Drought Raises Food Insecurity in East Africa
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Widespread drought is driving high food insecurity in several parts of East Africa, including central and southern Somalia, southeastern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, northern and eastern Tanzania, and southeastern Uganda. According to a special report released by FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), these areas received less than one-quarter of their normal rainfall from October to December. This low precipitation has driven the price of cereals and livestock products up sharply, while forcing livestock prices down for pastoralist households; this is constraining many households’ ability to afford food. As a result, many households will enter the lean season much earlier than usual.

In several areas of Ethiopia, recent rainfall has been up to 50 percent below average; in the southern Somali region, rains failed completely in October and November, with virtually no precipitation. Crop and livestock conditions have both suffered as a result of this dry weather, challenging food availability and access, as well as pastoralist households’ purchasing power. The report provides an example from the Gode market, where the goat-to-maize terms of trade were 44 percent lower in October 2016 than the average of the previous five years. Households are expected to face continued food insecurity until March 2017, when the next rainy season begins.

In southeastern Kenya, cumulative precipitation from October to December was between 30 and 55 percent lower than average; precipitation was even lower in the coastal areas of the country, which saw rainfall up to 90 percent below average. In the northeastern and eastern pastoral areas, rainfall was 45-75 percent lower than normal. Below-average precipitation has led to severe deterioration of both crop and pasture conditions, which has had a severe negative impact on livestock conditions and milk production. Increased staple food prices and decreased livestock prices are putting pressure on pastoralist households, reducing their food access and purchasing power.

Tanzania has seen significantly increased maize prices in recent months as a result of reduced output earlier in the year and anticipated poor production for early 2017. In November, maize prices in the northeastern Arusha market were 26 percent higher than prices in November 2015. GIEWS reports that in the northern areas of the country, cumulative rainfall from October to December was 30-50 percent lower than average; in the eastern and coastal areas, precipitation was as much as 80 percent lower than average. As a result of this widespread dryness, planting and harvests have been delayed and crop conditions and production prospects throughout the country are poor.  There is a strong likelihood of a second consecutive reduced harvest in early 2017.

Southeastern Uganda has experienced rainfall up to 40 percent below average in recent months, leading to poor crop establishment and development. Maize prices rose dramatically in November due to a combination of seasonal patterns, poor prospects for the second season harvest, and strong export demand from neighboring countries. In Kampala and Lira (a major northern maize-producing region), maize prices rose by about 20 percent while in Busia (a major trade hub with Kenya), prices rose by 12 percent. GIEWS reports that in all monitored markets in the country, November maize prices were at record levels.  

In many countries, the current dry spell has been compounded by the El Niño-induced drought seen in 2015 and early 2016, reducing many households’ resilience to current poor production prospects and high prices. The report calls for urgent increased support for the agricultural sector to help reduce food insecurity throughout the region.

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Brendan Cox / Oxfam