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Food security outcomes expected to improve through May 2018

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Kenya
  • October 2017
Food security outcomes expected to improve through May 2018

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  • Key Messages
  • Partners
    Kenya - NDMA
    Key Messages
    • Following at least two consecutive poor rainy seasons, food security needs are expected to peak in October 2017 as food and income sources are below-average across the majority of pastoral and marginal agricultural areas. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected through early December in areas of Turkana, Marsabit, Mandera, Wajir, Isiolo, Garissa, Tana River, Samburu, and Laikipia, requiring urgent humanitarian assistance. However, an improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes is expected across all pastoral areas in early 2018; however, some of the most vulnerable households are still likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).   

    • Over the western half of the country, off-season rains since July have led to significant improvements in forage, water, and livestock body conditions, which has allowed for terms of trade to be above average in Turkana and West Pokot, facilitating greater food access. While there are some regional variations in the forecast, the short rains (October – December) and long rains (March – May) are expected to lead to better livestock productivity and crop production. 

    • Nearly complete harvesting of the long rains maize crop in the high and medium-producing areas is likely to be about 10 percent below average, but is still helping to improve food availability countrywide and moderate staple food price increases, especially since the Government of Kenya’s maize subsidy program stopped at the end of October. Regardless, staple food prices and maize imports are expected to remain above five-year averages through May 2018 due to atypically high demand. 

    • Based on the forecasted average to below-average rainfall for the area, the short rains harvest in the marginal agricultural areas may be slightly below normal. Regardless, short-cycle crops, available from December, are expected to restore depleted household stocks. With less market dependence and improved incomes through crop sales, food consumption and nutrition levels are expected to increase, facilitating improved food security outcomes. 


    Current Situation

    Current Food Security

    Following late and below-average March – May 2017 long rains across most of the country, there has been a steady decline in household food security, especially in most of the pastoral and marginal agricultural areas. The marginal agricultural areas experienced below-average crop production, with crop failure in some areas of the southeast. As a result, the majority of households in these areas have depleted their food stocks early, leaving them dependent on high priced staple foods from the market. In most of the pastoral areas, like, Mandera, Wajir, Isiolo, Garissa, Tana River, and parts of Marsabit, forage and water resources steadily declined before the start of the October – December short rains, negatively affecting livestock body conditions and, consequently, meat and milk productivity. Below-average livestock prices have kept purchasing power low, amidst high staple food prices, reducing food access and consumption. Low food and milk consumption have resulted in atypically high malnutrition rates, especially among children under five years of age. The majority of the food insecure population resides in the arid and semi-arid counties that have experienced low livestock productivity, crop failure, high staple food prices, and low livestock terms of trade. Currently, FEWS NET expects acute food insecurity needs to peak in October before the short rains are expected to bring about much needed improvements across most areas, with more modest improvements in the northeast. 

    Seasonal Progress

    Between July October 2017, significant offseason rains across the western half of the country led to marked improvements in water and forage availability. The rains have been most consistent in the high and medium maize-producing areas and the agropastoral and pastoral counties of Narok, Baringo, West Pokot, and Turkana, receiving rainfall amounts equivalent to 150 – 400 percent of normal. Parts of northwestern Marsabit, Samburu, and Laikipia also received these offseason rains in similar amounts, which have provided a reprieve for dry season grazing areas that have been severely taxed due to atypical livestock migration inflows.

    The short rains (October December) have had an erratic and delayed onset across many eastern areas. As of the second dekad in October, there had been no rainfall in Garissa and parts of Wajir, Isiolo, Tana River, Kitui, and Lamu. However, western areas of Kenya have continued to experience moderate to heavy rainfall (see Figure 1).

    Pasture, water, and livestock

    Particularly in the east, as dry conditions persisted through mid-October, forage and water availability have decreased (see Figure 2). Both pasture and browse range between fair to poor across most of the pastoral areas. Trekking distances to water sources for both domestic and livestock uses continue to rise as sources dry up due to high temperatures and increased usage. Livestock body conditions remain below average, with cattle mostly exhibiting poor body conditions, goats and sheep fair to poor, and camels in fair condition. This has resulted in significantly low milk production, especially from cattle. Atypical livestock migration continues within counties and across both county and Kenya’s borders, as herders are forced to leave their homesteads in search of forage and water for their livestock.

    Markets and Trade

    Currently, even with normally functioning markets across the country, low food commodity volumes and high prices continue to hamper household food availability and access. Between August and September, wholesale maize prices remained above average in the urban reference markets due to low volumes. For example, prices were 46 – 48 percent higher in Kisumu and Eldoret due to the dependence on high priced imports and were relatively lower, at 12 and 23 above average in Nairobi and Mombasa, respectively, due to access to limited cross-border imports from Tanzania, subsidized Government of Kenya imports, and limited harvests from the marginal areas. Dry bean prices remained above average across all markets, 34 – 44 percent above average in Nairobi and Eldoret, due to high priced imports from Uganda, while the prices were relatively lower, at about 12 – 19 percent above average, in Mombasa and Kisumu due to access to local harvests and cross-border imports from Tanzania and Uganda, respectively. Since May, the Government of Kenya’s maize subsidy program had facilitated the availability of subsidized maize flour at KES 47 and KES 90 for one and two-kilogram flour packets, respectively. The Government of Kenya stopped the program, as of the end of October, coinciding with the 2017 long rains harvest from the high and medium rainfall areas that is expected to temporarily lower maize prices across the country due to the increased supply into the market. 

    As a structurally maize deficit country, Kenya continues to import maize from its East African neighbors and international sources to meet its higher consumption demands, following consecutive below-average production seasons. In the last quarter, between July and September, Kenya imported 92 percent of the region’s imports, totaling approximately 144,329 metric tons (MT). Out of these maize imports, 22, 35, and 43 percent were from Tanzania, Uganda, and Ethiopia, respectively. Compared to the four-year averages, maize imports from Uganda were 34 percent below average due to low opening stocks, while maize imports from Tanzania were 63 percent below average due to its maize export ban. Imports from Ethiopia, however, were exceptionally high, 39 percent above average, due to the increased demand and attractive prices offered by Kenya. Despite this significant regional cross- border trade, from June through the end of October 2017, Kenya still imported duty-free white maize from Mexico and Zambia to cover demand and plans to import yellow maize for animal feed through August 2018.


    The 2017 long rains maize crop in the high and medium rainfall areas is likely to be below average. Harvesting is complete in all regions, except the North Rift that typically produces the majority of the production. Based on FEWS NET estimates, projected production is expected to drop by approximately 10 percent (which is not as low as Kenya’s State Department of Agriculture previously estimated) attributed to a number of factors, such as reduction in area planted, like in the North Rift where after a dry spell replanting had to be done; delayed onset of the rains, resulting in shorter growing periods; poor rainfall distribution; frost; hail storms; flash floods; Fall Armyworm (FAW) infestations; inadequate fertilizer application; and attacks by maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND), particularly in Bomet and Narok counties. Extension of the long rains into October are constraining drying of harvested maize and threatening the condition of maize crop in the fields, with already reported post-harvest losses in the North Rift region.

    Health and Nutrition

    The nationwide nurses’ strike that had been ongoing for over four months significantly affected service delivery in the health and nutrition sectors. (It recently ended on November 3, 2017, with nurses returning to work.) Approximately 45,000 nurses had been participating in strikes in almost all of Kenya’s counties, since June 6, demanding an increase in their salaries. According to a report by the Nutrition Information Technical Working Group (NITWG), the strike had significantly affected nutrition outreach activities that target the most vulnerable populations, and up to 40 – 50 percent of planned outreaches were not occurring in West Pokot, Baringo, Garissa, and Isiolo counties, hindering identification and treatment of malnutrition cases and delivery of vaccines and supplementary foods. As a result of the reduced outreach activities and closure of health facilities, there had been an overall drop in admissions to severe and moderate acute malnutrition treatment programs across affected counties, further worsening the nutrition situation, especially for pregnant and lactating women and children under five years of age.

    Household Food Security Indicator Data

    The Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) carried out a long rains assessment in July 2017 that projected food security outcomes through January 2018 and incorporated data on the prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM), collected by a number of SMART surveys conducted in June/early July, reflecting outcomes at the sub-county level. The surveys determined that the most severe projected nutrition outcomes were in Turkana and Marsabit. Also, household food security indicator data from the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) early warning system sentinel sites was collected to reflect outcomes at the county level, including Food Consumption Score (FCS) and Reduced Coping Strategies Index (rCSI). In addition, levels of milk production and the proportion of children under five years of age at risk of malnutrition, measured by Middle Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) <135mm, were collected as well.

    Humanitarian Assistance

    Humanitarian assistance, through both food and non-food interventions, is ongoing across the country. However, the assistance provided by national and county governments has encountered a slow-down with the transition of personnel as a result of the 2017 general elections. Even though emergency cash transfers, in addition to the regular Hunger Safety Net Program (HSNP), are increasingly being relied on to avoid logistical challenges of food distributions, in-kind food assistance is being provided to the most food insecure by national and county governments and non-government actors across pastoral and marginal agricultural areas to varying degrees and is likely to continue through at least December. While not considered emergency humanitarian assistance, Food for Assets’ and Cash for Assets’ development assistance is also facilitating poor household food availability and access by providing approximately 65 percent of the monthly food basket in the form of food or cash in the arid counties and about 50 percent in the semi-arid counties. Supplementary feeding programmes carried out by humanitarian agencies continue, and the World Food Programme (WFP) is implementing a blanket supplementary feeding (BSF) program for all children, ages 6 to 59 months, and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in areas where acute malnutrition is over the emergency threshold of 15 percent. Twice a month distributions of BSF are aimed at curbing worsening acute malnutrition and to contribute to minimum basic food needs in all sub-counties in Baringo, Turkana, Mandera, and Isiolo, and Marsabit’s Laisamis and Moyale sub-counties. There are discussions that BSF will continue through at least April 2018 in these areas. 


    The following assumptions have been made at the national level:

    2017 Unimodal Long Rains Production

    • The 2017 long rains maize harvest, available from October – December in the unimodal areas of western Kenya and the Rift Valley, is likely to be 10 percent below average, according to FEW NET estimates.
    • The above-average and extended seasonal rainfall over western, unimodal Kenya continues to negatively impact maize harvesting and drying. The extent of losses is not likely to be known until after harvesting is complete in December.

    Seasonal Forecast

    • According to NOAA and USGS, with the expected La Niňa conditions, FEWS NET assumes the October – December short rains in eastern Kenya and Marsabit will be average tending to below average and erratic in distribution over time. In other areas, including in Turkana, average tending to above average rainfall is expected for the remainder of the short rains season.
    • According to the GHACOF consensus forecast, there is a 40 percent probability that seasonal temperatures for the October – December period are likely to be above average across the country, exacerbating dry conditions.
    • Main season (February – August 2018) rainfall in unimodal Kenya is likely to be average tending to above average in cumulative amounts during the February – May period. 
    • The long rains (March May 2018) are expected to below average in the northeast and southern coastal areas, and average tending to below average across the rest of the country.

    2017/18 Marginal Agricultural Production

    • Given October 2017 rainfall deficits across some southeastern and coastal marginal agricultural areas, and the forecast for average to below-average rainfall for the rest of the short rains season, total overall production is likely to be slightly below normal.   

    Fall Armyworm (FAW)

    • FAW has been reported in 40 out of the 47 counties, and according to FAO, there is a high probability that it could impact the short rains cropping season. A combination of various factors, including temperature, wind, and rainfall patterns influence the movement of FAW and affect the severity of an infestation. Depending on the extent of pest management strategies to control FAW, there is a possibility that the pest could also impact the 2018 long rains cropping season.

    Markets and Trade

    • Staple food prices are expected to remain higher than recent five-year averages through March 2018 in spite of the expected seasonal decline during the October-to-January harvest period. Based on an analysis of current prices and drivers, FEWS NET’s integrated price projections, using data from the Ministry of Agriculture, forecast that wholesale maize prices between October 2017 – May 2018 in the urban reference market of Nairobi are projected to remain 21 – 27 percent above average, ranging between KES 3,400 – 3,900 for a 90-kilogram sack.
    • Regional and international maize imports into Kenya are expected to be 75 percent above the recent five-year average to cover demand. Imports from Ethiopia are expected to continue to atypically rise, and there are expected imports from non-traditional overseas sources, such as South Africa, Zambia, Mexico, and Ukraine.


    • The onset of the short rains is expected to contribute to increased milk access in areas where livestock productivity improves. Also, the cereal harvest from the short rains, beginning in February, is also likely to enhance food consumption and dietary diversity, thus improving the nutrition status. Nevertheless, typical Critical levels (GAM 15-30 percent) in most arid and semi-arid areas are likely to be sustained to May 2018.


    October 2017 to January 2018: From October, the long rains harvest from the high and medium-producing areas is expected to improve food availability and access, slightly easing staple food prices, generally improving food security outcomes. However, the atypical extension of rains into the harvesting period is likely to result in post-harvest losses, reducing the supply, and maintaining maize prices at 24 – 26 percent above average. The short rains are expected to improve forage and water availability, resulting in improved food and milk consumption across most of the country. Nurses’ return to work is expected to increase health and nutrition activities, leading to typical improvements usually observed in nutritional status from late November through January. At a macro level, regional and international maize imports are expected to increase by 50 percent from January onwards, following increased availability from harvests in Ethiopia and Uganda, increasing supply and moderating atypically early and rapid price increases. With the availability of the long rains harvest and regional and international imports facilitating good food access, the high and medium-producing areas are likely to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. By mid to late December, across the pastoral areas, there are expected improvements, which will be largely reflected in higher livestock productivity levels. This is likely to lead to higher food and income sources and an improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. In some eastern pastoral areas, even if total cumulative rainfall is below-average, the short rains are still likely to be sufficient to register an improvement in forage and water resources since the rainfall deficits were not as severe during the 2017 long rains in most areas, outside of Isiolo. However, emergency humanitarian assistance will still likely be required for some of the most vulnerable households, who will still experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes at the end of January. Overall, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected across the majority of the marginal agricultural areas.

    February to May 2018: This period is expected to be marked by steady improvements in household income and food availability. Maize prices are likely to gradually decline further, driven by the short rains harvests, beginning in February, from the marginal and agropastoral areas, but are likely to still oscillate at 21 – 24 percent above average. Overall, household incomes in the pastoral and marginal areas will likely improve from March at varying levels depending on the rainfall performance and recovery. Due to the significant improvements that are likely to take place across the majority of the country through May 2018, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected in most marginal agricultural areas as well as the high and medium-producing areas. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist in some coastal marginal agricultural areas. As incomes continue to rise in pastoral areas with improved herd sizes, livestock productivity, and sales, more poor households are expected to move to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely for some of the most worst-affected pastoralists, particularly for households in Tana River (Tana North, Tana River), Mandera (Lafey, Mandera South), Garissa (Lagdera, Balambala), Wajir, and Isiolo (Merti Garba Tulla). These households are likely to continue to require humanitarian assistance through May, particularly if they experience below-average 2017 short rains, followed by poor 2018 long rains. 

    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

    Figure 1. October 1-25, 2017 CHIRPS rainfall (percent of the 1981-2010 average)


    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index October 21-31, 2017 (percent of average)

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 3


    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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