Kenya + 2 more

Field Exchange Nov 1999: Food aid targeting in East Africa

Consultancy Report
The FEWS (Famine Early Warning System) project for the Greater Horn of Africa recently commissioned a review on food aid targeting* in East Africa with the aim of improving the targeting of emergency food aid in response to drought induced slow onset food crises in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. The reviewer spent three weeks in each country in discussions with agency staff at capital city level and in selected food insecure areas. Relief operations during the year of 1997/8 were taken as a reference period to focus discussion.

Main findings


The information systems were patchy and over focused on balance sheets of grain production and consumption.
A broader framework to take account of the economy and coping capacities in different areas needs to be integrated into the relief needs assessment process.

Government directives on targeting at household/individual level are more developed than in the other two countries. However problems with their implementation point to a need for a review of food aid policy in general and more detailed training and support for local government in food insecure areas.


There is a virtual absence of information systems to detect and assess potential food crises.

In the medium to long term a decentralised Early Warning System (EWS) in selected districts may be needed. In the short term FEWS should focus assistance on the development of the institutional and analytical framework for inter-agency assessment missions which are even more important than usual in a context of limited monitoring information.

  • Kenya has multiple sources of food security information and generally reliable data but the linkage between available information and targeting decisions is weak. Support is recommended for the National Drought Management Secretariat which could provide a link by compiling and comparing information from vulnerable districts and ensure that it reaches the right people.
  • The report discusses a number of major cross-cutting issues for all three countries.
    • i) Information systems: Analysis gaps rather than data gaps are evident. Weak links between available information and targeting decisions are areas where significant but relatively low-cost improvements could be achieved. One suggested approach is to develop agreed methodologies and procedures for inter-agency needs assessment missions in advance of emergencies Such missions are very influential in determining the scale and initial targeting design of relief operations, yet relatively little technical work has been done on their method and on ensuring that all available information is accessible and used by them. There is also a need for decentralised EWS capacity in selected food insecure areas in order to integrate analysis of vulnerability and coping capacity information.

      ii) Targeting Mechanisms: Each mechanism has its advantages and limitations. Free food distributions should be supplemented or partially replaced by Food For Work, school feeding or other types of programme where capacity exists, but are likely to remain an important element in large scale operations. Needs assessment missions should include an assessment of targeting possibilities at the earliest stage of response planning. The choice of less preferred commodities as a targeting measure appears to have limited potential in emergency situations. No successful examples were found during the study.

      iii) Comparative Cost-Effectiveness: There is no straight-forward correlation between the type of targeting method and cost-effectiveness. Quality of management and planning are probably more important determinants of cost-effectiveness. Free distributions are not necessarily more expensive than other mechanisms, thought they do tend to be larger scale.

      iv) Market based approaches: Limited use was made of these. Carefully designed direct interventions (such as emergency livestock purchase in pastoralist areas) can help to limit relief needs, but probably a much greater potential for minimising food aid lies in the promotion of efficient private sector markets. The contrasting experience during 1997/8 of Kenya (where private commerce filled a large part of the food gap) and Tanzania (where the markets were partly restricted and were much less successful in equalising and filling food shortages) illustrates the critical importance of the economic and policy environment to food security.

      v) Local government targeting: In all three countries a similar pattern of constraints and problems with local government targeting were identified. Capacity and resource limitations are a major factor, but it also appears inherently more difficult (largely for political reasons) for government institutions rather than for outsiders to systematically select and exclude areas and population groups at each level of the administrative hierarchy.

      vi) Drought versus flood: While drought induced food crises are by far the most important cause of relief needs in East Africa and therefore the focus of information and response systems, the impact of the El Nino floods (especially in Kenya) have usefully concentrated attention on the need for disaster preparedness to include an element of flexibility and readiness for the unexpected.


      *Food aid targeting in East Africa, Kay Sharpe, March 1999: Consultancy report for FEWS project, REDSO/USAID, PO Box 66613, Nairobi,Kenya