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GIEWS Update-detail
FAO/GIEWS Global Watch

28 January 2009

Update on the current Kenya Food Security Situation

This brief has been prepared by the FAO Regional Emergency Office for Africa in cooperation with the FAO Office in Kenya

Kenya is currently facing a serious food security situation due to a combination of factors: Displacement, insecurity, poor rainfall, rising food and other commodity prices, reduced cereal production and livestock diseases; these have combined to increase food insecurity among many vulnerable populations, including pastoralists in arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) of northern Kenya, vulnerable population in Eastern Kenya and coastal lowland areas, as well as amongst the urban poor.

Following the post election violence that hit the Rift Valley in January-February 2008, displaced farmers have seen their access to land dramatically reduced; high input prices (in particular fertiliser and fuel) have forced low income farmers to reduce the surface under cultivation and the use of inputs; erratic rainfall has reduced maize yields in eastern and northern Kenya. All the above has contributed to a marked decline of maize production during the 2008/09 farming season. Current estimates, taking in full consideration the results of the “short rain” planting season, are now pointing towards an overall output of 2.16 million tons instead of the 2.6 million tons initially anticipated. Considering current levels of consumption and draw down from stocks (largely in the hands of private traders), an overall deficit of some 190,000 Mt is expected and current stocks should last until May, well before the onset of the new harvest in the middle of July 2009.

At the same time, the Strategic Grain Reserve (SGR) cannot play its institutional role injecting grains in the market as stock was drawn down during the summer in anticipation of a good long rains harvest. However, the season was mediocre and the remaining SGR stock was released on to the market in October-November in a bid to moderate the sharply rising prices. Due to the limited quantities injected and mismanagement of the operation, no positive effects were observed.

The shortfall of maize combined with very high prices prevailing in the international markets in the first half of the year have pushed the internal price of maize to a very high level, thereby reducing access to food by the most vulnerable section of the population. At the end of 2008, the retail price of maize flour (staple food) was Ksh. 60/Kg or some 50% higher than in the same period last year. Wholesale maize prices equally went up some 50% from Ksh. 1,350 to Ksh. 2,100-2200.

At the end of November, the Government of Kenya took the following measures in order to reduce the market price:

  • Reducing Maize flour price from Ksh.60/Kg to Ksh.36/Kg for middle income citizens and Ksh. 26 for the most vulnerable.
  • The National Cereals and Produce Board has been ordered to release at least 27,000 Mt of maize grains to the millers for processing with immediate effect.
  • The Government has increased the Cereal Board of Kenya’s (CBK) buying price to Ksh.1,950 per bag from Ksh.1,750 in order to encourage farmers to sell their maize. Under this arrangement the National Corn Producer Board (NCPB) would buy maize directly from the farmers at Ksh. 1,950 per bag (USD 277/MT) and re-sell the same to the millers at Ksh. 1750/bag (USD 250/MT).
  • With the anticipation of a good harvest, importation has been put on hold until after the short rains harvest was finalized.

These measures have not had any significant impact on the retail price of maize flour, which continues to remain very high. Only reduced quantities of maize were commercially imported from Tanzania and Uganda (on average 15,000 Mt/month). It is to be noted that Tanzania has still a ban on maize export and prices in Uganda and Tanzania are very close to the ones recorded in Kenya.

The situation is further complicated by reported poor handling of the Strategic Grain Reserve, of market interventions and decisions on imports. Several sources are also suggesting that big producers and traders are holding on to their stocks in order to create an artificial dearth of maize on the market and keep prices at a high level.

At the beginning of January 2009, the President of Kenya declared the food shortage a national disaster. As a short term measure, the Government has approved the importation of 900,000 MT (10 million 90kg bags) duty free maize grains into the country in order to boost supply. This will be done by both the Government and the private sector. The Government will import seven million bags (630,000 Mt) for its strategic grain reserves, while the millers and traders will import three million bags (270,000 Mt). In addition and in order to keep the local domestic production within the country, exports of maize grain and flour have been banned. It is not expected that new imports of Maize will reach the country before February/March 2009.

For the time being, the Government has indicated that 10 million persons are highly food insecure. This number includes a provisional estimate: (i) of 3.2 million drought affected marginal farmers, agro pastoralists, and pastoralists in the arid and semi arid districts of northern and eastern Kenya; (ii) about 150,000 IDPs; (iii) 850,000 school children that will be incorporated into an emergency school feeding programme; (iv) 3.5 million urban slum dwellers, and (v) about 2.2 million persons affected by HIV/AIDS, including HIV orphans. These numbers need to be verified, therefore, it is still early to make a final judgement and a much better picture will be provided by an interagency assessment planned to start at the end of January 2009.

Kenya’s difficult situation was anticipated by the Emergency Humanitarian Response Plan (EHRP) issued in November 2008. Among other needs, EHRP appealed for US$ 173 million of food aid for 1.3 million people and US$ 17 million for livelihood support interventions. Nevertheless, these figures were based on the initial more optimistic estimate of a national production of some 2.7 million MT. The appeal is currently under revision and the forthcoming assessment will provide essential information in terms of updated figures on population in need of assistance.