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The Horn of Africa is experiencing the most severe food crisis in the world today following two consecutive seasons of significantly below-average rainfall. Crops have failed, substantial livestock mortality has occurred and local cereal prices are extremely high. In Kenya's northern and north-eastern districts, there are currently 2.4 million people needing food assistance, and this number is expected to increase. Recent nutrition surveys highlight a global acute malnutrition prevalence of 23% in the county of Wajir East. Livestock movements in search of increasingly scarce water and pasture continue to remain a driver of conflict, contributing to pastoralists’ chronic vulnerability in the region.
Mercy Corps conducted this EMMA assessment in August 2011 on three market systems that are critical to food security in Wajir - rice, maize and beans. As there was not a distinct crisis tipping point, but rather a steady erosion of livelihoods that has affected local purchasing, the EMMA focused on the present scenario for the gap, market and response analyses rather than a comparison of before and after snapshots in time.
Trade flows into Wajir from all directions - from other parts of Kenya and from Ethiopia and Somalia. Depending on prices, border regulations, taxes and quality, traders select the sources of items they bring into Wajir at any particular time. The major constraint to food accessibility is the ability of households to purchase food. The majority of households in Wajir are pastoralists who depend on livestock sales for income. As the recurrent drought has eroded livelihoods over the past few years, many households have been supported by strong local credit systems where traders loan commodities to retailers, who loan to households until they can afford to make payments.
Households are eating fewer, smaller and less diverse meals than they were six months ago. The overall price of staple foods has increased 30-70%, depending on the region. Staple foods now dominate the diets of most households, especially rural ones, due to low milk production and limited availability of fruits and vegetables. In addition, food aid targeting has not been updated to include households who have recently settled after losing their livestock. Distribution quantities are also insufficient, as households need to share with neighbors and livestock. At the same time, this report found that the drought had minimal effects on trade networks in Wajir. However, the combination of reduced income, strained credit systems and decreased purchasing power has lowered the overall demand for food.
For the immediate response, this report recommends vouchers and cash transfers for households to increase their access to food. Increased purchasing power will allow households to access food, repay debts and rebuild local credit systems, and vouchers for households and traders can improve dietary diversity by increasing supplies of milk, fruits, and vegetables. For mid-term interventions, this report recommends rebuilding productive assets in order to strengthen and diversify local livelihoods.