Improved food supply expected in EA as experts forecast reliable rains

Saturday January 12 2013

By STEVE MBOGO Special Correspondent

Better rainfall and above average cereals harvests will spare East Africa food-induced inflation in the first half of 2013.

Experts say food security outlook even in the most food insecure countries like Kenya indicate above average supply.

Tanzania and Kenya, however, remain vulnerable especially if rains fail in the next planting season. Elections in Kenya also pose a risk as they could disrupt food distribution system, while returning Burundi refugees from Tanzania may also strain available food supplies.

“Unless there is a catastrophe, Kenya will be food secure throughout the 2013 calendar year,” said Kenya Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Romano Kiome in an interview. He said there is unlikely to be any cereals imports in the rest of the year.

He said the rains have been adequate and they are projected to remain so while strategic food reserves in form of grain and cash to cater for emergency situation are available.

He did not however disclose the amount of grains or money set aside for emergency food response.

Food shortage in Kenya has always been disruptive to the regional food market because of the high demand for imports especially from Tanzania and Uganda.

At some point in 2011, Tanzania banned export of food to the rest of EAC states, Kenya in particular, to caution itself from disruption of its food supply.

Adequate food production in Kenya therefore has a positive effect in the EAC and this will come as a big relief to the governments because of reduced demand for food exports and also eliminates one of the drivers of inflation.

In the periods of 2011 and the better part of 2012, high inflation rates especially in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania that skyrocketed to over 25 per cent were blamed on insufficient food production and the rising cost of oil.

Most recent data indicates that only Tanzania is yet to achieve single digit inflation levels from that recovery with inflation there averaging 12.1 per cent in December compared with Kenya’s 3.2 per cent in the same month, Uganda 5.5 per cent, Rwanda 4.6 per cent and Burundi’s 8.4 per cent according to respective central banks.

Reports from the ministries responsible for agriculture production in EAC and independent regional food monitoring agencies like the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) indicate that there has been good harvest providing a stable food supply in the first quarter of 2013.

“Significant improvements in food security are anticipated through March 2013,” said FEWS in its latest forecast for EAC.

The forecast notes that food insecure population has declined in the eastern Africa region to under 15 million. “It is down from 16 million in August, the result of improved access to food for poor households, declining food prices, improved labour opportunities, and the reduced impacts of conflict.

It is anticipated that numbers could decline further to March or shift to lower food insecurity classifications because both livestock and crop output are anticipated to increase significantly,” the forecast adds.

Regional food security expert and the chairman of the Kenya Small Scale Cereals Growers Association Booker Owour said while the food supply outlook is good, it faces the risk of weather disruption that may affect next food production cycle.

“The region is now moving from a phase of climate variability to climate change and this is likely to affect the rainfall patterns and volume,” he said in an interview.

The rains are not only important to feeding the crops but also a lot of it makes it difficult for traders to move food from food sufficient areas to food insecure areas.

In a FEWS country-to-country forecast, food supply in Rwanda is expected to rain stable with most households being able to meet essential food and non-food needs.

According to Kenya Food Security Steering Group, the country is expected to produce 38 million bags of maize this season, whose harvesting ends this month compared with the average annual consumption of 35 million – 43 million bags.

FEWS notes that while parts of pastoralist areas in Kenya face food insecure situation, improving stocks of livestock and milk will improve their income enabling them to buy maize and rice. 

But heightened insecurity in Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, and Tana River Districts could negate expected improvements, if insecurity reduces access by humanitarian organisations and traders.

A report by Tanzania Food Security and Nutrition Analysis System released in October last year forecasts that some households will have difficulties to access food and seeds for 2012/2013 planting season, and if the rainfall season proves failure, more households are projected to drift to difficulties in accessing food between January and March 2013.

The country has already ordered imports of at least 60,000 tonnes of rice to make up for a shortfall in local harvests.

It is the first time Tanzania is importing rice in five years. FEWS said high staple food prices across the country are limiting food access for market-dependent households.

Prices will likely remain high until end of this month when the harvests are expected. Across the country, all areas are in their lean seasons. As a result, food prices continue to increase as household stocks decrease.
In Uganda, the food security situation remains stable throughout, save for some northern districts and lower-east Karamoja. 

“The harvest was average to above average for most parts of the country. Prices for staple foods have continued to decline since July,” notes FEWS forecast.

In Burundi, diseases that have affected bananas known as Xanthomonas wilt, the cassava mosaic, and cassava brown streak are expected to affect food supply. The country is also facing the challenge of returnees from refugee camp in Tanzania. which closed last year.