Food security at risk

East Africa can potentially experience a food shortage in coming months Drought throughout East Africa has sharply curbed harvests, pushing the price of cereals and other staple foods to unusually high levels. This poses a heavy burden on households, and holds a special risk for pastoralists in the region.

The price of maize, sorghum and other cereals are near or at record levels in areas of Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. This is according to the latest Food Price Monitoring and Analysis Bulletin (FPMA).

Inadequate rainfall in most areas of the sub-region has put enormous strain on livestock and their keepers. Poor livestock body conditions due to pasture, water shortages and forcible culls, mean animals command lower prices. This leaves pastoralists with even less income to purchase basic foodstuffs.

‘Sharply increasing prices are severely constraining food access for a large number of households with alarming consequences in terms of food insecurity,’ said Mario Zappacosta, FAO senior economist and coordinator of the Global Information and Early Warning System.

Trends in East Africa, where the price of staple cereals have doubled in some markets, stand in marked contrast to the stable trend of FAO’s Food Price Index. This measures the monthly change in the international price of a basket of traded food commodities. Differences are brought about by the the drought currently hammering the sub-region, and where food stocks are already depleted by strong El Niño weather events.

Somalia’s maize and sorghum harvests are estimated to be 75 per cent down from their usual level. Some 6.2 million people, more than half of the country’s total population, are facing acute food insecurity. The majority of those affected live in rural areas.

Soaring prices

The FPMA Bulletin tracks food price trends and flags instances where the price of essential food commodities increase sharply or are abnormally high.

In Mogadishu, the price of maize increased by 23 per cent in January 2017. This increase was even sharper in the main maize producing region of Lower Shabelle. In key market towns of central and southernSomalia, coarse grain prices in January doubled from the previous year. It is forecast that prices are set to further escalate in the coming months.

Maize prices in Arusha,United Republic of Tanzania, have almost doubled since early 2016. They are 25 per cent higher than 12 months earlier in the country’s largest city, Dar Es Salaam.

InSouth Sudan, food prices are now two to four times above their levels of a year earlier. This is exacerbated by ongoing insecurity and a significant depreciation of the local currency.

InKenya, where eastern and coastal lowlands as well as some western areas of the Rift Valley all suffered below-average rainfall, maize prices are up by around 30 per cent. Increases are somewhat contained thanks to sustained imports from Uganda.

Cereal prices aren’t the only commodities under pressure. Beans now cost 40 per cent more in Kenya than a year earlier. In Uganda, where maize prices are up to 75 per cent higher than a year earlier, the price of beans and cassava flour are both about 25 per cent higher.  

Double jeopardy for pastoralists 

In Somalia, goat prices are up to 60 per cent. In the pastoralist areas of Kenya, the price of goats declined by up to 30 percent over the last twelve months.

Shortages of pasture and water cause livestock deaths and reduced body mass. This is prompting herders to sell animals while they can, and is impacting on drought-wracked southernEthiopia.

Lower income from livestock collides with higher prices for cereals and other staple foods. A medium-sized goat in Somalia’s Buale market was worth 114kg of maize in January 2016. At today’s prices it can be traded for only 30kg of the grain.