Kenya's Grain Basket Experiences Drought and Lowers "Long Rains" Corn Output

USDA's November forecast for Kenya's 2009/10 corn production is 1.8 million tons, down 0.3 million tons from last year's poor crop and below the 5-year average of 2.6 million tons. Rainfall during Kenya's 2009 "long rains" season from March-November was below average, with a large portion of the Kenya's grain basket in the northern Rift Valley province experiencing the worse drought in the past 9-years. Area is estimated at 1.6 million hectares, or near the 5-year average of 1.7 million hectares. The forecast yield is 1.13 tons per hectare, below last year's poor yield of 1.28 tons per hectare and below the 5-year average of 1.5. The current 2009/10 corn production forecast for Kenya will be adjusted early next year, after the harvest for the "short rains" season from October-February is completed in February, 2010.

USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) conducted a brief crop assessment survey from October 21-24, 2009 in the northern Rift Valley, Nyanza, and Western provinces. The crop assessment route transected Kenya's grain basket, or the former "Big Seven" districts that comprise nearly 50 percent of Kenya's total long rains production. The route for the crop assessment survey is shown in Figures 1 and 2. Three provincial Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) offices in Rift Valley, Western, and Nyanza provinces were also visited, data collected and interviews conducted with the MoA crop statistics officers.

Figure 1. Kenya's Grain Basket

Figure 2. 2009 Crop Assessment Route in Kenya's Grain Basket

During the past two years, new districts have been created in Kenya at an unprecedented pace (largely due to political reasons) so that the total number of Kenya districts more than tripled from 71 districts in 2007 to 256 districts in 2009. In addition, many of these new districts have not yet been properly defined or delineated which has caused problems in compiling crop statistics at district and provincial levels due to the lack of historical baseline crop statistics data for the new districts. Also, many new MoA personnel positions were created for the new districts and MOA employees were reshuffled to different districts, as well as given new job promotions during the past year. For example, most the MoA crop statistics officers interviewed last month during the crop assessment had just arrived at their new provincial and district offices and this growing season was their first crop season for compiling crop statistics in their new location. Therefore, the crop statistics data quality for Kenya during the 2008 and 2009 growing seasons are subject to larger margins of error than in the past due to lack of historical baseline data for the new districts and major reshuffling of the MoA staff during the past two years.

Seasonal Vegetation Conditions Summary

Figure 3 shows that Kenya's 2009 seasonal "long rains" were well below-average and much lower than 2008 when the seasonal "long rains" were also below-average.

Figure 3. Seasonal Rainfall in Kenya for 2008 and 2009 Growing Seasons

Figure 3. Seasonal Rainfall in Kenya for 2008 and 2009 Growing Seasons

The Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) is a useful index that measures the relative vegetation vigor or "greenness", and it tends to correlate fairly well with relative grain yields for most agro-climates in Kenya. The historical NDVI data set from 2000 through present is available from the USDA/NASA Global Agricultural Monitoring (GLAM) project, where NDVI is measured by the the MODIS sensor onboard the Terra and Aqua satellites. Figure 4 is the MODIS-NDVI anomaly image (with 250-meter spatial resolution) from the USDA/NASA GLAM web site and it compares the 2009 NDVI vegetation greenness with the historical NDVI 9-year average. Figure 4 indicates 2009 vegetation vigor in Kenya is below-average due to lack of rainfall while the epicenter of Kenya's 2009 drought occurred within Kenya's grain basket. This severe drought in Kenya's grain basket is expected to reduce Kenya's 2009 "long rains" corn yields and output to possibly the lowest levels in the past decade.

Figure 4. Epicenter of Kenya's 2009 Drought Occurred in Kenya's Grains Basket

Figure 4. Epicenter of Kenya's 2009 Drought Occurred in Kenya's Grains Basket

Kenya is divided into eight provinces and provincial boundaries have not changed for the past several decades. The USDA/FAS, therefore, performs historical MODIS-NDVI time series analysis at the provincial level because the provincial boundaries and the MoA provincial crop statistics have remained the same.

The cropland MODIS-NDVI time series graphs for Kenya's four major corn producing provinces are shown in Figures 5 and 6, where only cropland pixels are utilized to monitor the change of vegetation greenness over Kenya's croplands. The NDVI-MODIS time series graphs in Figure 5 indicates vegetation greenness is less than last year's poor crop and the nine-year average in all four major corn producing provinces within Kenya. Figure 6 also indicates the MODIS-NDVI or vegetation vigor in 2009 is at the lowest level in the past 9-years for Kenya's northern Rift Valley province, and the MODIS-NDVI profile in Rift Valley province is especially low during the grain-filling period from August-October. Correspondingly, corn yields and "long rains" corn production for Kenya is expected to be the lowest in the past 9-years, especially since harvested corn area in Kenya has not changed much during the past several decades.

Figure 5. 2009 MODIS-NDVI Time Series Compared to Previous Year and 9-year Average

Figure 6. 2009 MODIS-NDVI Time Series Compared to All Years

Kenya's Seed Input Program

Several international donors during 2009 reportedly donated towards the Kenya's National Accelerated Agricultural Inputs Access Program (NAAIAP) targeted to assist approximately 100,000 small-scale farmers who own 1-hectare of land. Seed/fertilizer input programs are becoming more common these days as a way to help boost national grain production, build local farming capacities, test hybrid seed varieties and improve local farming practices.

The typical farmers targeted in Kenya's seed/fertilizer input programs are small-scale farmers with 1-hectare of land. Approximately US $100 of seed inputs and fertilizers were given to each farmer who may produce nearly US $400 worth of grain (assuming a yield of approximately 3 tons per hectare is achieved). The seed/fertilizer input approach (i.e., $100 of inputs) can be more cost effective than direct food aid assistance (i.e., $400 of grain), provided normal rainfall is received and drought does not destroy the crop. However, seed/fertilizer input programs should also be invested in suitable ago-climatic zones where yields of approximately 3 tons per hectare are feasible with average seasonal rainfall.

For Kenya's NAAIAP program, the seed/fertilizer inputs of US $100 includes 10-kg of hybrid seed, 50-kg of basal fertilizer such as Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP), and 50-kg top-dressing such as Calcium Ammonium Nitrate (CAN). In 2009, farmers in Kenya with 1-hectare of land were assisted with $100 of seed/fertilizer inputs by the following programs:

Kenya's National Accelerated Agricultural Inputs Access Program (NAAIAP) assisted 37,000 farmers.

World Bank assisted approximately 50,000 farmers through the Global Food Crisis Response Program (GFRP) and financed with a US $5 million grant from the Food Price Crisis Response Trust Fund (FPCR TF). Approximately, 50,000 farmers or 8000 farmers per district for the 6 districts of (or formerly the Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu districts within Northern Rift Valley province).

Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) assisted 6000 farmers through its Initiative of Soaring Food Prices (ISFP).

European Union's (EU) Food Facility through the Food Crisis Rapid Response Facility Trust Fund that donated 25 million Euros for seed bulking and multiplication.

Kenya's 2009/2010 Corn Production Summary

Last year, Kenya's corn production was below-average due to below-average rains, high input costs and post-election violence (PEV). Unfortunately, this year's corn production forecast for Kenya is lower than last year's poor crop due to a severe drought countrywide during the "long rains" season, with the epicenter of the drought occurring in Kenya's grain basket. USDA's 2009/2010 corn production estimate for Kenya is currently at 1.8 million tons, with the "long rains" output estimated at 1.5 million tons and the "short rains" season (October-February) forecast at the 5-year average of 0.3 million tons.

In August 2009, Kenya's MoA estimated the "long rains" corn production at 1.84 million tons but this old estimate was before the poor August-October rainfall reduced crop prospects in October. In addition, the most severe drought conditions during 2009 appeared in Kenya's northern Rift Valley province or major grain basket. USDA's 2009 "long rains" production estimate is therefore 1.5 million tons, or 300,000 tons below the MoA's "long rains" estimate made in August 2009. The USDA plans to revise Kenya's total 2009/10 corn production estimate next year, shortly after the "short rains" harvest is completed in February 2010.

Figure 7. Corn Drying in the Fields near Kitale, Kenya

Figure 7. Corn Drying in the Fields near Kitale, Kenya


Crop assessment travel in Kenya was made possible by a Participating Agency Service Agreement (PASA) between USDA/FAS and USAID's FEWS NET project. Special thanks are extended to USDA/FAS-Nairobi office, FEWS NET (Chemonics)-Nairobi and FEWS NET (Chemonics) Washington DC offices for their cooperation and technical support.