Drought throughout East Africa
Photo: © Save the Children/ Colin Crowley

Critical food situation in East Africa

Drought is pushing food prices up sharply in East Africa. The soaring cost of basic staples is an extra challenge for pastoralists as livestock prices fall.

Drought throughout East Africa has sharply curbed harvests and pushed the prices of cereals and other staple foods to unusually high levels, posing a heavy burden to households and special risks for pastoralists in the region. This was reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in late February 2017.

Local prices of maize, sorghum and other cereals are near or at record levels in swathes of Ethio-pia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania, 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 and water shortages and forcible culls mean animals command lower prices, leaving pastoralists with even less income to purchase basic foodstuffs.

The trends in East Africa, where prices of staple cereals have doubled in some town markets, stand in marked contrast to the stable trend of FAO's Food Price Index, which measures the monthly change in international prices of a basket of traded food commodities.

The difference is due to the drought that is hammering the sub-region, where food stocks were already depleted by the strong El Niño weather event that ended only last year. Poor and erratic rainfall in recent months, crucial for local growing seasons, are denting farm output.

Pastoralists have to deal with high prices for stable food and low income from livestock

Drought-affected pastoral areas in the region face even harsher conditions. In Somalia, goat pric-es are up to 60 percent lower than a year ago, while in pastoralist areas of Kenya the prices of goats declined by up to 30 percent over the last twelve months.

Shortages of pasture and water caused livestock deaths and reduced body mass, prompting herd-ers to sell animals while they can, as is also occurring in drought-wracked southern Ethiopia. This also pushes up the prices of milk, which is, for instance, up 40 percent on the year in Somalia's Gedo region.

Lower income from livestock collides with higher prices for cereals and other staple foods in a wrenching shock to terms of trade for pastoralist households. A medium-sized goat in Somalia's Buale market was worth 114 kilograms of maize in January 2016, but at today's prices can be traded for only 30 kilograms of the grain.


Photo source: Save the Children/ Colin Crowley/ Flickr.com

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