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Erratic rainfall likely to negatively impact crop production in northern and eastern Uganda

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Uganda
  • April 2023
Erratic rainfall likely to negatively impact crop production in northern and eastern Uganda

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through September 2023
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • In bimodal areas, average to above-average cumulative rainfall in early March had favorable impacts on most crop fields, particularly in central and southern Uganda. However, dry spells in late March and early April, particularly in northern and eastern Uganda, and forecasted below-average rainfall in May and June will likely impact the flowering, grain filling, and maturation stages for cereals and legumes and potentially drive below-average production in localized areas. Consequently, an increasing number of poor households in greater northern and eastern bimodal areas of Uganda are likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes ahead of the harvest in June/July, as well as inadequate food availability and access through September. Across other rural bimodal areas, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected to persist through September 2023.

    • In April, staple food prices remained higher than last year and the five-year average due to declining food stocks amid sustained regional demand. Staple exports to Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Rwanda continue to exert upward pressure on price levels for both cereals and legumes. Below-average production prospects from first-season production are unlikely to restore national food stocks, and global price trends will likely continue driving atypically high inflation. As a result, food and non-food prices are expected to remain elevated. Retail prices for maize and beans are roughly 5 to 55 percent higher than at the same time in 2022 and 20 to 50 percent above the five-year average. Meanwhile, sorghum prices increased by 10 to 15 percent in March and April in Nakapiripirit, Napak, and Kotido markets in Karamoja due to high prices in source markets, tight supplies, and households’ increased reliance on market purchases during the peak lean season. Below-average household incomes overall are constraining food access, leading to widening food consumption gaps consistent with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes or worse.

    • Uganda’s refugee population is expected to increase throughout the projection period due to continued conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and South Sudan. Constrained access to seeds, erratic rainfall in northern Uganda settlements, and increasingly limited access to land for cultivation are expected to drive below-average food production prospects and poor food consumption outcomes. Given inadequate humanitarian food assistance ration sizes, reduced income-earning opportunities, and above-average food prices, refugees are likely facing Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes, while an increasing number of refugees are likely facing slight to moderate food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    Current Situation

    Seasonal rainfall performance: Seasonal rainfall began as typically expected in March 2023 and has had mixed spatial and temporal performance through the season. Across all regions, rainfall totals were above average in early March, followed by an atypical dry spell from late March into early April, primarily affecting northern and eastern Uganda, which experienced the lowest rainfall totals. Above-average rainfall resumed across all regions from mid to late April (Figure 1). Parts of the southwest and localized southeastern areas around the Lake Victoria basin received the highest cumulative rainfall and experienced flooding in late April. As of the end of April, cumulative seasonal rainfall across Uganda ranged from 85 to 145 percent of the long-term average.


    Figure 1

    Rainfall distribution in mm per five-day period compared to average, March–May, by region
    Graph showing rainfall distribution in millimeters per five-day period compared to average for March to May across the Northern, Central, Western, and Eastern regions of Uganda

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Rainfall impacts on crop and livestock production: The dry spell in March and April delayed ploughing and planting activities in much of northern and eastern Uganda. Meanwhile, early planted crops experienced moisture stress and wilting shortly after planting, particularly in the Teso subregion districts of Soroti, Kumi, Serere, Ngora, Katakwi, Amuria, and Kabelebyong in eastern Uganda. As of late April, nearly two-thirds of the way through the growing season in bimodal areas, most legumes and cereals would normally be in the reproductive stage (around 45 to 75 percent growth). However, in much of greater northern and eastern Uganda, crops have only reached the early vegetative stage (around 15 to 45 percent growth), with variation depending on crop type and rainfall timing and distribution. Crop development is more advanced in parts of central and southern Uganda, ranging from late vegetative to flowering stages due to more consistent rainfall in these areas.

    Unimodal Karamoja has experienced three consecutive seasons of below-average rainfall from 2020 to 2022, resulting in poor seasonal harvests. The 2023 April to September rainy season began two to three weeks early, with heavy rainfall in early March that facilitated pasture regeneration but also led to localized flash floods and temporary waterlogging conditions, hindering ploughing and planting activities in the affected areas. The early onset rains were followed by a dry spell in late March and early April and erratic, heavy rainfall in the second half of April. Overall, rainfall performance has been below average in Karamoja, negatively impacting crops in the early-vegetative stage. Below-average household incomes, the loss of oxen and ploughs due to insecurity over time, and high input prices have also limited cultivation areas and reduced agriculture labor opportunities for poor households in Karamoja. While households in Karamoja previously relied heavily on pastoralism as a source of income, consecutive years of conflict, livestock disease, and climatic shocks over the past at least four years have led to livestock loss and livestock asset liquidation. In turn, households in Karamoja have become increasingly reliant on crop cultivation and sales as their primary livelihood, and consequently highly vulnerable to erratic and below-average rainfall.

    According to satellite-derived vegetation data, vegetation conditions have improved across the country since March. In Karamoja, vegetation conditions are above average over many areas as of the end of April, although negative anomalies persist in localized areas in Moroto and Kotido (Figure 2). Similarly, vegetation conditions improved slightly in March in greater northern Uganda and the central parts of the cattle corridor districts, reaching near-average levels (Figure 2). The improvements in vegetation are due to the early onset, above-average seasonal rainfall in March; however, the dry spell in late March and April has impacted normal regrowth and pasture accumulation.

    Figure 2

    Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) as a percent of the mean, April 21–30, 2023
    Map showing the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index as a percent of the 2003 to 2017 median from April 21–30, 2023

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Refugee Settlements: According to UNHCR, Uganda hosted 1,535,900 refugees and asylum seekers as of April 30. In March and April, roughly 12,500 refugees arrived from DRC and South Sudan, with over 4,700 new arrivals from DRC in April alone. Based on a FEWS NET field assessment conducted in April 2023 in the southwestern refugee settlements, many newly arriving refugee households in the southwest settlements are no longer receiving plots of land large enough for cultivation due to limited land availability around the already overcrowded refugee settlements. Meanwhile, for the roughly 40 percent of the refugees that do have access to land for cultivation, many reportedly do not have access to seeds and other inputs due to limited income sources. Additionally, erratic rainfall in settlements located in northern Uganda likely led to delayed planting and slowed the progress of seasonal activities. During the assessment, refugees in southwest refugee settlements reported that income-earning opportunities were below the pre-COVID-19 period, driving an increase in petty theft and crime rates within settlements. Households with sick or disabled members, child-headed households, and newly arrived refugees are especially unlikely to have access to supplementary income for food. Schools in refugee settlements do not have school feeding programs, and most refugee households are unable to provide food for their children to eat at school, mainly due to atypically high food prices.

    Since December 2022, refugees have been receiving reduced humanitarian food assistance due to inadequate funding to meet the food and non-food needs of the rapidly increasing refugee population. In March, WFP provided 3,508 MT of in-kind food assistance to 514,508 beneficiaries and disbursed 4.11 million USD in cash-based transfers (CBT) to 795,336 beneficiaries. This humanitarian assistance continues to reach roughly 96 percent of eligible refugees. While refugees in the southwest settlements primarily receive CBT, refugees in northern Uganda primarily receive in-kind assistance. According to WFP’s refugee market monitor dashboard data, beneficiaries have received 34 to 41 percent rations of in-kind assistance since December. Meanwhile, as of April 2023, households receiving CBT receive rations equivalent to roughly 26 to 33 percent of their minimum caloric needs, similar to February, when households received 27 to 35 percent rations.[1] Due to high food inflation and high market prices, refugees receiving CBT are reportedly unable to purchase the market equivalent value of the in-kind assistance. Some refugees in the southwest settlements have reported reducing the quantity of food per meal and the frequency of meals per day because of reduced rations and high food prices. Refugee households reported that current food rations are inadequate for accessing a balanced diet, and households reportedly exhaust rations at least halfway to the next distribution, even with consumption smoothing. While FEWS NET’s food security outlook report for February to September reported that WFP planned to shift to a needs-based approach to targeting beneficiaries in the first quarter of 2023, the reprioritization process is reportedly still in the preparatory stages for rollout. WFP has reported conducting stakeholder engagements across all refugee settlements at regional and community levels to inform leaders and beneficiaries of the importance of prioritizing assistance for the most vulnerable households. According to WFP data, as of April 2023, rations have not yet been cut further in accordance with the reprioritization process.

    Markets and trade: In bimodal areas, staple food prices increased seasonally between March and April, driven by seasonally low domestic supply associated with below-average 2022 food stocks and high regional demand. Beans were scarce and of poor quality due to below-average rainfall during the harvest. Bean prices increased by 10 to 15 percent between March and April and are roughly 40 to 75 percent above the 2022 and the five-year average prices. Similarly, between March and April, the price of maize increased by 5 to 10 percent across monitored markets. The current price of maize is over 40 percent above 2022 and between 30 to 60 percent above the five-year average. The atypically high prices of cooking bananas, rice, cassava, and sweet potatoes have driven households to switch to more maize and flour-based meals, increasing both the demand and price of maize and flour. High demand for maize domestically and in the deficit-producing countries of Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan, and Rwanda is sustaining the elevated prices, despite an increased grain supply from Tanzania via Mutukula and the Kenya-Tanzania point of Sirari. Maize contributed 48 percent of the traded commodities within East Africa in early 2023, up from 34 percent at the end of 2022, and Uganda accounted for 96 percent of the maize exports in the region.

    In Karamoja, the price of sorghum increased by roughly 5 to 25 percent between March and April in Nakapiripirit, Napak, and Moroto markets but declined by 7 percent in Kotido. Meanwhile, the price of maize decreased marginally in Karenga and Kotido, slightly easing constraints on food access. Given the poor harvest from the previous season to reserve seeds for planting, market reliance for planting materials has exerted pressure on common stock supplies and staple food prices. While the early-onset rains have increased the supply of assorted vegetables in the region, fresh produce prices remain high due to increased demand from neighboring districts. Additionally, the sorghum terms of trade with respect to charcoal, casual labor, goat prices, and firewood have been 20 to 65 percent below average since the beginning of 2023 and remain lower than last month and March to April 2022. Given the below-average terms of trade, purchasing power remains low for poor and very poor households. The livestock quarantine put in place following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease (FMD) has been lifted, and livestock markets are fully operational as of April. Livestock body conditions are average in Karamoja due to improved pasture conditions.

    Current Food Security Outcomes:

    Karamoja: Due to the below-average harvest in 2022, most households exhausted their food stocks by January 2023, and an increasing number of poor and very poor households are accessing a larger portion of their food from the market. Ongoing insecurity, lack of access to inputs and seeds, and erratic rainfall have resulted in below-average agricultural labor opportunities, a key source of income for poor households. Field reports indicate that the area planted this season is below average. In April, livestock body conditions and productivity improved following pasture regeneration and water replenishment. However, fewer households than typical are benefiting from milk access due to cattle thefts and raids that have resulted in the loss of livestock. The households willing to sell livestock in places where insecurity is prevailing prefer to sell from near home as opposed to taking them to the market, are receiving low prices, which has led to decreased income from livestock sales and declining terms of trade. Given limited household income, atypically high staple food prices have severely impacted household purchasing power, limiting access to food. As a result, an increasing number of households face inadequate food consumption, characterized by consuming one meal a day, reducing food quantity per meal, and sustaining poor dietary diversity. Following three consecutive below-average crop production seasons, many poor households have highly eroded resilience and are engaging in negative coping strategies, such as taking children out of school, eating seed stock, spending less on health and education services, selling productive assets, and engaging in prostitution to meet their basic food needs. Similar to last year, during the peak lean season, many households face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes and a continued high prevalence of malnutrition among poor and very poor households.

    Bimodal areas: In northern and parts of eastern Uganda, below-average carryover stocks from the December 2022 second-season harvest are driving atypically low food availability and consequently early market reliance amid atypically elevated staple food prices, limiting food access for poor households. The early onset rains spurred an early commencement of first-season agricultural activities, providing seasonal increases in on-farm labor opportunities for poor households and the early availability of short-cycle crops, such as vegetables, temporarily supplementing food intake for producing households. However, high input prices and erratic mid-season rainfall have impeded cultivation activity in some areas. Additionally, in northern and some parts of eastern Uganda, three consecutive seasons of below-average yields and disrupted livelihoods have depleted the coping capacity of poor households. As a result, many poor households in these areas have access to only minimally adequate levels of food, facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes since 2022. In most other rural and urban bimodal areas of Uganda, households have experienced fewer shocks and are generally able to meet their basic food needs, despite seasonal variability in food availability and access, sustaining Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. In the western and eastern mountainous areas of Kisoro, Kasese, Ntoroko, Kanungu, Bulambuli, Butaleja, Buyende, and Tororo districts, some poor households were impacted by flooding and landslides resulting from heavy rainfall in late April. Over the last three years, recurrent climatic hazards have resulted in the loss of crops, livestock, houses, and assets, eroding livelihoods, and leaving many households heavily market dependent for food and vulnerable to high market prices. For these households, reduced access to income and high staple prices constrain access to food and limit their ability to purchase planting material from the market to invest in rebuilding livelihoods. These households are unable to meet their basic food and essential non-food needs and continue to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes; however, the share of the population facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or worse outcomes remains under the 20 percent threshold required for an area-level Stressed classification.

    Refugees: Sustained high food prices, increased competition for resources, and limited livelihood opportunities for the refugee population have led to decreased access to food and widening food consumption gaps in refugee settlements. Consequently, refugee settlements are facing area-level Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) acute food insecurity outcomes as of April, with ongoing humanitarian assistance preventing worse outcomes. However, reductions in humanitarian food assistance rations since December 2022 have continued to impact households with limited livelihood options who were previously heavily reliant on assistance to meet their basic food needs. Additionally, the most vulnerable refugees, often new arrivals, persons with disabilities, and the elderly, are heavily reliant on negative livelihood coping strategies, such as borrowing money, receiving payments and gifts from early child marriages, child labor, and reducing expenditure on education and health services to meet their minimum food needs. Consequently, an increasing number of refugees are facing slight to moderate food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes; however, it is expected that this population remains below the 20 percent threshold.

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Uganda Food Security Outlook for February to September 2023 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • According to the IRI/CPC subseasonal (SubX) probability forecast for May and June 2023, there is an increased likelihood of below-average rainfall in much of the bimodal and unimodal areas.
    • Given the erratic rainfall and early dry spells in parts of central, eastern, and northern Uganda, cereal and legume production outcomes are expected to be below average in these localized areas. While previous expectations for national-level crop production were near-average, production prospects are worsening with the forecasted below-average rainfall. The status of production at the national level will continue to be monitored and likely will be determined by the performance of May and June rainfall.
    • Given that consultations with stakeholders are ongoing, implementation of WFP’s reprioritization process is anticipated to begin between May and September. Due to the sensitive nature of the process, it is also anticipated that full implementation will take time to complete once the reprioritization process commences. As such, most refugees will likely continue to receive consistent ration sizes during the remainder of the projection period, although uncertainty exists (see “events that might change the most likely scenario” table below).

    Projected Outlook through September 2023

    In bimodal areas, the bulk of the first season harvest in June/July is expected to increase access to food from own production and income from crop sales. However, in much of eastern and northern Uganda, a delayed harvest and below-average production outcomes are anticipated given delayed crop development to date and the below-average rainfall forecasted during the flowering and grain-filling stages. Due to the erratic rainfall throughout the season and the projections of below-average rainfall in May and June, bimodal crop production is expected to be below-average production in parts of the central, north, and east of Uganda. The below-average production in the northern and eastern areas is unlikely to replenish household and market food stocks to normal levels, driving below-average crop sales and income. A seasonal decline in food prices is anticipated in June with the new harvest; however, the decrease will likely be only temporary, given the limited market supply and sustained regional demand for Ugandan staples. Overall, most households in bimodal areas are expected to access sufficient food and income to meet their essential food and non-food needs, primarily from their own crop production, crop sales, and agricultural labor. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected from May through September in most areas. In the worst-affected northern and eastern areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to continue through September due to below-average food and income access and the continued impacts of the floods and weather hazards.

    In Karamoja, the severity of acute food insecurity through the lean season until at least August, prior to the new harvest, is expected to be slightly worse than in 2022. Despite increased army enforcement, Karamojong warriors are expected to continue engaging in livestock raids, exacerbating the already protracted impacts of conflict and drought. The inability to access bigger, more productive crop fields due to insecurity is expected to result in below-average planting areas and consequently lower production. The likelihood of below-average production outcomes is expected to result in below-average incomes from crop sales and poor food availability for a fourth consecutive year, leaving poor households unable to replenish food stocks. Supplementary sources of income through casual labor opportunities, the sale of charcoal and firewood, alcohol brewing, minimal livestock sales, and some petty trading are expected to provide some limited support during the lean season. However, the progressively decreasing access to food in the markets due to sustained above-average staple food prices will likely drive deteriorating food consumption outcomes before August. Given poor households’ highly eroded coping capacity to replenish their food stocks, more households will face food consumption gaps as the lean season progresses and food stocks are depleted. The number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes is expected to increase through at least August 2023, with the worst-affected households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. The start of harvesting in bimodal areas and green harvest availability in Karamoja by July and August is expected to reduce the population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes. However, because of inadequate nutrition interventions, the population is likely to continue to face area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through September and levels of acute food insecurity similar to last year across Karamoja.

    Several districts in Karamoja have seen increasingly severe acute malnutrition outcomes since 2022, as reported in the Uganda Food Security Outlook for February to September 2023. Given the increased magnitude and severity of acute food insecurity outcomes coupled with the pre-existing levels of acute malnutrition, there is concern that global acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalence will increase during the lean season. As such, the malnutrition caseload is expected to be similar to or higher than the 2022 lean season. However, the current planned and funded nutrition assistance programming is likely to be inadequate for the anticipated increase.

    Sustained conflict in the DRC and South Sudan will continue driving new arrivals to refugee settlements throughout the projection period. However, due to limited funding, humanitarian food assistance will remain insufficient to meet the growing needs of the refugee population, and inadequate funding is expected to continue through the projection period. WFP will likely start implementing Phase 3 of its reprioritization activity to ensure the most vulnerable populations are prioritized for assistance. The prevalence of acute malnutrition is expected to increase in some refugee settlements in northern Uganda due to decreased access to food amid the peak rainy season, when disease prevalence is expected to increase. In June, the harvest will result in a seasonal increase in food availability, although less than what is typical due to below-average production. Additionally, seasonal declines in food prices post-harvest will improve food access for many refugee households who rely on CBT assistance. Overall, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are likely to persist at the area level through September 2023. Given the growing number of vulnerable new arrivals, the limited access to livelihoods, and atypically high food prices through May and June, the number of refugee households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes between May and September is likely to increase, although expected to remain below 20 percent of the population.

    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    Refugee SettlementsDecreased ration sizes in line with WFP’s reprioritization process are rolled out during the scenario periodDecreased financial access to food for de-prioritized households will likely widen food consumption gaps as well as increase households’ reliance on crisis and emergency livelihood coping strategies. Due to the lack of access to food and income to buy food, the refugee population will likely face area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in refugee settlements.

    Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. Uganda Food Security Outlook Update, April 2023: Erratic rainfall likely to negatively impact crop production in northern and eastern Uganda, 2023.


    Based on available information in February 2023, FEWS NET previously reported that refugees (in kind and CBT beneficiaries) were receiving 27 to 62 percent rations at that time. This revised range reflects a revised understanding of the ration size for CBT beneficiaries in southwestern settlements in February 2023.  

    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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