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Early cessation of the long rains likely to deepen food insecurity in the southeast

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • June 2012
Early cessation of the long rains likely to deepen food insecurity in the southeast

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  • Key Messages
  • Partners
    Government of Kenya
    Key Messages
    • The food security situation has improved in many pastoral areas with exceptions in parts of Garissa, Ijara, and Tana River where poor recharge of water sources has led to early livestock migrations. As a result, affected households are unable to easily access livestock products such as milk or livestock for cash sales.

    • Acute water shortages have started in eastern Kitui and Mwingi, Tharaka, southern Meru North and Makueni, and the lower parts of Taita Taveta and Kilifi where recharge of surface water sources was below 30 percent. Affected households are likely to spend more time accessing water, and may also divert expenditures from other important items including food, in order to purchase water. 

    • An estimated 1.2 million hectares has been put to long rains maize crop production. Although the area planted is comparable to the short-term, three-year average, the long rains harvests are expected be below average due to a combination of poor rainfall performance in southeastern and coastal areas, damage of the crop by floods in western parts of the country, and the outbreak of maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND) in some areas of Rift Valley province. In addition to the expected reduced yields, harvesting may be delayed by up to a month because of the protracted planting period. 

    Pastoral conditions

    The 2012 long rains appear to have ended in the northern and northeastern pastoral areas. The last rainfall in these areas was received in the last ten days of May. As the short term forecast seems to suggest, additional rainfall is not expected in these areas. As such, the long rains have ended in these areas nearly twenty days earlier than usual, in mid-May instead of the usual first part of June. The rains delayed by up to three dekads in some areas, and were generally depressed in most parts of the northern and northeastern pastoral areas.

    The recharge of water sources and regeneration of pasture and browse is limited to areas that received rains. However, pasture availability is average to above average in most parts of the pastoral areas, with the exception of eastern Marsabit, northern Isiolo, southern Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, and Ijara where pasture conditions are below average. The trekking distances to water are generally within the normal range. However, in areas where the long rains were very poor the trekking distances have increased by up to 60 percent and range between 10 and 15 kilometers (km), up from an average of five to 10 km following the short rains in January. The distances to water for household domestic use are within the normal range across the pastoral areas with the exception of northern Mandera and Garissa, southern Wajir, eastern Isiolo, and Ijara where distances range between seven and 12 kilometers.

    Livestock are still situated within the wet season grazing areas near settlements as is usually the case in June. Due to the availability of grazing resources, livestock productivity has considerably improved in many places. For instance, about 60 and 10 percent of small and large female livestock, respectively, have given birth in Wajir District. Consequently, the majority of households are accessing at least one liter of milk a day. While this is much more milk than was available last year, milk availability is still only around a quarter of its end of the long rains season average. At the same time, livestock body conditions are good for all species, and livestock prices are more than double the five-year average in Baringo, Garissa, Kajiado, Laikipia, Mandera, Moyale, Samburu, Turkana, and Marsabit Districts. The other driver of above average livestock prices is low market supply as pastoralists are still rebuilding their herds. Pastoralists’ terms of trade are 30 to 60 percent above the five-year average for May. The exceptions are in Laikipia, Narok, Kajiado, and Turkana where terms of trade are five to 15 percent below their five-year averages, mainly due to exceptionally high cereal prices in these areas (Figure 2).

    Household food access has improved due to the availability of milk and the favorable terms of trade. Consequently, the nutritional status of children under five years of age has improved across the pastoral areas as illustrated by the below- average proportion of children ‘at risk’ of malnutrition—those with Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) less than 135 millimeters (mm). According to the surveillance data from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), MUAC rates are up to 50 percent below the five-year average for May except in Mandera and Baringo where MUAC rates are 14 and 32 percent above average, respectively. The above average MUAC rates in Mandera and Baringo may have been driven by disease outbreaks including malaria in Baringo and diarrhea in Mandera. Insecurity and conflicts may be impeding access to markets and the delivery of humanitarian and developmental interventions in these districts.

    The food security situation for majority of the pastoralists is likely to remain stable until August when the lean season starts. However, in parts of the northeastern pastoral areas where the long rains were very poor, the food security situation has already started to decline as livestock migrated away from settlements. While livestock migrations are largely internal within districts, some distant migrations have occurred from Ijara and Garissa to Lamu and Kitui districts, respectively. At the same time, livestock from Ethiopia are increasingly entering Moyale and Mandera. As a result, tensions over access to resources are heightening, and the risk of conflict is high. The outbreaks of contagious livestock diseases may occur as migrations increase. Due to below average livestock asset holding, the majority of pastoral households are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) while in parts of Tana River, Garissa, and Ijara pastoralists are likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) by July or August. The Stressed households have relatively better access to food since they are able to obtain milk for consumption from livestock that are grazing near settlements. 

    Marginal agricultural farm households in the southeastern and coastal lowlands

    Similarly, the long rains season seem to have ended in the southeastern marginal agricultural areas. The last rainfall was received between the last week of April and first week of May which suggests that long rains ceased three to four weeks earlier than usual. In a normal year, the bulk of the planted staple maize crop would be tasseling. However, the current crop is at different stages of development, ranging from knee high to tasseling. Meanwhile, most of the long rains crops have started to show water stress in the southeastern and coastal lowlands. In the mixed marginal farming areas of Taita Taveta, Kitui, Mwingi, Meru North, Tharaka, and Makueni total maize crop failure is likely to occur since bulk of the crop has already wilted. The early planted pulses have formed pods, and households are currently consuming beans while they are green along with vegetables from the pulses’ leaves. The late planted crop in the southeastern marginal agricultural may not mature as the rains appear to have ended. However, in the coastal lowlands, the usual light rains in June and early July may sustain the crop to maturity.

    In areas where the rainfall performance was very poor, the recharge of water sources was less than 30 percent. As a result, acute water shortages have been reported, particularly in eastern Kitui and Mwingi, Tharaka, southern Meru North and Makueni, and in the lower parts of Taita Taveta and Kilifi. Water shortages are likely to escalate in August after the available water depletes. Households are starting to spend an inordinately longer time sourcing water, and water prices are likely to increase significantly as water availability declines. The majority of marginal mixed farmers are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).  In the southern part of Kitui, Mwingi, Makueni, and Taita Taveta, households will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) by August. The households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) are not expected to harvest any crop from the long rains, and they also experienced a very poor short rains harvest in February and March.

    Market performance and prospects

    The price of staple maize continued to increase in May. For instance, the wholesale price of maize has increased by between 15 and 35 percent in the major markets in urban centers including Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa, and Eldoret. At the same time, the retail price of maize has increased by 10 to 30 percent in the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural livelihood zones in Kitui, Mwingi, Meru North, Tharaka, and Mbeere districts. In the agropastoral areas, such as Baringo, Kajiado, and Laikipia, the retail price of maize has increased by around 10 percent. The tightening domestic market and continued holding of maize by large scale farmers and traders in anticipation of higher prices coupled with increasing demand for maize for consumption are the main drivers of the maize price increases. The majority of households have already depleted their stocks and now rely on market purchase as their primary source of food. Maize prices in May remain significantly above the five-year averages in all livelihood zones, by 30 to 70 percent in the pastoral areas, 60 to 100 percent in the agropastoral areas, and by 50 to 70 percent in the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural areas.

    In contrast, staple maize prices have generally remained stable or marginally declined from April to May in the pastoral areas. For example, maize prices have declined by 10 to 15 percent in Garissa, Marsabit, and Tana River. In Isiolo, Mandera, Wajir, and Turkana maize prices have remained stable at the levels recorded in April. Stable or declining maize prices may be attributed to the low demand for maize due to improved availability of livestock products such as milk, and the impacts of the ongoing food interventions at the household level.

    The price of maize is expected to continue increasing in the short term across all livelihood zones as the domestic market continues to tighten. The prospects of the government allowing short-term, duty-free imports of maize were under discussion, but allowing the duty-free imports appears not likely over the near term. Meanwhile, cross-border maize inflows are likely to remain significantly elevated until August, mainly coming across the border from Tanzania. Nevertheless, maize prices are likely to remain above average until after the early harvested crop enters the market in August.

    Ongoing interventions and impacts

    During the month of May, general food distributions and food/cash-for-assets interventions targeted the most vulnerable households in the marginal agricultural districts and in four pastoral counties including Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, and Isiolo. Significant spillover of food distributions from the previous month, as a result of the retargeting exercise, was reported. About 1.47 million out of 2.2 million vulnerable people were reached, and approximately 16,000 metric tons (MT) of assorted food commodities were distributed. While most of the current funding is concentrated in emergency needs, rebuilding households’ ability to withstand future shocks require enhanced implementation of non-food interventions.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET Kenya

    Comparative terms of trade between a goat and maize in pastoral areas

    Figure 2

    Comparative terms of trade between a goat and maize in pastoral areas

    Source: National Drought Management Authority (NDMA)

    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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