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Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes likely to be widespread due to below-average short rains season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Kenya
  • December 2018 - May 2019
Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes likely to be widespread due to below-average short rains season

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • In marginal agricultural areas, the October to December short rains season has been significantly below average and short rains crop production is expected to be 70 percent of average. However, surplus long rains production and re-planting of short rains crops by better-off households in some areas have sustained high agricultural labor demand and above-average terms of trade, facilitating food access for the poor. As a result, deterioration in food security is most likely to be gradual, but Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are anticipated to be widespread in the February to May 2019 period.

    • Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to be sustained across pastoral livelihood zones. Although deterioration in rangeland resources is likely to drive earlier-than-normal livestock migration and increase resource-based conflict, above-average goat-to-maize terms of trade, high livestock birth rates, and milk production are likely to enable most households to meet their minimum food needs through May 2019. However, the number of poor households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected to increase in areas most affected by conflict, including Turkana, Samburu, Wajir and Garissa counties.

    • Across Kenya, surplus carryover stocks, above-average long rains production, regional cross-border staple food imports, and above-average livestock prices are expected to maintain above-average food access for poor households that rely on market purchases through May 2019. In November, maize prices across key urban and rural reference markets ranged from near-average to 36 percent below the five-year average. The notable exception is in Garissa market, where maize prices were seven percent above the five-year average. Across pastoral markets, goat prices ranged from eight to 59 percent above the five-year average.

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    Food security has remained high across Kenya since the end of the exceptionally above-average March to May 2018 long rains season, but is now declining due to erratic rainfall performance during the October to December short rains season. Above-average milk production and high livestock prices in pastoral areas, available household food stocks in marginal agricultural areas, and below-average staple food prices nationwide have maintained food availability and access and sustained Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. However, rainfall deficits during the short rains season have negatively impacted water and forage resources and cropping activities, which is likely to lead to a decline in food security until the start of the 2019 long rains season in March.

    Seasonal performance: The October to December short rains season has been defined by a late onset, erratic rainfall distribution, and mixed seasonal accumulation. The onset of rainfall was 10 to 20 days late in the southeast; 20 to 30 days late in parts of Turkana and Mandera counties; and more than 40 days late across the rest of northern Kenya. In eastern Kenya, total cumulative rainfall is 55 to 85 percent of normal, according to satellite-derived estimates and confirmed by field reports (Figure 1). These areas also experienced poor rainfall distribution with long dry spells. Across the rest of the country, total rainfall was also significantly below average until early December, but recent heavy rains alleviated these deficits. Currently, Kenya’s western, southern, northeastern, and coastal areas have accumulated average to above-average rainfall ranging from 95 to 145 percent of normal. The short rains season is critical to marginal agricultural production, accounting for approximately 70 percent of annual maize production. It is also significant for replenishment of rangeland resources in eastern pastoral livelihood zones.

    Seasonal progress: Food availability is currently being driven by carryover stocks from the 2017 – 2018 production year as well as the ongoing 2018 long rains harvest in high and medium agricultural production areas in the Rift Valley and western Kenya, which will be completed in January 2019. Consistent with previous projections, early estimates indicate that households are harvesting above-average maize yields due to the above-average March to May rainfall. However, bean crop yields are lower than normal since excess rainfall resulted in soil waterlogging and occurrences of fungus.

    In general, the late onset of rain and subsequent dry spells prevented germination and forced many households in marginal agricultural areas to replant their crops. From late November through mid-December, land preparation, planting, and first weeding of maize, cowpeas, and pigeon peas as well as drought-tolerant crops like millet, sorghum, and green grams are still underway. However, performance varies across counties. In Kilifi county, for instance, planting was staggered and crop development currently spans the emergent, vegetative, and reproductive stages; there are also reports of Fall Armyworm (FAW) infestations at typical levels. In contrast, in Kwale county, crop development is favorable due to relatively better rainfall performance. As a result of staggered planting and replanting activities, agricultural labor opportunities are above-average despite the poor performance of the short rains, elevating household income. In unimodal production areas in western Kenya, weeding for the 2019 short rains crop is ongoing. 

    Pasture, Livestock, and Water: Despite earlier rainfall deficits, rangeland resources in pastoral areas remain generally favorable due to the lasting impact of the 2018 March to May long rains. Vegetation conditions measured by NDVI indicate below-average to average conditions across most of Kenya and above-average conditions in the northeast and southeast (Figure 2), while field reports indicate that forage remains good in Marsabit, fair to poor in Turkana, and fair to good elsewhere. Distances between grazing areas and water sources for livestock range from three kilometers in Mandera to 12.2 kilometers in Marsabit; the trekking distance is average in Turkana, 60 to 77 percent below average in Isiolo and Mandera, and 15 to 21 percent above average in Wajir and Marsabit. Consequently, livestock body conditions remain good overall except in Wajir, where conditions are good to fair, and Turkana, where conditions are fair to poor. Milk production in October ranged between 1.3 and 6.1 liters per day, and was within average in Makueni and Kitui, 50 percent below average in Turkana, 80 to 90 percent above average in Marsabit and Kalifi, and 19 to 57 percent below average in the rest of the country. Field reports indicate production increased in November, when the kidding, lambing, and calving season began. Herd sizes are improving with livestock birth rates that range from average to above average, given favorable conditions for conception during the long rains season. As a result, milk consumption and sales have increased at the household level, providing additional calories and income to poor households.

    Markets and trade: Low staple food prices and high goat prices have resulted in above-average terms of trade, facilitating household food access. From October to November, wholesale maize prices in urban reference markets were 14 to 36 percent below the five-year average, driven by cross-border imports and enhanced production since early 2018.  Similarly, dry bean prices are six and 12 percent below the five-year average in Nairobi and Mombasa. Maize and bean prices remained 10 to 45 percent below 2017 prices across all reference markets, an indication that harvests in the 2017/2018 production season were significantly better than 2016/2017. Goat prices remained eight to 27 percent above average across all reference markets except in Isiolo and Marsabit, where prices were 33 and 59 percent above average, respectively. Prices are being driven by atypically good body conditions, increasing the value of each goat. While near-average in Garissa, the terms of trade are 21 to 28 percent above average in most other pastoral markets and an exceptional 55 and 74 percent above average in Turkana and Marsabit, respectively.

    Interannual Assistance:  Households continue to receive interannual assistance in both pastoral and marginal agricultural areas in different modalities. Approximately 100,000 households in Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, and Wajir counties continue to receive cash through the ongoing Hunger Safety Net Program, providing an estimated 65 percent of monthly caloric requirements. Asset creation programs, implemented by WFP, also continue to support households. Supplementary feeding programs to manage acute malnutrition, supported by UNICEF and World Food Program (WFP), are also ongoing in counties where GAM prevalence is higher than 10 percent. Across all counties, the national county governments also continue to provide general food distribution to households.

    Conflict and Insecurity: Incidences of conflict and insecurity at this time of the year are atypical. The short rains usually replenish rangeland resources and drive livestock and wild animals to wet season grazing areas where adequate natural resources serve to minimize conflict. In October, however, large numbers of camels from Isiolo county migrated into Tharaka Nithi county, increasing the potential for conflict. In Kitui county, conflict incidents over forage were reported in Mutha ward of Kitui South sub-county, resulting in the death of one person. In Isiolo, border disputes and communal tensions were reported along the Isiolo-Garissa border in Eldera Centre and Duse-Kinna areas, which forced households to flee and seek refuge in Garbatulla Centre. In Taita Taveta, the presence of herds of camels from other areas was reported near community settlement areas in Sagalla and Mwatate wards. Human-wildlife conflict was also reported in Makueni, where elephants from neighbouring Tsavo East National Park invaded several farms along River Athi in Masongaleni ward.

    As a result of the above factors, most households in marginal agricultural areas are currently able to meet their minimum food needs and are in Minimal (IPC Phase 1), consuming two to three meals per day. In pastoral areas, most households are Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and report consuming one to two meals per day. Carryover stocks from long rains production, above-average milk production, and above-average terms of trade are driving improved food security compared to 2017 in both pastoral and marginal agricultural areas. In some agricultural counties such as Lamu and Makueni, where poor households harvested lower amounts, food stocks are now depleted but households are earning income from agricultural labor and benefitting from below-average staple food prices. Pastoral households are also access to food through above-average goats-to-cereals terms of trade. These households are Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and unable to afford essential non-food purchases. In November, consumption coping strategies measured by the reduced coping strategies index (rCSI) indicated mixed trends across the country, with an increase in use in Makueni, Tharaka Nithi, Kilifi and Taita Taveta counties and a decline in use in Isiolo, Marsabit, Kitui, and Kwale counties compared to October. According to October NDMA sentinel site data, the proportion of children at risk of malnutrition measured by Middle Upper Arm Circumference <135mm show that in most counties the proportion of children “at risk” remains 14 to 33 percent below the five-year average. In Isiolo and Tharaka sub county, those at risk are 57 and 76 percent below average. In Turkana, Kwale, and Garissa, the proportion is nine, 20, and 25 percent above the five-year average, respectively. 

    In refugee settlements, households predominantly rely on humanitarian food assistance to meet their minimum food needs.  The two main refugee camps in Kenya are Kakuma and Dadaab, which primarily house refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Every month there is an influx of at least 1,200 refugees. Currently, there about 470,000 refugees and asylum seekers. WFP and other humanitarian agencies typically deliver a full ration of 2,100 kilocalories; however, due to recent budget cuts, some refugees are receiving about 85 percent of the full ration. These settlements are classified as Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!), with humanitarian assistance preventing worse outcomes. 


    The December 2018 to May 2019 most likely scenario is based on the following national level assumptions:

    • The latest IRI/CPC probability forecast indicates a 90 percent likelihood of El Niño conditions from December to March and a 60 percent likelihood through May, combined with a neutral Indian Ocean Dipole. Rainfall during the end of the short rains season in December is most likely to be slightly above average. Total cumulative rainfall is projected to be less than 75 percent of normal in central, eastern, and far northwestern Kenya, while localized areas in the northeast, southwest, northwest, and coastal Kenya are expected accumulate rainfall more than 110 percent of normal.
    • The 2019 March to May long rains season is most likely to be average in eastern Kenya, but below average in the southeast. The 2019 February to August unimodal season in western Kenya is most likely to be average. However, there remain a wide range of possible outcomes due to the forecast uncertainty associated with El Niño.
    • NOAA/CPC ensemble forecast models predict air temperature anomalies of 0.25 – 0.5 C° above average in most of eastern Kenya through February 2019 and 0.5 – 1 C° above average across most of the rest of country through May 2019.
    • According to FEWS NET’s estimates, 2018 long rains maize production in high and medium potential areas of western Kenya and the Rift Valley is expected to be about 15 percent above the five-year average, enhanced by significantly above average rainfall during the March to May long rains season. The harvest period will run through January 2019.
    • Nationally, the late onset of the season and below-average cumulative rainfall are likely to result in below-average short rains maize crop production. February 2019 harvests are expected to be at least 30 percent below the five-year average. However, production of drought-tolerant green grams, cowpeas, sorghum, and millet are likely to be average.
    • Due to improved, integrated pest management undertaken by national and county governments and partners since 2017, the state and county departments of agriculture estimate damage from Fall Armyworm (FAW) on long rains crop production is less than 10 percent. Damage to short rains crop production will likely be less than that observed in 2017.
    • Based on FEWS NET’s integrated price projections, wholesale staple food prices in Nairobi are projected to remain below the five-year average and 2017 prices. Maize prices are expected to hover at KES 20-22/kg through May, reflecting a marginal increase as supplies from source markets outside of Nairobi seasonally dwindle, but remain 35-39 percent below the five-year average. Dry bean prices are expected to remain 12-18 percent below the five-year average, likely declining from KES 59/kg to KES 56/kg from December to January and increasing to KES 58-64/kg from February to May. Similarly, rural reference markets are expected to maintain below-average maize prices throughout the projection period, despite below-average short rains production in marginal agricultural areas, due to above-average long rains production and regional staple food imports. Historically, performance of the marginal agricultural short rains production season has had minimal impact on market prices.
    • Although cumulative rainfall will be below average, brief periods of high intensity rains in late November are likely to result in stagnant water, which is expected to lead to a resurgence in Rift Valley Fever in December and early January. Counties that experienced outbreaks in June, including parts of Wajir, Isiolo, Tana River, Mandera, and Garissa counties, may likely have active vectors and isolated infections where control of the disease has not been entirely effective. Surveillance remains high and effective control measures like quarantines, vaccination, and treatment are expected to keep human and livestock casualty levels lower than those in the June to August 2018 period.
    • Interannual assistance programs implemented by multilateral donors and national county governments, including HSNP, asset creation, supplementary feeding, and food distribution relief, are expected to continue at current levels.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In pastoral areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to be sustained throughout the scenario period. Calving, lambing, and kidding will continue in December at average to above-average levels, enhancing milk production, consumption, and sales. This is expected to increase household income and prevent declines in current levels of malnutrition. Beginning in January, however, forage and water sources are expected to become depleted due to the erratic 2018 short rains. Livestock body conditions and milk productivity are consequently expected to decline until the next cohort of births in March, especially in parts of Turkana, Wajir, Garissa, and Marsabit counties. Distances from grazing areas to water sources will likely increase to above-average levels, contributing to deterioration in body conditions and leading to earlier-than-normal migration to dry season grazing areas in mid- to late January. This is anticipated to reduce household access to milk, though some milking livestock will remain behind at the homestead. However, FEWS NET’s integrated price analysis of Garissa and Lodwar markets project goat prices will remain above average, enhancing household income. At the same time, above-average 2018 long rains harvests are expected from high and medium potential agricultural production areas, which will likely drive below-average staple food prices through May. As a result, favorable goat-to-staples terms-of-trade is expected to be maintained. Most poor households will be able to access food, but will likely reduce expenditures on non-food needs.

    However, from February to March, some households are likely to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in parts of Turkana, Wajir, Garissa, and Marsabit. Food insecurity will be heightened among the poorest households as livestock increasingly migrate to dry season grazing areas.  Increased resource–based conflict is also likely as livestock herders clash over rangeland resources. High but typical Critical levels (GAM WHZ 15-29.9 percent) of acute malnutrition are likely to be sustained through December to May 2019 in Mandera, Turkana, and Samburu counties and in parts of Baringo and Marsabit counties, primarily driven by chronic issues such as poor childcare feeding practices and limited access to health facilities. However, the forecasted average March to May long rains are expected to regenerate forage and water resources by mid-April and livestock are expected to return to wet season grazing areas. Beginning in mid-March, average lambing and kidding is anticipated due to average conception levels during the short rains season, which would increase milk production to average levels. From April to May, livestock body conditions are expected to improve, leading to improved livestock value and milk productivity. Yet these improvements would increase the likelihood for cattle raids, which tend to peak when livestock are in peak body condition and rival herders seek to restock their own herds. 

    In marginal agricultural areas, a majority of households will have depleted their surplus food stocks by December and will be entirely dependent on market purchases of staple food items. Normally, household food stocks would have depleted much earlier in August, and households typically derive upwards of 60 percent of their food from market purchases in any given year. Short-cycle vegetable crops typically available in December will be average. Given that staple food prices are projected to remain below-average due to surplus long rains supply from high and medium potential agricultural areas, however, improved purchasing power will enable poor households to meet their minimum food needs, even with varying levels of agricultural labor income earned during the short rains season. In addition, calving and lambing is expected to be above average through December given high conception during the long rains season, which will maintain above-average milk production. Most areas will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) through January, but Nyeri (Kieni), Makueni, and Lamu will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    During the January to March harvest period, long-cycle short rains maize crops will be at least 30 percent below average, though drought-tolerant crops, like green grams and sorghum, will be near average. Agricultural wage labor opportunities will be consequently be below average. This is expected to result in below-average household income and food sources. Households are likely to increase livestock and poultry sales in January and charcoal sales through March to obtain income for food purchases. From March to May, the long rains are forecast to be below average, creating agricultural labor opportunities at likely below-average levels and providing reduced levels of income to households. Malnutrition levels are likely to increase due to reduced food and milk availability, but remain within ‘Acceptable’ (GAM WHZ <5 percent or MUAC <6 percent) levels. Households will likely also expand their reliance on alternative livelihoods options such as remittances and petty trade, and the some may also increase their reliance on consumption based coping strategies. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to become more widespread through May, occurring in parts of Makueni, Meru North, Lamu, Embu (Mbeere), Nyeri (Kieni) and Kitui.

    In refugee settlements, humanitarian assistance is planned, funded and likely throughout the scenario period. As a result, most refugees sheltering in the refugee camps will remain Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!).

    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.


    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Source: USGS / FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Source: USGS / FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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