1.3 million children 6-59 months of age are acutely malnourished and in need of urgent treatment. The national prevalence of global acute malnutrition, measured by weight-for height z-score among children 6-59 months of age, increased from 11.7 percent in December 2018 to 12.6 percent in December 2019 due to very high disease incidence and morbidity in flood-affected areas and poor dietary quality and diversity. A ‘Critical’ level of acute malnutrition is expected in over half of the 36 flood-affected counties through April.
    • Humanitarian food assistance remains pivotal in preventing more extreme food insecurity outcomes in parts of Upper Nile, Jonglei, Unity, and Northern Bahr el Ghazal, where Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are present. However, the reach of food assistance remains well below the population in need, particularly in areas where large food gaps or extreme depletion of livelihood assets are indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. In January, WFP reached .89 million people with food assistance, which is 40 percent below the number of people assisted in January 2019.
    • According to FAO’s Desert Locust Watch, there is a risk that desert locust swarms may arrive in Eastern Equatoria from Kenya in March, coinciding with the bimodal planting stage. Given that crops will not have yet emerged, the swarms are expected to travel onward to breeding areas in Sudan. However, in the absence of effective control measures in the East Africa region, new swarms in May/June could pose a risk of damage to crop production and pasture.
    • An early start to the lean season is anticipated in February/March 2020, due to low household food stocks from the 2019 harvest, high food prices, and seasonal declines in milk, fish, and wild food availability. The population in need of urgent food assistance is expected to rise to at least 6.48 million people by the July/August peak of the lean season. Further, a recent increase in intercommunal conflict may push the food insecure population even higher than estimated.
    • Although planned food assistance is expected to scale up from May to July, planned levels are likely not sufficient to prevent Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in areas of greatest concern. It is also possible that pockets of highly vulnerable households could face Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) in counties where food insecurity is already indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse area-level outcomes.
    • In the event that the peace deal is not implemented, and a resurgence of conflict prevents populations from moving in search of food sources or restricts humanitarian access for a prolonged period of time Famine (IPC Phase 5) would be possible in South Sudan.

    For more information, see the South Sudan Food Security Outlook for February to September 2020.


    • Large numbers of people are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse food security outcomes in Sudan through September 2020, particularly poor households and IDPs in Greater Darfur, Greater Kordofan, Red Sea and Kassala states. Of highest concern are IDPs and conflict-affected people in areas of Jebel Marra in Darfur and SPLM-N held areas of South Kordofan, parts of West Kordofan and Blue Nile where humanitarian access is poor and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected between June and September 2020.
    • National cereal production for the 2019/20 season in Sudan is estimated at 5.1 million metric tons,18 percent below the five-year average and 57 percent below last year’s bumper harvest. The decrease in cereal production this year is related to increases in area planted in cash crops at the expense of area planted in cereals, and to a lesser extent, low yields resulting from flooding and pest infestation.
    • Sudan’s persistent macroeconomic crisis has continued to deteriorate further into February 2020 as reserves of foreign currency remain low, the SDG/USD exchange rate continues to decline, prices of imported essential items remain very high. Moreover, prices for locally produced staples continue to increase to very high levels. Sudan is likely to continue facing macroeconomic difficulties associated with low foreign exchange reserves throughout 2020.

    For more information, see the Sudan Food Security Outlook for February to September 2020.


    • In bimodal areas, irregular off-season rainfall is encouraging early field preparation activities for the March-May season. Given the forecast for above-average rainfall, favorable crop and livestock production is expected to support normal seasonal access to food and income, with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes anticipated through September. However, households affected by flooding and landslides in the previous season are expected to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or worse outcomes through September due to inadequate resources to support access to food and income.
    • In early February, small swarms of adult locusts invaded the Karamoja region from Kenya and have since spread to several northeastern and eastern bimodal areas. Given the agricultural offseason, damage to crops has thus far been minimal. However, risk-averse farmers in affected villages are expected to delay planting. While additional, larger swarms from Kenya and successful hatching of eggs laid in Ugandan territory pose a risk to first-season crop production, current forecasts of wind direction and use of aerial spraying are likely to reduce locust presence in Uganda prior to crop development, limiting damage and significant economic loss.
    • Atypical increases in staple food prices nationwide are expected to constrain food access among poor households in Karamoja and disaster-affected households in eastern and western Uganda. Retail prices of beans, maize, and sorghum continued to increase in most markets in January. Prices are expected to remain atypically high through June when new harvests from bimodal areas are expected to boost supplies. Meanwhile, given stable or declining seasonal incomes, terms of trade for staple foods are expected to decline during this time.

    For more information, see the Uganda Food Security Outlook for February to September 2020.

    Remote Monitoring Countries[1]


    • Above-average Season 2020 A harvests have increased household food stocks and market supply. Overall, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are anticipated across the country through September 2020, given current food availability and expectations for another favorable harvest in May/June.
    • According to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), food prices decreased slightly in January for the second consecutive month. This is attributed to increasing market supply following the harvests as well as increasing cereal imports from Tanzania. However, prices remain substantially elevated, likely due to overall lower levels of imports driven by tensions with Uganda.
    • According to UNHCR, Rwanda hosted 150,574 refugees and asylum seekers as of 31 January 2020. Ongoing humanitarian support – including basic services, cash transfers, and food and nutrition assistance – is expected to support Minimal! (IPC Phase 1!) outcomes among these populations through at least September 2020.

    For more information, see the Rwanda Remote Monitor for March 2020.

    [1] With remote monitoring, an analyst typically works from a nearby regional office, relying on a network of partners for data. Compared to previous series of countries in which FEWS NET has a local office, reports on remote monitoring countries may offer less detail.


    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario. 



    Impact on food security outcomes

    East Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan)

    Immediate and comprehensive control of the Desert Locust

    Control of the Desert Locust coupled with anticipated average to above-average rains during the March to May season in bimodal areas and June to September season in unimodal areas would likely result in favorable crop and livestock production, strengthening the recovery process while reducing the number of households experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes.

    South Sudan

    Non-adherence to implementation of the signed peace deal that lead to lack of trust between the parties, and an uptick in conflict

    An increase in conflict events would restrict household movement, disrupt access to markets and collection of wild foods, cause new displacement, and impede delivery of humanitarian assistance. As was observed from 2016 to 2018, more widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes would be expected throughout the projection period. In areas of concern, some households who lost crops due to flooding, own no livestock, or are restricted from accessing fish, markets, or food assistance would likely be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). A risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) would be possible.  

    Bi-modal areas

    (southern and eastern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, southern and central Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda)

    Below average March to May 2020 rainfall

    Below-average rains during the March to May 2020 season would likely result in poor crop production and reverse recent gains in livestock recovery in the Horn, following the above-average rainfall season from October to December 2019. In Desert Locust-infested areas of the Horn where control measures are also limited, below-average rainfall would elevate the likelihood of a worst-case scenario with higher crop and pasture losses. Food insecurity outcomes would likely deteriorate substantially, increasing the population experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes.

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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