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Food security improves across the country with harvest and declining staple food prices

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Uganda
  • August 2017
Food security improves across the country with harvest and declining staple food prices

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through January 2018
  • Key Messages
    • Food security has improved throughout the country with the harvest and declining staple food prices. Above-average rainfall in July supported early planting of short-cycle crops, which is expected to lead to further improvements in late 2017. Most very poor households in Karamoja have improved from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2), and in bimodal areas Minimal (IPC Phase 1) persists in all areas. 

    • The number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda reached over 1 million in mid-August. According to WFP, funding levels are sufficient to continue providing a full ration through September to all refugees who arrived after July 2015. It is expected that most refugees are able to meet their basic food needs with assistance, own production, and casual labor and are Stressed (IPC Phase 2!). WFP expects to face funding shortfalls in late 2017, though, and in the absence of assistance, refugees would likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

    • Fall Armyworm (FAW) has been reported on newly-planted maize in regions where farmers planted in July. Impacts from FAW are expected during the second season and it is likely the impacts will be similar to, or even greater than, impacts observed during the 2017 first season. 

    Current Situation

    July typically marks the start of the main harvest in Karamoja and the end of the first season harvest in bimodal areas, as well as the start of land preparation for the second season. This year in Karamoja the harvest has started in Nakapiripirit and parts of western Karamoja in July/August. In all other regions crops are developing later than is typical due to the late onset of rainfall (Figure 1). The prolonged dry spell caused sorghum to wilt in some areas, including Rupa and Nadunget of Moroto.  However, above-average rainfall in July improved crop conditions and sorghum crops are now at the flowering or early grain-filling stage. The above average rainfall also supported planting of bulrush millet in Kaabong. There have been some reports of maize crop damage from FAW in parts of Amudat, Napak, and Nakapiripirit, and Tapac sub-county of Moroto. 

    In most central and western bimodal districts, the first season harvest is complete and is near average. In the southwest, the harvest is complete, but was below average in some areas. In  the north, the harvesting of first season crops has begun in some areas, but the majority of crops have not yet been harvested due to early season rainfall deficits that led to late planting. 

    All regions, with the exception of the southwest, received above-average rainfall in July, and many farmers planted quick-maturing crops in response. The newly planted maize crop is at knee height and is in good condition. However, the presence of young maize has also resulted in a resurgence of Fall Armyworm (FAW) in some of these areas, most notably in parts of West Nile, Acholi, and Lango. 

    The availability of pasture and water, which was below average throughout the country earlier in the year, has improved as a result of above-average July rainfall. Improvements are also observed in Karamoja, although overall resources remain below average. In eastern parts of Moroto, Kotido, and Kaabong, some improvements are due to less livestock concentration, as most pastoral herds from Turkana have returned to Kenya. Livestock body conditions have improved in all regions. 

    Near-average first season production in most surplus-producing bimodal areas has replenished market stocks and increased food availability at the household level, lowering market demand. As a result, staple food prices have declined significantly in many key markets across the country. Maize prices declined sharply between June and July (Figure 2), and similar price decreases were observed for beans, cassava, cooking bananas, and sorghum in both Karamoja and bimodal areas. Despite these declines, prices remain above the five-year average. In bimodal regions, the retail price of maize is roughly 15 percent above the five-year average, and in Karamoja the retail price of sorghum is approximately 70 percent above the five-year average. Price declines have led to improvements in household purchasing capacity, but terms of trade (ToT) still remain lower than normal. For example, in Moroto the casual labor-to-sorghum ToT are 64 percent below average and in Soroti the causal labor-to-sorghum ToT are 25 percent below average.

    In Karamoja, interannual assistance and nutrition assistance programs are ongoing. As a part of Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, roughly 25,000 beneficiaries from vulnerable households received a daily wage of 5,500 UGX over a period of 54 working days. According to the Mobile Vulnerability Analysis & Mapping Karamoja Regional Early Warning Bulletin in May 2017, the Supplementary Feeding Programme implemented by WFP registered a higher number of admissions at the peak of the 2017 lean season, compared to last year. From January to April, the number of admissions was similar or slightly below 2016 levels, but in May admissions were 47 percent higher. 

    Food security has improved in all regions of the country due to declining staple food prices, which has improved food access, and in bimodal areas and western Karamoja, food security is also improving due to ongoing harvests. In southwestern and northern bimodal areas where Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes were observed in early 2017, food security has improved to Minimal (IPC Phase 1). In the southwest and Teso, though, some poor households who lost a significant proportion of their harvest are likely still Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Food security in Moroto, Kaabong, and Napak of Karamoja, where very poor households were in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the lean season, has improved to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Although ToT remain below average, ToT improvements in recent months have supported greater food access. Additionally, the atypical rainfall has increased food availability through short-cycle vegetables. A recent rapid assessment by FEWS NET and partners from Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries and the IPC Technical Working Group, found that most very poor households reported eating one meal a day composed of maize or sorghum bread, cassava, vegetables, and beans. 

    The arrival rate of refugees from South Sudan has declined from approximately 2,000 a day in early 2017 to around 500 a day in August. The influx continues, though, and the total number of refugees and asylum-seekers reached over 1 million as of mid-August. According to WFP, funding levels are sufficient to continue providing full rations through September 2017 to all refugees who arrived after July 2015, and half rations to all refugees who arrived before July 2015. It is expected that most refugees are able to meet their basic food needs through a combination of assistance, own production, and casual labor; they are Stressed (IPC Phase 2!). 

    Updated Assumptions

    The current situation has not affected most of the assumptions made in FEWS NET’s Uganda Food Security Outlook for June 2017 to January 2018. However, the following assumptions have been updated:

    • El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions are currently neutral. The International Research Institute for Climate and Society Climate Prediction Center (IRI/CPC) forecast as of early August indicates the most-likely scenario is for ENSO neutral conditions through early 2018. The Indian Ocean Dipole is currently neutral, but is forecast to be very weakly positive during August/September-December 2017.
    • The August/September to November 2017 second season in bimodal Uganda is expected to have a timely onset and be above-average in terms of total cumulative rainfall.
    • In Karamoja, September rainfall is forecast to be above average. Based on this forecast and seasonal performance to date, which included well above-average rainfall in July, total seasonal rainfall is expected to be above average.

    Projected Outlook through January 2018

    Food access and availability have improved throughout the country with the harvest and declining staple food prices. Prices remain above average, though, due to consecutive seasons of lower-than-normal production. Prices are expected to rise again in September, when stocks seasonally decline, and remain above average. As a result of this anticipated below normal food access, some households in bimodal areas who experienced significant crop loss will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the outlook period. In most areas, though, food security is expected to be Minimal (IPC Phase 1). In northern areas where crop development is delayed, the harvest is expected in September. Food security improvements are expected in these areas at this time, and further improvement is likely from September to December when off-season crops and typical second season production are likely to be harvested. Although rainfall is now forecast to be above average in bimodal areas, second season production is still expected to be slightly below average in regions where crop damage due to FAW is likely.  

    In Karamoja, food security is improving in all areas, even where the harvest has not yet arrived, as declining food prices are improving food access. Although terms of trade remain below the five-year average, they have improved in recent months. Prices are expected to remain above the five-year average throughout the outlook period, but well below levels observed in early 2017. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist. Food security improvements will be supported by both domestic and wild vegetables, which were atypically planted in July alongside above-average rainfall. In Kaabong, production of bulrush millet is also expected in November/December, and food security outcomes will further improve during this time.  Although the rainfall forecast for the remainder of the season is expected to result in above-average total cumulative rainfall for the season, early-season deficits and dry spells led to some crop damage in May and June. Due to the expectation of a below-average harvest in some areas, very poor households are likely to deplete their stocks by the end of the year, and again be market dependent when prices are at higher levels. 

    Given the expectation that WFP will continue to provide full rations to newly arrived South Sudanese refugees through September, Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are anticipated to continue. The Programme still faces funding gaps towards the end of the year, though, and in the absence of humanitarian assistance, refugees would likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 


    Figure 1

    Figure 1. Dekadal rainfall in millimeters (mm) in Kaabong in 2017, compared to the 2001 to 2010 mean

    Source: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)/FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Retail price of maize in key Ugandan markets

    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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