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Near-average short rains cereal production expected as high area planted offsets crop losses

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • December 2019
Near-average short rains cereal production expected as high area planted offsets crop losses

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  • Key Messages
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • In December, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes persist due to ongoing recovery from the 2018/19 drought and the negative impact of recent floods and landslides on household food and income sources. From October to December, Kenya experienced one of the wettest short rains seasons on record, with rainfall totals ranging up to 400 percent of average. A second round of floods and landslides in November caused the death of 132 people, displaced 17,000 people, and affected approximately 330,000 people, primarily in West Pokot. Disruptions to critical transport infrastructure and ongoing delays in the unimodal harvest have reduced the availability of food in markets, sustaining high food prices. In localized areas, crop and livestock losses have been reported.

    • Staple food prices remained atypically high in November, driven by low market supply resulting from the delayed unimodal long rains harvest in western Kenya, a decline in cross-border imports, and below-average bimodal production in late 2018 and early 2019. Disruptions to trade flows from heavy rain are likely exacerbating this trend. In comparison to the five-year average, maize prices ranged from 14 to 41 percent above average and bean prices ranged from 9 to 25 percent above average, with few exceptions. Bean prices in Nairobi were exceptionally high, at 58 percent above the five-year average.

    • In pastoral areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes remain prevalent. However, the replenishment of rangeland resources has reduced livestock trekking distances and driven migration to wet season grazing areas near homesteads, leading to better body conditions, milk productivity, and sale values. Rising goat prices are counterbalancing the impact of high food prices, and household purchasing power is gradually improving in most areas. As households transition to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in early 2020, the population in need of livelihoods support is expected to be atypically high given that many poor households continue to have below-normal livestock assets.

    • In marginal agricultural areas, above-average rainfall has led to mixed effects on short rains crop production, which is most likely to result in a near-average harvest on aggregate in January. In many areas, area planted is above normal, cropping conditions remain favorable, and agricultural labor demand is at typical levels. However, excess soil moisture and flooding in some coastal and southeastern areas is expected to result in below-average, short-cycle legumes production and localized maize losses. In early 2020, the availability of the short rains harvest and labor income earned in the 2020 long rains season are expected to lead to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in some areas. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes will likely be sustained in areas that are currently experiencing localized crop losses. Overall, the population experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes is expected to remain atypically high through May.


    Rainfall performance: The 2019 October – December short rains have been characterized by heavy rains in October and late November, with a short dry interval in early to mid-November. Cumulative rainfall through December 15th has eclipsed the seasonal averages, with positive anomalies ranging from 100 to 300 millimeters (mm) across most of the country (Figure 1). Some areas accumulated rainfall more than 300 mm above average, including southeastern marginal agricultural areas, parts of Eastern Pastoral livelihood zone (Garissa and Wajir), coastal Kenya, and the Lake Victoria basin. Classified as the wettest short rains season in at least 40 years, the exceptional rainfall continues to be influenced by a strong positive Indian Ocean Dipole. According to OCHA and the Kenya Red Cross Society, more than 160,000 people have been affected by floods or landslides since the onset of the rains in October. An estimated 18,000 people have been at least temporarily displaced and 120 people lost their lives. Landslides in West Pokot county in late November account for a high proportion of those displaced or killed, resulting in 10,000 people displaced and 72 deaths. Severe flooding also occurred in Garissa and Tana River counties in late November, particularly along the Tana River.

    Crop production: In marginal agricultural areas, the major crops that are being grown include maize, cowpeas, beans, pigeon peas, sorghum, millet and green grams. In general, area planted is above normal and above-average rainfall has enhanced crop yield prospects while suppressing Fall Army Worm infestations to minimal levels. Currently, most crops are in the knee high/flowering stages. However, excessive soil water moisture and waterlogging has been reported in localized, poorly drained areas and in areas with black cotton soils, especially in Embu, Nyeri (Kieni), Meru (Meru North), Kitui, Kwale and Kilifi, which is slowing crop development and has caused significant damage to maize and beans. In Kilifi, flooding in parts of Malindi, Ganze, and Magarini at the start of season delayed land preparation, planting, and weeding. In other low-lying and riverine areas, the rains damaged crops, homes, and other property. Although agricultural-related casual labor demand was low in some flood-affected areas at the start of season, demand recovered to normal levels once farmers began to plant or replant and the heavy rain has increased the need for weeding labor.

    In unimodal high and medium agricultural areas of the Rift Valley and western Kenya, the exceptional rains continue to delay harvesting, drying, and threshing of the February-September long rains maize crop, which is elevating the risk of aflatoxin poisoning and post-harvest losses. Harvesting is furthest along in Eldoret county. Preliminary estimates of total post-harvest losses are not yet available but are expected to exceed 12 percent of total production. The October 2019 to January 2020 short season maize crop in lower areas of western, upper Nyanza, and lower Nyanza regions is in the vegetative to reproductive stages with the early planted crop nearing maturity. In the North Rift, excessive soil moisture is slowing bean crop development and rotting of the young pods. Crop conditions in central Kenya are good, except in localized areas with poorly drained soils.

    Domestic water availability: In marginal agricultural areas, domestic water availability has significantly improved, following the recharge of most open water sources to 100 percent of their capacities. Water sources available to households are rivers, springs, pans and dams, shallow wells, and roof catchments. According to November National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) data, household trekking distances to watering points have declined to average levels in most areas and to 38-54 percent below average in Kitui and Lamu. In pastoral areas, all open water sources, such as water pans, dams, and natural ponds, are fully recharged. The average distances to watering points has declined to 18-69 percent below average in most places. However, trekking distances in Garissa, Mandera, and Tana River remain 1-5 kilometers above average, likely because water sources near homesteads have been contaminated or damaged by flooding. There is an increased likelihood of waterborne disease due to contaminated water during flood seasons, including cholera. A cholera outbreak has been ongoing in 2019, namely in Nairobi, Garissa, Wajir, Turkana, and Narok.  

    Livestock production:  The record rains have led to significant regeneration and establishment of pastures and browse in pastoral areas, supporting livestock recovery from the preceding drought. Vegetation conditions in December, as measured by the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), are more than 140 percent above normal in many areas (Figure 2). With improved availability of pastures, browse and water resources, livestock are migrating back to the wet season grazing areas. According to November NDMA data, the trekking distances from grazing areas to watering points have declined to 11-62 percent below the five-year averages except in Garissa, where distances have been declining since October but remain 40 percent above average. Livestock body conditions of all species have improved to fair to good, which is typical at this time in the season. As a result, daily milk production at the household level has gradually improved. According to November NDMA data, production in November was average in Baringo and 18-44 percent above average in Laikipia, Tana River, West Pokot and Wajir. However, due to below-normal herd sizes, the time lag in recovery from drought, and the timing of livestock births in late October, milk production in November was 13-41 percent below average in Turkana, Samburu, and Mandera. While livestock disease outbreaks have not occurred despite the heavy rains, typical diseases such as Contagious Caprine Pleuro-Pneumonia (CCPP), Contagious Bovine Pleuro-pneumonia (CBPP), Pneumonia, Mange and intestinal worms, have remained at seasonal levels. The various county veterinary departments are engaged in disease surveillance, vaccination, and treatment.

    Markets and Trade: In November, staple food prices remained above average in most key reference markets, driven by the prevailing national maize shortage after consecutive seasons of below-average bimodal production in marginal agricultural areas, delayed unimodal harvests, and declining cross-border imports from Tanzania and exacerbated by flood-related disruptions to trade flows. In the urban reference markets of Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, and Kisumu, maize prices were 25-41 percent above the five-year average. In Eldoret and Kisumu, large-scale millers offered farmers 30 percent above the wholesale price set by the National Cereal and Produce Board, which led to price spikes of 7-11 percent in the market from October to November. Dry bean prices were 25-58 percent above average in Kisumu and Nairobi but 32 percent below average in Eldoret, where bean harvesting is ongoing. In most marginal agricultural areas, maize prices were 17-38 percent above the five-year average except in Kilifi and Taita Taveta, where prices are near average due to higher availability of local supply from Lamu and Tanzanian imports. Bean prices were 9-23 percent above the five-year average across all marginal agricultural markets. In pastoral reference markets, the price of maize was generally 14-33 percent above the five-year average. However, prices were near average in Samburu and Baringo and seven percent below average in West Pokot due to ongoing local harvests and availability of green maize, despite recent landslides.  

    The retail price of goats has generally increased across the country, attributed to tightening supply as herders seasonally reduce livestock sales and take advantage of improved rangeland resource availability to improve livestock body conditions, sale value, and herd size. In most pastoral markets, goat prices in November were 11-30 percent above the five-year averages, while prices were average in Turkana and Tana River. In Marsabit, where the goat price has been near average since July, the price rose by 23 percent from October to November and is now 19 percent above average (Figure 3). The exception is Mandera, where the goat price has been below average since June; although the price of a goat rose from October to November, it remained 13 percent below average. Rising goat prices have gradually elevated the goat-to-cereal terms of trade, despite persistently above-average cereal prices. The amount of maize, in kilograms, that can be purchased from the sale of a medium-sized, mature goat is rising but still remains 11-38 percent below average in Tana River and Mandera. However, the terms of trade increased to average levels in Garissa, Laikipia, and Wajir and were 7-20 percent above average in other pastoral areas.

    Inter-annual and humanitarian assistance: As of December, humanitarian food assistance to households affected by floods or landslides has been sporadic. Individual county governments and humanitarian organizations are providing food and non-food items, but the data on food distribution levels is limited. In Turkana, WFP, World Vision, and the county government have so far distributed 334 MT of cereals, pulses, and vegetable oil to 2,700 beneficiaries affected by floods. In Marsabit, the Kenya Red Cross has provided cash transfers to 2,117 flood-affected households, with each household receiving KES 3000 (USD 30) in Moyale Sub-county, while PACIDA has provided cash transfers to 2,117 households at KES 4,711 (USD 47) per household in North Horr, Laisamis, and Moyale Sub-counties. Emergency assistance provided by the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP), funded by DFID and implemented through NDMA, has ended in accordance with drought response protocols, but the HSNP continues to provide regular, interannual cash transfers to 102,000 beneficiaries in Wajir, Turkana, Marsabit, and Mandera, providing an amount equivalent to 40 percent of total household food needs. Other regular interannual cash assistance programs like Orphans and Vulnerable Children, Older Persons Cash Transfer, and Persons with Severe Disability-Cash Transfer benefit approximately 1,000,000 households across the whole country.

    Pastoral Outcomes: In November, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes continue to persist, as most poor households are yet to recover from two consecutive below-average seasons and a severe lean season. The gradual improvement in the goat-to-cereal terms of trade is slowly strengthening household purchasing power and access to food, while milk availability is also improving. According to NDMA sentinel site data, improving trends in food consumption were observed from October to November, but 11-28 percent of households recorded poor food consumption scores and 11-35 percent of households recorded borderline food consumption scores. Food consumption was lowest in Tana River, Turkana, and Wajir, with 41-47 percent of households recording borderline scores. Most poor households are continuing to rely on stressed consumption-based coping strategies. According to NDMA sentinel site data, the mean reduced Coping Strategy Index (rCSI) ranges between 6 and 17 across pastoral areas. The most common strategies reported by households include consuming less preferred foods and purchasing food on credit. Data on Global Acute Malnutrition levels has not been collected since July. However, according to NDMA November sentinel site data, the proportion of children under five years of age "at risk" of malnutrition (MUAC <135mm) is declining and was near average in Garissa, Laikipia, and Marsabit, 14 to 18 percent below average in Turkana and Wajir, and 13-26 percent above average in other pastoral areas.

    Marginal agricultural outcomes: In November, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present, but food security among poor households has continued to gradually improve since October. Most poor households are atypically reliant on markets and vulnerable to high food prices, given the early depletion of household food stocks after the failed long rains harvest. However, income earned from agricultural-related casual labor opportunities is approximately average and has relatively improved household purchasing power and access to food. Based on key informant information and field observations, household income is likely sufficient for most households to meet their minimum food needs. However, NDMA November sentinel site data indicates that dietary quality remains below normal in most areas. In most areas, borderline food consumption was recorded among 19-39 percent of households, though Makueni, Lamu, and Meru (Meru North) recorded higher proportions of 54-59 percent. Overall, 2-10 percent of households recorded poor food consumption scores. Similarly, although poor households report reduced frequency of crisis consumption-based coping strategies, NDMA November sentinel site data indicates the mean rCSI ranges from 3 to 14 in most areas and 19 in Meru (Meru North) and Embu (Mbeere). Data on Global Acute Malnutrition levels has not been collected since July. However, according to NDMA November sentinel site data, the proportion of children under five years of age "at risk" of malnutrition (MUAC <135mm) is near average in Makueni and Nyeri (Kieni), 10-31 percent below average in Meru (Meru North), Embu (Mbeere), and Kilifi, and 7-16 percent above average in Kitui and Tharaka (Nithi). The risk of malnutrition among children under five years is highest in Lamu and Kwale, where the prevalence was 8-10 percent in November compared to the five-year average of four to six percent, and lowest in Taita Taveta, where the prevalence was one percent compared to the average of three percent.


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Kenya Food Security Outlook for October 2019 to May 2020 remain unchanged except the following assumptions:

    • According to North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME) climate forecasts, the 2019 October to December short rains are likely to extend into January 2020 in central, southern, western and coastal Kenya. Rainfall totals in January are expected to be above average.
    • Based on cumulative rainfall totals to date and the NMME forecast, atypically high pre- and post-harvest cereal and legume losses are expected during the short rains harvest in some areas that have been worst-affected by excessive soil moisture saturation and floods and landslides, particularly in parts of central, western, and southeastern Kenya. However, based on high area planted and current crop development, above-average cereal production is expected in areas that have been less affected by excess rainfall. As a result, total short rains cereal production is expected to be near average. However, total short rains beans production is expected to be below average given their higher vulnerability to excessive moisture.
    • Based on key informant information on observed livestock conception levels, livestock births are now expected to be approximately average in most pastoral areas during the March to May 2020 long rains season.


    In pastoral areas, recent improvements in pasture, browse, and water availability are expected to sustain favorable rangeland conditions for livestock throughout December and the January to February lean season, maintaining good body conditions and milk productivity and encouraging normal livestock conception rates. As a result, livestock sale values, milk production, and sales are expected to steadily increase and will range from average to above-average on the county level. Consequently, household purchasing power measured by the goat-to-cereal terms of trade is expected to improve to at least average levels, as high goat prices are likely to counterbalance above-average staple food prices. However, the risk of an outbreak of the vector-borne Rift Valley Fever will likely remain high due to the prevalence of stagnant pools of water that offer good breeding grounds for the vector, Aedes mosquito. Barring an outbreak, anticipated improvements in milk availability and food access are expected to gradually reduce household reliance on crisis consumption-based and livelihood coping strategies. As a result, areas that are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in January. Yet, given that herd sizes are still below normal and households will have not recovered after one above-average rainfall season, areas that are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2) are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Further, some poor households that had liquidated their assets or lost livestock and property from floods are likely to continue experience food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Although the prevalence of acute malnutrition is expected to remain high, increased access to milk and improved food intake is expected to lead to some improvement, though this will be limited by non-food factors including elevated water-borne disease incidence.

    From February to May, the forecast average March to May 2020 long rains are expected to drive continued improvement in seasonal livestock productivity, leading to gains in poor households’ food and income sources. Given normal conception levels during the preceding short rains, good livestock body conditions, and the availability of pasture and fodder, milk production is anticipated to range from average to above-average levels. However, even though birth rates are likely to be average, herd sizes will remain below normal during this timeframe since herd recovery from recent droughts will take several more seasons. Below-normal herd sizes are expected to continue to limit household income, despite anticipated improvements in the terms of trade. As a result, an atypically high number of households are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for this time of year and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to be sustained through May. Based on historical trends, the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition among children is likely to decline somewhat due to improved milk availability and improved access to food, but will likely remain high overall due to poor childcare practices and high disease incidence, especially in flood-prone areas.

    In marginal agricultural areas, household food availability is expected to gradually improve through January as green harvests become available in late December and dry harvests become available in late January. Typical agricultural-related casual labor opportunities will continue to provide average incomes to households at the beginning of the dry harvests in late January. At the same time, the availability of the local and unimodal harvests is expected to drive a decline in staple food prices to near-average levels. As a result of steady income and lower staple food prices, food access is expected to improve for labor-dependent households. Household milk availability is also likely to improve at the December/January peak milk production period, given that the above-normal availability of pasture, browse, and water resources will sustain good livestock body conditions. Despite anticipated improvements in food availability and access, an atypically high number of poor households are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2), given the depletion of assets that occurred during the preceding poor production seasons in late 2018 and early 2019. Based on historical trends, the relative improvements in milk availability and food intake are expected to reduce the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children of five years and below, though this may be limited by elevated water-borne disease incidence.

    From February to May, food availability and access is expected to continue to improve, driven by the completion of the short rains harvest and seasonal labor demand for long rains crop production. Household income is expected to be near average, due to typical agricultural waged labor demand during the dry harvesting period of February and demand for land preparation and planting at the start of the March to May 2020 long rains season. At the same time, food availability is expected to improve for most poor households, given the assumption of average household cereal stocks from the January/February short rains harvest. However, harvests of short-cycle legumes, especially beans, are expected to be below average. Further, some households in localized areas that experienced excessive soil moisture may have below-average maize stocks due to higher pre- and post-harvest losses. Based on historical trends, seasonal milk production is expected to contribute to a decline in the prevalence of acute malnutrition to typical levels. Most areas are expected to improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1), though an atypically high number of households are expected to continue to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in some central and coastal marginal agricultural areas, including Kwale and Kilifi, where short rains crop losses are expected to be more substantial.

    Figures Map of Kenya. Cumulative rainfall through December 15th has eclipsed the seasonal averages, with positive anomalies ranging f

    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Map of Kenya. Vegetation conditions in December, as measured by the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index

    Figure 2

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Graph depicting goat price trend in Marsabit. In Marsabit, where the goat price has been near average since July, the price r

    Figure 3

    Figure 3

    Source: NDMA price data

    Western and Rift Valley of Kenya: Long rains are from mid-February until mid-August. Planting is from April until July. Long

    Figure 4

    Figure 4

    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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