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Impacts of protracted drought and high inflation rates drive widespread Emergency (IPC Phase 4)

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • August 2022
Impacts of protracted drought and high inflation rates drive widespread Emergency (IPC Phase 4)

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Across Kenya, acute food insecurity remains elevated due to the impacts of drought on multiple below-average crop and livestock production seasons and high inflation. In August, Kenya’s annual inflation rate hit a five-year high of 8.3 percent, driven by food, transport, and fuel prices. At the same time, the government ended the maize subsidy program that had been awarded to 129 millers to lower maize flour prices to 100 KES (0.83 USD). Maize flour prices have now risen to more than 200 KES (1.66 USD) per 2 kg packet, the highest in five years. As a result, access to food is constrained among poor households given stagnant wages in urban areas and shrinking income-earning opportunities in rural areas.

    • In the pastoral areas, livestock productivity is minimal due to the drought, resulting in very low household food and income. In July, the goat-to-maize terms of trade was around 20 to 65 percent below the five-year average, driven by high staple food prices and low livestock prices. With livestock production increasingly unviable, many households are relying on income earned from casual labor or self-employment, as well as cash or in-kind food assistance via government safety nets and humanitarian aid. Despite this, food consumption gaps, the use of livelihood coping strategies, and acute malnutrition rates are consistent with Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    • In the marginal agricultural areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes persist in August amid significant losses in household food availability and low incomes from crop production, crop sales, and agricultural wage labor. Poor households are primarily relying on income earned from off-farm activities to purchase food. The severity of acute food insecurity is highest in Kitui, Makueni, Meru (Meru North), and Tharaka Nithi (Tharaka). 

    • FEWS NET is regularly assessing the Risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) due to extreme drought in the Horn of Africa. Based on an Outcome Analysis using the Household Economy Analysis approach in Kenya’s Northeastern, Northern, and Northwestern Pastoral livelihood zones, as well as NDMA sentinel site and SMART survey data, FEWS NET currently assesses that Famine (IPC Phase 5) is not a credible alternative scenario in Kenya through January 2023, given the critical availability of household income from labor and self-employment activities and government and humanitarian assistance. However, it must be emphasized that Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes – associated with increased acute malnutrition and mortality – are still extremely concerning. Furthermore, if food assistance declines or if household income shrinks significantly more than anticipated, the number of households in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) would likely increase.


    Rainfall performance: The June to September rainy season in western Kenya has been mixed following the below average March to May 2022 long rains. Most of western Kenya, the Nyanza region, and parts of Kilifi and Kwale counties have recorded more than 10 mm above-average rainfall, while most of Turkana, Lamu, southern Garissa, the central Rift Valley, and central Kenya have recorded cumulative rainfall deficits of 25-100 mm (Figure 1). In particular, northern Turkana has received only 45 to 60 percent of the 40-year average, while western Kenya has recorded cumulative rainfall of 125 to 150 percent of the long-term average (Figure 2). In the pastoral areas, the dry season is in progress and most areas have received little to no rainfall since early May 2022.

    Crop production: According to the Ministry of Agriculture and field reports, maize crops in the medium and high potential production areas of western Kenya and the South and North Rift Valley are in good condition and at the maturing and harvesting stages, having received average to above average rainfall (Figure 2). However, maize production is expected to be 10-15 percent below the five-year average due to the late onset of rainfall and irregular distribution of rainfall throughout the season.

    In the marginal agricultural areas, most households have depleted their own-produced food stocks due to the below average long rains production and lack of carry-over stocks from the previous below average short rains season. As a result, most households remain atypically reliant on market food purchases. However, NDMA sentinel site data indicates that households in Lamu have food stocks following a significantly above-average long rains harvest, while in Kwale and Kilifi, the ongoing harvesting of maize, green grams, and cowpea is gradually improving household food stocks. Additionally, poor marginal agricultural households continue to face income deficits due to below-average crop sales and limited agricultural waged labor opportunities following consecutive below average production seasons. As a result, poor households have below-average purchasing power which is constraining market food purchases. 

    Livestock production: Livestock body conditions, particularly cattle, are poor across most pastoral areas due to limited access to pasture and water. According to the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), vegetation greenness across much of the country is less than 80 percent of the 2012-2021 average, particularly in northwestern, northern, northeastern, and southern Kenya (Figure 3). The unseasonably low pasture availability continues to drive widespread livestock migrations across the pastoral areas. According to NDMA sentinel site data for July, livestock trekking distances across most pastoral areas are 11-17 km, compared to 8-13 km normally, while in Mandera and Marsabit, livestock trekking distances are 19 km and 34 km, compared to 12 km and 18 km normally, due to dried up water pans, the breakdown of boreholes, and resource-based conflicts. In Wajir and Garissa, trekking distances are within the monthly average of 11 km and 18 km due to relatively better recharge of water sources. Due to below-average access to pasture and water, intra- and inter-county livestock migrations persist, as herders search for better pastures and water resources. Inter-county livestock migrations have also been reported into atypical areas of Meru, Nakuru, Nyeri, Nyandarua, Laikipia, and Baringo counties, along with cross-border migrations into southern Ethiopia and eastern Uganda.

    The unseasonably low availability of pasture and water and long trekking distances continues to drive deterioration in livestock body conditions and productivity, thereby limiting household income and purchasing power. Cattle body conditions are poor across the northern and northeastern pastoral livelihood zones, though in Turkana, cattle body conditions are fair given ongoing rainfall. Goat body conditions across the pastoral livelihood zones are largely fair, but in Mandera and Marsabit goat body conditions are poor. In July, milk production was around one liter in most pastoral areas compared to around two liters normally. However, in Marsabit, Samburu, and Turkana where milk production was negligible due to low to no calving/kidding during the March-May long rains and the intensified migration that has left few milking herds around the homesteads.

    Domestic water availability: In the pastoral and marginal agricultural areas, household water availability remains low as most open water sources such as seasonal rivers, water pans, and dams have dried up. In the pastoral areas, traditional river wells, shallow wells, and strategic boreholes are the major water sources. In these areas, household return trekking distances in July are 8 to 15 km, compared to 2 to 8 km normally, except in Isiolo where distances were within the average of 4 km. In the marginal agricultural areas, household return trekking distances ranged between 3 to 6 km, compared to the five-year average of 2 to 6 km. However, in Meru (Meru North) trekking distances are 20 km compared to around 8 km normally due to the drying up of limited water sources. Overall, the long trekking distances for water take a lot of time, limiting household engagement in income-earning opportunities along with other household activities. Water prices are above the three-year average prices and range from 5 to 10 KES per liter compared to less than 5 KES normally in Lamu, Makueni, Taita Taveta, Turkana, Marsabit and West Pokot; however, water prices are 10-20 KES in Mandera.  

    Markets and trade: Staple food prices remain significantly above average due to low local supply following successive below average production seasons, high national demand as food and entertainment businesses recover following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, coupled with high global prices that are driving high fuel and transportation costs, high inflation rates, and a lack of maize imports from typical international source-markets such as Mexico or Ukraine. The above average prices in the presence of low income are reducing household food access and forcing households to rely more on consumption and livelihood-based strategies to cover their food and non-food needs. In July, the wholesale maize prices in the urban reference markets were around 45 to 80 percent above the five-year average, except in Eldoret where prices are nearly 170 percent above the five-year average (Figure 4).  In the pastoral areas, maize retail prices are 25 to just over 70 percent above the five-year average in most markets except in Baringo, Laikipia, West Pokot, and Samburu where prices are 90 to almost 105 percent above the five-year average. Prices are expected to remain high even though the national maize balance sheet will have a surplus of 15 million (90 kg) bags by the end of October, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. This includes approximately 2.4 million bags imported from the East Africa region, and 19.6 million bags from the long rains harvests crop in the medium and high potential production areas of western Kenya and the South and North Rift, which will only lower prices momentarily.

    Similarly, wholesale bean prices were 20-50 percent above the five-year average due to reduced cross-border imports from Tanzania and Uganda, except in Eldoret where bean prices were 10 percent below average following the availability of long rains production in the medium potential areas of Western Kenya. In the marginal agricultural areas, maize retail prices are over 90 percent above the five-year average in most markets except in Nyeri, Kitui, and Lamu where prices around 20-50 percent above average. The retail prices of beans are around 45-90 percent above average in most markets except in Lamu where bean prices are 25 percent above average.

    The price of a medium-sized goat ranged from average in Isiolo and Marsabit driven by fair body conditions following the March to May long rains, but goat prices are 7-39 percent below average across the remainder of the monitored markets. However, in Garissa, Tana River, and Laikipia goat prices are around 10-15 percent above the five-year average. Consequently, household food access to food, measured using the proxy goat-to-maize terms-of-trade, remains constrained by high staple prices and declining livestock prices. In July, the sale of a goat can purchase 17-55 kg of maize, enough to feed a family of six for four to 20 days if all they ate was maize (Figure 5). However, in the northern and eastern pastoral markets, the goat-to-maize terms-of-trade are continuing to decline. Of particular concern are the goat-to-maize terms-of-trade in Turkana, Samburu, Baringo, and Isiolo where the sale of a goat can only purchase enough maize to provide the equivalent of 2100 kilocalories for four to nine days if all a family ate was maize.

    Pastoral area outcomes:  According to NDMA sentinel site data, about 13 to 47 percent of pastoral households reported a poor FCS, indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, with just over 30 to nearly 60 percent of pastoral households reporting a borderline FCS, indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. An increasing number of households are recording a borderline FCS in most pastoral counties due to below-average food consumption. Poor households are also engaging in coping strategies such as such as reducing meal frequency and food portions, eating less preferred or less expensive foods, and sending household members to eat elsewhere. However, in Turkana and Marsabit, around 30 to 40 percent of households reported withdrawing children from school, and reducing expenses on health care due to low income and livestock productivity, coping strategies typically indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In July, an IPC acute malnutrition analysis recorded Critical (WHZ GAM 15-29.9 percent) proportions in Turkana (Turkana West, Turkana Central), Samburu, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Baringo (Tiaty), Marsabit (North Horr), but Extremely Critical (GAM WHZ ≥ 30 percent) in Marsabit (Laisamis), and Turkana (Turkana South and Turkana North) driven by reduced food and milk consumption, increased morbidity, and poor child-care practices in addition to structural issues such as poverty, high illiteracy levels, and poor infrastructure. Overall,  declining goat-to-maize terms-of-trade, and limited access to milk and income earning opportunities are driving high acute malnutrition rates and widespread Emergency (IPC Phase 4) area-level outcomes.

    Marginal agricultural area outcomes: According to July NDMA sentinel site data, around 20-40 percent of poor households recorded a borderline food consumption score, indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). However, in Lamu and Meru North, around 50 and 70 percent of poor households recorded a borderline FCS, with around 16 percent and 26 percent of poor households, recording a poor FCS indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4). To cope, households across the marginal agricultural areas are reducing the number of meals consumed each day, limiting portion sizes and consuming less preferred foods. The proportion of children under five years of age at risk of acute malnutrition, as measured by the mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC <135mm) remains well below the five-year average, except in Makueni and Nyeri (Kieni) where the proportion of children with a MUAC <135mm is 28 percent and 71 percent above the three-year average. With significantly below average household food stocks, unseasonably low household incomes, and above average staple food prices, most poor households are minimally meeting their food needs but are unable to afford non-food expenditures without engaging in coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC phase 2). However, more than 20 percent of poor households in Meru (Meru North), Kitui, Makueni, and Tharaka Nithi are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as an increasing number of households are engaging in livelihood and consumption coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to fill food consumption gaps and are reporting borderline food consumption scores. 


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Kenya Food Security Outlook for June 2022 to January 2023  remain unchanged. 


    In pastoral areas, the decline in the already below average forage and water resources is expected to intensify livestock migration and drive remaining livestock herds to the dry season grazing areas, particularly until the start of the forecast below-average October to December short rains, continuing low livestock productivity, and increases in disease and conflict incidences. The remaining milking herds left at the homesteads will likely continue to produce little to no milk for consumption or sale. Households will increasingly depend on non-livestock income sources like non-agricultural wage labor, safety nets, remittances, and charcoal and firewood sales. However, this will likely to be constrained by limited labor opportunities and low wages driven by high competition and a still-recovering economy also restricted by the ongoing drought, high global fuel prices, and inflation. Driven by low terms-of-trade and low livestock productivity, households will intensify the application of coping strategies including reducing the number of meals and portion sizes and sending children to eat elsewhere, withdrawing children from school, reducing expenditures on healthcare, the sale of last female animals, and dropping out of pastoralism. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected across northern and eastern pastoral counties through January 2023.

    In the marginal agricultural areas, household food availability will remain significantly below average following the poor long rains harvest, driving an atypically high market dependency through at least January 2023. The forecast below average October to December 2022 short rains are likely to result in below average agricultural waged labor opportunities as households face constrained access to seeds and other agricultural inputs, in addition to poor crop performance, and above-average staple food prices. Although households are likely to increase their reliance on other sources of income such as the sale and production of charcoal and other off-farm income, this is unlikely to bridge income deficits and improve food access. As a result, poor households will continue to employ consumption-based coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3), such as reducing meal frequency and food portions, eating less preferred foods, and relying on help from friends and relatives. Households are also likely to engage in livelihood-coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) such as borrowing money, purchasing food on credit, and reducing expenses on health and veterinary services. Consequently, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely be sustained.

    Risk of Famine analysis: In August, FEWS NET conducted a Risk of Famine (IPC Phase 5) analysis through January 2023 for the Northwestern, Northern, and Northeastern Pastoral livelihood zones in Kenya using an HEA Outcome Analysis approach. Based on this analysis, FEWS NET does not assess a credible alternative scenario in which Famine (IPC Phase 5) would occur by January 2023, due to the critical availability of household income from labor and self-employment activities and government and humanitarian assistance. However, FEWS NET identified that maize prices, distributions of cash or food through the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) and humanitarian food assistance (HFA), and income from casual labor and self-employment need to be carefully monitored as the drought continues.

    In the most likely scenario, the start of the long rains harvest in western Kenya is expected to relatively lower maize prices as the harvest reaches local markets. Additionally, HSNP and HFA distributions are expected to continue, at a minimum, or be scaled up; there are currently no indications that a pipeline break is imminent. In an alternative scenario, however, the HEA Outcome Analysis identified that concurrent worst-case assumptions about these parameters would likely lead to an increase in the number of households facing extreme food consumption gaps indicative of Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). Specifically, if maize prices were to increase by 33 percent in the Northern Pastoral livelihood zone, 24 percent in the Northeastern Pastoral livelihood zone, and 37 percent in the Northwestern Pastoral livelihood zone, and if this were to occur alongside a 50 percent decline in household income from casual labor and self-employment, then the number of households facing Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) would likely increase. In another alternative scenario, if the delivery of HFA and  HSNP significantly declines, and if this were to occur alongside a 50 percent decline in typical household income from casual labor and self-employment, then an increase in the number of households facing Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5) would be likely. 


    Figure 1

    Figure 1.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 2.

    Source: UC Santa Barbara Climate Hazards Center

    Figure 3

    Figure 3.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 4

    Figure 4.

    Source: FEWS NET using NDMA data

    Figure 5

    Figure 5.

    Source: FEWS NET using NDMA data

    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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