Kenya + 2 more

Heavy Rains attributed to El Nino cause extensive crop damage in parts of Eastern Africa

Originally published
Since October 1997, exceptionally heavy rains associated with the El Niño phenomenon have caused havoc in most parts of eastern Africa, with severe floods seriously affecting food production and distribution. The floods have also caused extensive damage to crops, both in the field and in stores, as well as losses of large numbers of livestock. Severe damage has also been inflicted on the sub-region's infrastructure (roads, bridges, rail lines), seriously disrupting the movement of goods within and between countries. In some countries such as Somalia and Kenya loss of human life has been significant. Food assistance is currently being provided to the affected people in these countries but substantial assistance is still urgently needed not only in the form of food but also as logistical support in view of transport difficulties. In the sub-region as a whole some 10 million people currently require emergency assistance.



Torrential rains in mid- October caused the worst floods in decades, resulting in an estimated 2 000 deaths, 250 000 displaced persons, serious damage to housing and infrastructure and crop and livestock losses.

The heavy rains that persisted until early January adversely affected the 1997/98 secondary "Deyr" crops, normally accounting for some 20 percent of the annual cereal production, which had been planted just before the floods occurred. Worst affected areas are the main southern agricultural parts, along the Juba and Shebelle rivers, particularly Baidoa, Q/dhere, Dinsor, Bardere, Jilib, Jamame, Sablale, K/Warey, Brava, Kismayo, Xagar and Afmadow where crop losses are estimated to be around 80 percent. With the recession of the water levels, extensive replanting has taken place from December but the outcome is uncertain. For the country as a whole, preliminary estimates indicate a decline in production of one-third of the expected normal level. This is the fourth year of below-average harvest. A more detailed assessment of the "Deyr" output is currently being undertaken. The floods also resulted in losses of household cereal stocks from the 1997 main "Gu" season. Production of that season was also poor due to dry spells. The 1997/98 aggregate cereal production is provisionally estimated at 290 000 tons, close to the previous year's below-average level. Import requirements for the 1997/98 marketing year (August/July) have been revised upward to 310 000 tons, of which about 110 000 tons will need to be covered by food aid.

While the floods alone resulted in losses of livestock estimated at 35 500 animals, the outbreak of the Rift Valley Fever, which has spread since October from north-eastern Kenya to southern areas of Somalia, is reportedly causing losses of large numbers of animals, mainly camels and goats.


Heavy rains particularly in November and January resulted in serious floods which caused loss of life, extensive damage to infrastructure and housing, left many villages isolated and displaced large sections of the local population. The areas worst affected include the Coast Province, North Eastern Province and parts of the Eastern Province. These areas have been declared a Disaster Zone by the Government, which has appealed for international assistance to cope with the emergency.

The rains also adversely affected the 1997/98 maize crop, the main staple of the country. Torrential rains in October/November, at the time of the harvest of the main season crop, which accounts for some 80 percent of the annual output, reduced yields of maize already affected by a dry spell at the critical grain-filling stage. Yields of wheat were also affected by heavy rains at harvest. However, the worst effect of the floods was on the second season crops, grown in the bi-modal rainfall areas of Western, Central and Eastern provinces from mid-October to February. The maize output of this season is estimated to have declined by one-third from normal levels, while the bean crop was sharply reduced due to both adverse weather and lack of seed. In aggregate, the 1997/98 maize production is estimated at 2.3 million tons, slightly above the reduced level of 1996/97 but below the average of the past five years. The food supply situation is anticipated to be tight in the months ahead. Maize import requirements, expected to be covered mostly commercially, are estimated at 800 000 tons. This is, however, lower than in the previous year when maize imports reached 1 million tons. Total cereal imports, including wheat and rice in which the country has a structural deficit, in 1997/98 (October/September) are provisionally forecast at 1.2 million tons.

While the abundant rains of the past months improved pastures for livestock, an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in October, as a result of the flooding that has caused an explosion in the mosquito population that carries the culprit virus, has resulted in the deaths of many people as well as losses of thousands of cattle, sheep, goats and camels.


The main impact of the heavy rains and consequent flooding since November 1997 has been the severe disruption of rail and road systems in the country, which is causing serious problems in transporting essential goods to areas of need. Of particular concern are remote villages where framers have lost production or stocks due the rains and where relief food cannot be transported due to impassable roads.

The heavy rains resulted also in localized crop losses and damage of the 1997/98 "Vuli" crop, grown from October to February. The worst affected areas are the low-lying parts of Mara, Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tanga and Shinyanga regions, as well as southern parts of Mwanza where heavy clay soils predominate. However, as crop cultivation is also practised in highland areas production here will be favourable due to higher rainfall. Overall, losses in low lying areas will tend to be compensated by gains in highland areas. The Vuli crop, which is the least important of the country's three annual crops, is expected to be good and production is anticipated to recover from a succession of drought-affected harvests .

Following a destructive drought in 1996/97, and in addition to crop losses, a large number of livestock were lost in pastoral areas. The heavy rains in the last few months have had a very beneficial effect on pastures, which will result in recovery in the livestock sector. From a household food security point of view, such recovery has important implications for some sections of the population, such as the Masai, who rely heavily on livestock.

In central and southern parts, where cereal crops of the 1998 main season are at developing stage, crop losses to floods in low-lying areas of Iringa and Mbeya regions may be significant. However, the abundant precipitation of the past months has been generally beneficial and, providing favourable weather prevails in the remainder of the growing season, production may recover from the poor level of 1997. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission has just returned from the country and is finalizing its report.


Heavy rains from mid-November to early December, mainly in the eastern parts, resulted in floods and mudslides which caused loss of life, damage to housing and infrastructure and localized crop losses. Food assistance to the flood-affected population is currently being provided, but the operations are being hampered by bad road conditions. However, the overall outlook for the current second season food crops, now being harvested, is favourable. Despite the localized crop losses, the abundant rains since the beginning of the season were beneficial for crop development. The heavy rains have also improved pastures and livestock conditions, particularly in the Karamoja region, previously affected by prolonged dry weather.

Prices of maize and beans, which by December 1997 had doubled in a year, are anticipated to decline with the arrival of the new crop in the markets; the previously tight food supply, following two consecutive reduced harvests, is expected to ease. Nevertheless, the food situation will remain difficult for the large number of displaced people in northern parts, affected by persistent civil conflict.


Unusually heavy rains began in all zones of the country during the first dekad of October and continued until the end of November. These rains disrupted harvesting patterns for all crops; accentuated seed drop in teff; slowed the rate of desiccation of later sown grains prior to threshing; increased spoilage in stacks of harvested cereals; caused some germination in standing crops of wheat and sorghum; and increased the likelihood of fungal attacks in both standing and stored grains, particularly pulses. In the south-eastern parts bordering Somalia and Kenya, the heavy rains resulted in extensive flooding causing loss of life, displacement of a large number of people and damage to housing. Over 12 000 domestic animals are reported to have been lost and 30 000 hectares of land inundated. Food and non-food assistance is being distributed by the Government in the affected areas.

The heavy rains, which followed erratic precipitation earlier in the season, coupled with a lower use of fertilisers, resulted in a one-quarter decline in the 1997 grain production from the record level of the previous year. Following two years of self-sufficiency, the grain import requirement in 1998 is estimated at 530 000 tons, to be covered mainly by food aid, for over 5 million vulnerable people, including those affected by a reduced harvest.


Unseasonable rains in October at harvest time led to spoilage in stacks of harvested cereals and reduced yields of the crops already adversely affected by a dry spell in September, when the crops were at the critical maturing stage. The grain output is estimated at the same reduced level of 1996. Also, as a result of the unexpected heavy rains, high levels of locust infestations were reported in northern parts but control operations have been undertaken.

Cereal prices, which normally decline at harvest time, registered a sharp increase in November reflecting the anticipated poor output. With a below-average cereal harvest for the third consecutive year and a sharp reduction in grain export availability from neighbouring Ethiopia, the food situation will be tight in the year ahead.

Elsewhere in the sub-region, crop yields were adversely affected by a one month delay in the onset of the rains in Rwanda and Burundi, followed by heavy rains since mid-October that resulted in floods and localized crop losses in low-lying areas. However, because of significant increases in plantings, food production in these two countries is estimated to have increased from the reduced levels of the previous year. Nevertheless, civil strife in these countries continues to constrain food production. In the Sudan, the 1997 coarse grains production was negatively affected by below average precipitation in parts, mainly in the South where the harvest was sharply reduced, but also in areas of the Western regions of North Darfur and North Kordofan. The output is estimated 15 percent down on the bumper harvest of the previous year but still above average. While overall, food supplies are expected to be adequate due to high levels of carryover stocks, relief food aid is needed for 2.4 million displaced and drought-affected people.

FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System is continuously monitoring the effects on crops of weather anomalies attributed to El Niño and their impact on food supply situation in various parts of the world and will issue periodic updates as necessary.