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Kenya facing food crisis as historic drought persists for fifth season

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By George Munene

According to the World Food Programme (WFP) Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET), Kenya’s historic drought, which has now persisted into a fifth consecutive rainy season, is expected to drive a food crisis across the country’s northern and eastern arid and semi-arid lands through at least mid-2023. 

Cumulative rainfall has been less than 55 per cent of the 40-year average since October 1st, leading to severely diminished food and income from livestock production among pastoral households and crop production and agricultural labor among agropastoral and farming households.

Pastoral households continue to face precipitous declines in milk availability and livestock-related sources of food and income. As of September, the Kenyan government estimates that around 2.4 million livestock has died due to drought-related causes. County-level estimates indicate that cattle have around a nine per cent mortality rate, while sheep and goats have around a six per cent mortality rate. Livestock body conditions are largely in poor to very poor condition, with livestock reproduction increasingly unviable.

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In marginal agricultural areas, cropping activities have been delayed due to the late onset of the October to December rains. Well-below-average rainfall is limiting land preparation and planting activities, resulting in below-average agricultural labor opportunities for poor and very poor households. Depleted household food stocks are increasing dependence on high-priced staple foods from the markets, with households relying on income from off-farm labor activities like causal labor and petty trade.

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Based on available food assistance plans, and given humanitarian access and government capacity for safety nets FEWS NET expects Kenya’s food security to remain normal during the outlook period with the likelihood of a scenario in which no food assistance reaches the drought-affected population currently still considered low.

However, an increase in acute malnutrition and mortality levels – is still extremely concerning with Turkana and Marsabit facing acute malnutrition levels.

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