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Improvements expected with short rains

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Kenya
  • October 2011 - March 2012
Improvements expected with short rains

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Food Security Outcomes
  • Partners
    Government of Kenya
    Key Messages
    • The early onset to the 2011 short-rains season has been a respite for drought-hit pastoral and marginal farm households who have experienced two to three successive failed seasons. Nevertheless, high levels of food insecurity remain for poor and very poor households with non-self-supporting livelihoods who attempt to meet substantial food gaps largely through destructive coping strategies and accessing aid interventions. An estimated 3.75 million people constitute the food insecure population in rural areas.

    • Food security for pastoral households in the north, northeast, and southern Maasai rangelands is anticipated to improve significantly toward the end of November when  close to 80 percent of livestock that had left will have returned to wet-season grazing areas.  However, some pastoralists who were unable to migrate have experienced livestock losses ranging between 15-20 percent. Although the majority of pastoral households will move from Emergency (IPC Phase 4) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels, some very poor and poor households may remain at Emergency levels through December. Improvements in food security for these households will take place in January to March as the dry season sets in, due to increased self-employment opportunities (e.g., firewood, charcoal and gum Arabica collection), a significant source of income for poorer households.

    • Food security for crop-dependent households in the southeastern and coastal lowlands is anticipated to improve significantly during the outlook period, assuming that rains will be near normal and that current localized coastal flooding will ease. While successive household food deficits in the cropping lowlands may not be bridged by a single good season, the short rains is the principal season and good production coupled with on-going interventions should moderate current food insecurity and shift the food security status from Crisis to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the outlook period.

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Pastoral areas

    The onset of the 2011 October-December short rains has brought marked relief in most pastoral areas that had experienced two to three successive failed seasons. As a result, most surface water sources have recharged to 20-40 percent of capacity particularly in east Marsabit, Moyale, Wajir, Garissa and Mandera districts. Distance to water for households has declined to about 1-2 kilometers from more than 10 kilometers prior to onset of the rains.  Water trucking has ceased in all areas. Livestock trekking distances to water have more than halved from an average of 20-40 kilometers and are expected to decline further by end of October. Unseasonable rains in September were experienced in the northwest and southern pastoral areas, including Turkana, Samburu, West Pokot, Baringo, Laikipia, Narok and Trans Mara Districts. As a result, distances to water for both livestock and households have also declined and are below average with the exception of Narok and Kajiado, where distances are still 50-60 percent above normal. Households in northwestern and parts of southern pastoral districts still have access to a little milk even at the end of the dry season, due to unseasonable rains in September. Livestock body condition is generally poor in the north and northeast but fair to good in the northwest and southern pastoral areas.

    Livestock prices declined in September in the northeast, where goat prices are 25-50 percent below average. Conversely, goat prices are 40-70 percent above the five-year September average in Trans Mara, West Pokot, Laikipia and Baringo; and by 100-130 percent in Narok, Samburu and Turkana, areas that are largely outside of the epicenter of the drought. Market purchases are an important source of food (close to 90 percent of non-livestock-based food purchases), and high food prices have constrained access to adequate food, contributing to high rates of under-five malnutrition. Surveillance data from the ALRMP on Mid Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) shows that the proportion of children defined as ‘at risk of malnutrition’ (MUAC<135mm) is 15-20 percent above the five-year average in Wajir, Ijara, Marsabit and Isiolo; and by 50-60 percent above the five-year September average in Mandera and Garissa. In addition to the Dengue fever outbreak in Mandera District, increased incidences of malaria have also been reported across the pastoral livelihood. Disease control measures for Dengue fever became effective only after the real cause of morbidity was established in late September. The majority of poor and very poor pastoralists in the north and northeast are classified at Emergency and Crisis levels while those in the northwest and southern pastoral zones are in the Stressed phase.

    Southeast and coastal marginal agricultural areas

    The food security situation has remained precarious in the southeast and coastal marginal agricultural zone as adverse impacts of three successive season failures intensify. While the majority of households are relying on market purchases to access food after exhausting their meager food stocks, there is also a high demand for cash to finance land preparation and planting. About 20-30 percent of households in Makueni, Mwingi and Taita Taveta planted crops prior to the onset of the short rains – a high percentage of households given that the short rains season typically begins in late October – and crops have already germinated. Although food consumption has reduced, the proportion of children ‘at risk of malnutrition’ is below the September average across much of the zone, potentially due to expanded supplementary feeding and school meals program, however in Lamu, Tharaka and Mwingi MUAC rates are 10-30 percent above the September five-year average. Although improved availability of farm labor coupled with declining maize prices is beneficial to household food security, the majority of households remain in Crisis and some poor and very poor households in pockets areas of Mwingi, Machakos and Kitui are in Emergency.  The impacts of three failed seasons suggest that a good season is vital to improving household food availability and effecting a positive shift in overall household food security.

    Food insecurity among refugees in Dadaab camps

    By mid-October, there were an estimated 460,000 refugees in Dadaab camps.  While refugees had access to a full basket of food commodities; blanket supplementary feeding for all under-fives; and school meals for all children attending school, the nutrition status of many refugees remains at the Emergency level. The highest level of child malnutrition among refugees in the camps was reported on the outskirts of Dagahaley camp, which is the closest camp to Somalia and therefore most accessible to new arrivals. The UNHCR early September nutrition survey results indicate that the outskirts of Dagahaley had Global Acute Malnutrition prevalence (W/H) of 38 percent (CI: 31.1‐44.8) and a Severe Acute malnutrition prevalence of 18 percent (CI: 14.7‐23.6), both levels unprecedented in Kenya. Heightened malnutrition among older refugees who are already accessing a full basket of food suggests that causes of child malnutrition are complex and often transcend access to food. The health status of refugees and host communities is of additional concern following the confirmation of seven cases of cholera across camps and increased incidences of measles, even after widespread vaccinations. Unfortunately, aid agencies scaled-down non life-saving interventions in late October due to rising insecurity, attributed to attacks by militia groups from Somalia.

    Crop production prospects and projections

    While the long rains maize crop harvesting ended in the south Rift, Nyanza and parts of Western in August, the bulk of long rains crop harvesting is underway in the main growing areas in North Rift and Western Kenya. According to the MoA, an estimated 1.38 million hectares was planted to maize and the harvest is expected to be 2.25 million MT. Maize output is expected to be about 17 percent below the short-term long rains average output, due to failed production in most of the southeastern and coastal cropping lowlands.

    Food availability, market function and trade

    Increasing supply of harvested maize from key growing areas, cross-border inflows, and sale of relief food in pastoral areas (such as Ijara and Garissa) have resulted in a significant decline in maize prices.  The price of maize has declined by 5-15 percent across all livelihoods. Nevertheless, maize prices remain 70-90 percent above respective five-year averages in urban zones; 50-90 percent in the northeast pastoral livelihood area; 90-130 percent in northwest and agropastoral livelihood areas; and by 60-100 percent and 80-110 percent in coastal and southeastern marginal agricultural lowland zones, respectively. While lowered maize prices are improving food access for some households, other food and non-food commodity prices remain high.

    Ongoing interventions and impacts

    According to UN-OCHA about 68 percent of the $740 million required for various cross-sectoral emergency interventions has been funded, compared to 45 percent in July, at the height of the crisis. WFP expects to target 2.8 million people by the end of October, through the Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation and Food for Assets, plus 550,000 refugees. Other food interventions include supplementary feeding for 385,000 children, pregnant and lactating mothers and School Meals Programme for 597,000 school children in pastoral, agropastoral and marginal agricultural zones.  A plethora of other organizations are also providing food, which is moderating high food insecurity, though in a somewhat uncoordinated fashion. Less than 20 percent of education and health interventions have been funded, indicating the relative lack of attention to the implementation of important and complementary non-food interventions. Pipeline deficits may continue to narrow through March 2012.  However the converse is also likely because the onset of rains could mask the seriousness of the crisis and slow down pledges and confirmations from donors.

    Most likely food security outcomes, October 2011 through March 2012

    The most likely food security outcomes for the October 2011 through March 2012 period are premised on the following assumptions:

    • The October–December short rains are likely to be near-normal in the western and northern half of the country and near-normal to above-normal in the southern half of the country, according to the Kenya Meteorological forecast.
    • Livestock mortalities are limited among the 70-80 percent of livestock that migrated. These animals are now beginning to return to homesteads and will continue to return home through October and November.
    • However, mortalities are expected to rise after the onset of the short rains in October among the 20-30 percent of livestock that did not migrate, mostly belonging to poor households. In addition, milk availability will be below-normal for these sedentary households because of limited conceptions in May and June 2011.
    • In contrast, milk availability will rise in November among returning livestock (those that had migrated) after kidding, lambing and calving. Livestock prices are expected to rise as pastoral households begin to re-stock and have less need to sell livestock to purchase cereals because of on-going food distributions and an improvement in livestock/maize terms of trade.
    • Conflict incidents in many areas due to atypical migrations will likely decline beginning in November, as competition over scarce resources eases, facilitating increased productivity due to increased grazing options.
    • Food security for newly arriving refugees in Dadaab camp is likely to remain precarious. Sanitation and housing conditions for a significant proportion of refugees is expected to remain inadequate.
    • Refugee numbers are likely to decrease – environmental conditions are improving in southern and central Somalia, while the on-going attacks by the Kenyan military are likely to dissuade large population movements into the country.
    • Long rains maize output is likely to be near-normal largely because of fairly good production in key growing areas, in spite of poor production in the southeastern and coastal cropping lowlands.  However, current heavy rains could impede harvesting and promote pre- and post-harvest output losses.
    • The current decline in maize prices is expected to continue through the end of the long and short rains harvests in March 2012 because the short rains are anticipated to be normal to above average. The decline in local maize prices may be constrained by expectation of a tightened market. Prices will likely turn upward toward the end of the outlook period because of poor overall national supply.
    • Low carryover stocks at the beginning of the July 2011-June 2012 production season suggest that a deficit is likely to develop much earlier than usual, likely in the second quarter of 2012.

    Pastoral areas

    The precarious food security status of pastoral households in the northeastern, northern, northwestern and southern Maasai rangelands is likely to ease significantly during the latter half of the October-December period. Expected improvements are attributed to a combination of factors: the 2011 October-December short rains have already started earlier than expected, in mid-October instead of end October-early November, and are expected to be average; there have been substantial food distributions, particularly from September to the present; extensive water interventions have minimized migration in search of water, pasture and graze for livestock remaining with sedentary household members; cereal prices have declined moderately in general but significantly in localized  pastoral markets, especially in the northeast, because of increased food supply on the markets arising from relief food distributions by the UN, GoK, NGOs and several other organizations.

    Direct effects of average short rains will include regeneration of pasture and browse and recharge of water sources, leading to improved availability of food and water for livestock, resulting in improved health and body conditions and value. The rains will also accelerate the return to wet-season grazing areas by the 70-80 percent of livestock that had migrated to central, southeastern marginal, coastal, and eastern districts of the country, and into southeastern Ethiopia and Shabelle region in Somalia. The rains will also promote birthings among these livestock, and increase milk availability for drought-affected household members.  Improved milk and cereal availability could result in reduced child malnutrition from November onward.

    The combination of favorable livestock prices and reduced cereal prices are expected to result in improved pastoral terms of trade into the first quarter of 2012. However, cereal prices are likely to turn upward toward the end of the outlook period because of poor overall national supply.

    These benefits may not accrue to the same extent to pastoral households who did not migrate with their livestock and remained in wet-season grazing areas during the past dry season, mainly poor and very poor households. Typically pastoralists leave milking animals at the homestead while non-lactating animals migrate to areas with greater pasture and water availability. An estimated 14-17 percent of the livestock that remained were lost during the drought, predominantly cattle and sheep. Without the recent extensive water interventions, livestock losses would likely have been worse. Whereas wealthier households possessing larger herds are insulated to a degree from the losses associated with non-migrating animals, poor and very poor households have lost a greater proportion of their herds. In addition, heavy short rains are likely to increase mortalities (mainly due to pneumonia) among weakened livestock that did not migrate, at least at the onset of the season. Milk availability will also be below-normal for these sedentary households because of limited conceptions in May and June. Due to decreased herd sizes and poor animal body conditions, these households will not benefit significantly from the improved pastoral terms of trade.

    Labor opportunities (primarily herding and construction labor) are expected to increase as soon as animals return, and petty trading will increase as local market activity increases. The publicity that the crisis has generated has also created work opportunities across sectors. For poor and very poor households, self-employment opportunities (e.g., firewood, charcoal, stick, pole, gum, and resin collection) are expected to increase in the January to March period as the dry season sets in. The income earned from these activities is one of the main ways that poorer households earn income to access food during this period.

    Pastoralists in conflict epicenters in northeastern Turkana, northern Samburu, and northern Marsabit lost substantial herds and their food security will remain elevated even in the event of good short rains. Nevertheless, good short rains are likely to minimize resource-based conflict across the pastoral livelihood as most animals are expected to remain in normal wet-season grazing areas at least through December.

    Although response activities across sectors including food, water and sanitation, health and nutrition, agriculture and livestock are on-going, the rains may encourage the assumption that full recovery will consolidate immediately. Emergency food distributions may mask the underlying vulnerabilities of poorer households whose livelihoods are not self-supporting.  Many new agencies and organizations currently active in drought-hit pastoral areas, in part because of the publicity that the crisis generated, may scale down or cease interventions prematurely.  Improved co-ordination and collaboration among agencies is necessary because it is difficult to measure effectiveness of responses or identify remaining gaps.

    The food security of the majority of pastoral households is likely to improve to Crisis (IPC phase 3) during November, after migrating livestock return to wet-season grazing areas. Improved terms of trade coupled with on-going interventions will strengthen household food security during the outlook period.  The phase is expected to remain through the onset of the long rains in March 2012, if the short rains are near normal.

    However, full recovery, particularly for those that did not migrate and lost livestock, requires several successive good seasons, due to below-average herd sizes, and the impacts of past and expected further livestock mortalities. Some pastoralists that lost livestock during the long rains have migrated close to urban centers where there are limited productive opportunities. The food security of destitute pastoralists is sustained by food and non-food interventions since their livelihoods are no longer self-supporting.  Pockets of poor and very poor households that are not receiving a full food basket, such as those who migrate into urban economies, may remain at Emergency (IPC phase 4) levels throughout the Outlook period.  However, such populations are highly dynamic, moving quickly in urban centers and integrating into the economies.

    Southeastern marginal agricultural areas and coastal lowlands

    The food security of farm households in the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural lowlands is expected to improve significantly during the outlook period, after sustained and heightened food insecurity following three successive failed seasons.  The short-rains season is the principal season for the majority of drought-affected households, accounting for up to 70 percent of annual production.  The direct impact of the relatively early start to the season is expected to be improved availability of short-cycle crops including vegetables and some legumes in November.  In addition, the bulk of long rains maize crop harvesting in Kenya’s ‘grain basket’ is on-going and will continue through January. So far, maize prices have declined by over 30 percent since August, easing the pressure on purchasing capacities.  The short rains are expected to improve availability of water, shortening trekking distances for water for both domestic and livestock needs in the cropping lowlands.  The price of water is also expected to decline significantly reducing the pressure on purchasing capacities.  Pasture and browse regeneration is likely to occur fairly quickly thus improving access to livestock and promoting improvements in livestock productivity and value.  However, poor and very poor households have few livestock left and may instead sell livestock to repay debts such as school fees.

    Although most poor and very poor households now face substantial debts and sharp increases in the price of non-food commodities, household food access is expected to increase from local production as well as through income from increased labor opportunities, both on and off-farm.  The current increase in food and non-food interventions is also expected to improve food security for targeted households, supporting movement to Stressed levels around December.  In particular, the on-going Food for Assets program, targeting worst-affected households, is expected to strengthen the recovery of households, in addition to their own production.  Harvesting of the main maize crop is expected to begin in February and continue through mid-March 2012, suggesting that household food security will improve even further through the first quarter of 2012. However, on-going deficits (due to income losses from previous crops) will restrain further improvements in the phase classification, as even an average harvest would not compensate for these deficits.

    Transitory food security through March should not mask the fragility of food security among households that have faced three successive crop failures and heightened food and non-food prices. Poor and very poor farm households in the marginal agricultural areas have had to adopt severe coping strategies including removing children from school and into the labor force; wanton degradation of the environment by cutting down trees and shrubs for charcoal production; skipping all but one meal a day; and migration to urban centers, leaving women and children without significant income or remittances, as food and non-food prices have reached unprecedented levels over a short period of time, yet urban households purchase virtually all commodities and have limited kinship ties.  Subsequently, recovery will be drawn out and one good season is unlikely to decisively address the sharp decline in livelihood productivities.

    Dadaab refugees’ food security prospects

    The food security status of about 40,000 refugees is projected to improve somewhat, after moving from temporary structures in the outskirts of Ifo, Dagahaley and Kambios and settled in newly constructed camps with better housing and sanitation facilities.  However, the number of refugees (460,000) still overwhelms facilities, regardless of the expansion, suggesting that an outbreak of vector and water borne diseases is highly likely. Such a scenario would accentuate already heightened rates of malnutrition particularly among refugees in Dagahaley outskirts, Kambios and Ifo extensions.  Any disease outbreak, such as cholera, would have catastrophic effects because of the large number of people concentrated in a disproportionately small area, and could spread to host communities.  

    It is unclear whether contingency measures have been instituted to circumvent the absence of the normal three-month food buffer stocks, particularly during the rainy season when roads are characteristically impassable.  Many of the refugees arriving in 2011 have little or no alternative sources of food and income and are fully dependent on humanitarian assistance, suggesting that absence of food distribution, for any length of time, would quickly result in a sharp decline in food security.  Although current food needs for refugees are fully met, heightened rates of child malnutrition seem to suggest that other underlying factors have not been addressed and a small shock could cause a marked deterioration in food security for a large proportion of refugees, especially those arriving within the current year.

    Prospects for national cereal supply and prices

    Although national maize production for the July 2011-June 2012 marketing period is close to average levels, assuming near normal short rains, substantial deficits are anticipated just after the end of the outlook period. Poor production in the southeastern and coastal lowlands over three successive seasons has resulted in a substantial draw-down of carryover stocks. High international prices and concerns over importation of genetically modified maize have constrained national maize supply.  While the lifting of the export ban by Tanzania may moderate local shortfalls, the price of potential imports from Uganda may be higher than normal because of increased demand from South Sudan.  Subsequently the decline in local maize prices, at harvest, during the outlook period may be constrained by expectation of a tightened market.  However, higher prices after March 2012 are expected to benefit short rains-dependent farmers in the southeastern and Coastal lowlands but could worsen terms of trade for most pastoralists would purchase virtually all their cereal needs.

    Populations that will require monitoring

    Food security for the close to 40 percent of Kenya’s 13.7 million urban populations residing in slums (or informal settlements) is highly precarious.  The prices of food and non-food commodities including maize, fuel, bread, and sugar have risen by over 30 percent within eight months, while household incomes have remained static.   Many households are reportedly consuming one meal per day, and the last baseline study indicated that calorific consumption for poor and very poor households already falls below the 2,100kcal threshold in urban centers across all livelihood areas. Continued food insecurity for large populations concentrated in relatively small areas does not augur well for civil security close to the next general election, according to past trends.

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



    Impacts on food security outcomes

    North and northeast pastoral areas.

    • Very poor October-December short rains.**
    • Food insecurity would deepen significantly, to emergency levels. Majority of households are currently relying on external food assistance.
    • Excessive short rains leading to widespread flooding.*
    • Loss of livelihood assets including livestock; and irrigation and water infrastructure would reduce productive capacities and resilience of households.
    • Significant livestock mortality at onset of rains.*
    • Livelihood productivities would erode further and households would take much longer to recover from effects of the drought and the prevailing high food insecurity.

    Northeastern pastoral areas.

    • Escalation of insecurity along the Kenya-Somalia border.**
    • Disruption of trade and delivery of interventions which would deepen food insecurity in drought-hit areas.

    Northwestern pastoral areas.

    • Significantly above normal short rains.
    • Flooding, landslides and disease outbreak impacting adversely, availability and access to food for affected households.  
    • Escalation of livestock raiding and conflicts as households seek to ‘re-stock’ herds.*
    • Displacement of people, destitution and loss of livelihood assets would occur resulting in heightened food insecurity for the affected households. Market disruption would constrain access to income and food.

    Southeast and coastal marginal agricultural zone

    • Very poor October-December short rains. **
    • Failure of the main season would be the third consecutive crop failure, precipitating a food security emergency among many households in the lowlands.

    Main maize producing areas in Western Kenya and Rift Valley highlands.

    • Excessive short rains during harvesting season.**
    • Widespread pre-harvest losses of maize in the farms and post-harvest losses due to poor storage conditions may lead reduced household stocks and widen the national deficit.

    Urban areas

    • Further heightening of food and non food prices coupled with continued depreciation of the Kenyan currency with respect to those of key trading partners.**
    • An unprecedented decline in nutrition status for large populations concentrated in small areas could occur.
    • Widespread food riots across high-density, low income urban centers spread across the country.

    Dadaab refugees

    • Insecurity heightens and key aid agencies are unable to function**
    • Food insecurity for a large proportion of highly vulnerable families without any productive capacities could reach catastrophic levels.
    Figures Seasonal calendar and critical events timeline

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar and critical events timeline

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Current estimated food security outcomes, October 2011

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Current estimated food security outcomes, October 2011

    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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