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Below-average harvest to improve food security outcomes in Teso and Karamoja

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Uganda
  • August 2019
Below-average harvest to improve food security outcomes in Teso and Karamoja

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In August, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes persist in Northern and Eastern bimodal areas, though the ongoing first season harvest is steadily increasing food availability and access. Average to above-average June-August rainfall led to full maturing of late planted crops, reducing earlier expectations of large deficits. Further, preliminary second season weather forecasts indicate average rainfall is likely to lead to average harvests in December. As a result, food security outcomes are expected to improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) across bimodal areas from September through January. However, some households in Teso sub-region may continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes until the second season harvest, due to significant local production deficits in the first season.

    • In Karamoja, atypically high sorghum prices and below-average firewood-to-sorghum terms of trade continue to significantly limit household food access and maintain above-average acute malnutrition prevalence. Due to a poor start of the rainfall season and reduced area planted, delayed harvests will gradually begin in September and sorghum production is expected to range from 20 to 40 percent below average on the district level. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist through September and into October. As harvesting progresses, food security will gradually improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through January.

    • New refugee arrivals from the DRC into Uganda spiked from June to July due to a resurgence of inter-ethnic violence in Ituri province, northeastern DRC. One new case of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) of a recently arrived Congolese girl was reported at a screening point in Kasese district on 29 August 2019. However, Ministry of Health officials reported that she had no contacts in Uganda and a rapid response team was dispatched to Kasese. In refugee settlements, humanitarian food assistance continued at planned levels in August, sustaining Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes. According to WFP, however, a pipeline break is likely due to a shortfall in net funding requirements through December. Without confirmed funding levels, cuts to cash assistance and rations are assumed from October to January, leading to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.


    Below-average and poorly distributed rainfall in March and April led to late planting, reduced area planted, and/or crop loss. Average to above-average rainfall in June-August, however, improved crop conditions and reduced earlier expectations of large deficits. Normally, mid-June marks the start of a brief dry season for the beginning of the first season harvest and second season land preparation activities. However, due to the delayed start of the first season rains, dry harvesting did not begin until late June/early July, and the timing of the completion of the harvest will vary across districts. Meanwhile, late and off-season rainfall continued past mid-June, with total June-August rainfall ranging from 105 to 145 percent of average across most areas, except in the southwest where rainfall was near average (Figure 1). This has led to an overlap of end of first season and start of second season agricultural activities in most bimodal areas, as households adopt different strategies to maximize crop production for own consumption and income.

    In the southwest, for example, harvesting of sorghum, maize, Irish potatoes and millet is still ongoing. Given reduced area planted in the first season, some farmers—especially in Eastern Region—opted to plant off-season, short-maturing crops in un-utilized land around May/June, to be harvested during the second season in September. Still others have begun to plant second season crops several weeks early, while waiting for first season crops to mature. These harvesting and land preparation activities are restoring agricultural labor opportunities for poor households.

    Due to adequate rainfall amounts since May, late planted first season crops were able to mature. However, given reduced area planted as well as Fall Army Worm infestations in Eastern and Central Regions, cereal and legume production remains well below average. Based on key informant information and FEWS NET’s field assessments in July and August, crop production shortfalls are now anticipated to be 30 percent below the five-year average, compared to earlier projections of a 30-50 percent deficit. However, given the currently wet conditions, there is a risk of increased postharvest losses as uncollected or poorly stored maize—typically left to dry in the field due to a lack of drying or storage facilities—may not adequately dry and may spoil. Further, there are reports that new maize supply on the market is of high moisture content that easily spoils and fetches a lower price. This could lead to reductions in household food stocks and income from maize crop sales, in addition to posing a risk of aflatoxin contamination.

    In Karamoja, similarly above-average June-August rainfall has significantly improved crop production prospects. Crop performance is near normal in the green/wet belts in parts of Abim, Nakapiripirit, Napak, and Kaabong, where a variety of maize, beans, pigeon peas, sunflower, and groundnuts are being grown. Outside of these areas, however, most farmers did not increase area planted after the rains established 20-30 days late, primarily due to uncertainty about the seasonal rainfall performance and inadequate access to seed. While area planted is below average, the proportion planted with sorghum is slightly higher than normal given its perceived resilience compared to other crops. Whether sorghum crop development, which currently ranges from early vegetative stage to flowering stages, will continue to maturity is dependent on sustained rainfall through September. Bean production is very poor to failed due to damage by the bean fly pest, while maize was significantly affected by Fall Army Worm infestations during the poor start of season. The usual start of the unimodal dry harvest in August has been delayed by at least one month, though the timing varies by district. The harvests, and consequent improvements in household food stocks and agricultural labor availability, are expected on a rolling basis from September to November, beginning first in Nakapiripirit and last in Kaabong.

    Average to above-average vegetation and pasture conditions and sustained normal availability of water resources have prevailed since June. As a result, livestock body conditions and milk productivity are average to slightly above average in both bimodal Uganda and Karamoja, though the ongoing quarantines in Moroto and Sembabule districts due to occurrence of foot and mouth disease have disrupted local trade of live animals, meat, and milk, reducing household incomes from sales.

    National market supply of staple cereals and beans remains below normal, due to the delayed and below-average first season harvest. Coupled with sustained domestic and regional demand, the retail price of maize and beans remained slightly to significantly above the five-year average across the country in July, though prices have declined from their peak in May. Retail food prices are also well above the July 2018 average, given that surplus first season 2018 production led to exceptionally low prices. In July, the retail price of beans price ranged from 21 to 42 percent above the five-year average across eight bimodal reference markets, while the retail price of maize ranged from near average to ten percent above average (Figure 2). However, the retail price of sorghum and cassava remained below the five-year average across most bimodal markets given lower demand for these substitutes relative to maize, except in Lira where the retail price of sorghum was 16 percent above average. Because low supply drove Uganda’s staple food prices higher relative to Tanzania’s, regional demand for Ugandan exports was below the 2018 and five-year averages in the second quarter of 2019. Based on FEWS NET’s analysis, it is likely that increased regional reliance on Tanzanian staple food exports has mitigated even higher retail price increases on the Ugandan domestic market.

    In Karamoja, where sorghum is preferred and local supply remains scarce, the retail price of sorghum remains significantly above average, especially in Napak, Kotido, and Kaabong. In Kotido, where the sorghum price has been above average since March, prices remained 32 percent above average in July and were comparable to June (Figure 3). As a result, households’ purchasing power will continue to decline, leading to food consumption gaps for many households in advance of harvests. Meanwhile, the price of firewood, a major income-generating commodity for poor households, is below both the 2018 and five-year averages due to low demand. As such, the firewood-to-sorghum terms of trade remain poor and significantly below both the five-year and 2018 averages, which has further diminished household purchasing power and limited food access.

    Food security for poor households has improved in most bimodal areas compared to the April-June period, when food stocks were becoming depleted and labor demand was low due to below-average area planted. Although food access remains lower than normal in August, availability of staple foods and perennial crops (plantains, roots, and tubers) is increasing and households are earning income from ongoing harvest and cultivation agricultural labor activities, crop sales, and petty trade, among other sources. As a result, most poor households are able to meet their minimum food needs and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are present. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes persist in parts of Northern and Eastern regions, particularly in Teso and surrounding areas. This is due to eroded coping capacity and higher market dependence after three consecutive below-average crop production seasons.

    In Karamoja, the 2019 seasonal harvests have not commenced in most areas. As such, households remain highly reliant on markets for food at a time when sorghum prices remain atypically high and when demand for agricultural labor is limited. As a result, many households are seeking to fill consumption gaps by expanding non-preferred sources of food and income, such as gathering seasonal wild foods and selling firewood. Despite an increase in market supply of staple foods from ongoing bimodal harvests, high food prices and low firewood demand continue to constrain household purchasing power. As such, most market-dependent poor households are unable to afford adequate food and other non-food essentials. Major limitations in food availability and access are leading to consumption gaps, as evidenced by sustained high levels of acute malnutrition among children and women. With typical coping strategies both limited and over-stretched, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are widespread.

    According to data from UNHCR/OPM, monthly new refugee arrivals have increased since January (Figure 4). Arrivals from the DRC spiked from June to July as a result of resurgent inter-ethnic violence in Ituri province, northeastern DRC. Because these informal crossings largely occur via the Lake Albert corridor where surveillance and health screening are absent or limited, increased risk of cross-border transmission of the EVD remains. One imported case of EVD was reported in Kasese in late August. This is the fourth confirmed case of Ebola in Uganda in the past three months since the deadly disease was declared in DRC in August 2018, despite an increase in reported cases in the DRC. In contrast, refugee arrivals from South Sudan have declined since June, likely due to the peace deal signed in September 2018. In refugee settlements, harvests on the 900m2 average plots are ongoing but are below average. Humanitarian food assistance remains the primary source of food, minimally supplemented by market purchases via crop sales, petty trade, casual labor, and sales of rations. Refugees who arrived less than two months ago, however, did not engage in crop production and are solely relying on food rations. Although WFP reported in July that a pipeline break was likely in August, food assistance continued at planned levels, maintaining Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes.


    Revisions to assumptions used to develop the most likely scenario for the June 2019 to January 2020 Outlook include:

    • Given improved late and off-season rainfall performance, first season bimodal crop production deficits are likely to be less than previously anticipated. Aggregate production is most likely to be approximately 30 percent below average.
    • According to the revised NOAA/CPC forecast, the remainder of the April-September 2019 rainy season in Karamoja is most likely to be above average. Due to a poor start of season and reduced area planted, sorghum production is likely to range from 20 to 40 percent below average at the district level and to be 30 percent below average on aggregate.
    • Based on FEWS NET’s updated price projections, sorghum prices will likely remain above both five-year and 2018 averages through mid-September due to delayed start of the dry harvest in Karamoja. Thereafter, prices are likely to decline through January due to the adequate availability of domestic harvests from mid-September onward.
    • According to WFP and partners, food assistance for refugees is planned through December. However, a shortfall in net funding requirements will likely lead to a pipeline break. Assistance remains planned and likely, but WFP is already experiencing a shortage in resources to continue funding cash and food assistance to refugees; therefore this scenario assumes ration cuts are likely from October to January. Based on historical trends and past ration cuts, assistance is still likely to reach at least 25 percent of the population and meet at least 25 percent of caloric needs.


    In bimodal areas, available food stocks from ongoing harvests and anticipated average production during the second season are expected to improve food security to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) through January. Household food stocks from the first season harvest are expected to last until the start of the second season November/December harvest in most areas. However, poor households in parts of Teso – such as Bukedea – may deplete stocks by October as a result of high first season production deficits, and are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until the second season harvest. Although income from sales of first season beans and maize is expected to be below average, the overlap of first and second season activities is expected to temporarily increase agricultural labor demand, and will provide sufficient additional income and in-kind payments for most poor households to meet their minimum food needs. Additionally, a good rainy season will likely result in the continued availability of agricultural labor opportunities at normal levels through the remainder of the projection period. Even so, prices of some staple commodities like beans and other pulses, groundnuts, and other oilseeds and animal food products are expected to remain atypically above the five-year average until late 2019. This could limit households’ ability to consume preferred foods, negatively impacting dietary diversity. Once the second season harvests begin in November/December, which are expected to be average due to the forecast of average rains, household food stocks will be replenished. Staple food prices will also be stabilized by increased supply at household and market levels in November through February. This will increase household purchasing power, further enabling households to meet both food and non-food needs.

    In Karamoja, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist into October due to the delayed start of the harvest. Market purchases will continue to be the main source of food for most household through October, and staple prices are expected to remain atypically high until more supplies from bimodal areas are realized and availability of own produced food increases.  Income obtained through coping strategies is expected to remain inadequate and terms of trade are likely to remain unfavorable. As such, food access is expected to remain insufficient to eliminate food consumption gaps. Most households are expected to continue consuming one meal per day, consisting primarily of boiled wild leaves, seeds, or vegetables mixed intermittently with sorghum, maize, or brew residues. However, food security will begin to gradually improve as harvesting progresses, beginning in late August in southern Karamoja and expanding upwards to Kaabong through November. Although production will be below average, most poor households are expected to harvest sufficient household food stocks to last through February/March in combination with stressed consumption strategies. As a result, most areas are expected to recover to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through January. However, some areas with larger production deficits are likely to experience at least slight food consumption gaps by January and deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Planned and likely humanitarian food assistance, coupled with below-average harvests in June or July, is expected to sustain Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes among refugee populations through September. However, food security outcomes are expected to deteriorate from October to January due to anticipated funding shortfalls that would lead to ration cuts and reduced cash assistance. Since household food stocks will be depleted in September and second season harvests will not be available until late November/December, refugees’ primary source of food is expected to be humanitarian assistance in October and November. Given ration cuts, refugee households would likely intensify the use of livelihoods coping strategies to delay deterioration to worse outcomes, but many households would experience food consumption gaps and would likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

    Figures Uganda seasonal calendar

In biomodal areas, the first rainy season is from March until July. The second rainy season is fr

    Figure 1


    Raster map showing preliminary CHIRPS rainfall accumulation anomaly. Eastern Uganda experienced rainfall between 100-200mm ab

    Figure 2

    CHIRPS-prelim rainfall accumulation anomaly in mm compared to 1981-2010 mean, June 1– August 30, 2019

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Bar graph showing change in retail price of beans, cassava chips, maize grain, and sorghum grain as a percent of average in b

    Figure 3

    Change in retail price of select commodities as a percent of the 2014-2018 average in various bimodal markets, July 2019

    Source: FEWS NET/Farmgain Africa

    Graph of retail prices of sorghum (observed, five-year average, 2017 prices, and 2018 prices) in Kotido between January 2019

    Figure 4

    Observed retail price of sorghum per kilogram in Kotido district, January 2017-July 2019 compared to the 2014-2018 average

    Source: FEWS NET/Farmgain Africa

    Bar graph showing refugee arrivals per month between November 2018 and July 2019. Refugee arrivals have been increasing stead

    Figure 5

    New refugee arrivals per month, November 2018-July 2019

    Source: UNHCR/OPM

    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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