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The long rains started on time.

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Kenya
  • April - September 2012
The long rains started on time.

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Food Security Outcomes
  • Most likely food security outcomes, April through September 2012
  • Partners
    Government of Kenya
    Key Messages
    • Although the onset of long rains has been timely in pockets of the northeastern pastoral areas, they are 1-2 dekads late, erratic, and poorly distributed spatially in many areas. For instance, rains have not been significant in most parts of Samburu, Isiolo, Marsabit, Garissa, Ijara, and Tana River districts in the northern and northeastern pastoral zones or Kajiado in the southern pastoral zone. Nevertheless, water sources have recharged by up to 10 percent in areas where rains have been heavy in parts of Mandera, Wajir and Moyale. Meanwhile, household access to milk is likely to improve due to the peak of lambing and kidding. Tepid improvements in pastoral food security situation are likely, at least during the first half of the scenario period due to improving access to food coupled with ongoing interventions. 

    • The food security situation for marginal agricultural farmers in the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural zone is likely to deteriorate throughout the scenario period. The short rains harvests have not reasonably compensated for the deficits emanating from previous poor seasons, and in some of the lowland areas, households have experienced the fourth consecutive poor season, which is likely to further erode asset levels and increase debts. 

    • The food security situation for refugees entering Kakuma refugee camp from Southern Sudan may deteriorate if the number of refugees increases because of conflict between South Sudan and Sudan. If the capacity of the camp is surpassed, refugees are likely to experience poor access to shelter, food, and other needs. At the same time, the erratic nature of the long rains need close monitoring because flooding may occur in many localized areas leading to high food insecurity for many affected households.

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Pastoral Areas

    The timely start of the long rains in parts of the northern, northeastern, and northwestern pastoral areas have resulted in the replenishment of water resources and regeneration of pasture and browse in many areas. However, at onset, the rains have been erratic and poorly distributed spatially. For instance, in the northeastern pastoral zone minimal rains have been received in most parts of Garissa, Ijara, and Tana River districts while parts of Wajir and Mandera have received up to 100 millimeters (mm) of rains (nearly 65 percent of average seasonal totals). Livestock watering distances have remained near or below normal levels across the pastoral areas after rising marginally in March at the peak of the short dry season. In areas where heavy rains have been received, major water sources that were 30-65 percent full have been further recharged by up to 10 percent.

    Livestock migrations have been minimal throughout the short dry season due to good availability of grazing resources, and the majority of animals are situated near settlements. However, the marginal increase in distances to water led to a decline in livestock conditions resulting into 10-20 percent reduction in cattle prices between February and March, for instance, in Turkana, Narok, Transmara, and Isiolo. However, livestock prices in March are above the five-year average by 40-70 percent for cattle and 50-100 percent for goats. Pastoralists’ terms of trade are 20-70 percent above the five-year average in Mandera, Turkana, Baringo, Isiolo, and Transmara where households are able to access 40-85 kilograms of maize compared to the five-year average of 30-60 kilograms from the sale of a goat. Pastoralists’ purchasing power coupled with ongoing interventions has enhanced pastoralists’ access to food, which is manifesting in continued improvements in the nutrition status of children. For instance, according to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) surveillance, the proportion of children under five years old ‘at risk’ of malnutrition as measured using Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) is 15-30 percent below March five-year averages in Transmara, Narok, Isiolo, and Turkana. Pastoralists are generally employing usual dry season strategies, such as, sharing of food with relatives, engaging in petty trade, reducing food portions, which suggest that access to food remains relatively good. However, MUAC rates are above average in Mandera where conflicts and insecurity are hampering access to interventions and food. MUAC rates are also above average in Baringo where a malaria outbreak is reported. In general, mortality rates are within the normal range across the pastoral areas. Consequently, the majority of households in the pastoral areas are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) while those situated in conflict epicenters are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to poorer access to food and food access interventions.          

    The onset of long rains was late by nearly two weeks as the rains started in early March instead of mid-February across the southern pastoral area that includes Transmara, Narok, and Kajiado. Furthermore, the rains have been poorly distributed temporally and spatially. The rains were concentrated during the first 2-6 days of March before resuming in early April. The southeastern part of Kajiado has not yet received significant rains. At the same time, the cumulative rainfall totals have been significantly below average. In the northern parts of Kajiado, water stress led to longer borehole operational hours, extended waiting time at water sources, and increased livestock trekking distances which were up to 60 percent above normal. Waiting times have reduced after the onset of the rains. Nevertheless, livestock body conditions are fair and livestock prices are 80-130 percent above five-year average for March. Though maize prices are above average, households’ terms of trade are 15-35 percent above the five-year average with the exception of Kajiado where they are 10 percent below the March average. The nutritional status of children, as measured using MUAC show that the proportion of children ‘at risk’ of malnutrition is  15-35 below the March average, which suggests that household food access is favorable, since there are no unusual morbidity incidences. Ongoing interventions are also contributing to household food consumption. The majority of households in this zone are Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Southeast and coastal marginal agricultural areas

    The short rains season from October to December, which accounts for up to 70 percent of annual output in the southeast and coastal marginal agricultural zone, performed poorly leading to 20-35 percent failure of planted crops, particularly in the high altitude areas. Harvests were poorer in the marginal mixed farming areas within the zone, less than 30 percent of normal. Households are increasingly relying on market purchases to access food in late March and early April, similar to last year, as opposed to the usual middle to end of May start of market purchases. Above-average maize prices, which are 15-45 percent above March average in Kwale, Taita Taveta, Mwingi, Mbeere, and Malindi, coupled with below normal availability of casual agricultural labor opportunities may be reducing household access to food thereby contributing to the increasing malnutrition rates. For instance, the proportion of children ‘at risk’ of malnutrition has increased marginally in both Malindi and Kwale. However, MUAC rates are up to 45 percent below the March average in many places. Households are increasingly employing usual lean season strategies such as petty trade, sale of bush products, charcoal burning, and sand harvesting to bridge food consumption gaps. During usual times, similar strategies start increasing in May, so this year they began earlier. The majority of households in the southeast and coastal marginal agricultural zone are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2).     

    Crop production and cereal market functioning

    The 2012 long rains maize production season has started poorly across all livelihood zones. In the main growing areas in Western Kenya and the North Rift Valley, maize planting is over one month late. In parts of the South Rift Valley including Narok, farmers have had to replant maize after earlier planted crop wilted due to prolonged dry conditions in March. Meanwhile, a fungal disease outbreak has resulted in the loss of maize crops in parts of the South Rift valley, including Transmara, Bomet, and Narok South. By early April, about 400,000 hectares of maize had been planted nationally, which represents about 30 percent of average area put to maize production during the long rains. Meanwhile, haphazard supply of fertilizer and seed and high fuel prices are adversely affecting long rains crop planting in many areas.

    The market supply of staple maize has been sustained in many places after the conclusion of the long and short rains harvests in 2011 and early 2012. As a result, the trends of maize prices continued to decline in all livelihood zones outside of pastoral areas. For instance, maize prices declined by 5-10 percent in the major urban markets, the southeastern marginal agricultural areas, and the coastal lowlands. Conversely, maize prices increased marginally across the pastoral zones, for example, by about five percent in Mandera, Narok, and Transmara. Rising prices in the pastoral zones are being driven by increased demand for cereals due to the low supply of livestock products during the peak of the short dry season. Despite the marginal declines, maize prices have remained above the five year average for March in all the livelihood zones.  For example, maize prices are above the five-year average by 40-50 percent in urban areas, by 15-45 percent in the southeast and coastal zones, and by 50-80 percent in the pastoral zones.

    Ongoing interventions and impacts

    The World Food Program (WFP) is finalizing outstanding Food or Cash-for-Assets (F/CFA) distributions while retargeting beneficiaries based on the current population in need of 2.2 million people. In March, about 80 percent of the planned beneficiaries (3.75 million) received an estimated 18,000 metric tons (MT) or 97 percent of planned food through General Food Distribution (GFD) and Food for Assets (FFA) while USD 2.3 million was disbursed to Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCT) and Cash for Assets (CFA) beneficiaries. However, the final distribution of the blanket supplementary feeding programme took place at the end of March. Ongoing food and non-food interventions have significantly moderated food insecurity across all livelihood zones, particularly in the northeastern pastoral zone where several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also involved in supporting households’ food access.

    Most likely food security outcomes, April through September 2012

    The following assumptions underpin the most likely food security outcomes for the period between April and September 2012:

    • The March-May long rainfall totals are likely to be 60-85 percent of average, and the rains are expected to be poorly distributed in time and space.  Meanwhile, temperatures are expected to be above average throughout the scenario period.
    • The rains are expected to be heavy in April even though there is a 30 percent chance that total cumulative seasonal rainfall could fall below 60 percent of normal in some areas.
    • Livestock births are expected to peak in March-April for small stock, and in September for cattle following good conceptions in November-December 2011.
    • Although long rains have delayed in the main growing areas, the rainfall season is usually long. Furthermore, the Kenyan Meteorological Department (KMD) forecast indicates that the long rains are likely to be above average in the main maize growing areas which is likely to mitigate early season deficits.
    • Cross border maize inflows are likely to be normal, peaking in June or July.
    • The poor and very poor households are unlikely to significantly benefit from above average livestock prices because of low livestock holdings.
    • Livestock are likely to increasingly concentrate near water points from August onwards, which may result in conflicts and livestock disease outbreaks. Heightened water shortage may trigger outbreaks of water borne diseases in many areas of the northern and northeastern pastoral zones and in the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural zones from August onwards.
    • The influx of refugees from South Sudan into Kakuma Refugee Camp may lead to a rechanneling of assistance from other areas. 

    Pastoral areas

    Moderate improvements to pastoralists’ food security outcomes are likely to occur during the first half of the scenario period until June across the northern, northeastern, and northwestern pastoral zones and the southern rangelands. The improvements are likely to result from improved milk availability after the lambing and kidding peak in April following good conceptions during the October to November period. At the same time, food assistance programs which are funded through July are likely to enhance food access, particularly for the poor and very poor households that lost substantial livestock assets during the previous droughts and have not yet fully recovered. As a result, child nutrition levels are likely to remain favorable in the first half of the scenario period. Although the long rains are forecasted to be poor, in general, they have started on time in parts of the northern and northeastern pastoral areas resulting in up to a 10 percent recharge of main surface water sources. The rains are expected to sustain pastures and browse regeneration at least until May. However, the patchy onset of the rains seems to suggest that the spatial and temporal distributions of the rains may be poor in parts of Samburu, Marsabit, Isiolo, Garissa, Tana River, Kajiado, and Ijara, which are yet to receive significant rains. Significant improvements to pastoralists’ income sources may be moderated by above-average food prices in many places. Conflicts and insecurity in Turkana, Isiolo, Tana River, and along the Kenya-Somalia border may also reduce food access.  

    While surface water sources are likely to replenish in many pastoral areas in April, recharge may not be adequate in areas where rains are likely to perform poorly, for instance, in Samburu, Isiolo, Garissa, Tana River, southeastern Kajiado, Ijara, eastern Marsabit, and southern Moyale. Furthermore, above average temperatures are forecast for these areas throughout the scenario period. Therefore, water may start depleting as early as July leading to longer distances to water for both domestic use and livestock. Increased livestock trekking is likely to adversely affect livestock body condition leading to lower livestock prices and subsequently reduced household incomes. Meanwhile, food prices are likely to remain above average throughout the scenario period due to tightening national supply. Below average production in 2011, high transport and transaction costs driven by fuel price increases and insecurity will keep prices high. Consequently, household purchasing capacities may start eroding towards the end of the scenario period. At the same time, household milk access may not significantly improve, despite increased calving in September, because of lowered livestock productivity due stress induced by long trekking distances starting in August. The declining household food access is likely to push malnutrition levels up from August onwards. Furthermore, reduced household water consumption, due to scarcity or high prices, and consumption of poor quality water may increase morbidity and child malnutrition across the pastoral zones. However, malnutrition rates are unlikely to reach Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in most pastoral areas.

    Increased livestock movements in search of water may precipitate outbreaks of contagious livestock diseases and conflicts in dry season grazing areas where livestock are likely to concentrate. These areas include the borders of Isiolo, Wajir, and Marsabit, southern Turkana, southern Tana River, and Ijara. Livestock diseases and conflicts may lead to quarantines, restriction of livestock movements, and the closure of livestock markets thereby negatively impacting on pastoralists’ livelihood strategies. In addition, households are likely to lose livestock assets if calves are culled to protect lactating cows because the period of long trekking distances is likely to coincide with the peak of calving in September, particularly in Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Garissa, Tana River, Isiolo, and Ijara. Although calving usually peak in November, in the middle of the short rains season, in 2011 conceptions occurred earlier than usual because the early start of the short rains season in October followed previous successive poor seasons that had disrupted conception patterns.

    Households are unlikely to resort to irreversible coping strategies even though petty trading near watering points, casual labor activities, purchasing food on credit, sharing of food rations, reducing food portions, skipping of meals, and sale of bush products are likely to be increasingly employed to bridge food consumption gaps. Although the sale of bush products such as gum arabica, aloe, and building poles is likely to increase towards end of the scenario period, their prices are unlikely to change significantly because of the thin nature of these markets. Similarly, prices of charcoal and firewood may not decline significantly despite increased production and sales due to their widespread use and high demand across rural areas. Meanwhile, casual labor opportunities such as construction labor, desilting of water pans, sale of fodder, and other livestock related activities are likely to remain at near normal levels in many places because livestock are not expected to migrate to distant locations during the scenario period and middle and better-off households can still afford to employ labor for these activities.   

    The majority of pastoral households are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through June due to continued access to food as a result of improved milk availability, better terms of trade, and ongoing interventions. Households in localized areas that are affected by conflict or situated in areas where insecurity is limiting access to humanitarian interventions are likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the same period. However, from July onwards, the majority of households are likely to be either in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In particular, households situated in parts of the northeastern pastoral including parts of Mandera, Wajir, Isiolo, Garissa, and Tana River may deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in October if the long rains performance is extremely poor and if the onset of the 2012 short rains were delayed. The majority of agropastoralists in Moyale, Wajir and Mandera are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the scenario period because long rains crop harvests are likely to be insignificant. Other factors that are likely to moderate the improvement of agropastoral households’ food security are the lingering effects of previous successive poor seasons, conflicts, insecurity and displacements especially in Moyale and Mandera, and a reduced capacity for crop production in Mandera due to the damage of irrigation infrastructure during the previous short rains season.  

    Southeastern marginal agricultural areas and coastal lowlands

    The food security situation for marginal agricultural farmers in the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural zone is likely to deteriorate throughout the scenario period. While households in the high elevation areas realized up to 70 percent of average for the short rains crop harvests in late 2011 and early 2012, harvests were only about 30 percent of average in the low elevation marginal mixed farming areas. In some of the lowland areas, households have experienced four consecutive poor seasons that has further eroded their limited asset base. Households are unlikely to effectively repay debts because the short rains harvests are unlikely to reasonably compensate for the deficits from the previous poor seasons. At the same time, households are likely to face above-average food prices throughout the scenario period. The season is likely to perform poorly because the depressed long rains are likely to compound the usually unreliable long rains. Already the onset of rains has delayed by two to three weeks while the rains are poorly distributed temporally and spatially in the southeastern marginal agricultural. In the coastal marginal agricultural areas the long rains have not yet started.

    The direct effect of below-normal household carryover stocks include increased reliance on market purchases in late March and April instead of the May to June period. However, the availability of the short cycle crops such as vegetables and of milk may somewhat moderate household food deficits in April and May. However, above average food prices throughout the scenario period may heighten poor access to food for households starting in June. Though cross-border maize inflows are likely to be normal, peaking in June-July, maize prices are unlikely to change significantly across the zone due to heightened demand at both the local and the national level. As a result, households are likely to resort to alternative foods such as the lowest grade of maize which is often discolored, broken, and infested by pests. While these alternatives may be cheaper, they are of poorer nutritional content. Households may, significantly reduce food consumption from July onwards.  

    Meanwhile, major water sources are unlikely to replenish adequately due to below-normal long rains following the early cessation of the short rains in December and above-average temperatures during the first three months of the year. Thus, water availability may start to decline earlier than usual in July. Increasing watering distances and waiting time at water sources are likely. Households are likely to spend inordinately long periods of time sourcing water instead of engaging in income-generating activities, which coupled with below-normal availability of casual labor opportunities, may result in below-normal income levels. Water shortages are likely to increase water prices, which may lead to reduced water use or consumption of poor quality water resulting in outbreaks of water borne diseases from August onwards.

    The rates of child malnutrition are likely to remain below average levels in the first half of the scenario period. However, the decline in household food intake and heightened risk of water borne diseases due to consumption of poor quality water may trigger an increase in child malnutrition levels from August onwards. Elevated rates of malnutrition are likely towards the end of the scenario period which is also the peak of the lean season. Malnutrition may not reach emergency thresholds due to ongoing interventions and household coping mechanisms. The majority of households in the southeast and coastal marginal agricultural will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until June or July. However, some households that experienced significant short rains crop losses last season are classified as Crisis (IPC Phase 3) starting in August.

    Prospects for crop production and cereal market functioning

    The start of the 2012 long rains maize harvest is likely to be delayed by over a month in the main growing areas because of late planting. Maize harvesting is likely to start in August instead of July in most areas of the South Rift Valley and in November instead of October in Western Kenya and the North Rift Valley. While good rains are expected to mitigate the earlier seasonal deficits, maize production may be average to below average because of disruptions in input supply during planting and fungal disease outbreaks in the South Rift region including Transmara, Bomet, and Narok. Late harvesting may prolong the usual domestic supply deficit period leading to high maize prices through November. While households may respond to high maize prices by increasing consumption of green maize when it becomes available in June and September, nearly 100,000 metric tons (MT) of maize may need to be imported to bridge the national deficit. Cross border maize inflows, which already are four times more in March 2012 than March 2011, are likely to be significant throughout the scenario period. The lower import duty for neighboring countries compared to the 50 percent import duty for imports from outside the East African Community is likely to favor cross-border trade. 

    Prospects for ongoing interventions

    The food pipeline has sufficient stocks to meet requirements up to July 2012.  Under the recovery and resilience building component, the current 1.1 million beneficiaries are expected to continue working on ongoing F/CFA projects being implemented in 15 districts until the end of April 2012. The community consultations on priority projects for the next phase of implementation which starts in May 2012 are underway. WFP plans to further expand its F/CFA activities to five additional pastoral districts (Wajir, Marsabit, Samburu, East Pokot, and Ijara) where consultations with communities and stakeholders are ongoing. Project implementation in these areas will start in October 2012.

    Other populations that require monitoring through the outlook period

    Refugee populations in Dadaab and Kakuma

    According to UNHCR, there are 463,000 and 92,330 registered refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, respectively. Although a few refugees have returned to Somalia after food security conditions and access to interventions improved, the number of returnees may not increase significantly during the scenario period due to the volatile security situation in southern Somalia. Meanwhile, the likelihood of a poor season in southern Somalia may precipitate an increase of  new refugee arrivals. On the other hand, the influx of refugees from Southern Sudan into Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana County may escalate within the scenario period because of the escalation of tensions and likelihood of increased conflict between Sudan and Southern Sudan. The food security situation of refugees in Kakuma refugee camp may deteriorate within the scenario period because an increase in the number of refugees entering Kakuma is likely to exceed the current monthly average of 475 refugees resulting in the total number of refugees surpassing the camp’s capacity of 100,000 refugees. Food availability is assured for all refugees. However, insecurity is disrupting access to important interventions in the water, education, and health services assistance sectors in Dadaab.  In Kakuma, access to necessary facilities such as shelter is inadequate. Refugees in both sets of camps are are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) currently and over the remainder of the scenario period.

    Flood-affected populations

    The onset of the long rains has been characterized by erratic rains that are also poorly distributed spatially. As a result, flash floods and landslides have occurred in parts of Taita Taveta,  Narok, Kajiado, Nyando, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Turkana, Kirinyaga, Kisii, and Nairobi. According to the Ministry of Special Programs, flash floods lead to the death of more than 30 people, the displacement of nearly 1,000 households, and the loss of livelihood assets. According the short term forecasts more than 150 mm of rains, in a day, are expected in localized areas, which may cause additional flooding. The areas that are at high risk of flash flooding include the northern parts of Moyale and Marsabit, areas around the Lake Victoria Basin, and localized areas along the Kenya-Tanzania border in Narok. Meanwhile there is heightened risk of landslides in the northwest pastoral and districts in central Kenya. The affected households are likely to lose livelihood assets or be displaced. At the same time, these areas may experience outbreaks of water borne diseases and have a subsequent increase in food insecurity.

    Table 1: Less likely events over the next six months that could change the above scenarios



    Impacts on food security outcomes.

    Pastoral livelihood zones in the north, northeast, east, northwest, and southeast; and southern rangelands

    • Though rains are poorly distributed in time and space, recharge of all key water sources is adequate.* *
    • Minimum livestock migrations will ensure that livestock productivity is sustained, positively impacting on household food security.
    • The risk of heightened conflicts would reduce considerably.

    Pastoral livelihood zones in the north, northeast, and east

    • Increased military operation lead to significant improvements in security situation along the Kenya-Somalia border. *
    • Kenya and Ethiopia withdraw military forces from Somalia. **
    • Supply lines would start to re-establish leading to improved food distribution and better household food access.


    • High insecurity along the Kenya-Somalia border would limit the provision of humanitarian assistance and lead to a deterioration of food security.


    Southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural

    • Though rains are poorly distributed, they continue into June. **
    • Households would be able to realize near average harvests for the planted drought tolerant crops such as beans, sorghum, and potatoes. 

    Urban areas

    • Heightened politically-motivated violence due to a combination of national elections, implementation of the new constitution, and prosecution of 2007/2008 post- election violence suspects **
    • Disruption of economic activities, including, transportation and market access.
    • Poor food distribution would restrict household food access, particularly for highly vulnerable populations situated in the volatile, densely populated areas.

    All areas

    • Politically motivated conflicts emanating from a combination of elections and implementation of the new constitution - new administrative boundaries. *
    • Significant increase in fuel prices. **


    • Speedy passage of the new Value Added Tax (VAT) law. *



    • Long rains are only 60 percent of average. **
    • Displacements and disruption of economic activities may result in food insecurity for many affected populations.


    • Food prices would increase precipitously thereby limiting access to food for many vulnerable households.
    • Significant reduction in the prices of essential food items such as milk, bread, maize, and wheat flour and cost of Medicare would enhance the ability of household to purchase food.
    • Food security situation would decline more rapidly, from June onwards.


    **Very unlikely

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Source: FEWS NET Kenya

    Current food security outcomes, April 2012

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, April 2012

    Source: FEWS NET Kenya

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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