Food Security Outlook Update

Poor rainfall and additional COVID-19 restrictions negatively impact food security

April 2021

April - May 2021

June - September 2021

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Concentration of displaced people
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Concentration of displaced people
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Concentration of displaced people
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

Key Messages

  • According to CHIRPS satellite rainfall estimates, the March to May long rains have been significantly below average through April. Cumulative rainfall has been less than 55 to 70 percent of normal across much of Kenya. However, localized areas in western and northeastern Kenya have received 95-145 percent of normal rainfall. In the marginal agricultural areas, the poor rainfall is affecting agricultural production, with no germination being reported in parts of Kitui and Meru North. Due to declining household food stocks and below-average casual waged labor opportunities, poor marginal agricultural households are likely Stressed (IPC Phase 2). In pastoral areas, household income and food access are increasingly constrained due to atypical livestock migration, increased insecurity from resource-based conflict and terrorism, reduced milk production and consumption, reducing livestock sale values, and high staple food prices, driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

  • In March, following a significant rise in COVID-19 infections along with a 22 percent test positivity rate, the government implemented additional restrictions for the counties of Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kajiado, and Machakos, including a cessation of movement order, an 8 pm to 4 am curfew, a ban on meetings, physical learning, and sporting and entertainment activities, and restricting bars and restaurants operations to takeaway only. These restrictions are expected to remain in place at least through May and are reducing economic activity. The below-normal income-earning opportunities constrain food and income access, driving an increase in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes among urban poor households.

  • On March 24, the government gave UNHCR a 14-day ultimatum to close the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, citing security concerns. However, on April 8, the Kenyan high court barred the closure of the camps for 30 days. A UNHCR report proposes repatriation of the refugees to their countries of origin or abroad; however, the government has expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of specific timelines in the report. A sustainable solution is being negotiated, which will likely seek to avoid the closure of the camps in the near term.

CURRENT SITUATION

Rainfall performance: The 2021 March-May long rains have been characterized by below-average rainfall. According to CHIRPS satellite estimates, rainfall through April 20, 2021, has been less than 55 percent to 85 percent of normal across most of Kenya (Figure 1). However, there are localized areas in southwestern Kenya and Mandera that have recorded normal to above-normal rainfall.

Crop Production: In the high and medium potential areas, late rains are reported to have delayed cropping activities by two to three weeks. Due to the delayed onset of rainfall, planting is ongoing, whereas the maize and bean crop normally has germinated. Despite the delay, crops that have germinated are in good condition, supported by the timely distribution and availability of farm inputs. The anticipated average to above-average rainfall through June is also expected to support normal cropping activities.

In the marginal agricultural areas, the onset of rains for the long rains was one to two dekads late, beginning in early April. Households are engaged in land preparation and the planting of maize, millet, sorghum, beans, green grams, cowpeas, potatoes, and pigeon peas. Crop stages are varied from germination to early vegetative stages. However, in most parts of Kitui and northern Meru, germination is yet to occur as a significant proportion of households replanted in early April due to moisture deficits, while a smaller proportion is yet to plant. In Kilifi, harvesting is ongoing for cassava, pineapple, and mango, while in Makueni, some late-planted maize from the short rains season is being harvested. Crop conditions across much of the marginal agricultural areas are currently fair, with the first round of weeding taking place in most areas. There is concern that the delayed rainfall onset and dry conditions that delayed the start of the season, along with below-average rainfall in eastern areas, may negatively impact crop production   

Livestock Production: There is below average greenness across most pastoral areas, as measured by the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), particularly in the eastern and southeastern pastoral livelihood zones (Figure 2).  In March, livestock return trekking distances were 17.3-25 km, around 25-61 percent above average, and around double the average distance in Isiolo and Turkana. However, in Marsabit, livestock return trekking distances were around 9 percent below average due to near normal rainfall. Migration continues within the counties with out-migration reported from Wajir, Turkana, and Garissa as livestock herders seek out available forage and water. Livestock body conditions continue to deteriorate, registering as ‘fair to poor’ across most pastoral areas, ‘fair’ and ‘poor’ in Isiolo and Turkana, respectively, and ‘good to fair’ in Marsabit. Milk production and household milk consumption are 17-62 percent below average across most pastoral areas due to declining livestock body conditions and increased migration away from homesteads, which has reduced milk availability. However, in Garissa and Isiolo, milk production and consumption was 28 percent and 10 percent above average, respectively, and within average in Tana River, likely due to ‘fair’ livestock body conditions.  

Desert Locusts: According to FAO reports, the desert locust upsurge has declined and remains below last year’s level, driven by ongoing control operations and poor rainfall. The swarms have remained immature, waiting for sufficient rainfall necessary for maturation and egg-laying. As of April 23, there are only sightings in Samburu county. However, maturation and egg-laying, and hatching may increase in April with the peak of the seasonal rains.

Domestic water availability: Due to the late rains, household water availability remains below average across the counties. According to March NDMA sentinel site data, the return trekking distances for domestic water sources in marginal areas range from 2.7-7.9 km, 8-30 percent above the three-year average apart from Embu (Mbeere), where trekking distances are double the average. However, in Kitui and Tharaka Nithi (Tharaka), trekking distances are 13-32 percent below the short-term average due to increased availability following the recent rainfall. In the pastoral areas, below-average rainfall has increased return trekking distances to 8.8-17 km, around 26-71 percent above-average, with trekking distances in Mandera more than double the average distance. However, in Isiolo and Tana River, trekking distances are 3.5-6.6 km, 6-13 percent below average due to reliable monthly access to water sources such as boreholes with pumps. 

COVID-19: As of April 27, 2021, Kenya has recorded 156,981 confirmed COVID-19 cases. On March 29, the government launched the national vaccination plan, providing a list of approved vaccination centers and commencing vaccinations, prioritizing healthcare workers and people over 58 years. By April 21, about 750,000 people have received the first dose of either the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine free of charge or the Sputnik V vaccine at a cost from private entities. Kenya expects to receive 49 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines by May, covering around 30 percent of the population. However, the vaccine administration rate will likely be low given the prioritization of the elderly, medical and other essential service providers, and logistical and uptake constraints.

Following a test positivity rate of 26.6 percent on March 29- the highest test positivity rate recorded since June 1, 2020- and consistently over 10 percent daily test positivity rates, the government imposed additional restrictions to Nairobi, Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado, and Nakuru counties. These restrictions include a cessation of movement into or out of the zone, lengthening the curfew to 8 pm to 4 am, suspending physical learning except for medical students and candidates, suspending all gatherings, sporting, political and recreational activities, and restricting food and alcohol sales to takeaway sales only through May. Across the rest of Kenya, the previously existing restrictions remain in place. In the containment area, the additional restrictions are expected to reduce employment and income-earning opportunities, particularly for urban poor households who had been gradually recovering since January, following the easement of the previous COVID-19 restrictions.  

Markets and trade: In March, wholesale white maize grain prices in the urban reference markets of Nairobi, Kisumu, and Mombasa ranged between 8-16 percent below the five-year average, driven by the availability of the harvests from the unimodal harvests and cross-border imports from Uganda. However, white maize prices were 10 percent above average in Eldoret, driven by higher miller buying prices and demand for planting seed. Retail maize grain prices across the marginal and pastoral areas were 6 percent below average in Turkana and Nyeri due to supplies from high production areas and local production. However, in Kwale, Garissa, Wajir, and Mandera, prices were 7-19 percent above average due to below-average production and high demand for market purchases. Across other monitored markets, maize prices remained average, driven by available market supplies and household stocks from the short rains harvest.

Wholesale dry bean prices were within average in Kisumu and Mombasa, influenced by cross-border imports from Uganda and Tanzania and, to a lesser extent, local short rains harvests. However, dry beans prices were 14 and 36 percent above average in Eldoret and Nairobi, respectively, due to dwindling supplies and higher-priced supplies from source markets. Retail bean prices in the marginal areas were average in Taita Taveta due to cross-border imports from Tanzania. Across other markets, bean prices were 11-22 percent above average due to high demand and low household stocks and market supply.  

In the pastoral areas, the retail price of a medium-sized mature goat is average in Wajir but 21 percent below average in Turkana due to ‘poor’ livestock body conditions.  Despite declining forage and livestock body conditions, across the rest of the pastoral areas, goat prices range from 10-24 percent above average as migration limits market supply, and households limited sales in anticipation of the rains improving rangeland conditions and livestock body conditions.  

Urban area outcomes: Due to increasingly limited labor opportunities, income losses, and constrained access to food due to the long-standing COVID-19 related restrictions, an increasing number of urban poor households face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Poor households are employing coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to narrow food consumption gaps such as purchasing food on credit, reducing the number and size of meals, borrowing food, skipping meals, and reducing healthcare expenses. The worst affected households in Nairobi, Machakos, Kiambu, Nakuru, and Kajiado, are engaging in illegal income activities indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4), such as prostitution and selling illicit liquor.

Marginal agricultural areas outcomes: Although the short rains harvests have maintained below-average maize prices, household food stocks continue to dwindle, reducing household incomes from crop sales. However, the availability of income from casual labor during the long rains for land preparation, planting, and weeding is moderating household incomes and access to food. According to March NDMA sentinel site data, an increasing proportion of households in marginal agricultural areas are adopting Stressed coping strategies, as measured by the Reduced Coping Strategy Index (rCSI), except in Embu (Mbeere), Taita Taveta, and Tharaka Nithi, where households were engaged in minimal to no coping strategies. Similarly, when assessing dietary quality, 12-20 percent of poor households across the marginal agricultural areas recorded a borderline Food Consumption Score (FCS), with 5-10 percent of households in Meru (Meru North) and Kwale reporting poor FCS driven by below-average food stocks and income. However, 31-63 percent of households in Meru, Nyeri, and Lamu had borderline FCS, an atypically high percentage for this time of year likely driven by below-average food stocks from the short rains harvest. Although household food availability is declining, wasting among children below five years remains low. According to March NDMA sentinel site data, the proportion of children under five years of age at risk of malnutrition (MUAC < 135mm) was 48-88 percent below average across the region. In Taita Taveta, Nyeri, Kilifi, Lamu, and Tharaka Nithi, no children were recorded as at risk of malnutrition. Due to declining household food stocks and below-average casual wage labor opportunities, poor households are likely Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

Pastoral outcomes: Declining rangeland resources driven by consecutive below-average rainy seasons negatively impact livestock body conditions, livestock sale values, and household milk production and consumption. According to March NDMA sentinel sites data, 1.3-15.5 percent of households reported a poor FCS, indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4),  likely driven by below-average income and access to milk. However, across pastoral areas, 1.7-36.8 percent of households recorded a borderline FCS indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3), while 75.6 percent of households in Wajir recorded a borderline FCS. Compared to February, the percentage of households with borderline or poor FCS in Tana River and Isiolo remained stable or reduced due to average milk consumption and above-average terms-of-trade, while in Marsabit, Mandera, and Wajir counties, households are increasingly engaging in coping strategies to maintain household diets. However, in Garissa and Turkana, the percentage of households with borderline or poor FCS increased, indicating worsening food security. To cope, most households rely on less preferred/less expensive food and reduce the number and size of meals. According to March NDMA sentinel site data, household rCSI scores range from 7.5-12.1, indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) across most pastoral counties except in Marsabit and Turkana, where the rCSI ranges between 20.5-21.1, indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Across all pastoral areas, except Isiolo and Tana River, rCSI scores increased in March compared to February, indicating an increasing number of households are engaging in coping strategies to maintain access to food and income. However, the proportion of children under five years of age at risk of malnutrition (MUAC <135mm) is stable compared to February in Tana River, Garissa, and Marsabit but is increasing across other pastoral areas mirroring the reduction in household milk consumption. Households are increasingly facing food access constraints due to limited income-earning opportunities worsened by COVID-19, insecurity brought about by resource-based conflict and terrorism, reduced milk production and consumption, declining livestock sale values, and high staple food prices. As rangeland resources and livestock body conditions decline, households are intensifying their application of coping strategies, driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) area-level outcomes in Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, and parts of Samburu, Garissa, and Tana River counties.

UPDATED ASSUMPTIONS

The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Kenya Food Security Outlook for October to May 2021 remain unchanged apart from the following:

  • Despite the ongoing vaccination drive, COVID-19 related restrictions are likely to remain in place through the scenario period, with the additional restrictions in Nairobi, Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado, and Nakuru remaining in place at least through May. These restrictions are expected to impact household income and food access significantly.

MOST LIKELY PROJECTED OUTCOMES THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2021

In the urban areas, between April and May, COVID-19 restrictions are likely to maintain low labor demand and income opportunities in manufacturing and processing, transportation and storage, tourism, restaurants, and wholesale and retail businesses, sustaining below-average incomes among the poor urban households. Although staple food prices are expected to remain average to below-average, household purchasing power will remain constrained due to eroded income. Poor households are likely to continue relying heavily on credit facilities such as digital/online/mobile lenders and shopkeepers, sustaining household indebtedness at atypically high levels to bridge income deficits and food gaps.  As a result, poor urban households will continue to employ coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2), such as borrowing cash from relatives, purchasing food on credit, and reliance on formal and informal credit facilities. At least 20 percent of poor households will continue to engage in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3), such as selling productive assets. The worst affected households are likely to continue engaging in coping strategies indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4), such as prostitution and the illegal sale of alcohol.

Between June and September, the anticipated easing of COVID-19 restrictions will drive gradual improvements in labor demand and income opportunities; however, the slow economic recovery will sustain income deficits among the poor urban households. At the same time, the atypically high household indebtedness will continue to drive an above-average cycle of borrowing and repayment of credit facilities, countering gains in incomes. As a result, household purchasing power and food access will remain constrained, driving poor households to continue employing coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) such as borrowing cash from relatives, purchasing food on credit, and relying on formal and informal credit facilities. The worst affected households are likely to continue engaging in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to meet their food and non-food needs.

In marginal agricultural areas, household food stocks are expected to continue declining through September, increasing household reliance on markets to atypically high levels. The anticipated below-average long rains production in July will temporarily improve household food availability, with production expected to last one month compared to one to two months typically. Consequently, the lean season is expected to begin in June, atypically early. As food stocks deplete through the lean season, households will increasingly apply consumption and livelihood coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2), such as borrowing food, reducing meal sizes, using less preferred or less expensive food, borrowing food from neighbors, purchasing food on credit, and using savings. With household incomes from crop sales and agricultural waged labor opportunities expected to remain at below-average levels, poor households are likely to increase their reliance on petty trade and the production and sale of charcoal and firewood for income. As a result, most marginal agricultural areas will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2), with area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes expected in Kitui, Makueni, Tharaka Nithi, and Embu (Mbeere) counties following two consecutive below-average harvests.

In pastoral areas, the peak of the long rains in April is expected to partially improve the dwindling rangeland resources and drive some livestock herds back to the wet season grazing areas. The increased rainfall is also expected to drive the maturation, breeding, and hatching of desert locusts. Desert locust damage to the newly regenerated forage, though expected to be less severe than last year, is likely to hasten early migration back to dry season grazing areas. Water resources are expected to remain below average, only momentarily reducing domestic and livestock trekking distances. The combination of below-average forage and water resource regeneration is expected to keep livestock productivity below average with short-lived improvements through May. During this time, some households will improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) driven by short-term improvements in livestock body conditions and production. From mid-to-late June, migration, deteriorating livestock body conditions, and declining milk production and consumption are expected to reduce household income and increase malnutrition rates. National COVID-19 restrictions are also expected to keep casual wage labor opportunities such as petty trade, charcoal and firewood sales, and remittances at below-average levels. Households are also expected to increasingly utilize consumption and livelihood coping strategies and depend on emergency assistance and social safety nets to reduce food consumption gaps. Food insecurity is expected to intensify during the July to September lean season, with area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persisting in Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, and parts of Samburu, Garissa, and Tana River counties. The most vulnerable pastoral households through the scenario period will likely be in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) due to below-average access to income for market purchases.

About this Update

This monthly report covers current conditions as well as changes to the projected outlook for food insecurity in this country. It updates FEWS NET’s quarterly Food Security Outlook. Learn more about our work here.

About FEWS NET

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on approximately 30 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, USGS, and CHC-UCSB, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica.
Learn more About Us.

Link to United States Agency for International Development (USAID)Link to the United States Geological Survey's (USGS) FEWS NET Data PortalLink to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
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