Drought in Kenya threatens millions with food shortages if import needs are not met, says FAO Special Alert

Prolonged drought in Kenya has worsened an already tight food supply situation. The country will need to import much more foodgrain than previously estimated to feed the hungry, according to an FAO Special Alert released at the end of January.

But Kenya lacks foreign exchange to pay for the increased imports, and with its Strategic Grain Reserve at a minimum level, substantial external assistance is required.

The Government of Kenya estimates that about two million people are currently affected by the drought and that the number may reach three million if the situation persists. It has appealed to the international community for emergency food assistance.

The report, issued by the FAO Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), states that the outlook for the "short rains" crops - mainly maize, millet, sorghum and pulses - has seriously deteriorated due to insufficient rainfall during the growing season. The rains, which normally start in mid-October, came late and became sporadic in most parts of North Eastern, Eastern and Coast Provinces and in the low-altitude areas of Central Province, where widespread crop failures and deteriorating pasture and rangeland conditions are reported. The failure of the short rains follows two consecutive failures of the long rains (March to May) in these same areas. Water scarcity is affecting humans and livestock, and significant losses of livestock have also been reported.

An FAO/World Food Programme Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission to Kenya in October/November 1996 estimated a foodgrain import requirement of 1.1 million tonnes for the 1996/97 marketing year. With the failure of the crop season, a revised import requirement of at least 1.3 million tonnes is now projected. This is almost double the average for the past five years.

Kenya is expected to import 1 million tonnes of this requirement commercially, but because of foreign exchange restraints, meeting the shortfall of 300 000 tonnes will be difficult. At the end of December 1996 total cereal food aid pledges amounted to only 43 000 tonnes. FAO has urged donors to make additional pledges and expedite their delivery as a matter of urgency.

FAO is fielding a follow-up mission to drought-affected areas in Kenya in early spring to tally all returns from the "short rains" crop season and to assess the situation at the beginning of the usually longer and more reliable "long rains" season. A revised estimate of cereal production and food aid needs based on the findings of this mission will be released in early April.

GIEWS Special Alert

  • Kenya (24 January 1997)

Other resources:

25 February 1997

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