Skip to main content

Despite expected mixed performance, March-May rains expected to mitigate worse outcomes

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Kenya
  • February 2018
Despite expected mixed performance, March-May rains expected to mitigate worse outcomes

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • Following three poor rainy seasons in many eastern areas, and a potential fourth with the 2018 March – May long rains, food security needs are expected to peak in September 2018. While there will be some temporary improvements, food and income sources are expected to remain below average in many pastoral and marginal agricultural areas. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through September in parts of Mandera, Isiolo, Wajir, and Garissa, requiring sustained humanitarian assistance.

    • In many pastoral areas due to the extended dryness, rangeland resources have deteriorated severely since January in parts of Kajiado, Isiolo, Tana River, Mandera, and Garissa, negatively impacting livestock body conditions and productivity. As a result, poor households in these areas as well as in parts of Wajir, Samburu, Marsabit, and Turkana are currently experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    • There have been some improvements in the nutrition situation in Kenya, in part due to interventions, and more are expected, even if the long rains are below average. However, typical Critical levels (GAM 15-29.9 percent) of global acute malnutrition are likely to be sustained through the scenario period in several pastoral areas.

    • National 2017/18 maize production was 10 percent below the five-year average, which has significantly affected the market supply and resulted in above-average prices. Wholesale maize prices are likely to be lower than 2017 levels but above the five-year averages through September. In the marginal agricultural areas, a below-average short rains’ harvest is likely to be followed by another below-average long rains harvest, maintaining the majority of poor households in Stressed (IPC Phase 2).    


    Current Situation

    Current Food Security

    Following a below-average and shortened October – December rainy season across most eastern areas of the country (see Figure 1), after experiencing two previous consecutive poor seasons, food insecurity is particularly heightened in these pastoral and marginal agricultural areas. Elsewhere in the country, food availability and access generally remain stable due to domestic production and supplies from regional imports.

    In the majority of pastoral areas, an atypically early decline in forage and water availability has negatively impacted livestock body conditions and subsequently livestock prices. While some of the decreases are seasonal, the most significant declines have taken place in areas where the October – December short rains were less than 60 percent of normal, including Isiolo and Tana River. Even in areas where the rains performed better, parts of Mandera and Marsabit have experienced a marked deterioration in rangeland resources and milk production. As a result, pastoralist households and herders have been forced to migrate their livestock early to areas that have sufficient forage and water resources. This has resulted in conflict with resident communities in Kitui and Meru.

    Harvesting is ongoing or nearly complete in most marginal agricultural areas for maize and the more drought-resistant crops, such as green grams and cowpeas. According to various counties and the State Department of Agriculture (SDA) estimates, maize, green grams, and cowpeas are all below five-year averages at 43, 46, and 39 percent, respectively. Depending on harvesting levels, household stocks are expected to be replenished for at least the next few weeks or a few months in better-off areas, providing casual wage labor income. In Tharaka Nithi, Nyeri, Kitui, Taita Taveta, Meru North, and Makueni, the majority of rain-fed crops were affected by moisture stress during the short rains, which has led to below-average yields or in some places crop failure. Fall Armyworm (FAW), caterpillar, and millipede infestations were reported in several counties but were controlled to various degrees by pesticides.

    Long Rains Production

    Estimates from both SDA and FEWS NET indicate that total long rains maize production countrywide amounted to approximately 2.8 million metric tonnes (MMT), which is about 10 percent below both the five-year average and 2016/2017 production. Regardless, the harvests from the unimodal areas, available beginning in October 2017, have improved household food stocks and market supplies, significantly boosting food availability and access. The slight decline in production was due to a combination of poor long rains, particularly in the marginal agricultural areas, extended rainfall in the unimodal areas during the harvesting and drying periods in September – October that caused significant pre- and post-harvest losses, and widespread Fall Armyworm infestations in a majority of the counties. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimated that FAW caused maize losses equivalent to about 1.05 million 90-kilogram bags or 64.5 metric tonnes (MT).

    Seasonal Progress

    As seasonally typical for this time of year, most of the country is experiencing dry conditions, and in many places due to the extended dryness, rangeland resources are depleting faster than normal. The start of the unimodal rainy season was delayed in February and there have been early season deficits, but the short-term forecast for early March looks favorable, which is expected to continue land preparation efforts.  

    Pasture, water, and livestock

    Forage continues to seasonally decline, but conditions remain mixed across pastoral areas. Pasture and browse are poor in Garissa, Isiolo, and Mandera and are expected to last until mid-February and early March, respectively. Conditions are slightly better in Turkana and parts of Wajir, and pasture is expected to last a bit longer until early March and browse to the end of the month. Livestock body conditions vary among species and areas. Livestock body conditions are poor for all species in Garissa, while the best are in Turkana and Wajir. Access to water for livestock remains constrained as distances to water from grazing areas remain above average, except in Wajir, increasing seasonally and range from four to 16 kilometers as surface water sources continue to dry up. Milk production generally is below average and ranges from 1 – 3.5 liters per household per day. Exceptions include Turkana where milk production is within average levels, and in Wajir where it is about 20 percent above average. Both normal and abnormal migration have been observed. The most significant atypical migration patterns have involved herders from Isiolo, Mandera, Marsabit, and Tana River as they have moved into Garissa, Wajir, Kitui, and Meru, clashing with local pastoralists and farmers over access to forage and water resources.

    Markets and Trade

    Across most markets, maize prices declined seasonably in the fourth quarter of 2017 because of the imminent or start of increasing market supplies from the November-to-January harvest but remained above average due to the lingering effect of below- average harvests during the 2016/2017 seasons. Wholesale maize prices between December and January remained within average across all markets but were seven percent above average in Nairobi due to low household stocks and increased demand following the end of the Government of Kenya’s maize flour subsidy program in December and gradual depletion of the subsidized maize flour. Wholesale dry bean prices remained within average in Mombasa in January due to cross-border imports from Tanzania but were 10, 21, and 23 percent above average in Kisumu, Eldoret, and Nairobi, respectively, due to low local stocks and dependence on high-priced imports.

    Kenya has continued to rely heavily on regional imports to cover not only its typical production deficits but its major supply shortfalls, following consecutive below-average crop production seasons. In the last quarter of 2017, regional exports to Kenya comprised 76 percent of the total trade, with most coming from Tanzania and Ethiopia, representing 74 and 22 percent of total regional exports. Livestock trade within the region, on the other hand, declined in the fourth quarter of 2017. Livestock exports from Somalia to Kenya between October and December 2017 fell. These exports were significantly below recent four-year averages due to the unavailability of export-quality animals, following the September sales period, during which herdsmen and traders offloaded more animals into the market to reduce losses from drought.

    Household Food Security Indicator Data

    The Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) carried out a short rains assessment in early February that projected food security outcomes through April 2018. Household food security indicator data was collected from different sources to reflect outcomes at the county level, including Food Consumption Score (FCS) and the Reduced Coping Strategy Index (rCSI). Data on FCS from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) early warning system sentinel sites showed in the agropastoral livelihood zones the percentage of households with Acceptable food consumption ranged from 53-68 percent, with the highest percentage of households with Poor food consumption in Kajiado and Baringo at 10 and 11 percent, respectively. According to the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Food Security Outcome Monitoring (FSOM), the households with the highest proportion of Poor food consumption were found in the coastal marginal agricultural livelihood zones at 25.3 percent, while in the southeast marginal and pastoral northeast zones, the percent of households with Acceptable food consumption was 78 and 89 percent, respectively. SMART surveys carried out in Turkana County determined that nearly 23 percent of the population had Poor food consumption, while it was a bit lower at 18.5 percent in Marsabit’s North Horr and Laisamis sub-counties. The surveys also found that rCSI across the zones was highest in Marsabit at 22; it was 21 in the coastal zones, and 20 in the pastoral northwest, Garissa, and Tana River. For the rest of the livelihood zones, the mean rCSI ranged from 14 – 19.


    According to January NDMA sentinel site data, the proportion of children under five years of age at risk of malnutrition, measured by Middle Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) <135 mm, was above the five-year averages in Isiolo, Mandera, Kitui, and Kwale counties. It was stable in Makueni, Tana River, and Marsabit counties and was below the five-year averages elsewhere. The highest percentage at risk of malnutrition was in Mandera at 28.5 and lowest at 1.2 in Nyeri.

    KFSSG also conducted an IPC analysis for acute malnutrition in February 2018 as part of the short rains assessment and noted there had been some improvements in nutrition compared to the July 2017 long rains assessment. However, acute malnutrition in Turkana Central, North, West and South; Tana River, Wajir North, Marsabit’s North Horr and Laisamis sub-counties remains at Critical levels (IPC Phase 4; global acute malnutrition, GAM, weight-for-height z-score, WHZ, 15.0 - 29.9 percent). Moreover, a Serious nutrition situation (IPC Phase 3; GAM WHZ 10.0 -14.9 percent) was reported in Isiolo and Kajiado, while Narok County was classified as Alert (IPC Phase 2; GAM WHZ ≥ 5 to 9.9 percent). Kilifi, Kwale, Kitui, Makueni, Mbeere, and Tharaka were classified as Acceptable (IPC Phase 1; GAM WHZ < 5 percent).

    Humanitarian Assistance

    Humanitarian assistance efforts continue across the country and include emergency assistance, cash transfers and in-kind food, and inter-annual assistance carried out by the national and county governments and various agencies. The Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) continues in the four counties of Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, and Mandera. The Food for Assets (FFA) and Cash for Assets (CFA) development programs continue in the pastoral and marginal counties and are facilitating poor household food availability and access by providing 65 and 50 percent of monthly food rations in arid and semi-arid counties, respectively. Also, the Supplementary Feeding Programs (SFP) continue in an effort to reduce acute malnutrition. The Blanket Supplementary Feeding Program (BSFP) and Chakula Kwa Jamii monthly cash transfer program that are being implemented in the counties where acute malnutrition is over 15 percent are improving food availability at the household level and curbing worsening acute malnutrition, especially for children under five years of age. Relief food distribution by the Ministry for Special Programmes and the county governments continues to play a role in reducing food insecurity at the household level, particularly in Tana River (Tana River, Bura, Tana Delta) and Isiolo (Garbatulla, Merti, Isiolo Central). In addition, other cash transfer programs (CTP) are being carried out by a number of agencies and are supplementing household incomes for needed food purchases. 


    The following assumptions have been made at the national level:

    Seasonal Forecast

    • According to NOAA and USGS, the main season rains (February – August) in unimodal Kenya are likely to have a delayed onset, with slight deficits in February, followed by an increased likelihood for above-average to average seasonal rainfall amounts.
    • The 2018 March May long rains are expected to be below average in northeastern and parts of southeastern areas and average tending to slightly above average across the western and northwestern sector.
    • During the dry season through March, there is an increased likelihood for hotter-than-normal land surface temperatures, which is also expected later during June through August.   

    Fall Armyworm (FAW)

    • According to SDA, the Fall Armyworm infestations are likely to re-occur in a majority of the counties and cause damage to crops, especially in the marginal agricultural areas where there were infestations during the short rains and also due to the migratory nature of the pest. However, with improved capacity of pest management interventions, including pre-positioning of pesticides, it is expected that FAW damage to crop yields on long rains marginal production will be less compared to the 2017 short rains.

    Markets and Trade

    • Staple food prices are expected to remain higher than recent five-year averages through September. Based on an analysis of current prices and drivers, FEWS NET’s integrated price projections in the urban reference market of Nairobi show that wholesale maize prices are likely to be lower than 2017 prices but five to eight percent above the five-year averages for the entire scenario period, with the lowest prices expected in March. Beans prices are expected to be the highest in February, marginally drop in March, and then seasonally decline again between July through September. Bean prices will fluctuate but remain 12 – 19 percent above average throughout the scenario period.
    • Below-average domestic production since 2016 and high local prices are likely to drive exceptionally high levels of maize exports from Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia through June. According to FEWS NET, these regional imports are expected to account for up to 51 percent of total imports into Kenya for the period July 2017 to June 2018.


    • According to historic seasonal trends, fluctuations in acute malnutrition are expected during the scenario period, particularly as there is declining food access during the dry lean season from February – March and as waterborne diseases increase, including diarrhea at the start of the rainy season in April, aggravating wasting levels. On the other hand, the onset and impact of the long rains will gradually enhance access to food, including milk, cereal, tubers, and vegetables, which will improve levels of acute malnutrition. Nevertheless, high but typical Critical levels (GAM 15-29.9 percent) of acute malnutrition are likely to be sustained through February-September 2018 in Mandera, Marsabit, Turkana, West Pokot, Samburu, Tana River, Garissa, Wajir and parts of Baringo counties. While typical Serious level (GAM 10-14.9 percent) of acute malnutrition is anticipated in some counties, including Isiolo, Laikipia, and Kajiado.


    February to May 2018: Through mid-March, during the dry season, deteriorations in food security are expected in pastoral areas as forage and water resources worsen, negatively impacting livestock prices and milk production, in turn reducing household incomes and food access. In the marginal areas, food availability and consumption will be improved by the below-average long rains harvests that will support food consumption for one to two months, up to April. In areas where below- average March – May long rains are forecasted, short-lived improvements are expected to temporarily improve household income and food availability. Staple food prices are expected to decline with the harvests in February, facilitating better market access, but then will quickly rise in March. Household incomes are expected to improve from mid-March in the marginal agricultural areas with the kick-off of planting activities and from mid-April in the pastoral areas as the forage-driven livestock body conditions improve, increasing livestock productivity. Depending on the availability of household food stocks from the February harvest and rainfall-driven casual labor opportunities, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected in some marginal agricultural areas, including parts of Taita Taveta, Kwale, Kilifi, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Makueni, and Embu; agropastoral areas of Laikipia, Baringo, West Pokot, and Narok; as well as the high and medium-producing areas. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist in the rest of the marginal agricultural areas as poor households are able to meet their minimum food needs but are forgoing their essential non-food needs, following their constrained purchasing power and early depleted household stocks. Increased incomes in pastoral areas, where income had been previously below average, from livestock productivity and sales, are expected by late April. In these areas, it is expected that poor households will be dependent on casual labor, petty trade, charcoal and firewood sales, and remittances to bridge their income gaps, keeping the majority in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity. However, for areas that will experience their second or third consecutive poor performing seasons, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist through April in most of Isiolo and Garissa, and parts of Tana River, Mandera, Samburu, Wajir, Kajiado, and Marsabit. Even with better expected rainfall in western areas, persistent conflict in parts of Turkana and Baringo are likely to keep them in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through April.

    June to September 2018: Food security is projected to decrease seasonally in June with the depletion of household food stocks in marginal areas and reduction in milk availability and livestock prices in pastoral areas. However, the decline is likely to be atypically earlier in areas that receive poor long rains and experience below-average replenishment of forage and water resources. In July, the long rains crop harvests, though likely below average, will temporarily improve food security in the marginal agricultural areas by providing casual wage labor income-earning opportunities and increasing household food availability through early August. Income from this source might be minimal, especially in areas if there is crop failure. As household stocks are likely to be depleted by mid-August, poor households are expected to seek additional income from casual wage labor, bee keeping, petty trade, and charcoal burning. In pastoral areas, the lean period will likely begin atypically early in July as pastoralists migrate in search of forage and water, and incomes fall from livestock and livestock product sales. This is expected to lead to a reduction in food access and consumption, resulting in high malnutrition. In order to meet their minimum food needs, poor households will intensify their employment of coping strategies, such as increased reliance on non-livestock related income sources, such as charcoal sales, remittances, humanitarian assistance, and safety nets. During this period, overall, in the marginal agricultural areas, the majority of poor households are expected to be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, if there is total long rains crop failure in some areas, some very poor households may experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. In pastoral areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist in most of Isiolo, as well as parts of Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa, as well as some poor households in Tana River. While improvements from the long rains are expected to allow the majority of other pastoral areas to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2), as the lean season continues through September, FEWS NET expects a widespread increase in the number of poor households experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. However, the total number of the population of these other counties is expected to be less than 20 percent. 

    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.

    Figures Figure 1. October 1- Dec 31, 2017 CHIRPS rainfall (percent of the 1981-2010 average)

    Figure 1

    Figure 1. October 1- Dec 31, 2017 CHIRPS rainfall (percent of the 1981-2010 average)



    Figure 2


    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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top