Availability of pasture and water steadily decreased in Kenya as the dry season continued throughout February. Fairly widespread rain was reported in early March, but this is not yet sufficient to recharge water sources or regenerate pasture. An assessment of Turkana District illustrates the common problems occurring across pastoral areas throughout the country: deteriorating health of livestock, reduced milk production, and increased migration into banditry-prone grazing areas. Rates of livestock mortality currently remain low but are expected to increase if the prolonged dry spell persists. A nutritional assessment by Médecins sans Frontières-Belgium in February found high rates of child malnutrition in Turkana (figure 2).
In the marginal agricultural areas of Eastern Province, a FEWS/Kenya visit in February revealed a significant deterioration in the physical condition of cattle (see pastoralist box). Livestock prices have halved since November 1998, reducing purchasing power at a time when households are relying heavily on purchased food because of the failed 1998/99 short rains harvest.
The Government increased food allocations to pastoral and marginal agricultural areas to 2,700 MT in early March. The Ministry of Water Development is trucking water to locations in Mandera District but has yet to start rehabilitating boreholes. Most donors and NGOs are waiting to assess the March-July long rains (see climate outlook box) before deciding if additional large-scale interventions are warranted; however, they are actively preparing contingency plans in case of poor rainfall.
The National Cereals and Produce Board has transported 18,000 MT of commercial maize from western surplus districts to eastern deficit districts. National maize prices in February 1999 remain generally lower than in February 1997 and 1998, and affordable maize is moderating the impact of heavy crop losses in marginal agricultural areas and lower livestock productivity in pastoral areas.
The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that current domestic maize supply is expected to cover national demand through July when the long-rains harvest usually begins. The Government’s current Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) is 81,000 MT of maize, as compared to its target level of 270,000 MT. Stock levels are expected to fall further as relief distributions continue and budgetary constraints impede the Government’s ability to replenish SGR stocks.
Tanzania’s rainfall in February was generally below normal and poorly distributed, with the highest rainfall recorded in unimodal southern and central areas. This abnormal weather pattern is intensifying the impacts of the failed vuli (short rains) season in bimodal regions and the late start to the masika (long rains) season (see climate outlook box).
In unimodal areas, the delayed onset of the rains is stretching the coping abilities of households that normally depend on harvested short-duration crops early in the season. In the central, southern coast, and parts of the Lake Victoria zones, cereal crops in the early vegetative stages are showing signs of drought stress. Although field crops in the grain-basket southern highlands are in good condition, sufficient rains until April will be required for an average harvest.
Pasture and water availability in the main livestock-producing areas in northern and central zones are below average due to the failure of vuli rains in the bimodal areas and continued erratic rainfall in the unimodal regions (figure 5). Thus far, there has been no extensive livestock migration. Prices of livestock have continued to fall across the country. In Mara Region, for example, the price of cattle has fallen by 50 percent compared to average.
Rising maize prices have stabilized in many markets during February mainly due to formal and informal maize imports and the release of commercial maize from the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR). However, the February 1999 national average price is still 32 percent above that of 1998.
The Government has allocated 10,000 MT of SGR maize for free distribution to food-insecure populations in 17 regions and has appealed to donors for 169,000 MT. A joint FAO/WFP assessment identified 1.1 million food-insecure people in 13 regions needing 20,000 MT of emergency assistance. WFP issued an Emergency Operation Program (EMOP) in March for 20,000 MT of food valued at US$8.0 million. Distributions should begin in March and continue until the next harvest in May-June. Donors that have made firm commitments or expressed interest in supporting the EMOP include the US (specifically to Singida and Dodoma Regions), Spain, Denmark, Switzerland, and Japan. Continued food distributions in Dodoma and Singida Regions appear to be justified, given the delayed harvest and especially high maize prices—79 percent above February 1998 prices in Singida town. With the main harvest approaching, the case for extending relief into other regions is unclear at this time.
First-season rains began in early March across the southern half of Uganda, and farmers are busy preparing fields and sowing crops. Based on the Meteorology Department’s forecast of normal to below-normal rains for most of the east and south-central areas, the government is recommending that farmers in the southern half of the country expedite crop sowing.
Commodity sellers interviewed by FEWS report that the market supply of staple foods is good and that prices in both production and consumption areas, which began to rise last month, have stabilized. Prices for most food commodities remain at or below the 1995-98 average.
Increased insecurity in the past two months has displaced an estimated 32,000 people in the western District of Bundibugyo. A March 1999 assessment by WFP and the Office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator found that the displaced populations do not currently need food aid as most have some carryover food resources. However, continued insecurity in the mountain areas is likely to hamper cultivation and result in the need for food aid later in the season. International NGOs working in the area will monitor the situation, and follow-on assessments by WFP will determine when food aid might be necessary.
In Rakai District, an estimated 30,000 people (5,000 households) are still suffering food shortages due to production shortfalls in both seasons of 1998. District officials, World Vision International, and locally based NGOs report that people are coping by reducing the number of meals eaten per day, fishing, cultivating marshy areas, and selling assets (such as small livestock) to earn cash for market purchases. Food aid allocated to this area in January appears to have had limited impact. No additional food aid assistance is planned unless nutritional conditions deteriorate. Meanwhile, Rakai farmers have started cultivating their crops.
By early March, a pattern of daily, well-distributed rainfall became established in Rwanda, signaling the start of season B. Field preparation was completed in late February and crop sowing is underway. The government and NGOs are providing free seeds to households in the northwest that lack resources to make seed purchases. According to NGOs and farmers, delays in financing, procurement, and distribution may result in farmers planting two to three weeks late, compromising the effectiveness of the seed program.
During a recent field assessment to Ruhengeri Prefecture, FEWS found that civil insecurity and related logistical problems continue to delay food aid deliveries to the 375,000 people targeted for assistance. Food aid trucks require military escort, which slows deliveries. In February, WFP distributed only 70 percent of the allotted food aid to this highly dependent population. (Ruhengeri, which comprises only 11 percent of Rwanda’s population, receives 25 percent of the country’s food aid.) Food shortages are taking their toll on nutrition. In a random survey in January of 900 children under 5, the Ministry of Health documented the poor nutritional status of children living in camps and resettlement sites. Nearly 60 percent were moderately malnourished and a little more than 6 percent were severely malnourished. International NGOs, such as Save the Children Fund/UK, Concern, Caritas, and World Vision International, are responding by increasing supplemental feeding efforts.
The estimated food aid requirement for January through June 1999 remains at 52,000 MT. WFP is currently delivering 5,500 MT per month and has sufficient food in the pipeline to respond to additional requests as needed. Market prices remain stable following last season’s harvest and are at their lowest levels since 1994. For the immediate term, Rwandans should experience no difficulty gaining access to food.
The FEWS bulletin is published for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Africa Bureau, Sustainable Development Office, Crisis Mitigation and Response Division (AFR/SD/CMR) by: The FEWS Project, No. 698-0491 (Contract No. AOT-0491-C-00-5021-00), Contractor: Associates in Rural Development, Inc., Burlington, VT.
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