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Crisis food security outcomes likely to increase due to below-average short rains

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • December 2016
Crisis food security outcomes likely to increase due to below-average short rains

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  • Key Messages
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • Significantly below-average short rains have led to poor crop and livestock conditions in southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural areas. The resulting loss of income and food from household production, and reduced on-farm labor opportunities, are likely to exacerbate household food insecurity and lead to an atypical intensification of coping mechanisms to support food consumption. While most poor households will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through May 2017, localized households, especially in parts of Kilifi, are likely to move to Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

    • Despite enhanced rainfall in late November/early December, substantial seasonal deficits remain in most pastoral areas. Livestock productivity and household incomes continue to be atypically low, resulting in reduced household food access and consumption. Most pastoral households remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2), except in parts of Marsabit, Mandera, Tana River, Garissa, and Samburu where some households are experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity, with the expectation for additional households to move to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between January and April 2017.  

    • As rainfall deficits continue even in western parts of the country, long rains crop production is expected to be up to 10 percent below average. However, food security in the medium and high-producing areas is expected to remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) through May 2017.


    Across the southeastern marginal agricultural areas, the short rains were two to three weeks late, below average in cumulative amounts (with deficits of 100 – 200 mm in Nyeri, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, and Embu counties and deficits of about 25 – 100 mm in parts of Kitui and Makueni), and characterized by poor spatial and temporal distribution. Recent rains have brought some relief for water and pasture availability and access, with slightly improved prospects for livestock productivity. However, the below- average rains reduced cropping activities, such as land preparation, planting and weeding, lowering casual labor opportunities and income at the household level. Most farmers planted late, with current crop development occurring later than usual. As of early December, the earlier planted maize crop was at knee-height, with first weeding taking place; while the late planted crops, which were the majority, were only at the germination stage. With the forecast indicating cessation of rains by mid-December, it is unlikely that crops in the field will have the required water conditions to sustain them to maturity. As a result, a below-average crop performance is expected. Retail maize prices remained stable and/or marginally increased between October and November, but were within averages boosted by supplies from the high and medium rainfall areas and imports from Tanzania.

    The coastal marginal agricultural areas also experienced a late onset of the rains, of two to four weeks, and below-average cumulative amounts (with deficits of 25 – 100 mm across most areas). The rains have been poorly distributed both in space and time. Water sources have minimally recharged, slightly reducing access distances for both humans and livestock, but they remain above averages, more so for livestock, as domestic source distances are mitigated by water trucking interventions. Cropping activities are ongoing but at significantly reduced levels, with about 40 percent of households atypically opting to plant drought tolerant crops, such as cassava, green grams, and cowpeas. The majority of farming households (FEWS NET projects it is now closer to 60 percent instead of 70 percent that was estimated in November) opted out of planting for this season due to drier than normal conditions, which has been reflected across the zone as maize fields remain bare. As a result, on-farm labor opportunities have significantly fallen, reducing household income and purchasing power. Retail maize prices remained fairly stable, supported by cross border imports, except in Kwale where they increased by six percent, between October and November, owing to increased transaction costs and demand. Prices remained near average in Taita Taveta and Kilifi, but were up to 27 percent above average in Lamu and Kwale due to depleted household stocks and higher import costs. To avert further loss of livestock, both the national and county governments have embarked on a number of interventions, including livestock offtake in Kilifi, Kwale, and Lamu counties and general relief food distributions. The majority of poor households in these regions are in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity.

    While the short rains performed better in late November/early December, overall, they remained below average in cumulative amounts and were characterized by poor temporal and spatial distribution across most pastoral areas. Large parts of the pastoral areas continue to experience seasonal deficits of 25 – 50 mm, with isolated areas in Marsabit, Garissa, and Tana River recording sizable seasonal deficits of up to 100 mm. Pasture, browse, and water conditions are reported to be fair in most areas due to the recent enhanced rainfall, though localized areas are still reporting poor and depleted rangeland conditions, especially in those areas mentioned above that continue to experience substantial seasonal deficits. Livestock productivity remains low, and milk production is up to 70 percent below average. Livestock prices in the representative pastoral markets of Mandera and Marsabit atypically declined by up to 18 percent between September and November due to poor livestock body conditions and low market demand. With most households keeping their livestock far from homesteads in the dry season grazing areas, income-earning opportunities through herding and livestock sales remain below average. With fairly stable or marginally increasing staple food prices, access to food for most pastoral households is currently constrained by lower incomes. While most households remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity, some localized households in parts of Marsabit (Laisamis, North Horr), Samburu (Samburu East), Garissa (Fafi, Ijara, Dadaab, Balambala), Tana River (Tana North), and Mandera (parts of Mandera South and East) are experiencing Crisis levels (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity.  


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Kenya Food Security Outlook for October 2016 to May 2017 and the Food Security Outlook Update for November 2016 remain unchanged. 


    Food security in pastoral areas will likely deteriorate further through January since the recent, slightly enhanced rains will not be adequate to support improved rangeland conditions and boost livestock productivity. While the rains brought some relief for water access and forage regeneration, these are expected to be short-lived, and will be depleted faster than usual, by the end of December/early January. An atypical decline in household incomes due to limited earning opportunities as less livestock are close to home for sale and/or food sources is expected to intensify household food insecurity through April 2017 before the onset of the long rains. In addition, livestock prices are expected to atypically decline due to poor body conditions and low demand. As a result, additional households are likely to move to Crisis (IPC Phase 3), during the January to April period. The potential remains for some localized households, especially in parts of Garissa and Marsabit where households have been in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) since September 2016, to experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity over the same period, in the absence of adequate and sustained humanitarian assistance to cover growing food gaps and an extreme loss of livelihood assets. In addition, with the forecast for below-average March to May long rains, improvements in livestock productivity and pasture regeneration that typically occur by late April/early May is likely to be marginal at best, which would exacerbate food insecurity.

    In the southeast marginal agricultural zones, the expected cessation of the short rains likely means that major crops are going to have a shorter length of growing period (LGP). Consequently, prospects for the short rains crop harvest point towards up to 50 percent below-average maize crop production. In the coastal marginal agricultural zone, maize crop production is expected to be even lower, up to 80 percent below average. Exacerbating this is the fact that the principle season, the last long rains, also performed poorly. Most households in the two zones will need to depend on markets to support food consumption, while facing declining household incomes. With technical projections, through May 2017, pointing towards increased staple food prices due to low supplies and high demand, access to food is likely to be more constrained. The majority of poor households in these zones are likely to atypically intensify their reliance on coping mechanisms to bridge food and income gaps, thereby remaining in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity through May 2017. However, localized areas in Kilifi, which have been the most affected by rainfall deficits, are likely to move to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between January and May 2017. If the long rains perform poorly as forecast, this is likely to decrease seasonal on-farm labor opportunities, further limiting incomes and food access, and would lead to unfavorable, initial cropping conditions. 


    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    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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