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Drought recovery continues but high food prices impact household food access

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • August 2023
Drought recovery continues but high food prices impact household food access

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through January 2024
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • In the pastoral areas, area-level Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are ongoing as households continue to recover from the historic drought, supported by ongoing humanitarian assistance to fill food consumption gaps. The return of the migrated herds is improving household milk access following the significant recharge of forage and water during the March to May long rains. Livestock are slowly turning to normal productivity, but herd sizes remain below the long-term average. Pastoral households are limiting livestock sales to recover their herds, driving high livestock prices. However, high staple food prices and below-average income-earning opportunities continue to constrain household food access. From October to January, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected as households continue to recover with the return of normal milk production with the birth of calves and kids conceived during the short rains, increased consumption of milk, and a decline in staple food prices with the long rains harvest. 
    • Poor temporal rainfall distribution resulted in below-average crop production in the southeastern marginal agricultural livelihood zones. Household food stocks are expected to last until late August to early September compared to December normally, likely driving atypically high market dependency for food through January 2024. In the coastal marginal agricultural livelihood zones, crop production is expected to be above average, following good rainfall distribution through July, improving household food access. From October to January, widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected as the forecast above-average rainfall due to El Niño supports planting for the October to December short rains agricultural season, improving household access to agricultural labor and income, with a likely above-average harvest of short-cycle crops in December and January improving household access to food and income from crop sales. 
    • Climate forecasts suggest increasing confidence in a strong El Niño by late 2023. El Niño typically correlates with above-average rainfall in the pastoral and marginal agricultural areas of Kenya. Based on historical trends during El Niño years, the onset of the October and December short rains will most likely be timely. The above-average rainfall will most likely support rangeland resources and increase planted area, improving income-earning among poor pastoral households and poor households relying on agricultural labor opportunities and income from crop sales. However, there is a risk that above-average rainfall will lead to incidences of Rift Valley Fever among livestock and livestock loss and crop damage from flash floods.

    Current Situation

    Crop production: According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the national long rains maize production is projected to be 3.4 million metric tons (MMT), which is 5 to 10 percent above the five-year average. Crop conditions are generally favorable in many counties, with production expected to be above average (Figure 1). In the high and medium unimodal rainfall areas of western and Rift Valley areas of Kenya, maize crop conditions are generally good, except for a few localized areas in Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Meru, and Kisumu, where crops are stressed due to uneven rainfall distribution.

    Figure 1

    Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) for March to November long rains maize, August 20, 2023
    Map showing maize water requirements. Conditions are good for maize production across most of Kenya.

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    The main rain-fed crops grown in the marginal agricultural areas are maize, cowpeas, and green grams. Beans were grown on a smaller scale in the southeastern marginal agricultural areas. In the southeastern marginal agricultural areas, the area planted was near-average for maize, cowpeas, and green grams, supported by a timely onset and good rainfall, particularly in April, while in Kitui, planting was supported by a county-subsidized plowing service. However, the area planted for beans was 16 percent below the five-year average, limited by the high cost of inputs and, to a lesser extent, the initial forecast of below-average rainfall. The government estimates that production is within the five-year average for green grams but around 35 to just over 50 percent below the five-year average for the rest of the crops due to poor rainfall distribution during critical stages of growth and early rainfall cessation, particularly in Embu and Makueni. Additionally, the high cost of inputs, use of non-certified seeds, and high incidences of pests and diseases such as the Fall Armyworm (FAW), African Armyworm (AAW), and aphids affected crop production in Embu, Makueni, and Kitui. Following the harvest in July, households reported having cereal stocks that can last for one to two months, likely through September, compared to three to four months normally. However, households in Makueni reported having just one month of cereal stocks, while households in Embu (Mbeere) had cereal stocks for two to three months. Most households continue to rely on off-own farm income-earning opportunities such as petty trade and the sale of charcoal and firewood to narrow the income deficits following limited agricultural waged labor opportunities during harvesting and limited income from crop sales. However, the high prices of staple food commodities continue to limit household purchasing power.

    In the coastal marginal agricultural areas (Taita Taveta. Kwale, Kilifi, and Lamu counties), the area planted for maize, cowpeas, and green grams was around 30 to 50 percent above the five-year average driven by adequate and well-distributed rainfall, provision of relief seed, and subsidized tractor hire services for farming households in Kilifi, Kwale, and Lamu, supported by the respective county governments. The upcoming harvest is expected to be around 45 to 60 percent above the five-year average despite reports of flash floods and nutrient leaching of soils due to excessive rainfall, particularly in Lamu, FAW infestations, and crop destruction by elephants in Kwale. In Kwale, household food stocks will likely last through December, which is normal, while in Taita Taveta, stocks will last through September compared to November normally. The upcoming harvest in Kilifi and Lamu is expected to begin in early August and help replenish the below-average food stocks. According to government estimates, household food stocks in coastal marginal agricultural areas were higher than last year in July but approximately 40 to 60 percent of the five-year average. The below-average food stocks are generally keeping households reliant on market purchases to fill any food consumption gaps, but the start of the harvest in August is expected to improve household food access.  

    Markets and trade: Across Kenya, staple food prices in July remained high, driven by high local and regional demand, high marketing costs due to high fuel prices, enforcement of export permits by Tanzania, and the depreciation of the KES. Across the wholesale urban reference markets of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret, wholesale maize prices were 50 to 86 percent above the five-year average, except in Eldoret, where maize prices were 112 percent above the five-year average due to limited quantities and high demand, particularly by local millers. 

    Retail maize prices in the pastoral and marginal agricultural livelihood zones ranged from 73 to 122 KES, with prices highest in Turkana. Retail maize prices in marginal agricultural markets ranged from 52 to 97 percent above the five-year average due to high demand driven by depleted household stocks, limited market supply, high fuel and transportation costs, and highly priced cross-border imports from Tanzania. In the pastoral areas, maize retail prices were 18 percent above the five-year average in Mandera and Garissa, driven by reduced demand for livestock feed as pasture rejuvenated, but up to around 50 to 90 percent of the five-year average across the rest of the pastoral markets driven by below-average supplies from typical source markets as the long rains harvest approaches, and sustained high demand for food and livestock feed (Figure 2). However, maize prices are beginning to stabilize and trend downwards as global prices decline and the long rains harvest in high-production areas of western Kenya and the Rift Valley approaches. 

    Figure 2

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

    Source: FEWS NET using data from NDMA

    A two-kilogram packet of maize flour is retailing at 230 to 250 KES (~1.60 to 1.72 USD) across various markets that FEWS NET monitors. The high maize grain and meal prices continue to restrict household purchasing power and food access, particularly for market-dependent poor households in urban and pastoral areas. 

    Dry bean prices remain high, impacted by similar drivers to the high maize prices, despite the availability of some harvests. In July, wholesale prices were 36 and 56 percent above the average in Kisumu and Eldoret, respectively, driven down by available local harvests. However, prices were 82 and 119 percent above the five-year average in Nairobi and Mombasa. Relatedly, retail bean prices in the marginal agricultural areas were 33 percent above the five-year average in Nyeri (Kieni), driven by available local harvests, but 53 to 83 percent above the five-year average across the rest of the marginal areas.

    Livestock prices: A mature medium-sized goat is retailing for 2950 to 5770 KES, around 50 percent higher than the five-year average, as livestock body conditions improved to average and above average levels following the improvements in forage and water resources and a reduced supply of animals to the market as livestock owners seek to replenish their herds across the pastoral areas. However, the high maize prices keep the goat-to-maize terms-of-trade around 15 to 40 percent below the five-year averages, providing between 24 and 58 kilograms per goat. This is equivalent to around seven to 16 days' worth of kilocalories for a family of six if they only consumed maize. However, the goat-to-maize terms-of-trade are similar to the five-year average in Garissa and 5 percent above the five-year average in Mandera, supported by the relatively high goat prices.

    Vegetation conditions: According to the satellite-derived eVIIRS normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), the high temperatures and below-average rainfall in June and July in western unimodal areas have resulted in a deterioration in vegetation greenness following the green-up that occurred during the March-May long rains (Figure 3). This is particularly present across much of Turkana, West Pokot, and Samburu, where NDVI is well below the 10-year average. However, above-average greenness is present along the coastal marginal agricultural areas following seasonal rainfall during June and July. Across most of the bimodal rainfall areas of Kenya, the ongoing dry season and high temperatures are driving the deterioration in vegetation conditions, but it is expected to recover with the start of the October to December short rains.  

    Figure 3

    eVMOD/eVIIRS normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) anomaly, 2023 minus mean of 2003-2022, August 11-20, 2023.
    NDVI has declined in southern Turkana, Samburu, West Pokot, and Baringo following below-average rainfall in June and July. However, vegetation is above-average in coastal marginal agricultural areas.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Livestock production: In the pastoral areas, livestock body conditions have improved as livestock have better access to water, forage, and pasture following the above-average long rains. Rangeland conditions are fair to good for grazers (sheep and cattle), except in Marsabit and Wajir, where they are good to very good. For browsers (goats and camels), body conditions range from good to very good, except in Turkana and Garissa, where they are fair to good due to relatively worse browse and water conditions. As the dry season continues, distances from grazing areas to water sources are increasing and range from 7 to 12 kilometers, ranging from 53 percent below the ten-year average to 18 percent above the ten-year average, depending on local water conditions. However, livestock are back in the wet season grazing areas closer to homesteads, improving household access to milk. Livestock milk production has also improved but generally remains below normal as livestock continue to recover from the recently ended drought, particularly in some of the worst affected areas like Samburu and Marsabit, where milk production is 0.2 and 0.75 liters per household per day, respectively, around 58 to 80 percent below the seven-year average. Across the rest of the pastoral areas, households are getting around 1.6 to 2.4 liters per day, which ranges from within average, to 13 percent above the seven-year average across the rest of the pastoral areas.    

    Domestic water availability: The above-average March to May long rains improved water availability significantly. The CHIRPS Waterpoint Viewer indicates that most of the monitored water points across the pastoral areas are classified as Good and greater than the long-term median water level as water sources recharge. However, a few monitored water points in Marsabit and Turkana are 50 to 100 percent of median depth and classified as Watch as the dry season continues. According to the July NDMA sentinel site bulletins, household water availability is declining as the dry season progresses, with return trekking distances increasing between June and July. Households are traveling around 4 to 13 kilometers to access water, similar to the 10-year average to 40 percent below the 10-year average across most pastoral areas. However, in Garissa and Turkana, the distances household travel for water is 10 and 23 percent above the 10-year average, where water availability is declining.

    In the Southeastern Marginal Agricultural areas, water levels in most open water sources, such as water pans, dams, rivers, and streams, have declined significantly following the cessation of the long rains in May. Most water sources are around 20 to 25 percent of their full capacities. According to NDMA July data, household return trekking distances to watering points are high in most areas, ranging between 3 to 5 kilometers compared to the five-year average of 1 to 4 kilometers; however, in Makueni and Kitui, households travel average distances. In the Coastal Marginal Agricultural livelihood zones, most open water surfaces are at 80 to 90 percent full. Consequently, household return trekking distances are below average, ranging between 2 to 3 kilometers compared to 3 to 4 kilometers normally.

    Pastoral area outcomes: According to July NDMA sentinel site data and SMART surveys carried out in July, the percentage of households reporting a borderline or poor food consumption score declined compared to February, an indication that household diet diversity and access to vegetables and protein-rich foods such as milk is improving as households recover from the historic drought. Households consume at least cereals and vegetables daily but never or very rarely consume meat or dairy. The limited diet diversity and high food prices likely drive at least one in five households across the pastoral areas, including Tana River, to record a borderline or poor food consumption score (FCS). Relatedly, 16 to 80 percent of households recorded a household hunger scale (HHS) of moderate or severe, indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes. At least 20 percent of poor households are also applying consumption-based coping strategies indicative Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3); however, in Baringo and West Pokot, households are engaging in coping strategies indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) such as selling their last female animal.

    The increase in milk production and food access has slightly reduced the prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM); however, the prevalence of acute malnutrition remains elevated, driven by the cumulative net effect of the five-season-long drought, poor dietary intake among children, high morbidity, poor WASH, unfavorable terms of trade, high food prices and multiple recurrent shocks. In Turkana South, the prevalence of acute malnutrition is Extremely Critical (GAM weight-by-height z-score (WHZ) ≥30 percent), and remains Critical (GAM WHZ 15 - 29.9 percent) in West Pokot, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, Isiolo, Samburu, parts of Turkana (Turkana North, Turkana West, Turkana Central sub-counties), parts of Marsabit (North Horr and Laisamis sub-counties), and Baringo (East Pokot sub-county). However, in Laikipia County and Saku Sub County in Marsabit Serious (GAM WHZ 10 - 14.9 percent) is prevalent, while in Marsabit (Moyale sub-county) and Baringo (Baringo North and South) are in Alert (GAM WHZ 5 - 9.9 percent). 

    Humanitarian assistance is ongoing and provided by the government and humanitarian partners. It includes the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) to 100,000 thousand households in Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, and Wajir counties, which was expanded in June to include an additional 24,000 households in Garissa, Isiolo, Tana River and Samburu counties. An additional 23,000 households in Marsabit and Wajir received cash transfers under the HSNP Emergency Scale-Up component. Households are also receiving humanitarian assistance from Phase 2 of WFP's Lisha Jamii Programme, which continues to provide an equivalent of 50 to 75 percent of a full monthly ration to about 159,000 food-insecure households in Turkana and Marsabit, supporting area-level Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes. Across the rest of the pastoral areas, despite substantial improvements in forage and water resources and livestock prices, high staple food prices, low terms of trade, low milk sales, and below-average income earning opportunities continue to constrain household access to food and income. Poor households are continuing to engage in unsustainable consumption and livelihood-based coping strategies to minimize food consumption gaps, driving area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes with the worst affected households likely in Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    Marginal agricultural area outcomes: Although the long rains production has been below average in most areas, it is providing short-lived improvements in household food availability. However, below-average income and high food prices limit household food consumption and diet diversity. According to NDMA sentinel site bulletins for July, at least one in five households reported a borderline FCS indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3), while around 30 percent of households in Lamu reported a poor FCS ahead of the upcoming long rains harvest. Relatedly, most poor households are engaging in consumption-based coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2), such as consuming less preferred or less expensive foods and reducing meal sizes and frequency. However, in Nyeri (Kieni), at least 20 percent of poor households are employing coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3), such as restricting adult consumption so young children can eat. According to the NDMA sentinel data, the proportion of children at risk of malnutrition, measured using the Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC<135mm), around 90 percent above the five-year average in Nyeri (Kieni), average in Lamu and up to 90 percent below the five-year average in the rest of the marginal agricultural areas supported by increased milk production and consumption, increased food consumption following the October to December short rains harvest, and ongoing humanitarian assistance, particularly WFP's Lisha Jamii Programme. Additionally, SMART surveys conducted in Kitui and Makueni in June and July reported that the prevalence of acute malnutrition was Alert (GAM WHZ 5-9.9 percent). While the long rains production has driven improvements in household food availability, below-average incomes and high staple food prices drive widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in most areas. However, the most affected households in Meru (Meru North), Kitui, Taita Taveta, and Makueni continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for Kenya for the Western and Riff Valley, and Eastern and northern Kenya.


    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET's most likely scenario for the  Kenya Food Security Outlook for June 2023 to January 2024 remain unchanged except for the following;

    • In the marginal agricultural areas, it is likely that the forecast of above-average rainfall during the October to December short rains will likely drive an increase in area under food crops, resulting in an above-average production of cereals such as maize. However, the production of pulses such as beans will be below average due to water logging.

    • Households in marginal agricultural areas are likely to earn above-average incomes from agricultural waged labor as the demand for labor during planting, weeding, spraying, and early harvesting is expected to be above average throughout the season. 

    • Between October and December, households in the Southeastern Marginal Agricultural areas are likely to depend heavily on market food purchases, having depleted their stocks from the below-average long rains production in early September compared to early December normally.

    Projected Outlook through January 2024

    In pastoral livelihood zones, below-average goat-to-maize terms-of-trade, high staple food prices, and a slow recovery of livestock herd sizes and livelihoods following the protracted drought are expected to keep pastoral households reliant on humanitarian assistance, driving Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) area-level outcomes through September. Rangeland resources and livestock body conditions will continue to deteriorate seasonally until the start of the October to December short rains, with the most affected livestock likely to migrate to the dry-season grazing areas. Below-average income from milk and livestock sales will keep pastoral households reliant on income remittances, charcoal and firewood sales, and safety nets to minimize food consumption gaps, but increased competition for casual labor and petty trade opportunities will keep earnings below average. The high cost of living and the mentioned drivers will force households to continue relying on consumption and livelihood-based coping strategies to minimize food consumption gaps. 

    From October to January, the forecast above average October to December short rains are expected to support a significant recovery of forage and water resources, driving livestock back to wet season grazing areas and improving livestock body conditions and sale values. Livestock birth rates are expected to increase to near-normal levels during this period, improving milk production, household milk consumption, and access to food and income. However, high staple food prices are expected to continue constraining access to food from markets, especially for poor households who will likely continue to rely on consumption and livelihood-based coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to minimize food consumption gaps. The prevalence of acute malnutrition will likely remain Critical (GAM 15 to 29.9 percent) but be on a declining trend owing to progressive improvement in food access but will likely remain elevated due to high seasonal morbidity. With the improvement in milk availability, an important source of food and income, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to emerge in most pastoral areas, except in Turkana, Marsabit, and Mandera, where area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected due to low herd sizes and limited access to income-earning opportunities. 

    In the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural livelihood zones, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist through September, driven by the declining household food stocks and constrained access to food due to the high prices of staple food commodities. Beginning in October, households will typically begin preparing land and planting for the short rains agricultural season. Poor households are expected to increase the acreage planted for food crops with the forecast above-average rainfall, but the high cost of inputs such as seeds and plowing costs may limit the expansion. Nevertheless, the demand for agricultural waged labor during land preparation, planting, weeding, and spraying is expected to increase significantly, resulting in above-average income for poor households. The increased access to agricultural labor opportunities is expected to improve household access to food from the market, but the anticipated above-average staple food prices will limit household purchasing power, especially in the southeast, where market dependency is expected to be unusually high through December. From late November through January, the gradual improvement in the availability of pastures, browse, and water resources will support improvements in livestock body conditions and productivity, along with household milk availability and consumption. At the same time, the availability of green harvests from late December through to January 2024 will gradually improve household food availability. The increased access to food is expected to allow most households to meet their food needs; however, the high cost of living and the need for households to repay debts accumulated during the drought will likely limit the ability of poor households to meet their non-food needs. Overall, widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected across the marginal agricultural areas, with a small proportion of the worst affected households in Taita Taveta, Kitui, Makueni, and Meru (Meru North) facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Additionally, the availability of milk and green harvests in December and January will likely continue to maintain the prevalence of acute malnutrition at typical Alert (GAM 5-9.9 percent) levels. 

    Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. Kenya Food Security Outlook Update, August 2023: Drought recovery continues but high food prices impact household food access, 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.

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