Mr. Tutui Nanok – Exposing causes of Food Insecurity in Horn of Africa

Mr. Tutui Nanok
Agriculture Sector Advisor, Office of the Prime Minister, Nairobi Kenya


The Horn of Africa is one of the most food-insecure regions in the world. More than 40 percent of people are undernourished, and in Eritrea and Somalia the proportion rises to 70 percent. The seven countries of the region – Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan and Uganda – have a combined population of 160 million people, 70 million of whom live in areas prone to extreme food shortages.

Over the last decade, the Horn of Africa has been hit by drought emergencies of varying severity and increasing frequency. Drought itself is a normal phenomenon in arid areas. However, if it is not carefully managed, it can have a serious impact on human, food, and economic security, on people’s health and nutritional status, and on development progress more generally. Early warning systems and seasonal forecasts are proving to be increasingly accurate. The recurrence of drought emergencies therefore suggests that something is wrong with the way drought is being managed. This is even more critical given that climate change is likely to intensify the frequency and magnitude of both droughts and floods in future.

The influx of refugees into Kenya and Ethiopia has risen sharply over the last several months when the region has been afflicted by a particularly severe drought. For instance, the refugee camps in Dadaab now accommodate close to 400,000 people. This number is expected to reach 500,000 in the coming months. Moreover, the increased influx of refugees has increased the pressure on an already fragile environment; undermined security in the region as well as livelihoods of local residents.


Kenya’s population is about 40 million people and about 40 percent are food insecure. Kenya’s northern, north-eastern, coastal and south-central regions are severely affected by the current drought. More generally, all arid and semi-arid areas – which constitute more than 80 per cent of Kenya’s land mass – are prone to drought and its impacts are felt across the nation. Kenya’s key economic sectors, such as agriculture, livestock, and tourism, are all climate-sensitive. Poorly managed drought undermines food security and human development, and damages economic performance. Because this affects pastoral communities most directly, it also undermines the sense of national unity that Kenya so desperately needs.

Kenya has suffered from periodic droughts throughout its recorded history. This is particularly true of the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) which make up more than 80% of Kenya’s total land mass. The economic and social consequences of drought affect the country as a whole. Severe droughts and floods are estimated to cause an annualised reduction in GDP of 2.4 per cent. Early and appropriate response to emerging drought would therefore not only save lives, it would also enhance Kenya’s overall economic and social development, besides improving livelihoods in some of the poorest regions of the country.

The Government of Kenya hosts approximately 530,000 refugees, and this figure is rising daily as Somali citizens escaping drought and famine arrive at the borders. It therefore recognizes the necessity of collaboration between it and other governments in the Horn of Africa. Since the problem is regional in its origin and dimensions, sustainable solutions to it must be pitched at that level.

Priority areas: For enhanced partnership to eradicate drought emergencies

The Government of Kenya and states in the Horn of Africa Strategy has five interconnected elements;

a. Security: Governments in the Horn of Africa and their international partners must give top priority to the establishment of peace and security. For Kenya this applies most urgently to its international borders with Somalia.

b. Humanitarian relief: The Kenya Emergency Humanitarian Response Plan outlines needs in areas of food, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, agriculture and livestock, protection, education, early recovery, and refugees.

c. Climate-proofed infrastructure: Given the chance, most communities at risk would rather improve their livelihoods by marketing goods and livestock to national and regional markets, which they cannot access at the moment due to poor infrastructure. Priority is given to roads, water and irrigation, and energy.

d. Building human capital: Arid and semi-arid lands lag behind the agricultural and urban areas in education, health and nutrition, which, apart from their intrinsic benefits, are key to improving productivity and enabling livelihood diversification.

e. Building sustainable livelihoods in a context of climate change: This involves a range of measures to increase adaptive capacity, in areas such as marketing (including market information), rangeland management, livestock, appropriate crops and fodder production, SMEs, social protection, and water and environmental conservation.

References: Horn Of Africa Summit Proceedings 8th -9th September 2011, Nairobi Kenya; Government of Kenya, 2011: 2011 Long Rains Season Assessment Report, August 2011.