Kenya Food Security Outlook, October 2019 – May 2020

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Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to persist in the short-term due to prior drought and current heavy rainfall


• October 2019 was one of the wettest months on record since 1981, according to preliminary satellite-derived data. A forecast of continued above-average rainfall in November is likely to cause localized, negative impacts to crop and livestock production and food access in the short term, due to disruptions to livelihoods activities. According to reports by humanitarian actors, more than 100,000 people have been affected in northeastern, central, and coastal Kenya; 14,000 people have been displaced in riverine areas; and more than 30,000 sheep and goats and 110 cattle and camels were killed in Mandera and Wajir.

• Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist in most pastoral areas and some marginal agricultural areas through late 2019. Many poor households are still recovering from the impact of the 2018/19 drought on livestock and crop production, while above-average staple food prices continue to constrain household food access. Sentinel site data collected by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) in September indicated worsening trends in food consumption in several pastoral areas, indicative of the continued low quantity and quality of food. According to analysis of SMART survey data conducted by the Kenya Food Security Steering Group in August 2019, the prevalence of global acute malnutrition likely remains extremely high in Turkana South, Turkana North, and in Laisamis and North Horr sub counties of Marsabit.

• Despite the lingering impacts of the drought and current negative impacts of heavy rainfall, food security is most likely to improve in the medium-term. The availability of the unimodal long rains harvest from high and medium potential areas in November is expected to lead to a gradual decline in food prices from November onward. In addition, the above average shorts rains season is most likely to lead to above-average bimodal maize production and significant gains in livestock productivity, as witnessed in the 2018 long rains season. The anticipated benefits to household food and income sources are expected to drive widespread improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes by late 2019 or early 2020.


After consecutive seasons of poor rainfall performance in late 2018 and early 2019 led to drought conditions through mid-2019, many areas throughout Kenya experienced one of the wettest onsets of the October-December short rains on record since 1981 (Figure 1). This is associated with one of the strongest Indian Ocean Dipole events on record, in which atypical warming of sea surface temperatures off the East African coast leads to heavy rainfall inland. According to reports by OCHA, flash floods and river flooding have affected more than 100,000 people in northeastern, central, and coastal Kenya, displaced 14,000 people in low-lying riverine areas, and caused 29 flood-related deaths. Turkana, Mandera, Wajir, and Isiolo are among the counties most affected, and pastoralists in these areas have reported some livestock loss.

Although the heavy rains are certain to lead to significant improvements in pasture and water availability and are most likely to enhance yield prospects for short rains crop production, National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) sentinel site data and key informants reported that dry conditions persisted in October in many pastoral areas. In marginal agricultural areas, the failed 2019 long rains led to widespread crop failure. However, the latter half of the unimodal long rains season led to strong crop recovery in high and medium potential agricultural areas. The subsequent July to September dry season was characterized by above-average land surface temperatures, which accelerated the depletion of forage and water resources and drove poor livestock productivity and atypical livestock migration in pastoral areas. Given the severe impacts of poor livestock and crop production on poor households’ food and income sources, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes have been widespread in Kenya since June. Based on the KFSSG July 2019 Long Rains Food and Nutrition Security Assessment, 3.1 million people were projected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse at the peak of the lean season in October.

Seasonal Progress: Across the country, the onset of the October to December long rains season was early with respect to the seasonal norms. According to preliminary CHIRPS satellite data, cumulative rainfall in the month of October ranged from 200 to 400 percent of average across central and eastern Kenya, with positive anomalies in excess of 100 millimeters. Lower positive anomalies were observed in the far west, but rainfall is generally near average in Turkana and the southwest. As well reported by NDMA, the Kenya Red Cross, and other humanitarian actors, the heavy rains have caused damage to infrastructure such as water boreholes, rendered some major roads impassable, closed schools, and caused loss of livestock and inundated farmland. The floods have further left these areas at a high risk of vector-borne and waterborne diseases, such as malaria, diarrhea and cholera, as a result of stagnant water, destroyed water infrastructure, and contaminated water sources.

Crop Production: Although localized inundation of farmland has been reported, with damage to crops mostly occurring in riverine areas, the rainfall has been largely favorable to short rains crop cultivation in marginal agricultural areas. Crops are generally in the germination stages. Ongoing land preparation and planting activities are providing significant on-farm labor income for poor households, equivalent to an estimated 50 percent of monthly income. There are early indications that area planted is above normal, driven in part by county government interventions to use tractors to quickly open up agricultural land for planting. Meanwhile, harvesting of long rains crops is ongoing in high and medium production areas in the Rift Valley and western Kenya. Field reports indicate total maize production prospects have significantly improved compared to mid-season assessments. In low-lying areas, harvesting is near completion, while in higher altitude areas, harvesting began in late October and will continue through December. The effects of the fall armyworm (FAW) were ultimately minimal, given that farmers’ use of integrated pest management combined with heavy rainfall from April onward. Early revisions to previous estimates by county agricultural departments indicate that unimodal maize production is average to slightly above average (0-5 percent). At the same time, the October to December second season bean crop is being planted in high altitude areas, with some earlier-planted crops developing in the vegetative stages. Good conditions have so far been observed.

Rangeland and water resource availability: In September through mid-October, satellite-derived data and field reports indicated that the impact of dry conditions and above-average land surface temperatures continued to maintain below-normal water and forage resources in most eastern pastoral areas, where pasture and browse ranged from poor to very poor. However, conditions in Marsabit and Turkana are slightly better off, where field reports indicate pasture conditions are poor but browse is fair. In Samburu and West Pokot, consistent rainfall drove significant improvements in forage and water resources, resulting in fair to good pasture and browse resources. At the end of October, vegetation conditions as measured by the eMODIS Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) were indicative of a gradually improving situation (Figure 2).

In September, water access for domestic use indicated by return trekking distances to water sources was mostly above average across pastoral areas, ranging from 6-8 kilometers (km) compared to the three-year average of 4.1-7.6 km, with Mandera recording the longest distances at more than 10 km. In Turkana, West Pokot, and Isiolo, however, trekking distances were below average due to recent rainfall, ranging from 2.3-4.7 km compared to the average of 2.5-7.6 km. Livestock return trekking distances from grazing areas to water sources were similarly above average in most areas, ranging from 8.5-28.8 km compared to 8.2-22 km due to the drying up of water sources and breakdown of boreholes. In West Pokot, however, the distance remained below average at 2.3 kilometers compared to the 2.5 km average.

Livestock production: Despite the reprieve brought by heavy rainfall, there is typically a lag in the impact of rain on vegetation conditions and, consequently, livestock body conditions. Livestock births and seasonal increases in milk production typically do not occur until November. According to NDMA sentinel site data collected at the end of September, livestock body conditions were poor in Mandera and Garissa and ranged from fair to poor in Wajir, Isiolo, and Marsabit. In Samburu and Turkana, where June to September rainfall was above-normal, livestock body conditions are fair to good. The best livestock conditions were observed in West Pokot, where all species were in good condition. With the exception of West Pokot, where milk production is slightly above average, milk production at the household level was generally below average, ranging from 0.8-1.3 liters per household per day. The lowest level of production was observed in Mandera, where production was negligible compared to an average of 1.0-2.7 liters per day.

Due to below-average rangeland resource and water availability, atypical migration patterns persisted in September in marginal agricultural and pastoral areas. For example, significant in-migration was reported from Narok, Nakuru and Kiambu counties into Kajiado and from Kitui and Kilifi counties into Tana River county. In another example, in-migration occurred from Ethiopia to Mandera, while livestock out-migrated from Wajir to Marsabit and Isiolo counties. As a result of atypical migration, localized conflict events occurred over access to grazing rights, leading to the death of at least one person in Endau and displacement of about 200 households in Kitui East and Kitui South sub counties. Despite long trekking distances, atypical migration, and below-average livestock body conditions in most pastoral areas, there have been no significant livestock disease outbreaks. In Samburu, a quarantine imposed in July due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) was lifted in September.

Markets and trade: Given structurally deficit national cereal production, Kenya imported about 134,050 metric tons (MT) from July to September, equivalent to 70 percent of the total amount of maize traded within the East African region, primarily sourced from Uganda. Similarly, Kenya imported about 69,000 MT of dry beans, which was 75 percent of the total amount of dry beans traded in the region, primarily sourced from Tanzania. Despite the high level of imports, staple food prices generally remained above average in September, with few exceptions. Maize prices in the urban reference markets of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret ranged from 14 to 38 percent above the five-year average. Similarly, dry bean prices were generally 30-38 percent above average, though less significant price increases are observed in Eldoret where prices are 13 percent above average, due to relatively better local stocks. In marginal agricultural reference markets, maize prices remained significantly high, not only due to demand for consumption but also for maize seed for planting. Prices ranged from 12 to 31 percent above average, with the highest prices observed in Tharaka Nithi and Embu, where prices were 35 and 56 percent above average, respectively. Dry beans prices ranged more widely from 9 to 38 percent above average, though average prices were observed in Kitui and Makueni given higher availability of substitutes like cowpeas and green grams. In pastoral reference markets, maize prices ranged from below-average in Turkana, to average in Samburu and Marsabit, to 7-24 above average in other county reference markets. It is fairly typical for price trends in pastoral areas to be more varied compared to the rest of the country, due to the proximity of northwestern and northern pastoral markets to source markets in Ethiopia, Uganda, and central Kenya and the remoteness of eastern pastoral markets from marginal agricultural source markets. In the marginal agricultural areas of Kwale and Tharaka Nithi (Tharaka), high maize trends have driven the casual labor wage-to-maize terms of trade to 23-25 percent below the five-year average.

Livestock prices in main rural reference markets are varied, driven by different trends in supply and body condition. In September, the price of a local goat was near average but declining in Samburu and Marsabit, and nine percent above average and rising in West Pokot. In Garissa, the goat price was 34 percent below the five-year average, due to a convergence of livestock from eastern Kenya and Somalia to the local market that has resulted in oversupply. Across remaining pastoral markets, the goat price was 9-20 percent below average but stable compared to August, driven by poor livestock body conditions. Given the prevailing goat price and generally high maize prices, the goat-to-maize terms of trade varied from near average in Samburu, Marsabit, and Turkana to 12-20 below average in West Pokot, Wajir, and Isiolo. The lowest terms of trade were observed in Mandera and Garissa at 37-43 percent below average.

Food assistance: In October, the Kenya National Government air-lifted emergency relief food to flood-affected households in Wajir and Mandera who were inaccessible by road. Collectively, the World Food Programme (WFP) has also provided 5,357 metric tons of food assistance and 2.9 million USD in the form of cash transfers, reaching 616,000 beneficiaries across the country. WFP further provided in-kind food assistance to approximately 260,000 beneficiaries as well as supplementary feeding to health centers for approximately 57,319 beneficiaries in Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, Garissa and Tana River. NDMA’s interannual Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP), funded by DFID, continues to reach about 100,000 households (600,000 beneficiaries) bi-monthly in Mandera, Turkana, Marsabit, and Wajir counties. Further, emergency scale up of HSNP has provided KES 2,700 per month to about 27,000 households (162,000 beneficiaries) from January to September. Other forms of assistance include monthly food distributions from the national government to vulnerable households via the County Commissioner offices at the county level. Emergency and interannual food sources have likely mitigated larger food gaps for vulnerable households.