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El Niño enhanced rains support recovery despite flooding and high food prices

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • December 2023
El Niño enhanced rains support recovery despite flooding and high food prices

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through May 2024
  • Key Messages
    • The cumulatively above-average October to December short rains have had mixed impacts across Kenya. The rains have increased agricultural production activities and labor opportunities and enhanced pasture, forage, and water resources supporting livestock production. However, flooding has affected approximately 93,000 households, displaced 58,000, and resulted in 26 fatalities in the pastoral areas, particularly in the northeast. The national and county governments and humanitarian actors continue to provide food and non-food assistance to flood-affected households, although damaged infrastructure has hampered the response. According to estimates by WFP's Advanced Disaster Analysis and Mapping (ADAM), around 640,600 hectares of land were flooded in northern and northeast Kenya, of which around 18,284 hectares were cropland. 
    • In the pastoral areas, area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in Turkana, Marsabit, and Mandera and among households still recovering from the drought and the widespread flooding. Despite the flood impacts, the rains have supported improvements in livestock production and household access to milk as livestock remains in wet season grazing areas, and milk production has increased. The increased access to milk for sale and consumption and significantly above-average livestock prices maintain household purchasing power against the high staple food prices as indicated by favorable average to above-average goat-to-maize terms of trade. The current favorable conditions are expected to persist until the start of the forecast above average 2024 March to May long rains, which will likely support further improvements in livestock production, household access to food and income, facilitating area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes over the February to May 2024 period. 
    • The marginal agricultural areas are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as the above-average short rains drive increased crop production activities, improving agricultural wage labor opportunities and incomes to near-average levels. Cereals are in good condition; however, water logging has negatively impacted pulses. Above-average staple food prices continue to constrain household food access, forcing households to apply livelihood and consumption-based coping strategies. In December, short-cycle crop harvests are expected to improve food availability and consumption through February, after which the main harvests become available, driving a return to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, with worst affected areas likely to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in the February to May outlook period.

    Current Situation

    Rainfall performance: The October to December short rains have been well above the 40-year average across most of the country, with parts of southeastern, central, and northwestern Kenya receiving 110 to over 200 percent of cumulative rainfall compared to the 40-year average (Figure 1). According to CHIRPS, cumulative rainfall in Mandera, Wajir, southern Isiolo, and northern Garissa and Tana River is the third or second wettest rainy season in the past 40 years. However, parts of north Turkana have received less than 90 percent of average rainfall, while in south Turkana, the start of the rainy season has been below average. The bimodal marginal agricultural areas have received more than 110 percent of normal rainfall, which has led to an increase in area planted compared to past years and increased agricultural labor opportunities for agricultural activities such as land preparation, planting, and weeding.   

    Figure 1

    Cumulative rainfall during the October 1- December 31, 2023, period shown as a percent of the 40-year average
    Above average rainfall across most of Kenya, particularly in the northeast

    Source: Climate Hazards Center

    Flood impacts: The above-average rainfall, particularly in November, resulted in destructive flooding in Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Turkana, Tana River, Isiolo, and Samburu, where rivers burst their banks and flash floods resulted in the displacement of households, the loss of livestock and human lives, and the destruction of property, infrastructure, and cropland. In Mandera, around 21,545 households were affected, with 13,300 displaced and 2,360 hectares of farmland damaged. In Turkana County, livestock and one person were swept away by floods. In Isiolo County, about 4,845 households were displaced by floods, with most displaced households hosted by community members and 200 households hosted in Merti camps. In Garissa County, about 24,090 households have been affected by flooding, with 4,114 households displaced. In Wajir County, an estimated 13,600 households have been affected, with nine human fatalities due to drowning reported and 6,500 households displaced. In Samburu County, approximately 80 percent of the county's road network was damaged, while floods displaced about 700 households and caused four human fatalities. In Tana River County, approximately 33,650 households were displaced across Tana, in addition to damage to six major roads and six major markets and the destruction of health facilities. The loss of household assets and damage to key infrastructure is expected to slow the drought recovery of affected households and keep staple food prices high as suppliers find alternative routes to markets. Additionally, there has been a reported cholera outbreak in Lamu County with 63 confirmed cases; the Ministry of Health has engaged the county government in distributing cholera kits and dispatched a team to help curb its spread, along with providing 6,000 mosquito nets to curb malaria. 

    In late November, the rains subsided, and the flood waters, apart from riverine areas, have receded significantly. At least 75 percent of the previously impassable roads are now passable, facilitating the resumption of road transportation and the movement of people and commodities, including humanitarian assistance to people in need. Across these affected areas, there have been various interventions, including the distribution of food and non-food supplies carried out by road where accessible, and airdrops facilitated by the various County governments, the Kenya Red Cross Society, the Kenya Defence Forces, the national government, and other non-state actors. There are various multi-sectoral interventions taking place to support flood-affected and displaced households, including but not limited to setting up county multi-sectoral and multi-agency flood response coordination teams, opening of IDP camps to cater to the displaced, provision of emergency shelters, provision of food and non-food items (NFI) to affected households and the IDP camps, the provision of WASH supplies (soaps, chlorine, aqua tabs, 20L Jerry cans), and livestock vaccination against Rift Valley Fever (RVF). 

    Vegetation conditions: The above average rainfall has significantly improved vegetation conditions across Kenya. Satellite-derived eVIIRS normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) indicates that vegetation greenness, a proxy for vegetation health, is 70 to 95 of the 20-year average in eastern Turkana and western Marsabit, 95 to 120 percent of normal in western, central, southeast, and coastal part of the country and over 120 percent of the average in northern, southern and eastern Kenya where significantly above average rains were observed (Figure 2). The above-average vegetation supports the recovery of livestock body conditions and indicates that the ongoing short rains season is progressing well and is likely to be above average.  

    Figure 2

    eVMOD/eVIIRS normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) percent of mean NDVI (2003 – 2022), December 01 – 10, 2023.
    Vegetation conditions are well above average across Kenya.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Crop production: In the high and medium rainfall areas, the long rains maize harvest is nearly complete and estimated to be 5 to 10 percent higher than the five-year average. Post-harvest losses of maize were mitigated due to well-distributed albeit above-average rainfall despite initial concerns of post-harvest losses due to an inability to dry down the maize. 

    In the marginal agricultural areas, cereals such as maize, millet, and sorghum are in good condition across most areas and range from knee-high to the tasseling crop growth stages. However, the above-average rainfall has led to the poor development of pulses such as beans, green grams, and cowpeas due to water logging. In most areas, legumes are at pod-filling stages, with consumption of green beans reported in areas where farms were well drained. Households are earning near-average incomes from waged labor opportunities on farms during weeding, spraying, and other farm activities, supported by increases in the area planted for crops. However, below-average earnings from crop sales during the March to May long rains, high debt burdens from the drought, and high staple food prices keep poor household earnings lower than normal despite the increased access to labor. Households also engage in off-own farm income-earning activities such as petty trade, but earnings are low for charcoal production and firewood due to the prevailing wet conditions. Overall, the below-average incomes and unusually high staple food prices continue to limit household purchasing power and food access.

    Staple food prices remain high despite the long rains harvests from the high and medium rainfall areas, driven by high fuel, production, marketing costs, and high local demand. Wholesale maize prices in the urban reference markets of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret are around 15 to 50 percent higher than the five-year average. However, maize prices are lower than last year and have been largely stable since August (Figure 3). In pastoral and marginal agricultural livelihood zones, retail maize prices are around 15 to 105 percent higher than the five-year averages, ranging from 55 to 132 KES per kilogram. In the flood-hit counties of Garissa and Wajir, staple food prices rose significantly in November as the heavy rains destroyed infrastructure, constraining market operations and access. 

    Figure 3

    Wholesale maize prices in Nairobi compared to the five-year average and 2022
    Maize prices are lower than last year but higher than the five-year average.

    Source: FEWS NET using NDMA data

    In November, wholesale bean prices were around 45 to 60 percent above the five-year average as supply remains low amidst consistent high demand, low supply, and high fuel and production costs. Retail bean prices are 146 to 177 KES per kilogram and are around 40 to 75 percent above the five-year average, remaining higher than prices last year, except in Kisumu, where prices have been lower than last year for most of 2023. 

    Maize flour prices remain relatively high but have declined since September when the main long rains harvest from the high and medium rainfall areas became available. A two-kilogram packet of maize flour is retailing from outlets at 189 to 248 KES (~1.23 to 1.61 USD) across the country. The maize grain and maize meal prices remain above average, constraining household food access, especially for poor households whose purchasing power continues to be constrained by the impact of high fuel prices, high taxes on food and non-food needs, and the impact of the depreciation of the KES on the landing price of imported food and non-food needs. 

    Livestock prices: According to NDMA sentinel site data, the price of a mature medium-sized goat in the pastoral areas has continued to increase since March, driven by improving livestock body conditions and a low market supply amidst high demand. In November, prices range from 3,820 to 7,200 KES, around 20 to 120 percent higher than the five-year average, with prices in Wajir and Isiolo at least double the five-year average. The goat-to-maize terms-of-trade has been positively impacted by the increasing livestock prices, with the sale of a goat able to purchase around 42 to 95 kilograms of maize, equivalent to around 11 to 27 days of kilocalories for a family of six if they only consumed maize. However, the goat-to-maize terms-of-trade range from around 30 percent lower than the five-year average in Kajiado to over 60 percent higher than the five-year average in Mandera (Figure 4). The increased terms of trade across the pastoral areas, coupled with the improved milk availability, has improved food and milk access for households, but livestock health and herd sizes remain the most significant concerns facing livestock owners. 

    Figure 4

    Goat to maize terms-of-trade in pastoral markets compared to the five-year average, November 2023
    Goat to maize purchasing power is average to above-average in most pastoral markets.

    Source: FEWS NET using NDMA data

    Livestock production has steadily improved in the pastoral areas with increased availability of forage and water resources. Livestock body conditions are improving and range from fair to good for all species in Tana River, Samburu, Garissa, and Isiolo but are relatively better across the rest of the pastoral areas, where they range from good to very good. Livestock are in the wet season grazing areas where rangeland resources continue to improve. Return trekking distances between grazing areas and water sources range from 2.7 to 11 kilometers, approximately 20 to around 70 percent lower than the five-year average, and are continuing to decline across all pastoral areas. Livestock consume water daily, while camels are watered every other day in Turkana and every three to five days in Marsabit. Milk production ranges from 0.5 to 2.1 liters per household per day and is around 25 to 80 percent above average, except in Samburu, Garissa, and Marsabit, which is around 45 to 55 percent below average due to relatively worse body conditions and low herd sizes. Milk production is generally on an upward trend across all counties except in Garissa, where the heavy rainfall stressed the livestock. However, milk production is expected to rise in Garissa as the rainfall subsides and the flood waters retreat.  

    There were no livestock disease outbreaks across the pastoral areas, except in Isiolo, where there was a countywide outbreak of sheep and goat pox. In Marsabit, there have been reports of tsetse fly infestations, especially in the plains of North Horr, while mosquito infestations have been reported across most of Moyale Sub County, raising concerns of an RVF outbreak if vaccinations are not carried out. Across most of the pastoral areas, there is a high risk of RVF following the above-average rainfall. Most county veterinary and livestock officers are closely working with county health departments to intensify surveillance of RVF. Migration patterns remain normal across most pastoral areas with high forage and water availability, keeping livestock in traditional wet season grazing areas despite a few instances where herders moved livestock from flood-prone and flood-affected areas to higher ground to protect the animals from drowning and cold conditions. However, in Turkana, normal migration was constrained by insecurity and livestock disease occurrences in Merikuka, Natete, Kaitede, Kokuro, Todonyang, Loruth, and Nakitong'o areas. At the same time, in Samburu, there was an unusual mass migration of cattle from Longewan and Lolmlok to Laikipia County due to bandit attacks that led to the loss of several heads of cattle.

    Domestic water availability has significantly improved due to the recharge of surface and underground water sources. Remotely monitored water points indicate that water levels are higher than the long-term median water level apart from a few water points in Turkana, classified as Watch, with water levels between 50 to 100 percent of the long-term median as the rainy season begins. In the pastoral areas, return trekking distances for domestic water are declining, with households traveling 1.6 to 7.7 kilometers, which is around 15 to 50 percent shorter than the five-year average, indicating improved access to water. In the marginal agricultural areas, most open water sources, such as water pans, dams, rivers, and streams, have fully recharged following the enhanced rainfall, reducing household trekking distances and improving household water availability. According to the NDMA November monitoring data, households are traveling 1 to 5 km for water, which is within the five-year average. 

    Insecurity: There have been no major insecurity incidences across most pastoral areas. However, in Turkana, there have been incidences of vehicles being attacked and occupants robbed along the main A1 Road connecting Turkana South and West Pokot. In Kinna and Cherab wards in Isiolo, there were a few incidences of cattle rustling by rustlers from the Samburu East sub-county, but the livestock were eventually recovered after a joint operation by the community and security agencies. In Samburu County, 140 heads of livestock were lost to cattle rustling in Samburu Central sub-county in separate incidences in late November and early December, while at least two human fatalities and injuries to several people were reported due to incidences of heavy fighting in Baragoi town and Lomirok. In Mandera, roads to and from all sub-counties to the county headquarters are still impassable due to the fear of Al Shabab attacks, making public service delivery difficult. Some of the worst affected areas include Arabia, Lafey, Banissa, and Mandera South.

    Pastoral area outcomes: According to November NDMA sentinel site data, food consumption has improved across most pastoral areas driven by stable or improving milk consumption. However, in northern and eastern pastoral areas, households are reporting a deterioration in food consumption driven by the wind-down of humanitarian assistance and the negative impact of floods on food availability and access. At least 20 percent of households in Isiolo, Wajir, and Samburu reported a borderline food consumption score in November, while at least 20 percent of households in Garissa, Marsabit, and Turkana counties reported poor food consumption. Households are engaging in consumption-based coping strategies mostly indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2), while households in Mandera reported engaging in consumption-based coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. The general increase in household milk production and consumption is keeping acute malnutrition rates stable or improving, with the proportion of children five years or younger at risk of malnutrition with a middle upper arm circumference (MUAC) of less than 135mm reportedly average to 50 percent lower than the five-year average. However, the proportion of five-year-olds or younger with a MUAC less than 135 mm is around 10 to 15 percent higher than the five-year average in Mandera and Garissa, driven by relatively more pronounced impacts of flooding, such as reduced food access and increased morbidity.   

    Emergency drought humanitarian assistance ceased in late October, and households are adjusting to the absence of assistance amid the impact of the floods. This is likely reflected in many households reporting borderline and poor food consumption scores. However, increased access to milk, an important source of food and income, and good goat-to-maize terms of trade are helping to mitigate worse outcomes due to the flooding. The distribution of regular safety nets is ongoing, such as the Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP), which continues to provide bimonthly cash transfers to 124,000 households in Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Isiolo, Tana River, and Samburu counties. Most pastoral households are likely facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as they can meet their food needs while recovering from the drought. However, at least one in five households in Turkana, Marsabit, and Mandera are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), along with the worst flood-affected households in northern and eastern pastoral areas.

    Marginal agricultural area outcomes: Household food access and consumption continue to be limited by below-average incomes due to low liquidity among better-off households and high staple food prices. NDMA November sentinel site data shows that at least 20 percent of households reported a borderline food consumption score, likely driven by poor diet diversity. In November, most households in NDMA sentinel sites reported consuming less preferred or less expensive foods, limiting portion sizes, and relying on help from friends and relatives. However, the proportion of children at risk of malnutrition, measured using MUAC<135mm, ranges from 68 percent lower than the five-year average to average in Meru (Meru North), Taita Taveta, Tharaka Nithi (Tharaka), and Kwale, to 23 percent to 159 percent above the five-year average in most areas due to prolonged impacts from the historic drought on household food access, poor child feeding practices, and low dietary diversity. Most poor households can meet their food needs despite lower-than-normal purchasing power, driving widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, with the most affected households in Kitui, Makueni, Meru (Meru North), and Taita Taveta, which are yet to recover from the prolonged drought or have been impacted by the floods are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Seasonal Calendar
    Seasonal calendar for Kenya

    Source: FEWS NET

    Updated Assumptions

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

    • Flood-affected households that suffered significant asset losses and were displaced, particularly in Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Isiolo, and Tana River counties, will likely face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through January 2024. 

    Projected Outlook through May 2024

    In pastoral livelihood zones, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to remain present in Turkana, Marsabit, and Mandera through January 2024 as households slowly recover access to typical food and income levels, while other pastoral areas will likely remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). The disruption of livelihood activities, displacements, and damage to cropland, property, and infrastructure from the flooding will have short to medium-term impacts. However, the regeneration of forage and water resources, increased kidding and calving, and improved livestock body conditions and production will increase household access to food and income. A return to normal rates of livestock births will bring milk production to at least average levels and improve herd sizes, significantly improving household food availability and income. Food access will likely remain constrained by high staple food prices, forcing poor households to rely on livelihood and consumption-based coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3), especially in flood-affected areas. The lingering impacts from the drought, chronic factors, and increased morbidity driven by the above-average rainfall are expected to maintain a Critical (GAM 15 to 29.9 percent) prevalence of acute malnutrition, particularly in the flood-affected areas of Wajir, Mandera, Samburu, Turkana counties, and in North Horr and Laisamis sub-counties in Marsabit, and Tiaty Sub County in Baringo County. In December and January, the presence of stagnant water pools is expected to increase the likelihood of an outbreak of RVF in the northern, northeastern, and eastern pastoral areas. However, county governments are closely monitoring for outbreaks amidst vaccination and education campaigns. There is a risk an outbreak could spread due to trade or the handling and consumption of infected livestock and livestock products, which will result in quarantines and closure of markets, restricting an important source of food and income for pastoral families.

    From January till the start of the forecast average March to May long rains, rangeland resources will likely remain above average, keeping livestock in the wet season grazing areas, reducing migration, and in areas with no livestock disease outbreaks, improved household access to milk for sale and consumption. Despite elevated staple food prices, increasing livestock prices will likely drive above-average goat-to-maize terms of trade, improving household food access further. The increased dietary diversity and food and milk consumption will likely reduce the frequency and severity of livelihood and consumption–based coping strategies households apply. Gradual improvements to household access to food and income throughout the outlook period are expected to drive widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as at least one in five households are expected to meet their food needs but not afford non-food needs. 

    In the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural livelihood zones, household food availability will significantly improve with the start of the short rains harvest. The availability of green harvests from late December to January will gradually improve household food availability and dietary diversity. Most households will reduce their reliance on market purchases to typical low levels throughout the scenario period. However, the production of short-cycle legumes such as beans, green grams, and cowpeas is likely to be below average due to excess moisture during the season. Nonetheless, the above-average production of other cereals such as maize, millet, and sorghum will increase agricultural waged labor opportunities during harvesting, while the demand for labor during land preparation, planting, and weeding for the March to May long rains crops will continue to provide average to above average incomes. Throughout the scenario period, households will likely earn average to above-average incomes from crop sales from the short rains harvest, enabling them to clear their debt obligations from the previous below-average seasons and meet their non-food needs. With milk availability expected to be seasonally high, the prevalence of acute malnutrition will likely remain low throughout the scenario period. With significant improvements in household food availability, incomes, and purchasing capacities, households will be able to meet their essential food and non-food needs without engaging in atypical and unsustainable strategies to access food and incomes and be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1), expect in Kitui and Makueni where area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to remain present as poor households who were significantly affected by the prolonged drought and floods will take longer to recover.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Kenya Food Security Outlook Update December 2023: El Niño enhanced rains support recovery despite flooding and high food prices, 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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