Prediction of food security crises and effective responses


Food security remains a major challenge for many communities around the world, and weather and climate hazards play a significant role in affecting food production. This is certainly the case in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. In this project, we worked with the national agencies in Kenya to develop improved forecasts of impending food security crises. Early warning of such events can allow improved preparation and greater resilience to climate events.

Based on this research, follow-on project cementing uptake of new drought forecast products and risk management decisions was funded by SSRP.

Project description

The main aims of the project were to lay the foundations of statistical models that can help predict food security crises in advance, so that mandated agencies in Kenya can act earlier to reduce the impacts on communities of food production and access for Kenya and Ethiopia (see WP1). Currently most food security early warning systems rely on real-time monitoring of food production and other measures of food insecurity. This means our responses to food security issues tends to be reactive, i.e. after the event has already started to affect livelihoods and lives. The main activity of the project was analysing the dependence of food security on drought events in Kenya. The aim was to develop a statistical model of food security outcomes (food production and access) based on historical data. Then using climate forecasts combined with our statistical models we aim to be able to provide predictions with greater lead times of food insecurity events. We worked closely with the main agencies in Kenya to ensure that our outputs were developed to align with, and complement, the existing drought early warning systems (EWS).

Timeline and funding


April 2017-December 2020


SSRP funding (£97,459)


The overall approach is one of co-production. We are working with:

  • Forecast producers: Kenya Met Department (KMD) and UK Met office
  • Drought risk management agencies: National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) and Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) and the county-level drought contingency planning process in Kitui County pilot case study

To co-produce:

  • Improved forecasts: Forecasts tailored to meet the information flows in the existing drought EWS with improved skill compared to existing forecasts
  • Better use of forecasts: Systematic approaches to use forecasts to trigger drought mitigation actions based on an explicit knowledge of action ‘hit rate’ and ‘false alarms’.


This project has:

  • Identified entry points: Mapped drought EWS information flows and decision-making processes.
  • Co-produced new prototype forecasts of:
    • Vegetation Condition Index with 2-6-week lead time using a statistical model which could be used to trigger new ‘early alert’ drought phase 
    • Rainfall amounts with lead times of 2 weeks to ~5 month, from optimised  combination of international models. The timing of  these new forecasts shows the additional information provided compared to existing forecasts and can constitute new Early Alert or early alarm phase classifications.
    • End of season crop production forecasts with lead times of up to 5 months 
    • All forecasts are probabilistic in nature with explicit expressions of the skill of the forecast, and hence the ‘hit’ and ‘false alarm’ rate of resulting actions.
  • Assessed potential early actions for drought mitigation:
    • Assessment of ‘early Alert’ classification of county drought phase 
    • Pilot new prototype forecasts with Kitui County Steering group
    • New prototype forecasts are better aligned with the timing of drought management decisions.


Potential for anticipatory drought early warning systems in Kenya is clear:

  • Products from Sussex projects may lead to modifications in EWS systems and protocols including the monthly county drought bulletins.
  • For legacy and sustainability, commitment to co-production is necessary.
  • Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) vision 2030 is the key policy document.
  • SDG synergies: Clear potential for improved EWS to contribute to multiple SDGs. (No obvious trade-offs in this case).

Barriers to uptake include:

  • Lack of finance to support early action
  • Inertia in existing systems and institutions
  • Limited technical capacity at county level
  • Need new understandings in risk management to understand concepts e.g. probabilistic forecasting, forecast skill and long-term evidence base for decision-making.

Related work

Read the Kenyan news article 'Daily Nation' 'Major Boost for Drought and Flood Forecasting Efforts' about the research project.

Useful links

The team

Where we worked


Follow-on project

Cementing uptake of new drought forecast products and risk management decisions

This project will enhance the long-term and sustainable operationalisation of new drought forecast products and decision-making tools within the relevant nationally-mandated agencies in Kenya. These products were developed under a suite of Sussex-led projects which have ended in 2020-21, namely ForPAc, AstroCast, IDCF and SSRPAs suchthis project simultaneously strengthens disaster risk management in Kenya, and cements the legacy of those project investments with the potential to contribute to future Sussex REF-related Impact reporting.

  • Project description

    Kenya, like much of East Africa, suffers recurrent drought events which strongly impact lives and livelihoods and the economy. Disaster risk management is currently insufficient. This proposal builds on recently ended externally funded (ForPAc, AstroCast) and internally funded (IDCF, SSRP) research. These projects brought together the key agencies within Kenya responsible for provision of forecast information (KMD, WRA and ICPAC) and risk management (NDMA, KRCS and county Government), along with UK researchers.The objective was to support a shift towards improved forecast-based anticipatory early warning systems (EWS). This was achieved through two inter-related research activities: 

    • Improving forecasts by developing a suite of new forecast products for decision-relevant indicators, across a range of forecast lead-times (from days to months) for: drought conditions, including rainfall, vegetation condition (see SSRP-funded project on vegetation condition forecasting) and soil moisture
    • Improving preparedness actions by designing anticipatory decision-making processes, within the existing EWS, triggered by these forecast products to mitigate hazard impacts.

    These new products and approaches have been piloted with the risk management agencies in a selection of locations in Kenya. The value of these projects is reflected in some initial changes in operational procedures in Kenya by the nationally mandated agencies, specifically: (i) KMD (and the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development, see SSRP-funded project on vegetation condition forecasting) now agree to provide the new forecast products to NDMA; (ii) NDMA now include these in some of their drought bulletins providing forecast-based drought warnings, in the selected piloted counties.This evidence of changes in operational systems formed the basis of two REF Impact Case Studies submitted in 2021, from Sussex Geography and Physics departments. Whilst these outcomes are very welcomethe advances in the operational practices that were reported remain rather limited in extent and fragile.

    Objectives and related activities

    Cementing and extending the advances made in the Kenya national drought EWS

    The drought EWS in Kenya is at a critical juncture right now as NDMA is undertaking a comprehensive review of the system. An opportunity exists therefore to support NDMA in formalising the shift from the current monitoring-based, reactive system to a forecast-based, anticipatory system. Activities include: 

    • Engagement with NDMA internal review processes to represent effectively the value of the new forecast products and decision-making approaches and to inform the potential design of such a forecast-based system
    • Coordination of the re-design of the drought warning bulletin to better represent the new forecast products
    • Coordination of appropriate capacity-building activities with the 23 NDMA county officers to interpret the new forecasts.
    Extending drought forecasting to wider East Africa through embedding learnings within new ICPAC regional Drought Operation Centre

    Our activities to date have focussed on the Kenya national drought EWS. However, there is a clear appetite within the regional climate centre ICPAC to feed our new products into their Drought Operations Centre. Activities include: 

    • Organisation of workshop with ICPAC to discuss integration of Sussex products at ICPAC

    • Development of a roadmap for aligning and incorporating the new Sussex-led ForPAc and Astrocast forecast products into ICPAC systems.

    Expected impacts and outcomes

    Kenya’s key sustainable development policy is the Ending Drought Emergencies (EDE) policy which seeks to develop sustainable and resilient livelihoods in the arid and semi-arid regions.The NDMA-coordinated Drought EWS is central pillar of the EDE policy. Further improving drought EWS is noted as a priority action in Kenya’s national climate change adaptation plans. By enhancing the drought EWS and the resulting risk management interventions by national and county level agencies the project will contribute to these national strategic objectives.

    As Kenya and indeed wider East Africa is severely affected by droughts, GDP and individual livelihoods of the most vulnerable populations are significantly impacted upon. Early warning and early action is central to mitigating the impact of these events. There is ample evidence that EWS are one of the most cost-effective actions to achieve climate-resilience. The project team's previous work has made significant advances while NDMA provided information that the forecasts proved very useful in warning of the current ongoing drought.

    Moreover, the project will directly build capacity in the mandated agencies in Kenya to operate in the long-term forecast-based anticipatory risk management as well as cement and strengthen the necessary partnerships between agencies supporting self-sufficiency with the aim of decolonising research. It will also advance the science and influence the operational drought EWS in Kenya and East Africa.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 1 – No Poverty
    SDG 2 – Zero Hunger
    SDG 13 – Climate Action

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

  • The team

    Principal Investigator


    Project Partners

  • Timeline and funding

    February 2022-July 2022


    SSRP funding (£17,330)

  • Where we worked