Kenya, Uganda facing severe food insecurity: FAO report

Wednesday March 18 2015

Crop failure, natural disasters, interruption of imports, disruption of distribution and excessive post-harvest losses are resulting in a shortfall of food supply. PHOTO | TEA GRAPHIC

Kenya and Uganda are on a list of 29 African countries facing severe food insecurity.

However, unlike other countries, the food insecurity situation in the two East African counties is localised. In other words, it is restricted to specific areas due to various factors including an influx of refugees, a concentration of internally displaced persons, or a combination of crop failure and acute poverty.

The situation in Kenya, which has about 1.5 million people mainly in north-eastern pastoral areas staring at severe malnutrition and possible death, is worse than that in Uganda.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s latest global information and early warning system report blames it on successive seasons of below average rains in arid and semi-arid areas.

“The October to December short-rains season performed poorly, with late onset below average amounts and early cessation by the first dekad (10 days) of December,” says the FAO report.

Apart from northern Kenya, food security is also expected to deteriorate in the south-eastern and Coastal zones since food stocks will only be partially replenished during the current harvests, and households will have to rely more on markets for their food requirements.


As a result of the poor rainfall, the UN body says the aggregate cereal production last year declined to about 3.6 million tonnes, which is approximately 10 per cent below the last five-year average.

“Accordingly, cereal import requirements for the 2014/15 marketing year (July/June) are set at an above-average level of about 2.5 million tonnes, including 1.1 million tonnes of wheat and wheat flour, 900,000 tonnes of maize and 445,000 tonnes of rice,”  the organisation says.

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In Uganda, FAO estimates that about 180,000 people in Karamoja region will be severely food insecure following two years of below average crop production.

Though harvesting of long cycle crops was completed in November/December in the uni-modal Karamoja region, cereal production is estimated at below-average levels due to unfavourable rains.

“In particular, yields were affected by a prolonged dry spell between the end of June and mid-July, and by limited rainfall amounts in the last two dekads of September. Additional losses occurred in early October as unseasonal heavy rains affected sorghum that was drying in the fields,” the organisation says in its update.

Provision of adequate and nutritious food to the region’s growing population has remained a major challenge for the five East African Community member states, which are still dependent on rain-fed agriculture for food production, which is susceptible to the vagaries of weather.

The situation is worsened by the instability in the region that has forced thousands to flee their countries and seek refuge in EAC.

Refugee crisis

Kenya and Uganda, for example, have in the recent past experienced an increase in the number of refugees fleeing their war-torn countries, adding an extra burden to the overstretched economies of the two countries.

Early last year, the Ugandan government said it was overwhelmed by the influx of refugees, which had reached 317,000. The number has since increased to 420,000, according to latest figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which also notes that more refugees and asylum seekers are fleeing South Sudan.

FAO says that, by end-January 2015, as a result of insufficient funding, WFP decided to reduce food rations by 50 per cent for about 150,000 refugees who had arrived in Uganda before July 2013.

“If WFP fails to receive substantial contributions in coming months, the cuts could be extended to the new South Sudanese refugees,” FAO warns.

Kenya, on the other hand, hosts about 585,300 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Somalia and South Sudan.

FAO says the situation in the arid areas of the two countries is deteriorating fast, adding that urgent action by both the government and the international community is needed.

The Kenyan government has already sounded a drought alarm and has classified 23 counties as “alert drought status.” Most of the counties are in the arid and semi-arid regions, where pastoralism is the predominant source of livelihood. Farmers in those areas have already lost their livestock as drought continues to bite.

Anne Waiguru, Cabinet Secretary in charge of Devolution, said the government was moving quickly to prevent any county or region from reaching emergency drought status, a level that could lead to deaths.

Ms Waiguru said the government has set aside Ksh3 billion ($33.3 million) to tackle drought in the country in order to save lives.

“The ministry will continue to provide monthly relief food to counties without enough food. In addition, the ministry will provide Ksh2,450 ($27.2) a month to 70,304 of the most food insecure households in Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit and Turkana,” said Ms Waiguru.

In Uganda, despite the localised food insecurity problem in Karamoja region, the performance of the country’s agriculture sector is expected to be better than that of Kenya.

Cereal production

FAO says that aggregate 2014 cereal production is forecast at about 3.5 million tonnes, similar to last year’s bumper harvest and about 3 per cent above the last five-year average.

“Import requirements for the 2015 marketing year (January/December) are forecast at an average level of 440,000 tonnes, mainly wheat and rice. In addition, a surplus of about 300,000 tonnes of maize is available for export to neighbouring countries such as Rwanda, South Sudan and Kenya,” the UN report says.

In Tanzania, however, a preliminary estimate of maize production stands at below-average levels due to a reduction in planting and unfavourable rains in the lowlands of Tanga, Kilimanjaro and Manyara districts.

In particular, FAO says, maize planted area decreased significantly (up to 50 per cent of average in some areas) as farmers, after several years of low maize production, preferred to grow crops more tolerant to dry weather conditions, such as tubers and beans.

In January, below-average rains affected pasture conditions in the north-western districts of Kagera and Kigoma as well as the western areas of Mwanza and Shinyanga districts.

Despite the challenges, Tanzania’s food security situation is favourable in both bi-modal and uni-modal rainfall areas and has been sustained by exceptionally low maize prices in the last quarter of 2014.