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Minor improvements in food security expected during March to May long rains

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Kenya
  • April - September 2014
Minor improvements in food security expected during March to May long rains

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events That Might Change the Outlook
  • Partners
    Government of Kenya
    Key Messages
    • The largest increase in the acute food insecure population between August and February was in agropastoral areas, though a large number of the acutely food insecure can also be found in pastoral areas in the Northeast. Also, about 1.3 million people remain acutely food insecure in the southeastern, pastoral and coastal marginal agricultural areas, with majority of the population in these regions remaining Stressed (IPC Phase 2).
    • Food security is expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in the southeastern marginal agricultural areas and pastoral areas in the Northeast, with food access coming from casual labor income, income from livestock, and short-cycle crops through June. However, food availability and access is expected to decline from June through September as these sources of food and income dissipate, even as households maintain minimally adequate food consumption.
    • The onset of the long rains in March was normally timed in much of the country during the second to third weeks of March. There was a short dry spell at the beginning of April but the rains resumed in the second week of April. However, thus far, the spatial distribution and temporal distribution has been erratic, which is likely to negatively impact crop and livestock production.
    • The performance of the long rains and food price trends will help determine food security outcomes through September. Due to the below average and erratic performance of the long rains thus far, household food availability and access will slightly improve through June, but it will deteriorate between July and September, driven by increases in food prices during the August to October lean season.

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    General inflation has continued to decline since September 2013, easing inflationary pressure on households including the poor. However, inflation remained higher in March 2014 than it was in 2013. The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics’s (KNBOS) March report indicates that between January and March, producer prices of dairy products and grain mill products like maize flour rose, translating to a slight increase in household income for households who are net sellers of maize and milk, primarily those in higher productivity areas in western Kenya. Despite the declining inflation rates, wholesale maize prices in Eldoret, Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu increased from January to February, almost two months earlier than the normal start of seasonal increases in April. The increase was in response to tighter maize supply following consecutive below average long rains and short rains maize harvests.

    According to the Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) 2013 short rains assessment, poor performance of the 2013 short rains resulted in more people becoming food insecure. The number of acutely food insecure people increased from 0.8 million in August 2013 to 1.3 million for the next six months ending August 2014. Over the same period, the number of acutely food insecure people increased threefold in agropastoral areas including in Baringo, West Pokot, and Laikipia Counties. These areas depend on rainfed agricultural production, and they had a much smaller harvest than normal. The food insecure population though was still mostly concentrated in pastoral areas in the Northeast and Northwest. Of the total acutely food insecure population, 36 percent are located in the Northeast in Garissa, Isiolo, Mandera, and Wajir Counties. 20 percent of the acutely food insecure population are located in the Northwest in Turkana, Marsabit, and Samburu Counties. Acute food insecurity is found in both the pastoral areas in the Northwest where 31 percent of the population is food insecure and in the Northeast where 27 percent of the population is food insecure. The most severe acute food insecurity was found in the pastoral areas in the Northwest, in central parts of Turkana, and parts of Marsabit County, which were in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Although the long rains started at normal times in March across the country, they have been poor and erratic in their timing and coverage. They have been characterized by uneven spatial distribution especially in the arid and semi-arid areas. Recovery of pasture and browse is still slower, and in some pockets, water points have not been adequately recharged. However, in many areas, pasture and browse have recovered, and availability is approaching normal. In these areas, livestock body conditions are improving and often are fair to good. In the western parts of the country and in the high- and medium-potential agricultural areas, the timely onset of the rains triggered timely planting activities. Rainfall in this region is also characterized by poor and erratic spatial and temporal distribution and below-average amounts.

    • The March to May long rains season started in March in much of the country. The rains are expected to be normal to below normal in terms of total amount. However, they are likely to be erratic in their temporal distribution over much of the pastoral areas and the Southeastern Marginal Mixed Farming livelihood zone. Some areas are likely to have unusually long dry spells during the season.
    • In the western and central parts of Kenya, the March to August long rains are expected to be normal to above normal in terms of total amount.
    • Warmer than normal land surface temperatures will likely persist through May with a high likelihood of accelerating drying of water sources and deterioration of pasture and browse, especially during the expected dry spells.
    • General price inflation is expected to continue but slowly through May, driven by the low, national market demand for food as the more populous western areas of the country still primarily consume food from their own stocks. However, price inflation and food price inflation is likely to increase between June and September due to increased demand for food products as consumption from household stocks declines.
    • Maize prices will likely increase moderately between April and May due to high demand in markets driven by the increasing consumption as stocks at national and household levels gradually decline, somewhat earlier than usual due to the below average long and short rains harvest in 2013/2014. A combination of imports between June and July and the early harvest from the high- and medium-potential areas in August will help keep maize prices mostly stable between May and September.
    • The likely increase in the number of arriving refugees from conflict in South Sudan may use resources originally planned to meet other humanitarian needs through September.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Food availability and consumption is expected to remain mostly stable through June driven by the availability of maize, short-cycle crops from the long rains, labor income, and remittances. Normal food price increases are expected through June as dependence on markets increase. Prices increased earlier than usual this year, and these prices increases are likely to be transmitted to retail markets in pastoral and marginal agricultural livelihood zones probably within the next two to three months. Prices will then likely increase further as demand for maize and other foods increases as households in western Kenya switch to market purchases.

    The availability of casual labor opportunities is expected to increase through May, resulting in increases in household income, which will be higher than the simultaneous increase in food prices. Through June, households across the country are likely able to maintain food consumption above the minimal level in the high potential areas and slightly above minimal in the arid and semi-arid areas, though some pockets are likely to experience a decline in consumption. Households will remain largely in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in much of the country with the exception of the high- and medium-potential areas, which will be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

    The availability of short-cycle legumes, early harvest from parts of the high- and medium-potential areas in August, and imports in June/July will help stabilize food prices and make food affordable to the poor households through September. However, between July and September, household incomes are likely to seasonally decline as casual labor opportunities dwindle, owing to a reduction in agricultural labor demand. Although food access is expected to deteriorate, the majority of households may still be in a position to afford a considerable amount of food and maintain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.

    Areas of Concern

    Southeastern Marginal Mixed Farming livelihood zone

    Current Situation

    In much of the Southeastern Marginal Mixed Farming livelihood zone, the onset of the long rains was during the first and second weeks of March. As of the first dekad of April, the performance of the long rains was normal to below normal but with uneven temporal and spatial distribution. Although this is not the primary agricultural production season for this area, a considerable number of households have planted. They are hoping to grow some food to make up for the below average short rains harvest in January/February. Crops are currently at various stages of development in different areas. In Tharaka Nithi, early planted crops were being weeded for the second time, but  in Mwingi, most crops were still at the germination stage. With land preparation, planting, and now weeding, there has been a slight increase in the availability of casual labor opportunities in March/April. This time of year, causal labor is providing between 38 and 52 percent of a household’s income in Tharaka Nithi, Mbeere, Makueni, and Kitui Counties, according to the latest survey from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA). The increase in causal labor opportunities resulted in a seasonal increase in household incomes, especially for the poorest households who are the most labor-dependent. In Tharaka Nithi County, casual labor’s contribution to total household income increased significantly from 28 percent in February to 38 percent in March.

    Distances to watering points and grazing areas declined or remained constant as water points have recharged/ Pasture and browse have laregely regenerated following the start of the long rains in March, and they are now in normal condition for this time of year. Notably, pasture and browse quantity is still below average with above average distances to grazing areas in Tharaka Nithi County. Milk production and consumption marginally increased at the households level between February and March, but milk consumption is still below average in Kitui, Mbeere, Tharaka Nithi, and Makueni Counties. In Makueni, milk consumption ranges between 0.3 and 0.5 liters compared to normal of 0.5 to 1.5 liters in these areas.

    The concluded short rains harvest was below average, but it still triggered a marginal decline in maize prices in Kitui, Makueni, and Embu Counties while triggering around a 10 percent decline in Tharaka Nithi County between February and March. Despite improvement in pasture and browse availability, livestock prices and thus goat to maize terms of trade both increased and decreased between February and March in different areas.

    Across the livelihood zone, there were no indications of increased use of coping or use of irreversible coping strategies. Malnutrition, measured as the proportion of children with mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) of less than 135 millimetres (mm) declined by 10 to 15 percent in all counties between February and March, mainly due to the continued support of nutrition supplementation programs along with somewhat stable household food access. These areas are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    • In addition to the national assumptions, the following assumptions are made for the Southeastern Marginal Mixed Farming livelihood zone:
    • Due to the long rains being average to below average in amount and erratic, the harvest in June/July is expected to be somewhat below average. Households will be unable to fully replenish their stocks. Having already exhausted their stocks from the short rains harvest in January/February, households will start relying on the market as the primary source of food earlier than normal, probably in July or August instead of September.
    • Casual labor opportunities and wages are likely to be somewhat below average due to reduced demand for labor for harvesting.
    • Remittances from permanent and semi-permanent urban migrants are expected to increase between April and September as those working in urban areas help their rural relatives with the shock of two, consecutive below average harvests.
    • Many households will intensify some activities such as charcoal burning, sand harvesting, brick making, and petty trading between July and August, both as these activities tend to occur during the dry season and as a way to make up for income not earned from casual labor opportunities earlier in 2014.
    • Supplementary nutrition programs are expected to continue across the livelihood zone.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Through June, households are expected to maintain stable food consumption supported by the availability of income from casual labor, remittances, and some additional income from other sources. For households who plant during the long rains season, short-cycle crops will be available from May to July to supplement their diets. This will be despite the expected gradual increase in maize prices. Milk availability and consumption at household level will increase over the course of the March to May long rains season. Sustained food access, stable milk consumption, and an expected continuation of supplementary nutrition programs is expected to help sustain nutrition levels. The majority of households are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). A small proportion, less than 20 percent, primarily in the high elevation areas or hilly medium-potential areas may enter Minimal (IPC Phase 1) meeting food, essential non-food, and necessary livelihoods protection expenditures between April and June.

    Between July and September, food security will decline, driven by the gradual increase in maize prices as supply tightens. However, maize, some of which will be imported from Tanzania and from Uganda, will remain on the market. Households will have also exhausted both their short rains and long rains food stocks, and they will be completely market dependent. Income from casual labor will diminish after the end of the harvest, and the value of remittances will gradually be eroded by increasing maize prices, decreasing households’ food access. Households will intensify use of sand harvesting, charcoal burning, and petty trading for income, but this will not be enough to sustain food consumption where it was during the long rains harvest. A deterioration of nutrition is expected, mostly in line with the early start of the lean seasoning in July when household food access and milk production become constrained. The few households that were in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) will move to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Expansion of supplementary nutrition programs will prevent a more than seasonal increase in malnutrition. Generally, the majority of households will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2), accessing their minimum dietary requirements through various income-earning strategies.

    Pastoral livelihood zones

    Current Situation

    The amount of rainfall received as at April was below average and poorly distributed over space and time in Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera, and Tana River Counties. The start of the rains has led to some regeneration of pasture and browse and recharge of water points has begun, and livestock body conditions and health have started their seasonal improvements. However, milk production is still below normal. In some counties such as Garissa, livestock are still in dry season grazing areas. In Isiolo, where livestock sales account for about 45 percent of household income, rainfall has been below average and poorly distributed. Household in this area have increased their charcoal burning activities to offset the decline in income from livestock sales. Participation in livestock markets across the pastoral livelihood zone has been low and characterized by declining goat prices since December 2013. Goat sales usually form an important and somewhat regular source of household income. The decline in goat prices and fewer livestock sales has led to casual labor being almost the most important source of income at this time. Casual labor accounted for 32, 29, and 14 percent of household income in Mandera, Tana River, and Isiolo Counties, respectively, in March. Livestock sales provided 30, 21, and 45 percent of income in those counties, respectively, in March.

    Maize, rice, and maize meal prices have remained above their respective five-year averages with mostly steady prices between February and March. Consequently, with goat prices declining and food prices marginally increasing or remaining relatively constant, food access for most of the pastoral households, especially the poorest, deteriorated in March. In parts of Wajir County where rainfall was substantial and pasture has regenerated, production and consumption of milk by pastoralists increased slightly towards the end of the March. Camel milk remained the most available milk supplied to most markets. A 750 milliliter (ml) bottle cost between KES 60 and 100 in March. Goat and cattle milk production increased slightly in most pastoral livelihood zones, but the amount supplied to markets is still insignificant. Unlike other areas, milk production declined in Tana River and Mandera Counties in March due to the below-average amount of rain received during the onset that prolonged the dry spell and led to deteriorating livestock body conditions and health. Milk production and consumption were below average in Tana River and Mandera Counties in March.

    The cumulative effects of low milk production and the effects of the very hot and dry season from January to March have led to deteriorating household access to food since December. Nutritional status declined from February to March in Tana River, Mandera, and Wajir Counties. The proportion of children ‘at risk’ of malnutrition increased by 14 percent in Tana River and by four percent in both Mandera and Wajir. However, households did not report skipping of meals or forgoing food. The majority of poor households are obtaining their minimum dietary requirements from the available milk and from income from casual labor, food purchases on credit, proceeds from livestock sales, and remittances. Food security is currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2).


    In addition to the national assumptions, the following assumptions are made for the pastoral livelihood zones:

    • Even though the long rains are likely to be average to below average in terms of amount, rangeland conditions are expected to improve through June, providing adequate pasture and browse availability through September.
    • In line with pasture and browse recovery, livestock body conditions will gradually improve driving livestock prices upwards through August. The effects of the lean season between July and September characterized by increasing distances to water and grazing points, will start affecting livestock from August, and prices are expected to decline slowly from August through September, all along mostly seasonal lines.
    • Household income will most likely track livestock prices, increasing through August and consequently declining as the lean season starts in August. Additional intensification of strategies to generate income such as charcoal burning and petty trade will intensify from August in response to declining income from livestock sales.
    • Humanitarian organizations are likely to continue to work in pastoral areas.
    • There are no abnormal livestock mortalities or large-scale disease outbreaks anticipated between April and September 2014.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The pastoral livelihood zones are largely dependent on markets for food. Thus food access largely tracks the ratio of livestock prices to staple food prices, improving when livestock prices are higher than relative food prices. As such, food access through June will be stable, supported by income from livestock and livestock product sales. Due to improvements in livestock body conditions, the seasonal increase in milk production and consumption, and other changes with the rainy season, household diets will be normal, and malnutrition levels between April and June will likely be stable. Food security is expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Between July and September, the start of the lean season in August will result in livestock body conditions and health deteriorating, leading to the associated seasonal decline in livestock prices. Moreover, milk production and consumption will diminish. In the meantime, food prices will be gradually increasing, eroding purchasing power. Once livestock migrate to dry season grazing areas, the children, the elderly, and other household members left in the permanent settlements will have more limited access to both milk and livestock-related income. Household food availability and access will decline through September. Malnutrition is expected to seasonally increase although this will likely be moderated by interventions by the government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). For the majority of households, food security will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2), but there will remain a very high risk of households entering Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in many areas. Pockets of Mandera and Wajir Counties are expected to experience a faster deterioration in food security between July and September as there is likely to be an earlier onset of the lean season in these areas. Also, conflict will hinder market functioning and humanitarian assistance. In these pockets, food security is likely to enter a Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from July to September.

    Events That Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1: Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Southeast Marginal Mixed Farming livelihood zone

    Significant spikes in maize prices

    Low or unfavorable casual labor wage to cereal terms of trad would decrease household purchasing power. Accelerated maize sales by those households who have stocks would occur. Households would sell, then need to purchase later in the year when prices are at their highest.

    Southeast Marginal Mixed Farming livelihood zone

    Above normal rainfall amounts

    Larger than normal planted acreage, increased food output, and higher than normal replenishment of household food stocks would increase food availability and access.

    Southeast Marginal Mixed Farming livelihood zone

    Abrupt and/or early cessation of the long rains

    Reduced maize supply would result in increased prices and reduced availability both to households and markets. Lower availability of casual labor opportunities would be likely due to the decline in agricultural activities. The decline in casual labor opportunities and the reduced availability of maize would constrain food access.

    Pastoral livelihood zones

    Significant declines in livestock prices

    Reduced income for households would reduce the capacity of households to access food.

    Pastoral livelihood zones

    Abrupt cessation of the long rains

    Poor recovery of rangeland conditions and consequent deterioration of livestock conditions and values would decrease household income and purchasing power.

    Pastoral livelihood zones

    Intensification and protraction of conflicts

    Reduced market access, loss of assets, and displacement would lead to increasingly poor household food access.

    Pastoral livelihood zones

    Excessive and widespread flooding and water contamination

    The increased incidence of waterborne diseases would negate expected improvements in nutritional outcomes. The destruction of infrastructure and other barriers to market access could create localized shortages, increasing food prices in affected areas. This would reduce household food access.


    Figures Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. March 1 to April 28, 2014 rainfall percent of African Rainfall Climatology (ARC2) 1981 to 2013 mean

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. March 1 to April 28, 2014 rainfall percent of African Rainfall Climatology (ARC2) 1981 to 2013 mean

    Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Figure 2


    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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