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From rain to famine: assessing the utility of rainfall observations and seasonal forecasts to anticipate food insecurity in East Africa

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  • Erin Coughlan de Perez

    (Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre
    Columbia University
    VU University Amsterdam)

  • Maarten van Aalst

    (Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre
    VU University Amsterdam
    University College London)

  • Richard Choularton

    (Tetra Tech)

  • Bart van den Hurk

    (VU University Amsterdam
    Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI))

  • Simon Mason

    (Columbia University)

  • Hannah Nissan

    (Columbia University)

  • Saroja Schwager

    (Columbia University)

Abstract

East Africa experiences chronic food insecurity, with levels varying from year-to-year across the region. Given that much can be done to prevent this level of suffering before it happens, humanitarian agencies monitor early indicators of food insecurity to trigger early action. Forecasts of total seasonal rainfall are one tool used to monitor and anticipate food security outcomes. Factors beyond rainfall, such as conflict, are key determinants of whether lack of rainfall can become a problem. In this paper, we present a quantitative analysis that isolates the value of rainfall information in anticipating food security outcomes across livelihood groups in East Africa. Comparing observed rainfall and temperature with food security classifications, we quantify how much the chance of food insecurity increases when rainfall is low. Results differed dramatically among livelihood groups; pastoralists in East Africa more frequently experience food insecurity than do non-pastoralists, and 12 months of low rainfall greatly increases the chances of “crisis” and “emergency” food security in pastoralist regions. In non-pastoralist regions, the relationship with total rainfall is not as strong. Similar results were obtained for livelihood groups in Kenya and Ethiopia, with slightly differing results in Somalia. Given this, we evaluated the relevance of monitoring and forecasting seasonal total rainfall. Our quantitative results demonstrate that six months of rainfall observations can already indicate a heightened risk of food insecurity, a full six months before conditions deteriorate. Combining rainfall observations with seasonal forecasts can further change the range of possible outcomes to indicate higher or lower risk of food insecurity, but the added value of seasonal forecasts is noticeable only when they show a strong probability of below-normal rainfall.

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  • Erin Coughlan de Perez & Maarten van Aalst & Richard Choularton & Bart van den Hurk & Simon Mason & Hannah Nissan & Saroja Schwager, 2019. "From rain to famine: assessing the utility of rainfall observations and seasonal forecasts to anticipate food insecurity in East Africa," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 11(1), pages 57-68, February.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:ssefpa:v:11:y:2019:i:1:d:10.1007_s12571-018-00885-9
    DOI: 10.1007/s12571-018-00885-9
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Henning Krause & Anja Faße & Ulrike Grote, 2019. "Nutrient-Dense Crops for Rural and Peri-Urban Smallholders in Kenya—A Regional Social Accounting Approach," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 11(11), pages 1-22, May.
    2. Kohnert, Dirk, 2022. "La guerre de Poutine en Ukraine provoquera-t-elle famine et révoltes en Afrique? [Will Putin's Ukraine war provoke famine and upheaval in Africa ?]," MPRA Paper 112809, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Andrew M. Linke & Frank D. W. Witmer & John O’Loughlin, 2020. "Do people accurately report droughts? Comparison of instrument-measured and national survey data in Kenya," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 162(3), pages 1143-1160, October.
    4. Kansanga, Moses Mosonsieyiri & Kangmennaang, Joseph & Bezner Kerr, Rachel & Lupafya, Esther & Dakishoni, Laifolo & Luginaah, Isaac, 2021. "Agroecology and household production diversity and dietary diversity: Evidence from a five-year agroecological intervention in rural Malawi," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 288(C).
    5. Lin Liu & Bruno Basso, 2020. "Linking field survey with crop modeling to forecast maize yield in smallholder farmers’ fields in Tanzania," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 12(3), pages 537-548, June.
    6. Kohnert, Dirk, 2022. "Will Putin"s Ukraine war provoke famine and upheaval in Africa," MPRA Paper 112751, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Richard J. Choularton & P. Krishna Krishnamurthy, 2019. "How accurate is food security early warning? Evaluation of FEWS NET accuracy in Ethiopia," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 11(2), pages 333-344, April.
    8. Yujun Zhou & Erin Lentz & Hope Michelson & Chungmann Kim & Kathy Baylis, 2022. "Machine learning for food security: Principles for transparency and usability," Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 44(2), pages 893-910, June.
    9. Kohnert, Dirk, 2022. "La guerre de Poutine en Ukraine, causera-t-elle la faim et des troubles en Afrique ? [Will Putin's Ukraine war provoke famine and upheaval in Africa ?]," MPRA Paper 112768, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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