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Delayed short rains to heighten food insecurity in pastoral and marginal cropping areas

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Kenya
  • November 2016
Delayed short rains to heighten food insecurity in pastoral and marginal cropping areas

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  • Key Messages
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • The short rains have been even more below average than previously anticipated, despite some enhanced rainfall from mid-November. As a result, poor crop conditions are imminent in the southeast and coastal marginal agricultural areas due to the delayed onset and poor distribution. Some poor households in these regions are likely to move to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from January 2017 due to food consumption gaps caused by the loss in their own production and limited income-earning opportunities.

    • FEWS NET expects that food insecurity across most pastoral areas is likely to worsen earlier and be more widespread than previously projected due to substantial drops in livestock productivity and income. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity outcomes are projected beginning in December 2016 in areas of Garissa, Tana River, Mandera, Samburu, and Marsabit. In the absence of adequate and sustained humanitarian assistance, some poor households in these areas are likely to experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) between January and April, as they utilize emergency coping to deal with their larger food gaps.  

    • Apart from eastern Kenya, there are growing rainfall deficits even in western parts of the country, which was not initially forecasted, extending atypical dryness across most of the country. Food availability at the national level largely remains stable, due to the continued harvest of the long rains crop in the medium and high-producing zones and imports from Tanzania and Uganda, which is expected to support Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity in these areas. 


    The extremely poor start and performance of the short rains, which extended the typical dry lean season that usually lasts from August to October, has negatively impacted crop and rangeland conditions in the marginal agricultural and pastoral areas, respectively. The impact is likely to be greatest on the southeastern marginal agricultural areas, where the short rains account for up to 65 percent of annual cereal crop production, and FEWS NET now estimates that crop production is likely to be more than 50 percent below average. The next significant crop harvest from this region is not until January/February 2018, which means households are likely to experience difficulties in accessing food throughout most of 2017, with a high reliance on markets. Production of other non-cereal crops, like beans, green grams, and cowpeas, is also expected to be below average.

    In the coastal marginal agricultural areas, the short rains account for about 35 percent of annual cereal production, but following the poor long rains, which left crop production up to 70 percent below average, this season is important for poor households as they would ordinarily attempt to recover from a previous poor season by engaging more in crop production activities. However, current conditions from the field point to very minimal crop production prospects, with estimates that close to 70 percent of households did not plant any maize due to the very poor short rains, with only a few planting legumes. Poor households already faced a critical decline in food availability beginning in August. In some parts of Ganze, Magarini, and Malindi sub-counties in Kilifi County, this marks the third consecutive below-average season. Some farmers in these regions have opted to plant more drought-tolerant crops, such as cowpeas, green grams, and cassava, but acreage put toward these crops is significantly below average.

    In both the southeast and coastal marginal agricultural areas, land preparation and planting have been greatly hampered by the late onset, reducing on-farm incomes. Typically, households would be involved in second weeding of the main crops by mid-to-late November, but instead, most open fields that were prepared for planting maize remain bare, especially in the coastal marginal areas, and only a few areas that were planted have maize at early vegetative stages. With the rains forecasted to cease by early December, it is unlikely that crops will meet the minimum water requirements at the critical stages of development.

    Retail maize prices in both these marginal areas have been gradually increasing since July, as households deplete their food stocks and increasingly rely on markets. Contracting incomes due to below-average casual labor availability, coupled with increasing, albeit gradually, staple food prices continue to reduce household food access. In the ranching zones, pasture, browse, and water for livestock continue to be the most pressing needs, as the poor rains have yet to sufficiently recharge water points and regenerate pasture and browse. The below-average forage conditions are driving migration into, within, and out of the counties, resulting in resource conflict between farmers and herders from the pastoral counties. Human-wildlife conflicts have been reported in Taita Taveta, Kitui, and Tharaka Nithi as livestock herders encroach into the wildlife protected areas and wildlife encroach into farmland and grazing lands. Livestock, particularly cattle in parts of Kitui South in Kitui County, Kinango in Kwale County, Ganze, Kaloleni, and Magarini in Kilifi County; and Lamu West in Lamu County, are experiencing significant water and pasture stress, with reported cases of livestock mortalities (confirmed reports of about two and three percent of cattle populations in Kwale and Kilifi counties, respectively). The majority of the poor households in these regions are in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity.

    In the pastoral areas, the short rains were not fully established by mid-November, yet November is typically the peak of the short rains. Latest reports from most pastoral counties indicate substantial rainfall deficits compared to average (see Figure 1). Following a poor 2016 long rains in many of these areas, food insecurity remains a major concern, especially in parts of Marsabit (Laisamis, Moyale and North Horr), Samburu (Samburu East), Garissa (Fafi, Ijara, Dadaab, Balambala), Tana River (Tana North), Mandera (Lafey, Mandera South and East), Isiolo (Isiolo North), Wajir (Wajir South, East, Dashega, Lafelley), and Turkana (Turkana West, North and Central), and Crisis levels (IPC Phase 3) acute food security outcomes are expected in December. With slightly improved rains after mid-November, and forecasts for additional rainfall, some severe water shortages may be avoided but expected marginal improvements in rangeland conditions are unlikely to translate into solid increases in livestock productivity and income since very little of the season remains, and most households have kept their livestock far away from the normal wet-season grazing areas. Staple food prices continue to gradually increase, while livestock prices are steadily declining, and this continues to constrain household purchasing power, reducing food availability and access. Across most areas, households are atypically consuming one meal a day, while children are restricted to at most two meals a day. Dietary diversity remains poor, with most households consuming mainly maize, and occasionally some legumes, vegetables, and rice. Milk consumption remains atypically low. Between September and October, terms of trade across pastoral areas have declined between nine to 22 percent, though they still remain up to 35 percent above the five-year average in Wajir, Turkana, Garissa, Mandera, and Marsabit, while being eight and 56 percent below average in Isiolo and Tana River counties. As scarcity for rangeland resources continue, resource based conflicts and tensions continue to be witnessed across many grazing areas. Conflicts have been reported along the Marsabit (Laisamis) – Wajir border, Samburu – Marsabit border, Isiolo – Meru North border, Samburu – Laikipia border, Isiolo (Kom, Belgesh, Shaba, Kipsing and Kinna borders), West Pokot (Pokot – Marakwet/Trans Nzoia – Kanyarkwat border), and Tana River (Tana Delta). To bridge the current food and income gaps, the majority of pastoral households continue to intensify the use of various coping mechanisms, which is atypical for this time of the season. These include borrowing food or seeking help from friends or relatives, reduced portion size and number of meals per day, skipping meals for entire day, and consumption of wild foods. In some severely affected areas, like parts of Laisamis in Marsabit and southern parts of Wajir, distress sale of livestock, herd separation, and killing of lactating young stocks to save milk for household consumption and sale have been reported. 


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Kenya Food Security Outlook for October 2016 to May 2017 remain unchanged, except for the following assumptions:   

    • Earlier on, it had been forecasted that the short rains would be below average, with cumulative amounts of between 70 to 90 percent of normal. However, current conditions point towards below-average cumulative amounts, ranging from as low as 25 to 80 percent of normal.
    • While FEWS NET had projected in October that short rains crop production would be up to 50 percent below average, revised estimates point towards greater than 50 percent below-average maize crop production in the southeast marginal agricultural areas.
    • Preliminary forecasts for the March to May 2017 long rains point towards below-average cumulative rainfall amounts across most parts of Kenya.
    • Livestock prices are expected to atypically continue declining through January, and beyond, as the significantly below- average regenerated rangeland resources deplete faster than normal. In addition, without sustained improvements in livestock body conditions from the poor short rains, the previously projected stabilizing and/or improving livestock prices in November is no longer expected. Prices are only expected to stabilize and/or start improving in May 2017, after the resumption of the long rains, and improvement in rangeland conditions, resulting in better livestock health and body conditions. 


    In the pastoral areas, food insecurity is expected to rapidly deteriorate from December, exacerbated by the poor short rains. As a result, it is possible that the projected food security outcomes may more closely resemble the February to May 2017 FEWS NET map instead of the one for November 2016 to January 2017. (FEWS NET will monitor this closely and update the mapping, accordingly, in December.) The poor and very poor pastoral households will likely face significant drops in food availability and access due to the impacts of consecutive poor seasons, declining livestock prices and terms of trade, poor milk availability, and in some instances herd losses. With more than 80 percent of livestock confined in the dry season grazing areas away from homesteads, and expected to remain there through at least the next rainy season, the resulting loss of livestock-dependent income and food is likely to further exacerbate household food insecurity. More households are expected to move from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity, with the potential for some households, especially in parts of Garissa and Marsabit, to experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity outcomes between January and May 2017, in the absence of adequate and sustained humanitarian assistance.

    In the southeastern marginal agricultural zones, the poor short rains are projected to result in more than 50 percent below-average maize crop production, even more so in the coastal areas, while significantly lowering production for the leguminous crops, reducing household food availability and consumption from own production. Short cycle crop harvests will likely be significantly below average and available in January, as opposed to usually in December, providing some temporary relief to households. Due to reduced agricultural activities, related labor opportunities are expected to be very low, further contracting household incomes and limiting food access. As a result, households are expected to atypically intensify their reliance on coping mechanisms to bridge their food and income gaps, with the majority of households expected to be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity through May 2017. However, localised households in areas that will be experiencing worse conditions, like parts of Kilifi and Kwale, are likely to move into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity between January and May 2017. As the next major harvest is not expected for another year until February 2018, food security could further deteriorate in these coastal areas, with more households moving to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) after June 2017, if the 2017 long rains perform poorly, as preliminarily forecasted, and if humanitarian assistance is not implemented adequately.  

    Figures Figure 1. October 1 – November 25, 2016 Rainfall CHIRPS, Percent of Average

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. October 1 – November 25, 2016 Rainfall CHIRPS, Percent of Average

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET


    Figure 2


    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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