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Mixed short rains likely to negatively impact crop production and range resources regeneration

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • December 2020
Mixed short rains likely to negatively impact crop production and range resources regeneration

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The October to December short rains has had a mixed performance across the country. According to data from CHIRPS, cumulative rainfall across eastern and central Kenya rainfall has largely been below-average, ranging from 50-80 percent of average, with localized areas receiving 25-50 percent of average. However, western, northwestern, and southern parts of the country have received average to over 150 percent of average rainfall.

    • In the marginal areas, crop production is ongoing and providing below average casual labor income opportunities. Crop conditions are good, with maize mostly at the knee-high stage with pulses and potatoes at the flowering stage. Household food stocks are dwindling, and households are mostly dependent on market food purchases and facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. In the pastoral areas, goat prices are above the five-year averages and supporting household food access. However, milk production is below average, and livestock have begun migrating to dry season grazing areas within the counties. This is reducing household food consumption, increasing malnutrition, and driving Stressed (IPC Phase2) outcomes.

    • There was a second wave of COVID-19 infections in November, with the highest number of cases and fatalities since the virus was first reported. A Level 4 alert for Kenya was issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Counties identified as high risk are Nairobi, Mombasa, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kajiado, Uasin Gishu, Busia, Machakos, Kisumu, and Kilifi. The government is likely to consider implementing stricter control measures to curb the surge in coronavirus infections.

    • In November, the World Bank reported that one in three workers in Kenya is currently employed by firms that face a high risk of temporary or permanent closure, while unemployment has doubled compared to pre-COVID times. Poor urban households continue to rely heavily on credit facilities to narrow food gaps from constrained incomes, further sustaining atypically high indebtedness. Households in the informal settlements are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, with the most affected households engaging in coping strategies indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes.


    Rainfall performance: The 2020 October-December short rains have been characterized by below-average rainfall in eastern Kenya and above-average rainfall across much of western Kenya. Cumulative rainfall through December 15 is below-average with 25-50 mm deficits, and some areas of central Kenya and eastern Garissa recording deficits of 100-200 mm (Figure 1). In the northern and northwestern pastoral areas, rainfall has been average, while positive anomalies of 25-100 mm were recorded in the country’s western and southern parts. Parts of the Lake Victoria basin have accumulated over 200 mm of rainfall. In Mandera county, floods have been reported along the River Daua that have destroyed crops and washed way farm implements, impacting planting.

    Crop Production: In marginal agricultural areas, the major crops are maize, millet, sorghum, beans, green grams, cowpeas, and pigeon peas. Due to below-average rainfall in October, the onset of rains was delayed by 20-30 days. Currently, most crops are in the knee-high/flowering stages.  According to the water requirement satisfaction index (WRSI), crop conditions for the maize crop across marginal agricultural areas are currently ‘failure’ and ‘poor.’ However, with the forecast early to timely end of the short rains, widespread failure of the maize crop is expected.

    Livestock Production: Despite below-average short rains in eastern Kenya, vegetation conditions in December, as measured by the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), indicates above normal greenness across eastern pastoral areas, however in Marsabit, Isiolo, Tana River, and southern Garissa, vegetation greenness is 70-90 percent of the 15-year average (Figure 2). In November, according to NDMA data, livestock return trekking distances were 7.7-18.3 kilometers ranging from average to 29 percent below the three-year average, except in Garissa where return trekking distances were 6 percent above average. Migration remains mostly within the counties due to available water and forage. Livestock body conditions for all species are ‘fair’ to ‘good ‘except in Wajir, where livestock body conditions are ‘fair’ to ‘poor’ due to damage from desert locusts and high livestock numbers that have reduced forage. Milk production and household milk consumption range from average to above-average in Mandera, Marsabit, and Isiolo but remain below average across the rest of the pastoral areas due to livestock calving and kidding with livestock migrating away from homesteads, which has reduced the amount of milk available. 

    Desert Locusts: In early December, adults, swarms, and bands of desert locusts were reported across eastern Kenya, particularly Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Lamu, Tana River, Kilifi, and Kwale, with reports of sightings in Kitui and Taita Taveta.  Larger waves of immature swarms are expected to begin arriving in northeastern Kenya in mid-December from Somalia and Ethiopia and spread across northern and central Kenya (Figure 3). The surge in desert locusts will threaten pasture/browse conditions in pastoral areas and may negatively impact Kenya’s short rains harvest in February 2021. The FAO plans to launch an appeal to raise funds to support control operations from March 2021 through September 2021 to mitigate the desert locusts’ impacts on forage and cropland. 

    Domestic water availability: Household water availability has been improved as the short rains have recharged open water sources such as rivers, pans, and dams. In the marginal agricultural areas, household return trekking distances from water points ranged from 2.4-4.5 kilometers, around 10-19 percent below average, while in Meru North, return trekking distances were 61 percent below the three-year average.  In the pastoral areas, the short rains partially recharged open water sources; however, due to increased pressure, there has been a breakdown of boreholes, which has forced households to seek alternative water sources. Return trekking distances are 1.6 kilometers in Isiolo, 68 percent below-average, while return trekking distances across other pastoral areas are 5.3-10 kilometers. In Marsabit and Turkana, return trekking distances are 7-21 percent below-average, while in Garissa and Mandera return trekking distances were 7-25 percent above average and 75 percent above average in Wajir.

    COVID-19: In November, the second wave of infections saw the nationwide positivity rate rise from 11 to 16 percent, with 473 COVID-19 related fatalities, approximately 31 percent of Kenya’s total COVID-19 deaths. On December 4, Kenya’s government announced that the tax reprieve in place since April would lapse on 31 December 2020. This is expected to slow economic recovery and reduce household spending, particularly in urban areas.

    Markets and trade: In November, staple food prices were average to below average in most reference markets, driven by improved local supplies from two consecutive above-average bimodal production seasons in the marginal agricultural areas, unimodal harvests in the high and medium potential areas of the North Rift and Western Kenya, and cross-border imports from Tanzania and Uganda. In urban reference markets, maize prices were within average in Nairobi and Mombasa, 28 percent above average in Eldoret, and 33 percent below average in Kisumu. Maize prices in the reference markets of the pastoral and marginal agricultural areas ranged between average to 13 percent below average except for the pastoral reference markets of Wajir, Garissa, and Mandera, where prices were 8-20 percent above average due to reduced cross border imports from Ethiopia as the border remains officially closed.

    The retail price of medium-sized mature goats ranged from average to 41 percent above average, driven by good body conditions and tightened supplies as herders seasonally reduce sales to improve herd sizes and sale values. However, in November, prices in Turkana were 9 percent below average, driven by declining body conditions as browse availability declined.

    Humanitarian assistance: From June through December, seven NGOs, the Kenyan government, the European Union, and the Danish and German governments implemented a ’Safety Nets’ program targeting the most vulnerable families in informal settlements. Households already enrolled in the government’s Inua Jamii cash transfer program received 5,142 KES (51 USD), equivalent to 75 percent of daily kilocalorie needs. Households not already enrolled in any government social protection program received 7,142 KES per month, equivalent to 100 percent kilocalorie needs. As of October 31, approximately 22,104 households had received the cash transfers. Around 51 percent of recipients reported spending the money to meet daily food needs.

    According to WFP, it faces a funding shortfall of about 57 million USD to provide food and nutrition assistance for 435,000 refugees in Kalobeyei settlement and Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, where WFP provides about 60 percent of the refugee’s daily kilocalorie needs. It is anticipated that all cash transfers will cease in January. By March, all food stocks will be depleted, resulting in serious acute food insecurity for the refugee population.

    Urban area outcomes: The slow economic recovery is continuing to limit income-earning opportunities for urban poor households. To meet their food and non-food needs, households are engaging in coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) such as borrowing cash from relatives, purchasing food on credit, reliance on formal and informal credit facilities, and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) such as selling productive assets such as bicycles and sewing machines. Households targeted for humanitarian assistance are expected to be Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) through December.

    Marginal agricultural areas outcomes: In December, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present as households increasingly turn to the markets as food stocks continue to decrease across marginal agricultural areas. However, casual labor opportunities are providing income for market food purchases. As the lean season progresses, households increase their use of coping strategies to maintain household food consumption. According to November NDMA sentinel site data, 10-42 percent of households in marginal agricultural areas reported a borderline food consumption score (FCS), while 2-5 percent reported poor FCS; however, 12 percent of households in Kwale reported a poor FCS. Most poor households are continuing to rely on stressed consumption-based coping strategies. Consumption coping strategies indicated by the mean reduced Coping Strategy Index (rCSI) ranged from 4 to 8.5, except in Kwale, where it was 15, and in Taita Taveta, where households reported not employing coping strategies. The common strategies reported by households include borrowing money, purchasing food on credit, and spending savings. The number of children under five years of age at-risk of malnutrition (MUAC < 135mm) was 2.3 and 3 percent in Makueni and Kitui, respectively, but was 6.5 percent in Meru North and 10 percent in Taita Taveta.

    Pastoral outcomes: Across most pastoral areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are being driven by high staple food prices, below-average income from non-livestock related casual labor opportunities, and below-average remittances impacted by  COVID-19, which are restricting the affordability of non-food items despite average to above-average terms of trade. The most affected households impacted in the previously flooded Tana Riverine and Lake Turkana shoreline areas, and a small proportion of poor households across the pastoral areas with limited assets and income-earning opportunities, and facing food access constraints due to insecurity are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). According to the November NDMA sentinel site data, 16-45 percent and 2-18 percent of households in pastoral counties reported a borderline and poor FCS, respectively. NDMA November sentinel site data indicates the mean rCSI ranges between 7.4 and 16.5, indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2). The most common strategies employed include reducing the number of meals and consuming less preferred foods. The proportion of children under five years of age “at-risk” of malnutrition as indicated by MUAC (<135mm) in November was mostly stable compared to the previous month of October and ranged from 3.1-7.1 percent in Turkana and Isiolo but was 10.5-19.2 percent across the rest of the pastoral areas, 7-31 percent above the five-year average. This is mostly due to below-average milk consumption driven by below-average livestock body conditions and new-born livestock. However, in Marsabit, the proportion of children at risk of malnutrition was twice the five-year average despite above average milk consumption, attributed to reduced health-seeking behavior due to fear of the COVID-19 pandemic.


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Kenya Food Security Outlook for October to May 2021 remain unchanged apart from the following:

    • The return to pre-COVID-19 tax rates on January 1, 2021, will reduce household income and food access as the cost of food and non-food commodities increase to reflect the adjusted tax rates.
    • It is anticipated that the COVID-19 related restrictions like the nationwide curfew, mandatory testing at border points for truck drivers, halting all non-essential border-crossings, and enforcement of social distancing measures will remain through early 2021 to reduce the risk, especially as learning institutions plan to reopen in early January.


    In the urban areas, between December 2020 and January 2021, the slow economic recovery will continue to drive significant income deficits among poor urban households due to low labor demand and below-average income-earning opportunities. Poor urban households are likely to continue to employ coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) such as borrowing cash from relatives, purchasing food on credit and reliance on formal and informal credit facilities, and  Crisis (IPC Phase 3) such as selling of productive assets such as bicycles and sewing machines. A smaller proportion of households are likely to continue engaging in coping strategies indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4), such as engaging in illegal activities.

    Between February and May, the gradual improvements in business operations in the informal, service, and manufacturing sectors will drive improvements in labor demand and household incomes. However, the return of the pre-COVID-19 16 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) will likely increase the price of electricity and kerosene. The likely increase in non-food costs will constrain poor household purchasing capacities throughout the scenario period. High indebtedness will continue to drive an above-average cycle of borrowing and repayment of credit facilities despite the likely improvements of businesses and income opportunities. Although the price of staple foods such as maize is projected to be below average through May 2021, income deficits and eroded purchasing power will continue to constrain food access among poor urban households. A significant proportion of poor urban households are expected to be unable to meet their food and non-food needs and will continue to employ coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2), while the worst affected households will continue to engage in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3).  

    In marginal agricultural areas, most households are expected to be market dependant through January as household food stocks from the 2020 long rains harvest diminish. The anticipated poor harvest and likely crop failure in some areas driven by poor rainfall and anticipated desert locust infestations are expected to provide below-average agricultural wage labor activities through February, prompting an increased reliance on charcoal and firewood sales and petty trade for income. The availability of the unimodal harvests is expected to maintain average to below-average staple food prices through February. In March, agricultural wage labor is likely to be below normal due to the forecast below-average March to May long rains. Households will likely remain dependent on income from petty trade and charcoal and firewood sales. Staple food prices are expected to rise due to increased demand, limiting food access. COVID-19 is likely to continue to negatively impact off-farm income-earning opportunities like non-farm casual labor, petty trade, and remittances. Households will be forced to intensify consumption and livelihood coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3), such as selling assets and reducing healthcare expenses. In Kitui, Makueni, Tharaka Nithi, and Mbeere, area-level classifications of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) are likely to emerge in late March. In May, below-average short-cycle crop harvests will likely provide short-term improvements to food availability.

    In pastoral areas, below-average regeneration of rangeland resources in Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo, Garissa, and Tana River will drive the migration to dry-season grazing areas from late December, intensifying resource-based conflicts and livestock disease outbreaks in grazing areas. The arrival of desert locust swarms from Somalia in northeastern Kenya will further reduce forage and force atypical livestock migration in higher numbers and further than their normal range resulting in encroachment and conflict. Migration and below-average livestock productivity are expected to reduce household income, milk consumption, and livestock sales, increasing acute malnutrition in children under five years. The economic impact of COVID-19 restrictions on income from non-livestock casual wage labor and remittances will increase household dependence on income from livestock sales, petty trade, and charcoal and firewood sales. Following the below-average short rains, there will likely be intensified food insecurity through February as households engage in consumption and livelihood coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in Wajir, Mandera, and Marsabit.

    The forecast below-average March to May long rains are expected to partially recharge forage and water resources from early April, driving the recovery of livestock body conditions, particularly small stock, and improve household income and food security. However, livestock productivity, including milk production, is expected to be below-average. The Ramadhan and Idd festivities will likely increase demand for livestock in May and improve household income and food access. Most households are expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely for households with limited assets recovering from previous droughts and areas severely affected by the desert locust swarms, floods, or insecurity.


    Figure 1

    Figure 1.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 2

    Figure 2.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 3

    Figure 3.

    Source: FAO

    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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