Skip to main content

2023 Long rains expected to support gradual improvements in food security

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • April 2023
2023 Long rains expected to support gradual improvements in food security

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through September 2023
  • Key Messages
    • Most of Kenya has recorded above-average rainfall as the long rains peak, particularly in norther and eastern Kenya where many areas have recorded over 145 percent of the 40-year average. However, in southern and southeastern Kenya less than 85 percent of the 40-year average has been recorded, with localized areas receiving less than 70 percent of the 40-year average.

    • In the pastoral areas, the long rains are improving water and forage conditions, but livestock body conditions and productivity remain low. Households in NDMA sentinel sites continue to report negligible milk production; however, households in the northeastern pastoral livelihood zone are receiving less than a litre of milk a day, around 35 to 80 percent below the three-year average. High staple food prices, low milk availability, and limited to no income from livestock and milk sales continue to constrain household access to food and income. However, ongoing humanitarian assistance is helping minimize food consumption gaps, supporting area-level Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 

    • In the marginal agricultural areas, cropping activities have been constrained by low access to inputs and a late onset of the rains in the coastal areas, which is impacting household access to agricultural labor opportunities. Above-average staple food prices continue to constrain household food access, driving widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, but one in five households are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in Meru (Meru North), Tharaka, Kitui, and Makueni counties.

    • Cropping activities are ongoing across Kenya, supported by the ongoing rainfall. In the high and medium rainfall areas of western Kenya and Rift Valley, crops are in early growth stages and generally in good condition. In the marginal agricultural areas, despite below average area planted due to high input costs, crops are in good condition and range from vegetative to knee-high growth stages. However, in the coastal areas, land preparation and planting are ongoing following a late onset and cumulatively below-average rainfall.

    • In March, wholesale and retail staple food prices in the urban reference markets of Kisumu, Mombasa, Nairobi, and Eldoret, ranged from 26 to 153 percent above the five-year averages driven by high local and regional demand, successive below-average harvests, and high global food and fuel prices. Anticipated maize imports from Zambia will likely be unavailable after Zambia declared an internal maize shortage that will likely constrain exports to Kenya. Maize prices will likely remain high until the start of the long rains harvest in July.


    Current Situation

    Rainfall performance: Cumulative rainfall during the 2023 long rains has largely been above-average across most of the country, except in the south and southeast where cumulative rainfall is less than 85 percent of the 40-year average, along with some localized areas in the northwestern and central areas (Figure 1). Across most of the northwestern, northern, and northeastern pastoral areas, cumulative rainfall is over 145 percent of the 40-year average, which is supporting the recharge of water sources and the regeneration of pasture. However, there are also reports of flash floods which have led to the displacement of over 700 households in Samburu and upwards of 4,000 livestock fatalities in Marsabit. In the high-production and marginal agricultural areas, the long rains are supporting crop growth and providing labor opportunities in weeding. However, in areas with a late onset and poorly distributed rainfall, land preparation and planting were delayed, and livestock are likely trekking further distances to access water and pasture.

    Crop production: Reports from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that in the high and medium rainfall areas of western Kenya and the Rift Valley, crop production activities are ongoing normally. Across the cooler regions of the Rift Valley, like Uasin Gishu, Kericho, and Trans Nzoia counties, planting is ongoing or recently concluded. However, in the warmer regions of western Kenya like Kakamega, Busia, Bungoma, and the Nyanza region, the maize crop has recently germinated and is in good condition, supported by the average to above average rainfall.  

    Crops currently grown in the marginal agricultural areas are maize, millet, sorghum, beans, green grams, cow peas, and pigeon peas. The acreage under food crops is slightly below average as limited household incomes are constraining access to seeds, fertilizers, and other agricultural inputs. In southeastern Kenya, crops are in good condition despite cumulatively below-average rainfall received so far. In most areas, pulses, such as beans, are in the vegetative crop growth stages, while cereals like maize are one to two feet high. In Meru (Meru North), beans are at the flowering stages. Most households are currently weeding and spraying their crops. In the coastal marginal agricultural areas, the onset of the long rains has been delayed by nearly three dekads with cumulative rainfall from March through April less than 85 percent of the 40-year average. Consequently, land preparation and planting are currently in progress. Across the marginal agricultural areas income from agricultural labor opportunities are below average due to low liquidity among better-off households following five consecutive below-average seasons. As a result, poor households are continuing to rely on off-farm incomes, such as petty trade and charcoal and firewood sales, to narrow income deficits following below-average to no crop sales from the 2022 October to December Short rains season. However, high staple food prices are continuing to limit household purchasing power and access to food from markets.

    Figure 1

    Seasonal rainfall accumulation percent of the 1981 to 2010 average, March 1 to April 20, 2023
    Above average rainfall is widespread across northern and eastern Kenya. Below average rainfall in southeastern Kenya.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Markets and trade: White maize prices have continued to increase, with prices rising to 5,000 to 6,000 KES per 90-kg bag in March 2023 compared to 3,000 to 4,000 KES per 90-kg bag in January 2023. To help lower white maize prices, the Kenyan and Zambian governments signed an agreement to increase Kenyan maize imports, but these plans have been disrupted after Zambia declared a maize shortage on April 11. However, Kenya will likely continue to seek different markets to import maize until the closure of the importation window in August 2023. In Kenya, the high maize prices and non-payment of previous subsidy arrears owed by the government have driven some maize millers to shut down their operations. Relatedly, a 2-kilogram packet of maize flour ranges from 200 to 220 KES (~1.50 to 1.60 USD) across FEWS NET monitored markets which are likely continuing to restrict household purchasing power and food access, particularly for market-dependent households. Overall, staple food prices are significantly higher than average, driven by a sustained high national demand against low local availability, driven by below-average harvests, high inflation rates that continue to erode household purchasing power, high marketing costs due to high fuel prices, and below average cross-border imports from Uganda and Tanzania.

    In March, the wholesale maize prices in the urban reference markets of Kisumu, Mombasa, Nairobi, and Eldoret, were 49 to 153 percent above the five-year average. Similarly, retail maize prices in marginal agricultural markets ranged from 68 to 119 percent above the five-year average due to high demand, limited market supply, and high fuel and transportation costs.  In the pastoral areas, maize retail prices also remain high ranging from 26 percent above the five-year average in Mandera to 50 to 92 percent above average in the rest of the pastoral markets, driven by below-average supplies from typical source markets and increased demand for human and livestock consumption (Figure 2).

    Dry bean prices also remain high, influenced by the same drivers for the high maize prices. In March, wholesale prices were 84 to 104 percent above average across the urban markets, although prices in Kisumu were 36 percent above average due to slightly better availability from local harvests and imports from Uganda. In the marginal agricultural areas, retail bean prices were 54 to 80 percent above the five-year averages.

    Livestock prices, particularly for a mature medium-sized goat, remain below average as livestock body conditions slowly improve as pasture and water resources recover with the ongoing rains in the pastoral areas. Across most monitored pastoral markets, goat prices are 12 to 42 percent below the five-year average due to poor body conditions and low demand. However, goat prices are close to average in Garissa and Samburu due to relatively better body conditions. As a result of the high maize and low goat prices, the goat-to-maize terms of trade, a proxy for pastoral household purchasing power ranges from 13 to 33 kilograms of maize per goat sold, around 30 to 66 percent below the five-year average and equivalent to around 3 to 11 days of kilocalories for a household of six across the pastoral areas.  

    Figure 2

    Maize prices in pastoral markets compared to the five-year average, March 2023
    Maize prices in pastoral areas are well above the five-year average March 2023.

    Source: FEWS NET using data from NDMA

    Livestock production: According to the satellite-derived eVIIRS normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), vegetation greenness is above 105 percent of the 2012-2021 mean across much of the country; however, in Mandera and the northern parts of Marsabit and Turkana vegetation greenness is above 120 percent of the 2012-2021 mean likely due to the ongoing recovery of pasture and forage from the ongoing long rains (Figure 3). However, in Taita Taveta, Kwale, and parts of southern Marsabit, Garissa, Tana River and Wajir, the vegetation greenness is less than 60 percent of normal as pasture and forage are yet to recover from the drought.

    Livestock body conditions across the pastoral areas are poor to very poor for all species, except in Garissa and Marsabit where they range from poor to fair due to the improvement in forage and water conditions. Relatedly, livestock are having to travel slightly shorter distances from grazing areas to water sources, trekking around 10.4 to 18.4 km, which is close to average for this time of year in Wajir, Marsabit, and Garissa, but 10 to 50 percent above the five-year average across the rest of the pastoral areas. Due to most of the herds remaining far away from the homesteads and poor conception during the below-average 2022 October to December Short rains, milk production in March remained negligible across most pastoral areas except in Mandera, Isiolo and Garissa where it was available ranging from 0.3 to 1.5 liters per household per day, around 36 to 95 percent below the three-year average.

    Figure 3

    eVIIRS normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) percent of the 2012-2021 mean, April 16-25, 2023
    NDVI is improving with the ongoing long rains across Kenya, but below-average NDVI values are still present in southern Marsabit and in southern and southeastern Kenya.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Domestic water availability: The above average rainfall in the pastoral areas have improved water availability significantly, with the CHIRPS Waterpoint Viewer indicating that most monitored water points across the pastoral areas are classified as Good and greater than the long-term median water level as water sources recharge. According to March NDMA sentinel site data, household water availability increased across the pastoral areas with households having to travel similar or shorter distances to access water, except in Samburu where households are travelling further to access water due to low recharge. In most pastoral areas, households are traveling 3.3 to 16.4 kilometers roundtrip to access water.

    In the southeastern marginal agricultural areas, most open water surfaces such as rivers, water pans, dams, and dams have recharged to near full capacity following the above average long rains. Other water sources, such as roof catchments and community-based piped water projects are also providing water. As a result, household trekking distances to watering points have declined to average levels. However, in the coastal marginal agricultural areas, the majority of the open water surfaces are unseasonably low due to the delayed onset of rainfall and cumulatively below average rainfall received to date, which is keeping household trekking distances high. According to NDMA monthly data, household return trekking distances were 5 to 7 kilometers in March, compared to the three-year average of 3 to 6 kilometers.

    Pastoral area outcomes: According to the March NDMA sentinel site data, the percentage of households reporting a borderline or poor food consumption score remained similar to February or declined, indicating that household diet diversity and access to vegetables and protein rich foods such as milk is likely improving. However, in Marsabit, the number of households reporting consuming at least staples and vegetables every day but never or very rarely consuming meat or dairy increased. Overall, most households in pastoral counties remain dependent on humanitarian assistance to minimize food consumption gaps as it will take time for herds and milk production to recover from the recently concluded historic drought. Households are also applying consumption based coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) such as reducing the number and size of meals per day, reducing adult food portions in favor of children, and sending family members to eat elsewhere.

    The reduction in food consumption is exacerbating already chronically high levels of acute malnutrition in pastoral areas of Kenya. Nutrition surveillance data from the NDMA indicates that the proportion of children recording a mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) of less than 135mm is increasing and above the five-year average, reflecting atypically poor nutrition outcomes which is linked to prolonged periods of reduced food intake, including little to no milk consumption, among the pastoral community.

    Ongoing government and humanitarian assistance, including WFP’s Lisha Jamii Programme which is providing an equivalent of 50 to 75 percent of a full monthly ration to about 245,000 food-insecure households, continues to mitigate worse food security outcomes driving area-level Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes in Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, and Wajir. However, across the rest of the pastoral areas, high staple food prices, low milk availability and low income from livestock and milk sales continue to constrain household access to food and income, driving area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes with the worst-off households likely in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    Marginal area outcomes: Household food consumption continues to be constrained by below-average incomes and high staple food prices. According to NDMA monthly sentinel data, over 20 percent of poor households are reporting a borderline food consumption score (FCS) in March, with less than 20 percent of households reporting a poor FCS in most areas. However, in Meru (Meru North) and Lamu, over 20 percent of households are reporting a poor FCS with households eating one to two meals per day consisting of one to two food groups. To cope with the high food prices and low purchasing power, households are consuming less preferred or less expensive foods, reducing portion sizes, and reducing the number of meals consumed per day. However, in Lamu, poor households are also reportedly also restricting adult consumption so that small children can eat,

    The proportion of children recording a MUAC of less than 135mm remains largely stable or well below the five-year average in most marginal agricultural areas. However, in Tharaka (Tharaka Nithi), Nyeri (Kieni), and Taita Taveta the proportion of children recording a MUAC of less than 135 mm is at least double the five-year average. Despite the slight improvements in household incomes from agricultural waged labor opportunities during weeding and spraying, the above-average staple food prices continue to limit household access to food, resulting in widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes; however, at least one in five households are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in Meru (Meru North), Tharaka, Kitui, and Makueni counties.


    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Kenya Food Security Outlook for February to September 2023 remain unchanged apart from the following:

    • Based on international and regional forecasts and historical analogues of waning La Niña events, the March to May 2023 long rains season in northern and eastern Kenya is likely to be cumulatively above average. Precipitation in April is most likely to be above average, precipitation in May is most likely to be average to above average, while precipitation in June is most likely to be average.
    • Kenya will likely result in a higher than previously anticipated maize supply deficit following the breakdown of the import deal with Zambia. The supply deficit will likely drive a gradual increase in maize prices through July before prices stabilize as the long rains harvest from the marginal and later from medium rainfall areas begins to reach markets.

    Projected Outlook through September 2023

    In pastoral areas, high staple food prices, slow recovery of livestock and livelihoods following the historic drought, and large-scale humanitarian assistance are expected to maintain Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) area-level outcomes across the pastoral areas. The above-average March to May long rains is expected to drive a significant recovery of forage and water resources, but slow recovery of livestock body conditions, especially cattle and camels, and herd sizes will limit household access to income. Additionally, high staple food prices and the high cost of living will continue to limit household access to their food and non-food needs. Although there will be a moderate improvement in forage and water resources that will drive livestock back to the wet season grazing areas, it will likely not be sufficient to support a full recovery of livestock productivity, especially large livestock.

    With the start of the dry season in June, livestock body conditions will decline as rangeland resources diminish and herds migrate back to the dry season grazing areas. Improved rangeland resources are likely to reduce resource-based conflicts; however, incidences of livestock diseases will likely increase as the livestock gather in dry-season grazing areas. During the dry season, low livestock birth rates will keep milk production and household milk consumption at below-average levels. Limited access to milk, an important source of nutrition in pastoral livelihood zones, will likely keep the prevalence of acute malnutrition in children under five years of age high. Households are expected to continue applying consumption and livelihood-based coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse to minimize food consumption gaps. With limited access to income from livestock sales and likely below-average income from non-livestock income sources, households will continue facing high levels of food insecurity through September. However, ongoing and planned humanitarian assistance is expected to help minimize food consumption gaps for food insecure households.

    In the marginal agricultural areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist as households continue to remain atypically dependent on market purchases for food, with high food prices and limited income from agricultural labor opportunities and off-farm activities in April and May will keep household purchasing power low. However, household food availability will improve from June through to September, driven by the availability of green harvests of maize and pulses in June and July, and the main harvest beginning in August. The harvest is expected to improve household food access and availability and reduce household dependence on markets for food. In August and September, the sale of the long rains harvest is expected to significantly improve household access to income, purchasing power, and access to food. However, the cumulative impact of the drought on household income and savings, along with the high cost of goods and a likely slow recovery due to the need to pay back collected debts, are likely to keep most poor households Stressed (IPC Phase 2), while the worse-off poor households will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    However, in the coastal marginal agricultural areas, the delay in cropping activities and the likely below-average long rains will likely result in a below-average harvest. Consequently, households are expected to remain atypically dependent on market food purchases through September. The poor harvest will also limit agricultural waged labor opportunities, maintaining a high dependency on off-own farm income such as petty trade and the production and sale of firewood and charcoal. With staple food prices expected to remain high, the below-average incomes will continue to constrain household purchasing power and access to food, driving Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes with the worst affected households likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. Kenya Food Security Outlook Update, April 2023:2023 Long rains expected to drive gradual improvements in food security, 2023. 

    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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top