Kenya Food Security Report, April 2004

GoK and donors respond to high food insecurity in Turkana and Marsabit.

Close to one million now considered moderately to highly food insecure.

Rains resume after a tentative start to the critical 2004 long-rains season.

Crop forecast based on the WRSI predicts substantial regional disparities.

Maize prices temporarily stabilize as the short rains harvest is completed.

WFP reports that refugees will face a food shortage unless new donations are made.

1.0 High rates of child malnutrition found in Turkana and Marsabit Districts

An estimated 184,000 persons are currently highly food insecure in Turkana and Marsabit Districts according to food security and nutritional assessments co-ordinated by UNICEF and carried out by the Ministry of Health (MoH), OXFAM/GB, World Vision and the Christian Children Fund in March. In most of the assessed areas, Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates have exceeded the World Health Organization's 'critical' threshold of 15 percent. A summary of the nutritional assessment results is provided in Figure 1.

The alarming food security situation in these districts is the result of a combination of factors, including: of a series of successive droughts from 1996 -- 2000; the current drought; and civil insecurity, particularly in southern Turkana. Over the years, the significant reduction of herds along with high cereal prices (due to low local and national supplies) have increased pastoralists vulnerability to shocks to the point that one poor season is sufficient to precipitate a food crisis.

The Kenya Food Security Steering Group (KFSSG) has recommended the immediate distribution of 1,268 MT of food to 183,776 persons in Turkana and Marsabit Districts for the next three months, together with supplementary and therapeutic feeding interventions for malnourished children. While these immediate emergency responses are essential, they need to be complemented with appropriate long-term multi-sectoral programs designed to address the chronic food insecurity in these districts.

The results of the short rains assessments, (detailed in the Kenya Food Security Update -- March 5, 2004) which were carried out in selected areas outside Turkana and Marsabit Districts, reveal that an additional 899,025 persons are considered moderately food insecure in the pastoral West Pokot, Isiolo, Baringo, Koibatek, Kajiado and Narok Districts and in the marginal agricultural Machakos, Nyeri, Kilifi, Malindi, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Kitui, Makueni and Bomet Districts. This brings the total number of food insecure people to 1,082,801. Unlike in Marsabit and Turkana, food distributions will take the form of Food for Work or Seed for Work programs rather than general food relief. An estimated 30,000 MT of food will be distributed to both the highly and moderately food insecure groups during the next four months.

2.0 Rains resume after tentative start to the 2004 long-rains season

The much awaited 2004 long-rains season resumed during the last week of March. The rains, which started earlier than usual, in the first week of March, were followed by a three week hiatus that caused significant concern among farmers in the early cropping areas of southwestern Kenya. The resumption of rains in late March has brought heavy and widespread precipitation across the country, including the drought-affected northwestern pastoral areas, but excluding the eastern pastoral areas.

The last dekad of March showed mixed vegetation conditions, with poor vegetation cover in southwestern Kenya, consistent with the delayed start to the short-rains in these key growing areas. In addition, the marginal agricultural areas of southeastern Kenya, where the short-rains season was exceptionally poor, have reported poor vegetation conditions.

3.0 MoA crop forecast predicts higher than average national production

Harvesting of the short-rains season maize crop has been completed in all areas. The national short-rains maize production, at 360,000 MT, is slightly below normal, attributed to poor short rains in southeastern and coastal areas.

Nearly 80 percent of the land preparation for the 2004 long-rains season has been completed. Only 20 percent of the land has been prepared in the Coast Province, due in part to the absence of significant rains, and in part to the reduced purchasing capacities of drought-affected households, who have been forced to reduce expenditures on production inputs. In the early growing areas of the South Rift, Nyanza and Western Provinces, the rapid planting reported last month has slowed down considerably due to the three-week rainfall hiatus referred to above. Since then, nearly 50 percent of the early-planted crop wilted or failed to germinate. Overall, 600,000 hectares have already been planted with maize, representing 50 percent of expected total hectarage.

As reported last month, climate scientists developed a climate outlook in February for the Greater Horn of Africa for the March -- May 2004 period. Figure 2, which provides the results of an analysis that translated this outlook into possible crop performance, shows that crop prospects for the important 2004 long-rains season vary widely. Crop output is expected to be normal to above normal in the key growing areas to the west of the country, extending to some central highland areas. In contrast, maize production is expected to be poor in the marginal agricultural areas of Eastern and Coast Provinces, areas that suffered from poor 2003 seasons as well.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Agriculture anticipates a 2004 long-rains harvest of 2.28 million MT of maize (13 percent higher than the 1993-2003 average long-rains output). Current optimism is based on the coupling of favorable post-harvest producer prices with a generally favorable rainfall forecast in key areas. Although above normal maize production in key areas is expected to compensate for the projected poor production in the marginal areas, the absence of adequate fertilizer and seed may be a limiting factor. Preliminary estimates by the MoA also suggest that 432,000 hectares will be planted to beans with 205,000 MT harvested. Projected output is consistent with the 5-year average long-rains output.

4.0 Maize prices temporarily stabilize as the short rains harvest is completed

Maize prices stabilized in March, following the completion of the 2003/04 short-rains harvest. The principal short rains areas in Eastern and Central Provinces are situated close to major deficit markets which should help to moderate the sustained upward pressure on prices in these areas. Nevertheless, this stabilizing effect is expected to be short-lived, since a 90,000 MT deficit is projected to set in toward the end of the July 2003-June 2004 marketing period. Maize prices in the 'grain-basket' districts have also stabilized during March as producers begin to release part of their household reserves in order to finance purchases of production inputs.

Figure 3 illustrates the maize price trend in Eldoret market, which lies at the heart of the grain-basket area. Average prices in Eldoret market are fairly stable since the market is readily supplied by local on-farm surpluses throughout the year. Nevertheless, as shown in this figure, current maize prices are above normal levels and are likely to remain so at least until August, when the long-rains harvest begins.

The NCPB is holding 135,000 MT of maize, with 72,000 MT set aside for the GoK's famine relief efforts and 63,000 MT for the strategic grain reserve. The absence of commercial stocks at the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) is a major concern to millers; as a result they have requested that duties on maize imports be waived. Already millers have increased the price of a 2-kg packet of maize meal from the normal Ksh. `38 to Ksh. 55, and the price of wheat flour from Ksh. 64 to Ksh. 86. Urban consumers are facing increasingly unaffordable prices for basic food commodities.

5.0 WFP anticipates a pipeline shortfall in July in the absence of new food donations

The World Food Program has reported that the food pipeline for refugees is adequate only until July 2004, thanks to recent donor contributions from the US, Finland and Japan. However, 2004 donor contributions are significantly less than 2003 contributions, and food shortages are expected in the second half of 2004. July to December 2004 food aid requirements are 18,000 MT, or the equivalent of $US 10 million. WFP will be forced to reduce its food rations to an estimated 220,000 refugees if new contributions are not received soon, leading to a deterioration in refugee food security and likely increases in the rates of child malnutrition.

6.0 Conclusion: Food security situation varies depending on livelihood zone

While household food security is generally good in the high potential areas of the Rift Valley, Central, Western and Nyanza Provinces, the opposite is true among the northwestern pastoral and southeastern marginal agricultural households, where conditions are worsening. Worst-affected are the pastoralists in Turkana and Marsabit Districts, where exceptionally high rates of child malnutrition underline deepening chronic food insecurity.