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Below average long rains and additional COVID-19 restrictions to heighten food insecurity

  • Key Message Update
  • Kenya
  • March 2021
Below average long rains and additional COVID-19 restrictions to heighten food insecurity

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The start of the March to May long rains is largely delayed and below-average across most of Kenya. By March 25, there are seasonal rainfall accumulation anomalies of 10-50 mm across southern and central Kenya, with localized western and southern areas recording deficits of 50-100 mm. Across pastoral and marginal agricultural areas, rainfall through March has largely been average but is expected to be cumulatively below-average in April and May based on available climate forecasts. The long rains are likely to peak in April, with an early cessation in May.

    • In pastoral areas, vegetation in the northwestern and northern zones is over 105 percent of the median NDVI, according to satellite data. In contrast, vegetation is 70-90 percent of median NDVI in the eastern and northeastern pastoral areas but is expected to improve through the long rains. Deteriorating forage and water resources are driving an increase in return trekking distances for domestic and livestock water needs, according to February NDMA sentinel site data. Livestock body conditions are declining but were ‘good’ to ‘fair’ in Garissa, Isiolo, and Marsabit, ‘fair’ to ‘poor’ across other counties, and ‘poor’ in Turkana. Goat prices in February were average to 23 percent above average across most monitored markets supported by limited market supply. However, in Turkana, goat prices were 20 percent below average due to poor body conditions. The declining livestock body conditions and increased migration limit household food and income, driving Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) area-level outcomes. 

    • Land preparation is underway for the 2021 March to May long rains season in the marginal agricultural areas. Wet planting is yet to start following the delayed onset of rainfall. Household food stocks from the recent below-average short rains harvests continue to support household food access while reducing market reliance to typical levels. However, household income from crop sales and agricultural waged labor opportunities remain below average, constraining access to non-food items and sustaining Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.

    • Urban poor households continue to face constrained access to food and purchasing capacities due to constrained incomes and labor opportunities driven largely by below-average economic activity and the COVID-19 restrictions. Poor urban households in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu are likely to continue facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes and engaging in crisis-coping strategies such as reducing non-food expenses like healthcare to meet their minimum food needs. The worst-affected households in the Mukuru and Dandora informal settlements of Nairobi continue to engage in coping strategies indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    • In February, maize prices ranged between average to 19 percent below average, driven by the availability of the 2020 October to December short rains and production in the high and medium production areas of western Kenya and the North Rift and increased regional cross-border imports from Uganda.  However, maize prices were 16-20 percent above average in Garissa and Mandera due to low market supply from COVID-19 restrictions and border closures with Ethiopia and Somalia. Bean prices ranged from average in Taita Taveta and Mombasa to 29 percent above average in the rest of the monitored markets following the three consecutive below-average seasons.

    • According to FAO reports, desert locust swarms were recorded in mid-March between Mt. Kenya and the Rift Valley in Nyandarua, Nakuru, and Baringo counties. However, the number of swarms has continued to decline due to ongoing control operations. Additionally, the below-average rainfall through March is limiting desert locust maturation and breeding. Overall, the scale of breeding and resultant destruction is expected to be substantially less than in 2020.

    • Following a steep rise in confirmed COVID-19 cases and daily test positivity rates of up to 22 percent, COVID-19 control measures were extended for an additional 60 days on March 12. On March 26, a cessation of movement except for international travel was imposed on Nairobi, Kajiado, Kiambu, Machakos, and Nakuru counties in addition to an 8 pm to 4 am curfew, along with a suspension of public gatherings and functions, in-person classes, sporting and recreational activities, and restrictions on alcohol sales. The extension of the COVID-19 control measures across Kenya and the additional measures in the five-county containment zone is expected to raise staple food prices and reduce economic activity and household purchasing power, particularly for urban households and market-dependent rural households. Approximately 130,575 people, mainly health workers, security personnel, teachers, and people over 58 years of age, have been vaccinated since the start of COVID-19 vaccine distribution in mid-March. Humanitarian agencies are also conducting sensitization training to promote vaccine uptake.  

    • Due to a funding deficit of about 61 million USD, WFP has reduced food rations to 60 percent for around 420,000 refugees, reducing household food availability. Area-level Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are likely as households rely on income from petty trade and causal labor to fill consumption gaps. On March 24, the government issued a 14-day ultimatum to UNHCR to close the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, citing security concerns. UNHCR seeks to work with the government to implement long-term and sustainable solutions such as voluntary returns, third-country solutions such as resettlement, sponsorships, family reunifications, labor migration, and relocations within Kenya.

    This Key Message Update provides a high-level analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography. Learn more here.

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