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3.1 million expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes by October

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • August 2019
3.1 million expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes by October

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  • Key Messages
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • SMART survey and sentinel site data collected in June and July 2019 by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group[1] indicates that food insecurity has significantly worsened since the May mid-season assessment. 2.6 million people are currently experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes, including some households that are likely in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in Turkana, Marsabit, Isiolo, Mandera, Tana River, Garissa, Wajir, and Baringo. This represents a 60 percent increase in the food insecure population since May, when 1.6 million people were estimated to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • In pastoral areas, below-normal livestock productivity and high food prices are constraining household purchasing power and food access, resulting in food consumption gaps or depletion of livelihoods assets indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Due to poor forage and water availability, livestock trekking distances to water points have doubled in the northeast and atypical livestock migration has led to resource-based conflict. Significant reductions in food intake and milk consumption, together with non-food related causes like disease incidence and poor childcare practices, have contributed to atypically high acute malnutrition. In Laisamis of Marsabit, Turkana South, and Turkana North, Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence by weight-for-height z-score (WHZ) reached Extremely Critical (≥30 percent) levels in July.

    • Long rains crop production in marginal agricultural areas was significantly below average to failed. Harvests in southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural zones are an estimated 10-15 and 35-40 percent of the five-year average, respectively. Maize production is 1-10 percent of average, indicative of near to total crop failure. Although poor households are expanding other income sources to partially compensate for lost income from crop sales, household income is significantly below average and household food stocks will be depleted as early as late August. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are widespread and parts of Tharaka Nithi (Tharaka), Meru (Meru North), Kitui, and Makueni are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • The population in need is anticipated to rise through October, reaching an estimated 3.1 million people at the peak of the pastoral lean season. Some improvements in food security are expected to be driven by the October-December short rains season and availability of the unimodal long rains harvest in November. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist as households gradually recover in Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, and Baringo counties.

      [1] FEWS NET is a member of the Kenya Food Security Steering Group.


    Crop production: Harvesting of long rains crops in marginal agricultural areas has been completed in most counties. According to estimates from the Kenya State Department for Crop Development, total crop production is 10-15 and 35-40 percent of average in southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural livelihood zones, respectively. Most areas experienced near to total maize and green grams crop failure. Maize production ranges between 1 and 10 percent of the five-year average across counties, with the exception of Meru (Meru North), where current production is 29 percent of the five-year average. Green gram production ranges between 1-9 percent of the five-year average. Most poor households have minimal food stocks from the harvest that are only likely to last through August, compared to mid-September or October in a normal year.

    Meanwhile, the February-September long rains season is ongoing in high and medium potential areas. Cumulative rainfall remains below average in Nyeri, Nyandarua, and Kirinyaga of central Kenya, and crop conditions are moderate to poor. However, rainfall in western Kenya and the Rift Valley has been temporally well distributed since May, improving to near-average cumulative totals (Figure 1). Maize crops are currently in favorable condition, ranging from the reproductive stages in Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, and Nakuru due to late planting, to the early maturation to mature stage in warmer parts of western Kenya, including Kakamega, Bungoma, and Busia. Although production prospects have improved after the late start of season, there is concern that the rains will extend into the harvesting period, increasing the risk of spoilage and post-harvest losses.

    Livestock production: As the dry season progresses, rapid deterioration of rangeland resources is driving atypical migration and leading to increased resource-based conflict. Pasture and browse conditions are widely below normal and have already been depleted in parts of Tana River, Mandera, and Wajir due to poor regeneration over the past two seasons (Figure 2). Conversely, pasture regeneration has occurred in Turkana due to the county’s typical, light seasonal rains from June to August. Due to long trekking distances to water points, watering frequency has decreased for all livestock species. The return trekking distance to water points from grazing areas are most severe in the pastoral northeast, where distances are twice the five-year average at 20-30 km. In worst-affected, localized areas of Garissa and Marsabit, trekking distances have doubled to 30 and 50 km, respectively. In search of better water and pasture, livestock migration began as early as May to both dry season grazing areas and atypical grazing areas. Illustrative of the scarcity of resources is atypical camel migration into the Tana Delta belt in Tana River county despite the prevalence of livestock pests in the area. Migration is occurring in border regions of pastoral areas, with some traversing to Ethiopia, Somalia, and Uganda, as well as to marginal agricultural areas of Meru, Laikipia, Kitui, and Kilifi. Resource-based conflict has been widespread, especially in Samburu where high levels of in-migration has increased grazing pressure, and has led to restricted water access in Marsabit and Turkana. In addition, cattle rustling incidents along the Marsabit-Ethiopia border resulted in population displacement, restricted access to pasture, and a limited number of human fatalities. Recent Al Shabaab terror attacks along the Kenya-Somalia border in Wajir resulted in loss of human lives and has inhibited the movement of pastoralists towards the border.


    As a result, livestock body conditions are below normal and milk productivity remains very low. Livestock body conditions currently remain good to fair for all species in most areas, but cattle and sheep exhibit fair to poor body conditions in Marsabit and across the pastoral northeast livelihood zone. Milk production has generally declined to 50-65 percent below the five-year average, ranging from 0.25-1 liter per household per day in the northwest and 1-3 liters per household per day in the northeast. The exception is in riverine areas of Mandera county, where 3-4 liters per household per day are being produced given better water and forage availability. Although various county veterinary departments are engaged in disease surveillance, vaccination, and treatment to mitigate further declines in livestock health, several livestock disease outbreaks have been reported. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) was confirmed in Samburu North, resulting in a quarantine in the sub-county. Haemorrhagic Septicaemia in camels was confirmed in Samburu, Marsabit, and Turkana counties with some mortalities reported.

    Domestic water availability: In marginal agricultural areas, 60-80 percent of water pans, dams, and seasonal rivers have already dried up. Household return trekking distances to watering points have increased atypically early to 5-12 km compared to 3-9 km normally, which is 33-66 percent above average. However, distances were still within average levels in Kilifi. In pastoral areas, 80 percent of water pans have dried up, but water remains available from boreholes, shallow wells, and rivers. Average return distances to domestic water sources are within the seasonal range of 1.5-6 km in most areas. However, distances are 5-10 km and above average in parts of Samburu, Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo and Mandera; 10-15 km in drier parts of Garissa, Mandera, and Tana River; and exceptionally high at 30 km in parts of Marsabit.

    Markets and Trade: Due to below-normal food availability in marginal agricultural areas and the ongoing pastoral lean season, poor households are currently highly reliant on markets to purchase staple foods. At the same time, staple food prices are above average across most key reference markets, driven by declining local supply, reduced cross-border imports, and price speculation. Many traders and medium- to large-scale commercial farmers in high and medium agricultural production areas are reportedly holding stocks in anticipation of higher prices given the prevailing maize shortage nationally. In the urban reference markets of Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu, maize prices were 8-33 percent above the five-year average in July. In most marginal agricultural and pastoral markets, prices were 8-26 percent above the July five-year average. However, dynamics differ in some areas due to proximity to domestic source markets or cross-border trade flows. In Taita Taveta, prices were seven percent below the five-year average, while in Marsabit, Tana River, Samburu, and Laikipia, prices are near average. Although maize prices are highest in Turkana relative to the rest of the country, prices were 16 percent below average influenced by cross border imports from Uganda and relief supplies from both government and non-governmental entities. Bean prices were 16-39 percent above the five-year average countrywide, and exceptionally high at 62 percent above the average in Mombasa.

    The retail price of goats currently varies across the country and, given current maize price trends, there are mixed impacts on the goat-to-cereals terms of trade. In most pastoral reference markets, prices declined to 9-25 percent below the five-year average in July, driven by deteriorating livestock body conditions that have lowered sale values. However, prices remained near average in Marsabit and Tana River. Relatively better rangeland resource availability has maintained better body conditions in Isiolo and Samburu, resulting in prices 6-10 percent above the five-year average. Given high maize prices, the goat-to-maize terms of trade are 25-38 percent below average in Wajir, Mandera, and Garissa and average in Tana River and Isiolo. Conversely, the terms of trade are slightly (7-8 percent) above average in Marsabit, Samburu, and Turkana.

    Inter-annual and humanitarian assistance: Interannual and emergency food assistance in the form of cash transfers is being provided to some vulnerable households. The Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP), funded by DFID, is reaching 98,000 households in Wajir, Turkana, Marsabit, and Mandera with a typical monthly cash transfer equivalent to 40 percent of daily kilocalorie (kcal) needs. In addition, an emergency scale-up of cash transfer assistance is reaching 27,000 households, also equivalent to 40 percent of daily kcal needs. The HSNP is currently reaching 19 percent of the population in Wajir and 3-5 percent of the population elsewhere. Interannual cash assistance programs like Orphans and Vulnerable Children, Older Persons Cash Transfer, and Persons with Severe Disability-Cash Transfer are benefitting approximately 1,000,000 households across the whole country. Food distribution through World Food Programme’s Sustainable Food Systems Programme and general food distribution by both the national and county governments is also ongoing across several counties.

    Pastoral outcomes: Fifty-eight percent of the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse are located in pastoral areas, where poor households are experiencing a more severe lean season than usual due to the impact of two consecutive poor-to-failed rainfall seasons. Reduced income from milk and livestock sales and reduced food and milk consumption, combined with the impact of atypical migration and a rise in conflict incidents, are resulting in food consumption gaps or are driving poor households to rely on negative livelihoods coping strategies to meet their minimum food needs. Outcome indicator data collected in a SMART survey and from NDMA sentinel sites in June and July 2019, considered with contributing factors, indicate Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in Turkana, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo, Samburu, Marsabit, Garissa and Tana River. Some households are likely in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), associated with large food consumption gaps and atypically high acute malnutrition prevalence – these are most likely to consist of the vulnerable, sick, and elderly; very poor households with low livestock ownership or highly limited market access; and households in insecure areas where insecurity has constrained livelihood activities. Across all pastoral counties, 4-33 percent of households reported a poor food consumption score (FCS) and 8-39 percent a borderline FCS, apart from Garissa, where no households reported poor FCS but 70 percent reported borderline FCS. As indicated by the reduced coping strategy index (rCSI), 5-33 percent of households are engaged in crisis consumption coping strategies while 49-90 percent are engaged in stressed consumption coping strategies. 9-48 percent and 5-43 percent of households have engaged in at least one crisis livelihoods coping strategy or stressed livelihoods coping strategy, respectively. At least one emergency livelihood coping strategy has been employed by 3-20 percent of households, except in Turkana and Marsabit where this is less than one percent.

    Low food and milk consumption, high morbidity, limited access to health and nutrition services, and poor childcare practices – coupled and underlying chronic issues such as poverty, high illiteracy, and poor infrastructure – have resulted in atypically high acute malnutrition prevalence. A rise in disease outbreaks were reported in several areas, including 1,500 confirmed cases of Kalaazar in Marsabit with 16 fatalities and 380 cases in Wajir. More than 800 cases of cholera were reported in Wajir and Garissa. As a result, the nutrition situation has deteriorated across pastoral areas compared to the prior IPC Acute Malnutrition Analysis in February 2019. In July, acute malnutrition prevalence reached Extremely Critical (GAM WHZ ≥30 percent) levels in parts of Marsabit and Turkana; in Turkana, Critical (GAM WHZ 15-29.9 percent) acute malnutrition is typical in the lean season while in Marsabit, Serious (GAM WHZ 10-14.9 percent) is typical, according to historical trends. Above-normal, Critical levels were also observed in Mandera, Wajir, Garissa and parts of Baringo, Marsabit, and Turkana. Serious levels were observed in West Pokot and Isiolo, which is typical for the lean season (Figure 4).

    Marginal agricultural outcomes: In marginal agricultural areas, food insecurity among poor households has also worsened, leading to widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes and the emergence of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in parts of Tharaka Nithi (Tharaka), Meru (Meru North), Kitui, and Makueni. Following two consecutive below- average cropping seasons, household reliance on markets for food supplies is atypically high for the post-harvest period. To compensate for lost crop sales income, households are expanding or seeking alternative sources of income, including livestock sales, remittances from kin, petty trading, and casual labor. In worst-affected areas, below-average income and purchasing power has led to food consumption gaps. According to NDMA sentinel site data collected in July, 18-60 percent of households reported borderline FCS while 1-12 percent reported poor FCS. In measuring rCSI, 29-63 percent of households reported engagement in stressed consumption coping strategies and 20-51 percent in crisis consumption coping strategies. Further, 11-25 percent of households were engaging in at least one stressed livelihood coping strategy and 8-32 percent in at least one crisis livelihood coping strategy, but less than 9 percent had employed at least one emergency livelihood coping strategy. GAM by Mid-upper Arm Circumference is at Acceptable levels (GAM MUAC <5 percent).


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Kenya Food Security Outlook for June to January 2020 remain unchanged except the following assumptions:

    • According to North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) climate forecasts, the remainder of main season (February to August) rainfall in unimodal (western) Kenya is most likely to be average. Total cumulative rainfall will be near average.
    • The mean air temperature in eastern Kenya is likely to be above average from August to October, ranging from 0.25 – 1 C° and driving accelerated depletion of forage and water resources.
    • According to estimates from the Kenya State Department for Crop Development, long rains maize crop production in high and medium potential areas is expected to be 25 percent below average. Harvests will be delayed to November.
    • Per HSNP protocols, emergency scale-up of cash transfer assistance to vulnerable households in areas above the drought status threshold – measured by the Vegetation Cover Index – is expected to continue at current levels.



    Pastoral areas

    In pastoral areas, the severity of food insecurity is expected to intensify through the peak of the lean season in October. Increasing water scarcity and declining pasture and forage availability will continue to drive declining livestock body conditions, and this will be exacerbated in areas where atypical migration and associated conflict results in restricted access to water or pasture and increased grazing pressure. Although ongoing rainfall in Turkana and Samburu has improved rangeland resource availability, these factors may slow livestock recovery and the effect on milk availability will not take place until the next birth cohort. Consequently, income from livestock sales and livestock-related labor and consumption of milk will remain significantly below average. Low household income and declining goat-to-cereals terms of trade will continue to constrain food access, making it increasingly difficult for poor households to meet their minimum food needs or mitigate food consumption gaps. It is expected that many poor households will engage in distressed sales of livestock, selling more than they normally would at below-average prices, despite already low herd sizes. For poor households with few to no livestock who depend on livestock-related labor demand, the expandability of petty trade, charcoal and firewood sales, and remittances from relatives will be limited. Although interannual and emergency safety nets are expected to mitigate worse food insecurity outcomes, an increasing number of households are expected to face moderate to large food consumption gaps or to engage in crisis and emergency livelihoods coping strategies. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist in Turkana, Marsabit, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera, Garissa, and Tana River, as well as in parts of Baringo and Samburu. Further, acute malnutrition prevalence is expected to be maintained at current high levels in most areas and to deteriorate in Marsabit from Critical to Extremely Critical in Moyale sub-county and from Alert to Serious in North Horr sub-county. It is also likely that the most vulnerable households will continue to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes during this period.  

    The onset of the average to above-average short rains season in late October is expected to drive food security improvements. As forage and water resources are replenished, livestock recovery will be observed as they return to wet season grazing areas in early November. Body conditions are most likely to be restored by late November, leading to seasonal increases in livestock retail prices. At the same time, the availability of the long rains harvest from medium and high potential areas will begin to reduce staple food prices, leading to gains in the goat-to-cereals terms of trade and household purchasing power. Some births will also offer a seasonal increase in milk availability, though this will remain at below normal levels due to low birth rates and below-normal herd sizes. As food and milk intake improves, acute malnutrition levels are expected to decline, but are still likely to remain high due to below-average milk production and consumption, disease incidence, and poor child-care practices. Most households are expected to regain sufficient food and income sources to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, the severity of the drought, slow livestock recovery, and more limited income-generating capacity will likely sustain Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through early December in Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River and Baringo.

    Marginal agricultural areas

    In marginal agricultural areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through approximately mid-September due to below-average household food and income sources. Current households food stocks are only expected to sustain poor households through August, compared to mid-September to October in a normal year. As a result, they are expected to rely on markets for food purchases earlier and more heavily than usual, even though food prices are likely to remain above average and household income will remain below average. Given reduced purchasing power, household access to food will be constrained. Among households with some livestock assets, limited pasture, browse, and water availability, coupled with an absence of crop residue for fodder, will sustain significantly reduced household milk availability. Conflict over grazing rights and watering points are also likely to escalate.  

    From October to January, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to be sustained, given that dry harvests will not be fully available until February and that most poor households will have not fully recovered from the shock of two consecutive below-average seasons. However, areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Beginning in mid-September, demand for agricultural labor for short rains crop production is expected to be higher than normal, as better and middle-off households typically seek to maximize production after a bad season. Poor households’ income is likely to return to average levels, improving food access. Food access is likely to further improve beginning in November, as the availability of long rains harvests from the Rift Valley and western Kenya will lower food prices. The short rains will seasonally increase household milk availability, and poor households will begin to access own-produced green harvests beginning in December. The rains will also prompt pastoralists to migrate livestock back to wet season grazing areas, reducing insecurity. Though area outcomes will be indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2), it is likely that a limited number of poor households will be unable to recover from asset stripping and liquidation and will continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Map of rainfall accumulation anomaly across Kenya

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Map of NDVI across Kenya

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Map showing surface water point availability in Kenya

    Figure 4

    Figure 3

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Map of nutrition IPC phase classification across Kenya

    Figure 5

    Figure 4

    Source: Kenya Food Security Steering Group

    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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