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Food insecurity in pastoral and marginal agricultural areas expected to increase

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Kenya
  • October 2016 - May 2017
Food insecurity in pastoral and marginal agricultural areas expected to increase

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  • Key Messages
  • Assumptions
  • Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • Food security has atypically deteriorated in parts of the southeastern and northern pastoral areas due to worse than normal rangeland conditions, livestock productivity, and household incomes, impeding food access. Poor households in these areas, including parts of Laisamis in Marsabit, Tana North in Tana River, and Fafi, Balambala, and Dadaab in Garissa are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity. 

    • In the coastal marginal agricultural areas, food insecurity has atypically increased in parts of Kilifi, Taita Taveta, and Kwale due to the poor long rains crop harvest and a prolonged lean season, which has impeded farm-related labor opportunities and household income. Households in these areas have intensified livelihood and coping strategies and are Stressed (IPC Phase 2), but parts of these areas are likely to move to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) by February due to growing food gaps given the projected below-average short rains.   

    • The October to December short rains, which are forecasted to have La Niña-like impacts and be characterized by a late onset and early cessation in eastern Kenya, are not expected to typically regenerate rangelands, improve livestock body conditions and sales in most pastoral areas. As a result, many more households are likely to face food gaps during the January to April dry season, with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity outcomes likely to increase and persist during this period.


    Current Situation

    At the national level, food availability remains stable, mainly boosted by continued imports from Tanzania and Uganda, and due to long rains harvested food staples from the main grain basket areas since September. While there were concerns earlier in the season after a period of dryness in June that had threatened to destroy crop fields, rains resumed and most of the crops were able to progress well to maturity, producing an expected average long rains crop production. Supplies of coarse grains and fresh produce have improved in most parts of the country, except in the pastoral and marginal agricultural areas in the southeast and coastal strip where the long rains were poor. Further underscoring the stable supply of food staples is the relative stability in food prices. Across the urban reference markets of Nairobi, Eldoret, Kisumu, and Mombasa, wholesale maize prices remained stable between August and September supported by ample supplies from both imports and local production. September wholesale prices were near respective five-year averages, except in Mombasa, where they were up to 10 percent above average due to limited local supplies from a poor long rains harvest and increased reliance on imports at higher costs. Other commodities, like beans, also showed stability in prices, except in Mombasa again, where prices increased by seven percent between August and September due to minimal local stocks, which fuelled higher demand.

    During the long lean season from August till October, food security conditions typically deteriorated across most pastoral and marginal agricultural areas ahead of the onset of the short rains. With the varied performance of the long rains, deterioration in conditions affecting food security varied from region to region.

    In the Southeastern and Coastal marginal mixed farming zones, the erratic nature of the 2016 March to May long rains resulted in substantial crop failure for maize, cowpeas, and green grams. The majority of poor households have depleted their food stocks after the poor long rains season failed to replenish their stocks and are going through an atypical lean season with low household incomes to make needed market purchases. Despite challenges with access, the situation is moderated by relative stability and/or marginal increases in staple food prices. However, as of the end of October, both zones have not received any rain to date, which is atypical for this time of year and could significantly affect crop development if they do not begin in early November. The majority of poor households are only able to afford their minimum basic food needs and remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity.

    In the pastoral areas, food security has typically declined through October as livestock productivity declined due to poor rangeland resources. The level of deterioration in rangeland conditions varies from region to region (see Figure 1 below) due to the wide variability in terms of long rains performance in the pastoral areas. While typical rangeland conditions are prevailing across most pastoral areas, parts of the Northern (Laisamis and North Horr), Northeastern (southern and eastern parts of Mandera and Wajir), and Northwestern (northern and eastern parts of Turkana) pastoral livelihood zones are experiencing worse than normal conditions for this time of the season. However, in the Southeastern pastoral zones of Garissa and Tana River counties, which experienced substantial rainfall deficits in the previous season, 25 to 50 percent of normal rains, an atypical deterioration in rangeland conditions and livestock productivity has been observed, with large areas reporting depleted pasture and water resources. Household food access and availability is currently being hampered by low income levels due to the decline in livestock productivity and the fact that most households have moved their livestock far from homesteads, which constrains livestock sales and market purchases. Through various coping strategies, the majority of pastoral households are able to meet their minimum dietary food needs, but not non-food needs and are Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, in the Southeastern pastoral zone, localized households in parts of Tana North in Tana River and Fafi, Balambala, and Dadaab in Garissa; and in parts of Laisamis in Marsabit in northern pastoral zone, poor households are experiencing food gaps and are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to substantial drops in livestock productivity and income.

    Following the Government of Kenya’s announcement to close Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa County, repatriation efforts have continued, with close to 27,000 refugees being voluntarily repatriated as of mid-October 2016. However, these efforts have been stalled, with some of the refugees being stranded near the border with Somalia, after regional leaders in Jubaland, which borders Kenya and where most of the returnees are going, stopped receiving them, citing inadequate humanitarian support. Tensions remain high in the camps, with a reduced scale of humanitarian support. Refugees remaining in the camps rely heavily on food aid, and are likely to continue to face increased food insecurity, diseases, and high malnutrition outcomes. In Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana County, the arrival of more refugees from South Sudan is likely to stretch the already limited resources, with the possibility that some refugee populations are likely to face acute food insecurity and exposure to diseases, due to constrained health services. 


    The following assumptions have been made at the national level:

    • According to Kenya’s State Department of Agriculture estimates, the 2016 long rains crop production in the Western and Rift Valley is projected to be near average, approximately 2.9 million metric tons (MMT).
    • According to the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF) forecast, the October to December short rains are forecasted to be below average in total cumulative amounts in eastern Kenya, driven in part by the La Niña-like conditions and slightly negative Indian Ocean Dipole that is likely to persist through November. The rains are likely to be characterized by a late onset and early cessation, and poor temporal and spatial distribution. In Western Kenya, the rains are likely to have a near normal start and be average in total cumulative amounts.   
    • With the forecast for the short rains pointing towards below-average cumulative amounts, of between 70 to 90 percent of normal, preliminary projections indicate that short rains crop production beginning in February will be up to 50 percent below average. This projection is based on rainfall performance only, but other factors like county support through input subsidy programs and agronomic practices will also be critical for crop performance.  
    • The March to May 2017 long rains are likely to start on time and be near-average in term of cumulative totals across most of Kenya.
    • Two consecutive below-average crop production seasons in the southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural areas are likely to result in a reduction in food commodities in the markets, resulting in a gradual increase in staple food commodity prices, especially from January 2017. FEWS NET projections show that between October and December, wholesale maize prices are expected to oscillate between KES 2,500 – 3,000 in Mombasa, Nairobi, and Eldoret but will likely be between KES 3,200 – 3,500 in Kisumu. From January through May 2017, a gradual and typical increase is expected across all the reference markets, with prices mainly ranging from KES 3,000 – 3,500.
    • Staple food imports, mainly maize, beans, and rice, to Kenya from surplus-producing Tanzania and Uganda is expected to typically continue through May 2017 but at relatively higher prices compared to last year, as a result of a below-average harvest in Uganda, replenishing of stocks depleted from the previous 2014/2015 below-average harvest in Tanzania, and higher regional demand. Increased imports from Tanzania will also be supported by increasing supplies from both the 2015/2016 Msimu and Masika harvests, and 2016/2017 Vuli harvests.  

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    According to FEWS NET’s projections, nationally the food security outlook points towards stability through the first quarter of 2017 with some areas of exception outlined below. The expected average long rains crop harvest from the major grain growing areas, and continued imports from Tanzania and Uganda, will ensure most markets are well-provisioned with food commodities. Preliminary estimates point towards the long rains maize harvest being about 2.9 million metric tons (MMT). However, the 2016 short rains crop harvest is likely to be up to 50 percent below average since the forecast indicates about 75 to 90 percent of normal rainfall with a delayed onset and poor distribution. While the forecasted below-average season will likely yield lower crop production and reduce food availability, imports are expected to play a key role in moderating any supply short falls. Preliminary estimates from the State Department of Agriculture (SDA) notes that imports from Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia will be about 295,000 MT, 360,000 MT, and 1,400 MT, respectively, through June 2017, with imports from Uganda and Tanzania expected to be higher than normal due to anticipated below-average 2016 short rains, and an average 2017 long rains harvest in Kenya. Through June 2017, the imports and local harvest will result in a marginal national surplus before the 2017 long rains harvest starts. Higher food prices are likely as imports from Tanzania are likely to come in at relatively higher prices, with competition for imports also increasing. Food availability and access will remain stable for poor households across many areas of Kenya through May 2017, especially in the high and medium producing areas, resulting in None (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    In the Southeastern and Coastal marginal mixed farming zones, food availability and access will improve but only moderately through January driven by the below-average short rains. FEWS NET will closely monitor the onset of the rainy season in these zones and provide updates accordingly. If early November rains do not materialize, this could potentially lead to crop failure in most areas. It is still expected though that on-farm labor opportunities, despite being lower than normal, will still support food access from markets. Food availability will also be supported by the short-cycle crop harvest beginning in December. However, income and food from self-production are expected to remain at atypically below-average levels throughout most of the outlook period. From April onwards, the average rains are likely to stimulate increased demand for farm labor, especially in the coastal marginal areas, improving incomes. During the January to April period, poor households are expected to atypically depend on coping mechanisms, such as switching their consumption to less preferred or cheaper foods, reducing the number of meals per day, borrowing food from friends and relatives, in order to support their minimum basic food needs. Some localized areas that reported substantial rainfall deficits over the past two consecutive seasons, which have worse crop and livestock production conditions, like parts of Ganze in Kilifi, will likely require emergency assistance from January onwards to mitigate food consumption gaps that are expected, resulting in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). However, the majority of poor households in these two livelihood zones are expected to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity through May 2017.

    In the pastoral areas, only modest improvements are expected in rangeland resources and livestock productivity between October and January. Households will largely keep their livestock in the dry season grazing areas, limiting access to livestock products for food and a source of income for sale and herding. The below-average previous and impending seasons will likely result in lower kidding, lambing, and calving activities, reducing milk availability for consumption and for sale. As a result, overall household food availability and access during this period is expected to be atypically low. Dependence on the market for food commodities is expected to continue as poor households will atypically increase their reliance on coping mechanisms like charcoal production, sale of wood products, and petty trading. The majority of poor households are likely to have a low quality diet but still meet minimum food needs, while forgoing other non-food needs. In the same period, the nutrition situation is expected to remain fairly stable and/or marginally improve. The Nutrition Information Working Group (NIWG) projects based on historical trends that levels of acute malnutrition in Mandera, Garissa, Tana River, Marsabit, and Turkana are likely to remain Critical (Global Acute Malnutrition, GAM, of 15.0 to 29.9 percent), and Serious (GAM of 10.0 to 14.9 percent) in Wajir, Isiolo, and Samburu counties (see pastoral nutrition assumption for more details). From February through May, the negative effects of a below-average short rains season are likely to be more severe as rangeland resources deplete faster than normal, with more livestock out-migration expected, further reducing livestock household holdings, and lowering the numbers for sale. The average March to May rains are not expected to adequately regenerate pasture, browse, and water since they were affected by the two previous consecutive below-average rainy seasons. It is expected that income, food availability, and access will remain poor throughout the scenario period. While the majority of pastoral households will likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity through May 2017, more households in areas with worse livestock productivity conditions will likely move into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from January through May 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

    East Africa eMODIS 250m Normalized Difference Vegetation Index Anomaly 2016 minus Average (2001 - 2010) Period 59 / Oct 16 -

    Figure 2

    East Africa eMODIS 250m Normalized Difference Vegetation Index Anomaly 2016 minus Average (2001 - 2010) Period 59 / Oct 16 - 25, 2016

    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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