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Food security to deteriorate as lean season sets in earlier than normal

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Kenya
  • June 2016 - January 2017
Food security to deteriorate as lean season sets in earlier than normal

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • Poor households in parts of the Northeastern pastoral zone in Isiolo North and the Southeastern pastoral zone in Garissa are likely to move to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) by September. The March to May long rains, which were 25 to 50 percent of normal in these areas, deteriorated rangeland conditions and significantly lowered livestock productivity. As a result, there will be reduced household income to support food purchases and fewer livestock products for food consumption.  

    • Food insecurity conditions are likely to persist throughout the outlook period, especially in the northeast, northwest, and southeast pastoral areas, and coastal and southeast marginal agricultural areas. The typical recovery of rangeland and cropping conditions during the October to December period is unlikely, as the forecasted La Niña conditions are likely to lead to below-average October to December short rains. The majority of households are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2).   

    • Despite the average to above-average long rains in the high and medium rainfall areas, maize crop production is likely to be only average. A long dry spell from mid-May to mid-June, during a critical period in maize development, caused some plant wilting. While the rains have resumed and are expected to continue through August, some plants were affected by the moisture stress.  

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Nationally, food security remains very stable, supported by adequate supplies of major food staples in the markets due to the previous season’s production and continued trade inflows. According to the Ministry of Agriculture’s “Food Security Report” for May 2016, the available national maize, beans, wheat, and rice stocks stood at 0.85, 0.11, 0.1, and 0.045 million metric tons (MT), respectively. This is currently supporting stable staple food prices across most markets in the country. FEWS NET analysis of wholesale maize prices across major urban reference markets of Nairobi, Eldoret, and Kisumu, between April and May, shows stability. The only major fluctuations were observed in Mombasa, where prices increased 10 percent between this time period, mainly due to dwindling local supply. Maize prices were lower as compared to their respective five-year averages, as much as up to 18 percent lower, implying sufficiency in market supplies. Likewise, dry bean prices remained stable across these urban markets and within averages, except in Kisumu where they were 15 percent above average due to dwindling supplies. A marginal increase of six percent was also noted in Mombasa. Both maize and beans prices are following seasonal trends.

    According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), inflation eased from 6.45 percent in March to 5.27 percent in April and then to five percent year-on-year in May 2016. Food takes up the largest share (36 percent) of the basket of goods that is used to calculate inflation, meaning it is the main driver of a household’s cost of living. So the marginal decline in inflation is supported partly by stability in major staple food prices. However, slower price increases were noted for some essential food commodities like maize flour. According to the previously mentioned May Food Security Report, the higher flour price is due to the shortage of good quality maize for flour making as millers have reported turning away large volumes of maize due to suspected Aflatoxin contamination and discoloration.

    Though the March to May long rains had a delayed onset, they were largely average to above average in the western parts of the country and central highland areas, which are also the main crop producing areas of Kenya. The long rains are key for crop production in these areas, accounting for close to 65 percent of total annual crop production. Many farmers had to dry plant in early April since the rains started later than normal. Regardless, crops developed well initially, but a lengthy dry spell through mid-May to mid-June resulted in moisture stress, restricting some plant growth.

    In the Southeastern marginal mixed farming zone, the March to May long rains were mostly average, ranging from 80 to 120 percent of normal, in most parts of the zone. However, in isolated areas of Tigania North, Tigania West, and Akithi in Meru North, and Kilome, Kasikeu, and Mtito Andei in Makueni, rains were 50 to 80 percent of normal, and southern Mutomo in Kitui received 25 to 50 percent of normal rainfall. Across the zone, the rains were poorly distributed spatially and temporally, and ceased earlier than normal, except in Kieni in Nyeri County. As a result, the crop is currently showing moisture stress across all counties due to the current long dry spell. Currently crops are at various stages of development, with the maize crop at knee-height in Makueni and Meru North, to the flowering stage in Embu and Kitui counties. Weeding and top dressing of grains, and harvesting of the leguminous crops, are currently providing on-farm labor opportunities, albeit at below-normal levels. Regardless of the less favorable cropping conditions, the majority of households remain in None (IPC phase 1) acute food insecurity. The previous season’s good harvest continues to support favorable staple food prices. Retail maize prices in reference markets remained stable in Kitui, Makueni, and Nyeri, between March and May, but went up 17 percent in Meru (though still low in absolute terms–KES 20). The typical increase signals stock drawdowns. Across all of these markets, retail maize prices remained up to 30 percent below their respective five-year averages. Likewise, bean prices also continued to remain stable and were lower by as much as up to 27 percent below average.  

    In the coastal marginal mixed farming zone, rainfall was below average, ranging between 25 and 80 percent of normal. The rains were erratic in space and time in most areas and ceased early, resulting in below-normal water levels and poor cropping conditions. Casual labor continues to be the major source of income at this time of the year but is available at below normal levels due to the reduced crop production activities because of the poor rains. Household food stocks are depleted. Apart from the available short cycle crops, most of the households are dependent on the well-functioning markets for food commodities, boosted also by stable staple food prices. The majority of households are able to afford food from markets, with approximately 50 percent of households having an acceptable food consumption score. The majority of households are currently at None (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    Northwestern pastoral areas, including Turkana, Samburu, Marsabit, and West Pokot, received cumulatively average to above average March to May long rains (see Figure 1), characterised by poor temporal and spatial distribution. However, localized areas had rainfall deficits, including parts of Marsabit, eastern Samburu, and northern parts of West Pokot. Current rangeland and forage conditions are favorable, though at below normal levels, and continue to support good to fair livestock body conditions. Forage is seasonally deteriorating in terms of quality and quantity. Return trekking distances to watering points for livestock are within normal ranges, one to five kilometers in agropastoral areas, and five to 10 kilometers in pastoral areas. Livestock are grazing in wet season grazing areas near homesteads, providing the much needed livestock products and some livestock-related income opportunities, which continue to support household food consumption. Livestock income is, however, available at below-normal levels due to low livestock holdings within communities. Milk production ranges from one to two litres in pastoral areas, and two to three litres in agropastoral areas, which is normal for this time of the year. Food consumption within the households is mainly supported by milk availability and market purchase of major staple foods, whose prices remain stable due to adequacy in supplies and availability of substitute commodities. While prices remain stable, not all households are effectively participating in market purchases due to income constraints. In the rainfall deficit areas, there are poor rangeland resources and low livestock productivity as households have already migrated their livestock to other areas with favorable rangeland resources. While some households are in None (IPC Phase 1), the majority of pastoral households remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2), due to an inability to effectively access income that supports their food and non-food needs.    

    The Southeastern pastoral zones of Garissa and Tana River counties experienced significant rainfall deficits and are characterised by poor rangeland resources. Faster than normal deterioration of these resources has been witnessed, which has led to poor livestock productivity, with some households having moved their livestock to dry season grazing areas earlier than usual. Effectively, livestock-related income-earning opportunities are low, and there is an increasing dependence on markets for food access. Most pastoral households in these areas are currently consuming poor quality diets and are not able to afford essential non-food needs. The majority of households remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). In the Northeastern pastoral zone, where rains were generally average to below average (50 to 90 percent of normal), improvements in rangeland resources were below normal. Pasture and browse range from fair to good across most areas, except in localized areas like western and northern parts of Isiolo County where they are poor. While some improvements in livestock productivity were noted, these remain below average. Grazing of livestock near homesteads is providing some livestock products and income but also at lower levels than usual. Households are currently only able to meet basic food needs, but not essential non-food needs, and remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2).


    The following assumptions have been made at the national level:

    • According to CPC/IRI consensus forecasts, there is a 75 percent chance of a La Niña event setting in during the three-month season of September-October-November. A La Niña event is likely to drive below-average rainfall across much of the Horn of Africa. Subsequently, the October to December rains are likely to be below average throughout much of the country, with forecasts of approximately 50 to 60 percent of average rainfall for many eastern parts of Kenya.  
    • In mid-May and early June, a prolonged dry spell over most parts of the high and medium potential agricultural areas (Western and Rift Valley) affected crop development. Despite the above-average long rains received in these areas, only an average harvest is expected during the August to December harvesting period.  In addition, effects of leaching, which resulted in yellowing of leaves on maize crops in parts of North Rift, is also likely to negatively affect maize yields.    
    • Maize prices across most markets will typically but gradually increase from June through July due to supply drawdown and increased demand as household stocks decline. However, continued inflows from Tanzania and Uganda will moderate prices, with no major price spikes expected. Prices in the major urban consumption market of Nairobi are expected to range between KES 2,500 – 3,000 for a 90 kg-bag and remain largely below average supported by improved stocks from the two previous good seasons’ harvests. Prices are expected to typically start declining but remain within the earlier stated range from August through January 2017 as the long rains harvest becomes available, further improving stocks.
    • Maize imports from Tanzania are expected to typically increase from June as traders try to offload the 2015 stocks in preparation for restocking with the fresh supplies from the recent above-average production in Tanzania. Maize imports from Uganda are also expected to typically increase from June.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Nationally, food security is expected to remain stable throughout the outlook period as availability of food stocks is supported by the expected increase in cross-border imports from Tanzania and Uganda, between June and September, and the expected average long rains harvest from September through December. The Ministry of Agriculture’s Food Balance Sheet projects surpluses for maize, beans, wheat, and rice through the end of September 2016, which is sufficient food to meet national requirements. FEWS NET projects that the long rains harvest will be largely average. Whereas the rains have been above average in high and medium potential agricultural areas, poor temporal distribution, which resulted in a lengthy dry spell in May and June, caused moisture stress to crops in the field. With the resumption of rains, most of the maize crop in the field is expected to recover from moisture stress, but some are unlikely to recover and develop to maturity. As a result, production is likely to be just average. In addition, the long rains harvest from the marginal agricultural areas, though expected to be below average, will also boost the national food stocks.

    In the southeastern and coastal marginal mixed farming zone, staple food prices are expected to remain low and will continue to support household market purchase as market dependence increases due to declining household stocks. However, from the poor performance of the March to May long rains that have already resulted in moisture stress of the maize crop across the zone, it is expected that the harvest, especially for maize, sorghum, cowpeas, and beans, will be up to 40 percent below average. This will likely result in reduced food availability and higher market prices, resulting in reduced food consumption beginning in August. The forecasted below-average October to December short rains are likely to reduce agricultural activities and on-farm casual labor opportunities, which will negatively impact household income and purchasing power. Short cycle crops, which usually bring a temporary reprieve in November/December, are expected to be below average and will subsequently affect food consumption levels and dietary diversity, further exacerbating food insecurity. While the majority of households will remain in None (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity, poor households are unlikely to meet both food and non-food expenditures, such as education and health, and will be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from August to January 2017.

    In the pastoral areas, rangeland resources are expected to typically deteriorate during the June to September dry season. In these areas, poor access to water for both human and livestock consumption and forage for livestock will be the biggest impediment to food security. Households will keep their livestock further from their homesteads, which is likely to result in a reduction in livestock-related labor earning opportunities, reducing household income and constraining food access, including consumption of livestock products. Through September, by intensifying the use of various coping mechanisms, including charcoal and firewood burning, labor reallocation to other sectors, and borrowing, the majority of households across these areas will be able to maintain enough food consumption to meet minimal dietary requirements. As a result, they will largely remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, there is likely to be a more rapid deterioration of food security outcomes in areas that experienced significant rainfall deficits and which have had more of a decline in livestock productivity, household income, and food access, especially in parts of Isiolo and Garissa. Poor households in these areas will not be able to maintain adequate food consumption and are likely to move to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the peak of the lean season in August and September. With the onset of the short rains, forecasted to be below average, only a modest recovery of pasture, browse, and water is expected. While modest improvements in food security are expected, this is not likely to cause any improvements in the food insecurity phase classification through January 2017. More poor households in parts of the northwest and northeast pastoral zones, that will receive substantial rainfall deficits during the short rains, are likely to move into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) towards end of the year and into early 2017. 


    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 1. March to May 2016 Rainfall Anomaly

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. March to May 2016 Rainfall Anomaly

    Source: USGS/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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