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East Africa Food Security Alert: December 10, 2009

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November rainfall deficits raise concerns in parts of East Africa

Due to the current El Niño event, above-average rainfall was forecast for the areas of East Africa that receive October to December rains. These rains were expected to contribute to a reduction in the high to extreme levels of food insecurity that have affected many parts of the region following several consecutive failed rainy seasons. However, while October rainfall was above normal and generated some moderate improvements in pastoral conditions, little rain fell during November in pastoral and southeastern marginal cropping areas of Kenya; southern and southeastern pastoral areas of Ethiopia; and northern pastoral and central rainfed cropping areas of Somalia (Figure 1). This extended dry spell raises serious concerns about the prospects for recovery in pastoral areas and the performance of the short‐rains harvest. The performance of the December rains will be critical to food security outcomes in the region over the coming months, though even with average rains, food security conditions are expected to be poorer than initially forecast.

In pastoral areas, abundant precipitation during October across most of the region led to modest improvements in pasture and browse, increased water availability, and reduced trekking distances between water points. These improvements were curtailed by several weeks of dry conditions during November, which have reduced available drinking water and retarded pasture regeneration, causing early outmigration among pastoralists in some areas. The most affected pastoral areas include the northwestern districts of Turkana, West Pokot, Samburu, and Marsabit and the southeastern districts of Narok and Kajiado in Kenya; parts of Degahabour, Warder, Korahe, Afder, and Liben zones of Somali region and Borena zone of Oromia region in Ethiopia; and the northern pastoral and agropastoral areas of the northwest, and agropastoral areas of Hiran and Bakool in Somalia.

In short-rains cropping areas, the November rainfall deficits have adversely affected crop conditions and raised concerns about overall harvest prospects. In the southeastern marginal agricultural areas of Kenya, where the short rains harvest provides 70 percent of annual production in this area, crop conditions have been mixed. Although October rains improved the availability of green vegetables, November deficits have damaged crops. One quarter of the area sown in Machakos, Makueni, Taita Taveta, and Mwingi has required replanting. In cropping areas of Somalia, farmers reported moisture stress given the dry spell, though overall crop establishment is near normal in most areas of southern and central regions.

During the last few days of November, precipitation returned to the region, persisting into early December. However, major concerns remain, as improved rains are unlikely to completely reverse the damage caused by a dry November, particularly as December rainfall is normally low. In pastoral areas, even average December rains would mean that water, pasture, and browse that had regenerated would quickly deplete and be insufficient to sustain livestock until the next rainy season in March/April, resulting in deteriorating animal body conditions, increased livestock mortality and abnormal migration patterns. Poor livestock to cereal terms of trade, which heavily influence pastoral household food security, would persist.

In the cropping areas, average December rains would mean the loss of close to 30 percent of the crop in the southeastern and coastal lowlands, though early-season short-cycle crops and improvements in livestock productivity would mitigate food insecurity in the short term, and the area planted is 15 percent higher than average this year due to the multi-donor National Accelerated Agricultural Inputs Access Program (NAAIAP). If December rains are below normal, households in these areas would face a fifth consecutive failed season and food security would likely deteriorate to extreme levels, once the supply of short cycle crops is exhausted. The next major harvest would not be expected until February 2011. Given the likelihood of deteriorating food security conditions over the coming months, even with average December rains, FEWS NET will continue to monitor the rainfall and its impacts on pasture and crop development.