Blog Post

Food Insecurity in East Africa

East Africa facing acute food insecurity as drought continues, alerts FEWS and FAO

The East African region - including Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda - is facing severe food shortage, hunger and loss of crops as well as livestock, alerts FEWS. Rainfall this year has been 50 percent less than average across the Horn of Africa, making the season among the top three driest on record in southern and eastern Kenya, southern Somalia, and central-northern Uganda. Lack of water has made recovery from the 2016-17 drought difficult for agrarian and poor households and added to substantial crop and food loss, increased food prices, poor livestock conditions, and dearth of milk supplies. May-June rains are forecast to marginally alleviate the situation and food policy outcomes, but the population in crisis will continue to increase, according to the report.

The humanitarian impact of the drought is far more than anticipated as over 2 million Somalis face severe hunger reports FAO. Agricultural conditions continue to worsen in Somalia and extended drought has affected between 45 and more than 85 percent of cropland. The main maize production area and the “cowpea belt” is expected to fail if dryness persists. The rain deficits also severely affected crop planting, germination, and overall vegetation conditions in Kenya. With rainfall 40-80 percent below average levels, Kenya’s critical southwestern “maize basket” will rely on the rainy season, which extends until August, for crop recovery. In Ethiopia, poor precipitation delayed planting and affected crop germination of the “belg crops”; in addition, the “deyr” season of October-December 2018 almost completely failed, and the region saw pasture deteriorations in the January-February 2019 “jilaal” season.

Seasonal rains in Uganda have so far been very poor as well in 2019. Cumulative precipitation levels between March and mid-April were 25-85 percent below average in various areas of the country. Like Kenya and Ethiopia, planting and crop germination also stands delayed in Uganda. According to FAO's Agricultural Stress Index System, 55 percent and 70 percent of croplands in the northern, and southern and central regions, respectively, are affected by severe drought. Due to water shortage and declining productivity, there has also been a 25-35 percent increase in the 2019 prices of maize compared to 2018. In Tanzania, delayed and below-average rain affected the “masika” crops for harvest in July and the 2018-19 “vuli” harvest, as vegetation conditions continue to be poor.

One of the primary reasons for the plight of the East African region is the tropical cyclone Idai, which occurred in March 2019 and redirected precipitation away from the region. The prices of staple crops are increasing throughout East Africa with a decline in the export of local agricultural commodities. The challenges of pasture deterioration, water scarcity, declining livestock productivity and milk production, and reduced household income all link back to rainfall deficits in the region. These challenges are further leading to atypical migration patterns and resource-based competition.

A lot depends on rainfall from May through August this year. In the worst-case scenario of little or no rainfall, there would be a failed agriculture season overall for the East African region, accompanied by deeper crop production deficits, increased livestock deaths, and exacerbated food insecurity levels. FEWS calls for emergency assistance from humanitarian agencies to prevent the impending food security crisis, especially in Somalia where IPC Phase 4 “Emergency” levels are expected to prevail.

Swati Malhotra is Communications Specialist for IFPRI's Markets, Trade and Institutions division.