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El Niño short rains drive agricultural recovery from historic drought

According to a report by USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), El Niño-driven short rains are expected to continue into early 2024 driving agricultural recovery from historic drought.

Dubbed, The Kenya Food Security Outlook, October 2023 – May 2024, the report further revealed that there is an 80 per cent likelihood that El Niño rains will persist during the 2024 March to May long rains.

Crop production

According to reports by the Ministry of Agriculture, the 2023 long rains maize harvest is estimated to be about 3.34 million metric tonnes (MMT), around 5 to 10 percent higher than the five-year average, supported by above-average March to May long rains and about over 3.5 million 50-kilogram bags of subsidized fertilizer distributed by the government to support farmers in 41 counties. Bean production for the long rains season was about 0.85 MMT and 60 percent above the five-year average, driven by adequate rains and subsidized fertilizer.

Short rains crop production started early in October in Western and Nyanza regions following an effective start to the rainy season, and crops are in the planting to weeding stages in parts of Kisii, Vihiga, Busia, Bungoma, and Migori, where over 20 per cent of the short rains crop has been planted.

Harvesting is ongoing in the North and Central Rift regions, Central, high-altitude counties in Western and Nyanza (Bungoma, parts of Kakamega, Kisii, Nyamira), and parts of Taita Taveta. The long rains harvest has however been completed in low altitude counties in the Western, Nyanza, lower Eastern, and Coastal regions.

However, there is concern that forecast above-average October to December short rains will disrupt the crop drying in the sun due to a shortage of dryers. To mitigate the shortage of driers and potentially high post-harvest losses during the season, the Ministry of Agriculture intends to procure 100-grain dryers for 15 main maize-growing counties of Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Nakuru, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi, Bungoma, Kakamega, West Pokot, Narok, Kericho, Migori, Bomet, Baringo, Nyandarua and Laikipia under phase one of the grain drying for sustainable post-harvest management project.

The remaining counties will be covered in Phase II of the project.

Distribution of the government-subsidized fertilizer for the 2023 short rains began in August, with 940,3000 bags of assorted fertilizers distributed by the end of September across 35 counties targeting maize, potato, vegetables, beans, coffee, cotton, wheat, and rice farmers.

In the marginal agricultural areas, the short rains season accounts for nearly 70 per cent of annual food production. Typical crops planted include maize, millet, sorghum, beans, green grams, cow peas, and pigeon peas. Land preparation and planting for the short rains season are ongoing, with households slowly expanding the area under food crops, supported by the forecast above-average short rains and the government’s reduction of fertilizer prices from Sh3,200 per 50 kg bag to Sh2,500 per 50-kg bag, and easing farmer access to credit by increasing the Agriculture Finance Corporation’s (AFC) budget from Sh2 billion to Sh10 billion. In the Coastal marginal agricultural areas of Kilifi and Kwale, households are also finalizing harvesting of the long rains crops while preparing land for the short rains season.

Livestock milk production

Milk production ranged from 1 to 1.6 liters per household per day except in Samburu, which was 0.1 liters per household per day. Milk production remains 13 to 92 percent below the five-year averages in Samburu, Garissa, and Marsabit but is 8 to 33 percent above the five-year average across the rest of the counties.

In September, household milk consumption trends are mixed but largely remain stable or are increasing in most pastoral areas as livestock births slowly improve household milk production and consumption.

Forage and pasture

Vegetation greenness is over 105 per cent of the 10-year average in central, western, and southwest, Lamu County, the coastal strip, and localized parts of the pastoral areas in Turkana, Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo, and Garissa.

As forage and water resources replenish, the return trekking distances from grazing areas to water sources for livestock are expected to decline. Improving forage and water resources is shortening return trekking distances reducing the effort for households and livestock to access these resources.

However, vegetation greenness ranges from 60 to 90 per cent of the 2012-2021 average across the pastoral and marginal areas with parts of the coastal marginal areas, northern, northwest, northeast, and eastern pastoral areas with vegetation greenness of less than 60 per cent of the ten-year average.

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