More than one million people in Kenya continue to require food assistance after a prolonged drought. Failure of rains during the 1996/97 short rains crop season seriously depleted stocks of the main staple maize and other foodcrops and sent food prices spiralling out of reach of the population's poorer segments, according to an FAO Special Report released at the end of May.
Relief is in sight, however. Abundant rains in late March and April have resulted in favourable early prospects for the 1997 main long rains cereal crop, to be harvested from October in the main growing areas. Providing good weather continues throughout the growing season, yields and production should increase substantially over last year's levels because of greater use of agricultural inputs, such as improved seed and fertilizer. Despite skyrocketing prices of maize, the prices of inputs have remained stable, and even decreased in some regions.
Prices soar as stocks dwindle
At the end of April, the price of maize in the Nairobi market had risen to more than twice the level a year ago while bean prices had tripled. The higher rise in bean prices also reflects very limited imports because of poor 1997 short rains crops in neighbouring countries, said the report, prepared by FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS). The increase in food prices is well above the general inflation figures in the country, estimated at 9 percent in 1996 and projected at 15 percent for 1997.
Total 1996/97 maize output, estimated at 2.16 million tonnes, is down 20 percent from last year's normal volume. Official estimates put 1996 long rains maize production at just over 2 million tonnes, but short rains crop production was forecast at only 90 000 tonnes, less than one-quarter of an earlier end-1996 assessment. Stocks of maize held by the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) had fallen to 72 000 tonnes by the end of April, well below the target of 270 000 tonnes set for the Strategic Grain Reserve. The drawdown of NCPB stocks reflects large distributions of relief food to drought-affected areas.
Domestic availability of maize in 1996/97 will fall short of expected requirements by 721 000 tonnes as a result of dangerously low stock levels and poor production outputs. To cover part of this deficit, the government plans to import up to 180 000 tonnes of maize for its relief distribution programme. International food aid agencies will provide 38 000 tonnes and the rest will be covered by commercial imports. Following the declaration of a food emergency in February 1997, the government has authorized duty-free imports of maize until the end of June, up to a maximum of 360 000 tonnes.
Food aid to continue in pastoral areas
Despite the recent rains and improved crop prospects, food aid distribution programmes will continue in 40 districts of the hardest-hit pastoral and marginal agricultural areas of the country. After abundant April rains in pastoral areas of the east and northeast, pastoralists who moved in search of food and water are reported to be returning to their homelands. But depleted grain reserves and resources and high food prices mean that the pastoral population will remain dependent on food aid for the coming months.
In the marginal agricultural districts of the Eastern, Central and Coastal Provinces, where the short rains crop failed for the third consecutive year, the food situation is anticipated to remain tight until the next harvest from July.
9 June 997
GIEWS Special Report