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Marginal improvements impeded by delayed and significantly poor long rains

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • April 2017
Marginal improvements impeded by delayed and significantly poor long rains

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  • Key Messages
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • Acute food insecurity is expected to worsen in pastoral areas, as poorer-than-anticipated long rains have impeded typical livestock productivity recovery. Access to milk and income remain limited. Low household purchasing power is leading to growing food consumption gaps, with the likelihood of more households moving into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in Turkana, Marsabit, Garissa, Samburu, Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, Tana River, Baringo, Laikipia, and West Pokot. Poor households in northern parts of Marsabit and Turkana could possibly face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, and more so than previously projected, especially during the June – September period. 

    • In the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural areas, typical on-farm income-earning opportunities are severely limited since land preparation and planting have been disrupted due to the poor rainfall. There is also a lack of harvested short rains crops usually available for sale and consumption. FEWS NET expects more Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, between June – September, among poor households in coastal areas, as well as localized households in southeast areas, which are experiencing significant rainfall shortfalls. 

    • The outbreak of Fall Armyworm in parts of the high and medium potential areas and the coastal marginal agricultural areas, coupled with the poor long rains, have the potential to cause significantly below-average long rains crop production. 

    • Continued multi-stakeholder humanitarian interventions, at both the national and county-level, across various parts of the pastoral and marginal agricultural areas, continues to mitigate the severity of acute food insecurity outcomes. However, FEWS NET has not incorporated these interventions into our analysis since there is still a lack of clarity on planned and funded humanitarian assistance in terms of location, scale, coverage, beneficiaries, and duration.


    Nationally, food security remains precarious, following a poor 2016 cropping season, and the prolonged drought that has hit many parts of the country, especially in pastoral and marginal agricultural areas. There is a general decline in staple food availability across most markets, which is also attributable to reduced imports from Tanzania and Uganda. At the same time, household demand for food from markets has atypically increased. As a result, food commodity prices have risen as demand outstrips supply. Wholesale maize prices in the urban consumption markets of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret have increased 19-39 percent between January and March, with current prices being 30-54 percent above five-year averages. According to Kenya’s State Department of Agriculture, stocks of most basic staples, such as maize, beans, rice, sorghum, millet, are still available in markets, especially in the high production areas, albeit at lower quantities.

    In late March, the Government of Kenya issued an alert on the outbreak of the Fall Armyworm (FAW) in nine western and Rift Valley counties as well as in parts of the coastal marginal agricultural areas. The pest has affected some of the off-season crops, and also poses a threat to the long rains crops that are still at early stages of development. Besides crops, the pest also has the potential to affect pasture fields, and could exacerbate the problem of forage scarcity currently being experienced. The actual extent of damage caused by the pest is yet to be established, though potential for massive crop damage is possible, if the pest is not eradicated. The situation is currently being monitored, and the Government of Kenya is expected to release guidance for farmers on how to manage the pest.

    In the marginal farming zones, the March – May rains began late, and so far remain below average, ranging between 30-70 percent of normal. Land preparation and planting activities are ongoing across the zone though at below-normal levels due to the poor rainfall and earlier forecasts that dissuaded farmers from planting as usual. Low incomes have restricted access to seeds by farmers and also resulted in significantly reduced agricultural wage-labor opportunities. Food security continues to decline, due to low purchasing power, with market access being restricted due to reduced household incomes, against elevated staple food prices. Increasing staple food prices in source markets, as well as  depleted household stocks following the poor short rains harvest, are fueling market demand and elevated prices. Between January and March, retail maize prices increased 10-20 percent across all counties, and remained up to 48 percent above five-year averages, while being as high as 90 percent above average in Tharaka Nithi due to tightening supplies. Retail bean prices also increased up to 10 percent across markets in the marginal farming zones during the same time period, and remained elevated between 25-26 percent, due to depleted stocks and increased market demand. Humanitarian assistance continues to be provided across the zone with both food (relief food, supplementary/ therapeutic feeding, school meal programs) and non-food (relief seeds, water trucking, cash transfers, livestock feeds, strategic boreholes maintenance, livestock slaughter destocking) interventions being provided to beneficiaries across the zone by both the national and county governments and humanitarian partners.

    Forage and water resources remain depleted across most pastoral areas, including in traditional fall back dry season grazing areas, which would typically be supporting livestock production, since the rains were delayed across many areas even in mid-April when they should have been peaking. Significant rainfall deficits remain in parts of Marsabit, Samburu, Isiolo, Turkana, West Pokot, Baringo, Kajiado, Narok, Wajir, and Mandera. As a result, livestock trekking distances from grazing fields to watering points remain atypically high. Exceptional high distances, of up to 90 percent above average, were noted in parts of Marsabit, Garissa, Wajir, Tana River, Samburu, West Pokot, and Baringo. Almost all species of livestock have poor body conditions, with a high number of mortalities resulting from exhaustion and dehydration being noted, especially in Marsabit (North Horr and Moyale), Turkana (North), Tana River (Galole), and Samburu (North), for both migrated livestock and those remaining near homesteads. Due to poor livestock health and body conditions, livestock market activities have been greatly hampered. Currently, there is low supply and demand for livestock in most markets, with prices tracking these depressed sales and remaining atypically low. Between January and March, goat prices across representative markets in Marsabit, Turkana, Garissa, Wajir, Tana River, Mandera, Samburu, Baringo, and West Pokot declined 10-30 percent. These prices remain up to 50 percent below five-year averages. At the same time, staple food prices are steadily on an upward trend. Retail maize prices in pastoral markets have increased by up to 20 percent between January and March, and are 15-60 percent above five-year averages. Exceptions are in Turkana, Garissa, and Wajir, where maize prices have remained relatively stable, attributed to the effect relief food distributions are lowering market demand in Turkana, and the low preference for maize in Garissa and Wajir. The decline in livestock prices against a steady increase in cereal prices has led to an erosion of household purchasing power. The livestock-to-cereal terms of trade have declined up to 40 percent between January and March, and are currently up to 50 percent below five-year averages, implying that most households are currently unable to purchase as much maize as they typically do when they sell a goat. Reduced food access and consumption at the household level has also caused an increase in malnutrition cases, especially among children under five years of age and pregnant and lactating women. Milk production and consumption continues to remain atypically low due to poor livestock productivity. According to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) March 2017 Drought Bulletins, the proportion of children at risk of malnutrition, measured by the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC <135 mm), has increased between January and March, and is up to 70 percent higher in areas like Garissa. Across many areas, humanitarian assistance has been scaled up, and are increasing household food consumption, though specific details are unclear. Assistance being provided include general food distributions, livestock slaughter off-take, water trucking, and fuel subsidies for strategic boreholes, and cash transfers. Many more households across pastoral areas are currently not able to meet their minimum dietary requirements nor other non-food expenditures and have moved to Crisis (IPC Phase 3).  


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Kenya Food Security Outlook for February to September 2017 remain unchanged except the following assumptions that have been added:

    • Given the delayed and below-average start to rains in April, the key month of rainfall during the long rains season, total cumulative rainfall is likely to be more below average than previously forecast.
    • According to NOAA/CPC, unimodal rains (February to August) over western areas of Kenya have been average to date in the southwest but below average in other areas. Total cumulative seasonal rainfall is now expected to be average-to-below average instead of the previously indicated average to above-average forecast.
    • The Fall Armyworm infestation across many parts of the western high potential areas and the coastal marginal agricultural areas is likely to cause extensive long rains crop damages if not controlled. The cumulative effects of delayed and below-average long rains and armyworm invasion have the potential to cause significantly below-average long rains crop production. 


    In the marginal agricultural areas, food security is expected to decrease further with the current atypically low agricultural production activities, resulting in a likely below-average harvest in July, which will not offset the growing food deficits that poor households will be facing. Across the zone, the below-average rains are expected to lead to some agricultural labor opportunities, and thus some limited income, but this will likely be restricted further by a reluctance by farmers to deplete seed stocks since it is likely to be a poor season. Staple food prices will remain elevated, with the expected below-average crop production, further compounded by outbreaks of the Fall Armyworm in parts of the marginal agricultural areas and in the high potential areas of western Kenya, which would further reduce food supplies. With a majority of poor households dependent on markets for food, and without much of a reprieve following the harvest, the combination of low income and limited food supplies is likely to render some households unable to meet their minimum dietary needs. Malnutrition levels are expected to increase as food and milk consumption decreases with an increased dependency on humanitarian interventions to stabilize malnutrition levels. Poor households are likely to utilize severe coping strategies like reducing the number of meals, reducing adult meal portions to cater for children, and even in some cases stripping of household and other productive assets, to bridge food gaps. Previously anticipated improvements will be unlikely, and in a few areas, there will only be marginal increases in food availability following the harvest with the current below-average rains. Both the coastal and southeastern zones will largely remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity, but greater numbers of poor households are expected to be unable to meet their minimum dietary needs. However, localized areas of the two zones are likely to fall into Crisis (IPC Phase 3), with areas in coastal zones currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) projected to remain there. The Fall Armyworm outbreak, if not managed, is also likely to exacerbate food insecurity, resulting in extensive crop damages and reduced food availability.

    Food security in pastoral areas is likely to continue deteriorating since the expected recovery in rangeland resources across many areas is yet to be experienced. The short-term forecast for enhanced rainfall may ease severe forage and water stress, but minimal improvements in food security are expected. Most pastoralists will likely maintain their livestock in the dry season grazing areas, far from homesteads, limiting availability of livestock products, like meat and milk, for consumption and sale. Household income is expected to remain atypically low, due to fewer than normal livestock sales, and atypically low prices suppressed by poor livestock health conditions. Between July and September, a seasonally dry period, increased livestock mortalities are expected. Due to limited income to support food access and unavailability of livestock products, household food consumption will continue deteriorating, though some minimal improvements are likely between May and June, with a further decline thereafter. FEWS NET’s February Outlook had projected some improvements in household food security after the onset of the long rains, based on initial forecasts. However, the current poor performance of the rains indicates otherwise, with even more deterioration expected across most pastoral areas, including Turkana and West Pokot, where earlier forecasts had indicated average-to-above-average rains. Therefore, more pastoral households are expected to continue experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity outcomes through September. In localized parts of Marsabit and Turkana, in the absence of adequate and sustained humanitarian assistance, additional poor pastoral households would likely experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity outcomes, especially during the peak of the lean season, between July and September.

    Figures Figure 1: March 1 to April 20, 2017 Rainfall CHIRPS, Percent of Average

    Figure 1

    Figure 1: March 1 to April 20, 2017 Rainfall CHIRPS, Percent of Average

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS


    Figure 2


    Source: FEWS NET

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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