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In Karamoja, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) will likely persist into August due to delayed cultivation

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Uganda
  • April 2021
In Karamoja, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) will likely persist into August due to delayed cultivation

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Delayed and below-average cumulative rainfall has delayed planting by at least three weeks in northern and parts of eastern Uganda. Near-average rainfall is forecasted in May and will likely support the development of late-maturing crops. However, the timing of the first season cereal and legume harvests will likely be delayed through early July, and aggregate production is expected to vary by subregion depending on the local amount and distribution of rainfall. Sub-national production deficits are likely in northern and eastern Uganda, where rainfall may not be spread evenly in the crop cycle.

    • Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected through at least September in most bimodal areas, driven by carryover stocks from 2020, below-average staple food prices, seasonal agricultural labor income during the March to May planting season, and the anticipated average harvest in July. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely among households in flood-affected areas and some urban areas, where livelihood activities were significantly disrupted in 2020 and income sources are still below pre-pandemic levels.

    • In Karamoja, an increasing number of households face widening food consumption gaps and are utilizing negative livelihoods coping strategies, increasing the share of the population that is experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. While food prices are generally stable and below average in most reference markets, the casual labor wage and the price of firewood, charcoal, and goats are declining, resulting in significantly below-average terms of trade and reduced household purchasing power. Below-average rainfall to date resulted in limited on-farm labor opportunities and delayed land preparation and planting, while others lack access to seeds.

    • Planned and funded food assistance (cash and in-kind) equivalent to a 60 percent ration has sustained Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes in April. Thereafter, an anticipated pipeline break in food assistance funding may result in further reductions in rations and food security outcomes. Refugees with arable plots are engaging in plowing and planting activities, though some lack access to inputs like seeds as others have yet to recover from the impacts of earlier COVID-19 movement restrictions on food and income sources. According to UNHCR/OPM, Uganda hosted 1,470,858 refugees and asylum seekers as of March 31st.


    Seasonal rainfall performance and impacts on crop and livestock production: The start of the March to June first season rains in bimodal areas was delayed, and rainfall through mid-April was generally near to below average and poorly distributed. Northern and eastern Uganda experienced the longest delay of up to 2-3 weeks, and current deficits range from -25 to -100 millimeters (mm) which is 50 to 80 percent of normal (Figure 1). The worst-affected areas include areas near Lake Albert, Lake Kyoga, and the River Nile heading into the West Nile sub-region, where the delay ranged from 10 to more than 30 days. Despite an uneven onset, southern Uganda and parts of central Uganda are seeing the alleviation of early season deficits in April.

    Crop development for the 2021 crop production season is more advanced in southern and parts of central Uganda, ranging from flowering to grain setting/filling stages. Plowing and planting was most delayed in northern and eastern Uganda due to observed rainfall deficits (Figure 1). Typically, at this point on the seasonal farming calendar, crop development would be between the vegetative and flowering stages with some outliers approaching maturity for green consumption.

    In Karamoja, the April to September main rainfall season in Karamoja was also delayed by up to 3 weeks. The deficits are most apparent in the northern districts of Karenga and Kaabong. However, localized areas received rain in late April and performance currently ranges from below to near average across most of the sub region. Given the slow start of the season, seasonal labor demand for on-farm activities is below normal, though gradually improving with the expectation of full establishment of above-average rainfall in May.

    Reflecting rainfall performance, poor pasture and vegetation is concentrated in northern Uganda and parts of the cattle corridor districts, according to satellite-derived data (Figure 2). The deterioration in vegetation was exacerbated by hotter-than-normal temperatures during the January to March dry season. At this point in the season, regeneration of pasture and water resources for livestock production is below normal but slowly responding to increasing rainfall amounts.

    Karamoja insecurity: Relative peace is being restored in the Karamoja sub-region following the intensification of patrols by armed security personnel to stall the persistent insecurity involving armed cattle raids, loss of life, and property. Nonetheless, there continue to be reports of sporadic incidences in which cattle are stolen and human life is lost. The districts of Moroto, Napak, and Kotido are most affected and, as a result, some communities prefer to herd their livestock in protected kraals. Some affected households have lost their livelihoods due to cattle raids, while others have reduced access to milk or reduced income or in-kind payments from herding opportunities due to the adjusted grazing patterns and distant kraal locations.

    Markets and trade: In April, cross border export volumes to Kenya and South Sudan were affected by a temporary ban on maize imports from Uganda and by insecurity along the transit route to Juba, respectively. The uncertainty of enforcing Kenya’s trade policy on enhanced food safety standards coupled with stringent requirements for maize exporting companies has negatively impacted maize trade. Demand remains high, however, and this has led to a surge in informal trade and smuggling activities through porous border crossing points. Exports to South Sudan for both staple and non-food commodities have resumed after a temporary strike by traders and transporters demanding improved security against raids along the transit route. However, trading costs have increased due to increased security and cautionary measures.

    Overall, reduced maize exports and suppressed local demand for carryover stocks from the late 2020 harvest have resulted in surplus stock levels in Uganda and below-average prices for maize grain in surplus-producing areas, such as Masindi, Kamwenge, Kyegegwa, and Mubende. In March, the price of a kg of beans, sorghum grain, maize grain, and cassava chips declined in key reference markets in bimodal areas and ranged up to 40 percent below March 2020 and the five-year average (Figure 3).

    In contrast, staple food price trends in Karamoja’s key reference markets are more varied. In March, sorghum prices rose by 27 percent in Moroto, remained stable in most other markets, and decreased by 12 percent in Kaabong. Compared to last year, sorghum prices have increased by 14 and 39 percent in Kotido and Moroto, respectively, while other markets are stable. Compared to the five-year average, however, prices have declined by 20-27 percent in all markets except in Moroto, where the price is 22 percent above average (Figure 4). Irregular sorghum supply in Moroto occurred following intermittent insecurity incidences in the district and its environs. Demand for sorghum as seed for the planting season and for consumption in the ongoing lean season also led to price increases.

    In Karamoja, goat prices have increased by 9-44 percent in Nakapiripirit, Napak, and Kaabong, while prices have declined by 8 and 25 percent in Moroto and Kotido, respectively. The price trends are linked to increased human and livestock insecurity in most of Karamoja, which has limited movement and affected market access. Due to insecurity and cattle rustling, several major transport routes were closed to livestock movement, including Moroto road, Abim-Amuria route, and Agago-Soroti route. Prices are also higher relative to last year when the closure of markets due to COVID-19 restrictions and FMD in some areas led to reduced livestock sales and low prices. Meanwhile, the daily wage remained stable in March due to off-season agricultural activities and land preparation for the main season. Meanwhile, the terms of trade for sorghum against firewood, casual labor, and goats decreased by 25-53 percent in most markets in Karamoja, mostly linked to high sorghum prices, low earning opportunities for on-farm activities, and supply/access challenges associated with insecurity (Figure 5).

    Current food security outcomes

    Karamoja: As a result of the above factors, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist among poor households in Karamoja, where low food availability is exacerbated by atypically declining terms of trade and seasonally low household income from typical livelihood strategies. Households are experiencing widening consumption gaps and a rising prevalence of acute malnutrition among children. Since late 2020, more than half of the Karamoja population have already been using negative food-based coping strategies, including reduced meal portions and sizes, reducing meal frequency, and consuming less preferred food, which all affect the quality of diet to meet minimum food requirements.  Worse acute malnutrition outcomes are likely mitigated by WFP supplementary feeding and limited school feeding. Household income from livelihood sources is insufficient to meet their food and non-food needs during the ongoing lean season. In addition to limited livestock assets to sell, insecurity continues to affect the livestock marketing structure and cause price fluctuations. The delayed start of the seasonal rains has also limited on-farm labor demand, while high competition for labor and firewood/charcoal are fetching lower prices, exacerbated by the economic impacts of the pandemic. 

    Bimodal rural and urban areas: Availability and access to a variety of affordable staple foods are sustaining Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in most rural and urban areas. Carryover stocks from the late 2020 harvests at the household and market levels, coupled with seasonally favorable terms of trade (driven in part by low staple food prices and a relative increase in labor income compared to 2020), are supporting stable food security outcomes. The start of the rainfall season and associated production activities has increased seasonal, on-farm labor income among poor households. Some localized areas already have access to green harvests of maize, beans, and an assortment of vegetables, supplementing food intake. In urban areas, low food prices are offsetting the impact of the slow economic recovery on employment and lagging income levels. However, some households that experienced floods and landslides during 2020 are likely experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as they recover and rebuild their livelihoods.

    Refugees: Typically, most refugees are accessing some limited income from the sale of humanitarian food assistance, agricultural and non-agricultural labor opportunities, food vending, and the sale of poultry. Refugees with arable plots are currently engaging in plowing and planting activities, though some have constrained access to inputs like seeds. Food access has somewhat been enhanced by declining food prices. Still, funded and likely food assistance equivalent to the 60 percent ration (cash or in-kind) is the main source of food, supporting Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes and preventing more severe food insecurity. Most refugee households have yet to economically recover from the impacts of earlier COVID-19 movement restrictions on food and income sources.


    Revisions to the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Uganda Food Security Outlook for February to September 2021 include:

    • Based on below-average to average rainfall to date and a forecast of above-average rainfall in May, cumulative rainfall during the March-June first rainfall season in bimodal Uganda is most likely to conclude at near-average levels.
    • Following the new certification standards for conformity on aflatoxin levels for maize by the Kenya government, export/import companies are expected to comply in the short to medium term and fully implement them during the next harvest season. Therefore, formal maize exports from Uganda to Kenya are expected to recover to pre-ban levels in the short to medium term and informal exports are expected to rise in the short term.


    Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are likely to be sustained in most bimodal rural areas through September, driven by the near-average late 2020 harvests, seasonally low and stable food prices, labor income from first season (March-May 2021) cultivation, and the harvest in July. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist in flood-affected districts near Lake Albert due to limited resources to invest in recovering their livelihoods. Some poor households in urban areas are likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, based on the slow increase in economic activity and lingering or reinstated COVID-19 restrictions should a second wave develop.

    In Karamoja, an increasing number of households will experience widening food gaps through the lean season, driven in part by limited income-earning opportunities and seasonally below-average terms of trade to access food. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist longer than usual given the delayed start of planting and, consequently, the delayed availability of the green harvest in August instead of July. As is typical, households are expected to cope with limited food availability and access by intensifying sales of firewood, charcoal, grass, and building poles and their engagement in brewing, stone quarrying, agricultural labor, and sand mining. However, household income from these sources will still be inadequate to meet their minimum food requirements. While the prevalence of acute malnutrition is expected to deteriorate, driven by decreased food intake and increased morbidity, WFP’s blanket supplementary feeding program is expected to mitigate further deterioration, especially in Napak and Moroto. Improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) is expected by August or September, when green and dry harvests become available, although the poorest households may remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

    In refugee settlements, Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes will persist through May until the start of the harvest. Then, despite the availability of the harvest for a significant proportion of households in June/July, the likely pipeline break in funding for food assistance is expected to reduce ration sizes. Given that refugee households already have limited income sources in a normal year and that they experienced stringent restrictions on their ability to earn income, household recovery from the COVID-19 economic shock is expected to be slow. As a result, most households are expected to face slight to moderate food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from June to September.

    Figures Uganda seasonal calendar. In bimodal areas, land preparation and dry sowing in the east and north are from January to March.

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Map of Uganda showing rainfall accumulation anomaly in mm

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: UC Santa Barbara Climate Hazards Center

    Map of Uganda showing vegetation conditions as a percent of normal

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    Chart showing  the change in the retail price of a kilogram of various staple foods in March 2021 compared to the 2016-2020 a

    Figure 4

    Figure 3

    Source: Farmgain

    Chart showing the change in the retail price of a kilogram of sorghum in March 2021 compared to February 2021, March 2020, an

    Figure 5

    Figure 4

    Source: Farmgain

    Chart showing the change in the terms of trade for sorghum in Mar. 2021 compared to Feb. 2021 and the 2016-2020 average in se

    Figure 6

    Figure 5

    Source: Farmgain

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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