Blog Post

Climate and Economic Shocks Threaten Food Security in Horn of Africa

Since October 2020, the eastern Horn of Africa has experienced persistent extreme drought, According to a recent report released by FEWS Net. Extremely dry weather in October-December 2020, March-May 2021, and October-December 2021 has resulted in significantly reduced agricultural and livestock production. For example, in Somalia, the 2021 “Deyr” cereal harvest is expected to be as much as 70 percent below the 10-year average. The region has not experienced three consecutive dry seasons since the 1980s, and the trend has put food security at serious risk.

The impacts of the drought conditions have been further complicated by the lingering effects of flooding and locust infestations in 2019 and the economic effects of COVID-19. In southern and eastern Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, food security was at IPC Phase 3 (Crisis) and Phase 4 (Emergency) levels throughout 2021. These levels are expected to continue throughout 2022, especially if low rainfall patterns continue through the March-May season.

As food production has fallen and economic challenges have increased, food prices have soared across the region. In some areas of Somalia, food price increases have been larger than those seen during the 2008 global food price crisis and those seen during the country’s 2011 and 2017 droughts. The rise in food prices has been exacerbated by rising fuel prices, high inflation, and depreciation of local currencies.

Poor households are particularly at risk of severe food insecurity due to skyrocketing food prices, falling farm incomes, lack of off-farm employment, and reduced food access and availability. Pastoralist households are even more at risk due to significant declines in livestock-to-cereal terms of trade. In Kenya, the price livestock producers received for their animals in 2021 fell by as much as 30 percent from 2020. At the same time, cereal prices in the country were as much as 70 percent higher. This sharp decline in pastoralists’ purchasing power has left many households struggling to maintain even basic food security.

The report cites climate change, seasonal La Niña weather patterns, and the stresses of rapid population growth on water and land resources as the major drivers of the dry conditions in the region. Climate change has made drought conditions during La Niña seasons more likely, and current forecasts suggest that such a season will be seen in March-May of this year. The report suggests that even if rainfall is normal during these months, the impact of three seasons of drought will linger through the remainder of 2022.

Increased humanitarian response is needed to prevent food crisis in the region, according to FEWS Net. This should include cash transfer programs, nutrition assistance, livelihood protection programs, and water provision. However, as extreme weather events like drought become more frequent in the region due to climate change, countries also need to increase the resilience of their agri-food systems. Early warning and early action monitoring systems need to be scaled up, as do investments in climate change adaptation and sustainable food systems. These efforts will require more long-term investments than immediate humanitarian aid.