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High humanitarian food assistance needs will persist through most of 2021

  • Food Security Outlook
  • East Africa
  • March - September 2021
High humanitarian food assistance needs will persist through most of 2021

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Conflict marked by severe disruptions to livelihood activities, coupled with macroeconomic and weather shocks, are driving Emergency (IPC Phase 4) or worse outcomes in parts of Tigray region of Ethiopia and parts of South Sudan and Yemen. These outcomes are characterized by large food consumption gaps and high levels of acute malnutrition and mortality. In South Sudan, southern Jonglei remains the area of greatest concern.  In Yemen, Houthi-controlled areas in the North are of greatest concern. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are simultaneously widespread in all three countries. Humanitarian access constraints must be resolved and large-scale assistance – including food, nutrition, and WASH – must be delivered to Tigray, South Sudan, and Yemen to save lives.

    • Populations facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes are anticipated to rise substantially in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia through September. Driven by a waning La Niña, the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) and other forecast models predict a second consecutive season of below-average rainfall in bimodal areas from March to May 2021. Pastoral and agropastoral populations in southern and eastern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, and Somalia are expected to be worst affected by anticipated crop and livestock production losses. Food and income are already below normal due to below-average crop production in late 2020, high food prices, desert locust impacts, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

    • In central and western Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan, forecast models predict above-average rainfall from June to September 2021. Given high river levels and residual floodwaters after the 2020 floods, another consecutive year of flooding is likely in Sudan and South Sudan. Ongoing currency depreciation and inflation will also continue to drive high and rising food prices. As a result, the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse is likely to reach an annual peak during this period, which overlaps the peak of the lean season.

    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely be widespread among refugees and internally displaced populations. Yet inadequate funding has resulted in reductions to planned food assistance ration sizes by 10 to 40 percent for refugees in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Uganda, Djibouti, and Tanzania, while a 60 percent ration cut is proposed for refugees in Rwanda beginning in March. The cuts occur at a time when the number of displaced people is rising due to conflict, insecurity, and weather shocks. Displaced populations also face more limited access to income and food, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the UNHCR, an estimated 12.76 million people are internally displaced in Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen. An additional 4.71 million people are refugees in camps in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, and Tanzania.



    • According to NOAA, USGS, and ICPAC seasonal forecasts, cumulative rainfall during the February-April main rainy season in Burundi is most likely to be average, with localized below and above-average rainfall. Nationally, average rainfall is expected to result in near-average national 2021 Season B crop production, whereas localized above and below-average rainfall will negatively affect 2021 Season B bean production, which is sensitive to moisture shocks.
    • Increased supply from 2021 Season A harvests eased prices from December to January, sweet potato, bean, and maize prices decreased 36, 22, and 11 percent, respectively, increasing food access. Due to localized below-average Season A bean production, however, bean prices in the Northern Lowland livelihood zone decreased to a lesser degree than previous years. Bean prices are expected to rise rapidly in March following household stock exhaustion.
    • Below-average rainfall occurred in lowland areas in November 2020, at the critical flowering stage, destroying beans, maize, and sorghum crops in localized areas. Poor 2021 Season A production, above-average food prices, and limited alternative income sources due to border closures are driving in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in the Eastern and Northern Lowlands livelihood zones through May. For some worst-affected households for whom more than 50 percent of 2021 Season A crops have been destroyed by dryness, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely through May 2021.  Due to expected localized below-average rainfall, resulting in below-average 2021 Season B harvests, and inaccessible cross-border income-earning opportunities due to border closures, the Eastern and Northern Lowlands livelihood zones will likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through the projected analysis period.

    For more information, see the Burundi Food Security Outlook from February to September 2021.


    • Large food consumption gaps with associated high levels of acute malnutrition and mortality indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected in central and eastern Tigray through at least September. This is due to the expectation that conflict will continue to significantly limit access to typical sources of income, especially in rural areas, including labor, livestock sales, and PSNP, during this time when many poor households have no food stocks and rely heavily on income to purchase food.
    • In some southern, central, and northwestern areas of Tigray, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist. In these areas, while conflict is still a driver of increased acute food insecurity and will likely remain so through September, the conflict has not impacted economic activities as significantly as in adjacent areas. Poor households can access income from self-employment and some agricultural activities as the kiremt season begins in June, although at below-average levels. In western Tigray, market functioning is somewhat near normal and expected to continue to be relatively stable, with households’ access to food and income somewhat higher. As a result, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to persist. 
    • In southern and southeastern pastoral areas, below-normal pasture and water availability are driving declines in food and income access among pastoral households. The forecast below-average gu/genna March to May 2021 season is likely to mark the second consecutive below-average season. While some improvement of pasture and livestock body conditions are likely during the season, milk production and income from livestock sales will likely continue to be lower than average. In northern pastoral areas, livestock losses associated with flooding and displacement are also leading to low access to income. This, coupled with high staple food prices, is expected to drive continued Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across pastoral areas of Ethiopia through September 2021.
    • Higher than normal levels of conflict in late 2020 and early 2021 across Ethiopia have led to increased displacement. According to IOM, a total of nearly 2.0 million people were displaced in 2020. In Benishangul Gumuz, conflict in late 2020 and early 20201 was highest in Metekel Zone, where over 100,000 people are displaced. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are ongoing due to conflict and the subsequent disruption to livelihood and economic activities. Conflict-related displacements are expected to increase in 2021.
    • Staple food prices across Ethiopia are atypically high, driven mainly by the poor macroeconomy, but also due to the slightly below average meher harvest, driving high demand on many markets. This, coupled with below-average income across much of the country due to reduced economic activities, weather shocks, and conflict is expected to drive higher than normal assistance needs in 2021.

    For more information, see the Ethiopia Food Security Outlook from February to September 2021.


    • Based on data collected during the 2020 short rains assessment, the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) estimates that around 1.4 million Kenyans in arid and semi-arid areas are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes, an increase of 93 percent compared to the preceding long rains season. Cumulatively below-average rainfall across eastern Kenya resulted in a poor harvest in marginal agricultural livelihood zones and declines in rangeland resources in pastoral areas driving Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across northern and eastern Kenya.
    • The COVID-19 control measures continue to impact income-earning opportunities for both urban and rural poor households. In urban areas, reduced income-earning opportunities for casual labor and petty trade are limiting household purchasing power and driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes for poor households. In the rural areas, the indirect impacts of COVID-19 such as increased transportation costs, market supply chain slowdowns, below-average non-agricultural labor opportunities, and reduced remittances have lowered poor household access to food and income, contributing to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.
    • According to FAO's Desert Locust Bulletin, the northern desert locust invasion peak passed in early February. However, there are numerous small but highly mobile immature swarms in 24 counties across northern and central Kenya. Control operations have been effective and remaining swarms are smaller and less numerous compared to 2020. Rainfall in late February is likely to allow swarms to mature rapidly and lay eggs, with hatching in late March.
    • The forecast below-average 2021 March to May long rains are expected to negatively impact crop production and rangeland resource regeneration. Below-average household food stocks and income-earning opportunities, and declining livestock body conditions are expected to limit food and income access, maintaining Stressed (IPC Phase 2)  and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across marginal agricultural and pastoral areas. However, the February-August 2021 long rains season for western Kenya is likely to be above average, improving national market supply.

    For more information, see the Kenya Food Security Outlook from February to September 2021.


    • In February, the recent below-average deyr harvest, marginal seasonal improvements in livestock production, and sustained humanitarian food assistance are supporting widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes. Although food assistance is mitigating the magnitude of the acutely food insecure population, available evidence indicates at least 1.6 million people across Somalia still have food consumption gaps or are using negative coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4).
    • Driven by waning La Niña conditions, a below-average gu rainfall season is forecast from April to June. A second consecutive season of below-average rainfall, coupled with the ongoing desert locust upsurge, is anticipated to lead to progressively widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through September. Additionally, economic recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is occurring gradually and several key sources of income, including livestock exports, remain below normal levels. An estimated 2.7 million people are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4). This projection does not take planned humanitarian food assistance into account due to limited information on confirmed funding and district-level targeting.
    • In agropastoral and riverine livelihood zones, most poor households will have below-normal food stocks and reduced agricultural labor income from the below-average 2020 deyr harvest and the anticipated, below-average 2021 gu harvest. In northern and central pastoral livelihood zones, most poor households are still struggling to recover their livestock holdings, which will continue to limit their food and income from livestock and milk production. Due to the tight cereal supply, rising staple food prices are expected to simultaneously place pressure on rural and urban households’ purchasing power through at least July. Displaced and poor urban households are particularly sensitive to price shocks, with limited coping capacity. Northern Inland Pastoral and Coastal Deeh Pastoral and Fishing livelihood zones are among the areas of high concern, where some households became destitute from the impacts of Cyclone Gati.


    • Displacement due to tribal clashes, above-average staple food prices and continued macroeconomic difficulties are contributing to higher-than-normal emergency food assistance needs in Sudan during the post-harvest season. These needs are expected to persist into at least May 2021, particularly as the lean season in agricultural and agropastoral areas approaches. Between February and September 2021, most areas of Sudan will face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity, although parts of Jebel Marra, South Kordofan, Red Sea, Kassala, North Kordofan, and North Darfur will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
    • On February 21, Sudan's government devaluated the Sudanese Pound from 55 SDG/USD to 375 SDG/USD at commercial banks and declared a policy of flexible management in foreign currency rates. In the parallel market, the exchange rate remained at 385 SDG/USD. The forex deprecation rate will likely be lower through March as the market adjusts to the new economic policy. During this time, prices are likely to remain high but not significantly change. Beginning in April, the gap between the official and parallel exchange rates will be determined by the availability of hard currency reserves.
    • National cereal production for the 2020/21 main summer season in Sudan is estimated at 7.6 million metric tons, approximately 7 percent higher than last year’s harvest and 19 percent higher than the five-year average, including a forecasted 695,000 tons of wheat to be harvested in March. Total cereal requirements for 2021 are estimated at around 9.9 million tons, including about 3.5 million tons of wheat. The production of sesame and groundnut—main cash crops—is 6 percent and 15 percent lower than last year, respectively, but 49 percent and 18 percent above the five-year average.
    • Staple food prices continued atypically increasing across most main markets in Sudan during the post-harvest period of February 2021. This was driven by the extremely high production and transportation costs, limited carryover stock from last year, and above-average demand for sorghum and millet for local consumption due to shortages, and high wheat and wheat flour prices. Cereal prices in February remained on average over 200 percent higher than last year and over six times higher than the five-year average.

    For more information, see the Sudan Food Security Outlook from February to September 2021.


    • Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected in rural and urban areas in bimodal Uganda through September, underpinned by an above-average rainfall forecast from March to May and continued economic recovery in 2021. Available data suggest agricultural production, labor demand, and regional export demand are likely to continue to improve, while low staple food prices are likely to continue to offset the effects of lagging income levels on food access. However, the number of households facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes is still likely to be higher than average. Acutely food insecure households are most likely to be located in flood-affected areas near Lake Albert, areas that are vulnerable to floods or landslides during the rainfall season, areas where an FMD livestock quarantine is currently in place, and urban areas.  
    • In Karamoja, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to be widespread through at least July, driven by below-average 2020 crop production, below-normal household income, and declining terms of trade, among other factors. In January, the amount of sorghum that could be purchased with the sale of a goat, a charcoal or firewood bundle, or a day’s wage declined relative to December, January 2020, and the five-year average in Karamoja’s key reference markets. Based on the likelihood of above-average rainfall from April to September, food availability and access are expected to slowly improve as the 2021 harvest becomes available from July to September.
    • Given limited access to income-generating activities, inadequate crop production, and low coping capacity, households in rural refugee settlements are expected to face Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!)[1] outcomes during the agricultural lean season from February through May. Planned food assistance equivalent to a 60 percent ration is anticipated to prevent worse outcomes. However, a reduction in food assistance is likely after May due to an anticipated pipeline break, based on WFP’s report of a USD 114 million funding gap. Despite the availability of the first season harvest in June/July, households are likely to have slight to moderate food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from June to September.

    For more information, see the Uganda Food Security Outlook from February to September 2021.


    • In Yemen, protracted conflict and poor macroeconomic conditions — as well as seasonal flooding in some areas — continue to disrupt livelihoods, reduce access to income, and drive significantly above-average food prices. Even in the presence of large-scale humanitarian assistance, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are widespread at the governorate level. Hajjah and Amran are expected to be in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) during the local lean season, with improvement to Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) expected around April/May. Although not the most likely scenario, Famine (IPC Phase 5) would be possible if the food supply is cut off for a prolonged period. 
    • In January, prices of key food commodities continued to rise in northern governorates, largely attributed to fuel scarcity and increasing fuel prices. Meanwhile, in Aden and some other southern areas, the inability of the government to purchase fuel is worsening access to electricity and public services. Despite stable or declining food prices in southern areas in January, southern ROYG authorities increased the official price of petrol by around 13 percent in February, which is already reportedly impacting food prices. During the projection period, farmers are expected to realize further reductions in profits due to the increasing cost of fuel for irrigation, with reduced production levels likely in some areas.
    • In February, conflict escalated in Ma’rib and Al Jawf, as Ansar Allah forces continue their offensive east toward Ma’rib City, with around 8,000 people newly displaced in Ma’rib in the second two weeks of the month. It is likely that conflict will continue at intensified levels in the coming months, expected to lead to additional displacements and disrupt livelihoods. Although not the most likely scenario, it is possible that conflict reaches Ma’rib City during the projection period. Should this occur, tens or hundreds of thousands of civilians in and to the west of the city (including many in displacement settlements) would be impacted, with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) or Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) outcomes likely among worst-affected households who are displaced to areas where assistance cannot reach or are unable to flee and unable to access markets or assistance due to movement restrictions.

    Remote Monitoring Countries[1]


    • The overall favorable 2020/2021 Season A harvest has increased food availability and contributed to low food prices. Increased market supply of produce, particularly potatoes, beans, and maize, has driven a decline in rural market food prices and increased household purchasing power. Improved household food access and income from the sale of crops is driving Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in rural areas.
    • Following a three-week lockdown in Kigali, economic activity has resumed but remains below average. Restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19 remain in place, including an 8 pm to 4 am curfew, travel restrictions between Kigali and other provinces and districts, and 30 percent of essential staff at businesses. The COVID-19 restrictions continue to limit food and income-earning opportunities, particularly among the urban poor households engaged in casual labor, petty trade, and small business. However, the recent loosening of COVID-19 measures is expected to increase income-earning opportunities and maintain area-level Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in urban areas.
    • On February 12, WFP announced that it requires 9 million USD to avert a 60 percent reduction of food assistance to refugees beginning in March. Approximately 135,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees currently rely on humanitarian assistance. Despite the reductions, WFP will maintain full rations for around 51,000 refugees identified as particularly vulnerable, including children under two years, pregnant and nursing mothers, people living with HIV, and tuberculosis patients under treatment. Ration reductions are expected to drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity within refugee communities.

    For more information, see the Rwanda Remote Monitoring Update for February 2021.



    [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.


    Table 1. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Bimodal areas of the Horn of Africa (southern and eastern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, and Somalia)

    Favorable March to May 2021 rainfall

    Above-average rains during March to May would mitigate impacts of below-average crop and livestock production during the late 2020 production season and mitigate the impacts of other on-going shocks, including above-average food prices, impacts of the COVID-19, floods, and conflict. Populations in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) would decline significantly in the pastoral, agropastoral, and marginal agricultural livelihood zones.

    Ethiopia (Central and eastern Tigray)

    Cessation of fighting and conflict between government and Tigray federal government forces

    Displaced households could return to normal livelihood activities and access to labor, trade, and humanitarian assistance would be restored. Recovery would likely be gradual, due to the substantial livelihood disruptions and losses that occurred during the conflict.However, food security would likely improve from Emergency (IPC Phase 4) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) across Tigray toward the end of the outlook period.

    Yemen (Northern Houthi-controlled governorates)

    Successful ceasefire and resumption of humanitarian food assistance

    Successful would lead to unrestricted road access across governorates.Limited improvements in household food access would manifest during the scenario period, arising from improved access to humanitarian food assistance, labor opportunities, trade, and access to typical livelihood activities.However, improvements would be moderate after prolonged disruptions from protracted conflict.

    Figures The rainy season in northern pastoral areas, cropping areas in Ethiopia, and unimodal areas are from June to October. Rainy s

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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