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Increased food insecurity in greater northern Uganda following poor harvests

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Uganda
  • August 2021
Increased food insecurity in greater northern Uganda following poor harvests

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In greater northern Uganda, more poor households are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes currently than in July due to below-average March-June rainfall that resulted in poor crop production and yield losses. Also, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes persist in urban areas. However, the situation has generally improved since July with the partial re-opening of the economy leading to relatively improved income sources and access to food. However, economic impacts of the past and current COVID-19 restrictions continue to limit household income sources. Overall, poor rural households continue to earn below-normal income from their typical income sources, including crop, livestock, and livestock product sales, which has limited their access to essential food and non-food commodities.

    • In bimodal areas, unevenly distributed early rainfall from late July into early August has prompted ploughing and early planting, although rainfall was insufficient to offset the rainfall deficits and abnormal dryness during the first season over areas mostly in northern Uganda. However, localized heavy rainfall resulted in repeat floods in Kasese district and rising water levels of Lakes Albert and Kyoga in Amolatar, Nakasongola, and Buliisa districts where about 4,200 people have been displaced.

    • A revised forecast for Karamoja indicates light to moderate rainfall that is near average is most likely through the end of April to September rainfall season. Total cumulative rainfall is most likely to conclude at below-average totals, and late season rainfall is unlikely to alleviate the impact of earlier dry spells or significant change to below-average crop production prospects. Significantly delayed and below-normal harvests are expected in September and will temporarily alleviate food consumption gaps for some households. However, for the majority of households, harvests won’t make up enough of their total food and income sources to cover Crisis gaps. Additionally, below-average incomes and below-average terms of trade will limit food access. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to prevail through January 2022.

    • Movement restrictions due to COVID-19 continue to limit access to food and income sources (other than humanitarian sources) among refugees. This population will likely face difficulty practicing their normal livelihoods following the protracted COVID-19 movement restrictions. For instance, many will struggle to access seeds for the second season due to constrained income. Crop harvests from first season resulted in minimal improvement in food availability. Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected to continue through January given the anticipated second season harvests in November/December.


    Seasonal activity and rainfall performance impacts to date: Typically, August is part of the dry season, coinciding with the end of the first season harvest and land preparation for the second season. However, this year, there were atypically early and moderate to locally heavy rains in some bimodal areas. Nonetheless, these rains have not been sufficient to compensate for the below-average rainfall since April. While the rains have enhanced land preparation and planting for some farmers in the central and parts of southwest, persistent dryness and rainfall deficits ranging 25 – 200 mm are widespread in greater northern Uganda, (Figure 1) which is delaying pasture regeneration and land preparation for the second season.

    In Karamoja, total seasonal rainfall to date for the April to September main season is below average, following the delayed start of the season, erratic rainfall in May, and a severe dry spell from May through June. The deficits are most apparent in the northern districts of Karenga, Kaabong, Kotido, and Abim. However, unevenly distributed rainfall resumed in July/August enabling some improved crop growth and development. Some households replanted or planted for the first time; however, the area cultivated for calendar year 2021 is below average, and production is expected to be significantly below average. Legume crops were mostly destroyed due to moisture stress while the more resistant sorghum was the only crop left in most areas and is at varying stages of growth from vegetative to grain filling. Given the slow start of the season, seasonal labor demand for on-farm activities has been below normal, though slightly improved with the resumption of rainfall in July/August.

    Atypically heavy August rainfall caused the Nyamwamba River to overflow, resulting in repeated floods in Kasese district and the displacement of over 400 households. Rising water levels from Lakes Albert and Kyoga in Amolatar, Nakasongola, and Buliisa districts have displaced over 4,200 people. Crop fields, livestock grazing areas, and livelihood activities, were negatively affected as many areas were submerged by flooding waters and roads, and houses have been destroyed.

    Based on the latest Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), vegetation conditions are mostly below average following the below-average rainfall performance since March. In the cattle corridor districts and localized areas of central and eastern Uganda, the vegetation status was very poor. This was exacerbated by higher-than-normal temperatures (by two to seven degrees Celsius) during the June-August period. Below-average pasture and water availability resulted in fair livestock body conditions causing a slight to moderate reduction in milk production. While milk prices increased by 10 to 20 percent, households earned below average incomes due to low milk supply. However, early light to moderate August rains caused some slight improvement in vegetation and pasture conditions. The continued closure of livestock markets and quarantine due to Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) continues to limit competitive prices for livestock. Low vaccination, communal watering points in the cattle corridor districts and porous borders allowing in infected animals from Tanzania and DRC have prolonged the spread and impact of FMD in the endemic districts.

    First season crop production outcomes and impacts: Below-average rainfall since March resulted in very poor crop production outcomes ranging from total crop loss to meagre harvests in Northern Uganda. However, in other bimodal areas, crop production was slightly below average with localized crop losses where planting was late following the early cessation of rainfall. As a result, for some poor households, own food stocks are expected to run out by October and dependence on markets will increase leading up to the November/December harvest season.  

    COVID-19 preventative measures impacts: While the national lockdown was lifted at the end of July, other restrictive measures remain in place like the closure of weekly open-air food and livestock markets, nighttime curfew, closure of schools, and limitations on any form of large gatherings. These continue to limit access to income earning opportunities and competitive prices for staple commodities. The daily new cases are declining and the fatality rate has reduced to single digits.  Only about 3.5 percent of the population has at least received one dose of vaccine since March 2021 and experts are warning of another COVID-19 wave that could be driven by possible variants and low levels of vaccination. Although income-earning opportunities have improved for the urban poor since the partial lifting of the lockdown, economic activity remains slow paced compared to pre-COVID-19 levels. Incomes of urban poor households remain below average with many unable to purchase essential non-food items. Food security for rural households is worse after the latest June/July lockdown compared to the first lockdown in April-June 2020. Worse crop production leading into the 2021 lockdown, coupled with restrictions equally effective in preventing other income-earning sources reduced households’ ability to access typical food and income sources.


    Markets and trade: Despite below-normal crop harvests from the first season, there is still a national surplus of cereals and legumes, though less than usual. Typical domestic demand for staple food commodities remains below normal due to school closures, relatively low demand from hotels and restaurants, and reduced consumption among consumers – mostly the urban poor – associated with COVID-19 restrictions.

    Regional export volumes increased in Q2 2021 despite the lockdown in June/July. The amount of maize and sorghum traded within the eastern Africa region was more than 100 percent higher than Q2 2020 and more than 50 percent higher than the five-year average.  This dynamic was due to enhanced COVID-19 screenings for transporters, mycotoxin tests at Kenyan border crossings, and increasing demand in South Sudan following an improvement in hard currency availability.

    Retail price analysis between June and July shows mixed trends. Cassava and bean prices are below the five-year average while maize grain prices stabilized or increased slightly. Sorghum prices increased in some markets but were stable in others (Figure 3). In Karamoja, sorghum, a common staple, had atypically increased above five-year average prices and last year prices (Figure 4) while the prices of income earning products like charcoal and firewood declined, resulting in poor terms of trade in Moroto, Kaabong and Nakapiripirit (Figure 5). Goat ToTs are below the five-year average in all markets except in Kotido. Food access through these typical livelihoods is less than usual sustaining the consumptions gaps poor households are already facing.

    Current food security outcomes: Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in the greater northern Uganda districts are driven by below-average harvests and below-average household income due to limited crop sales and the limited alternative income-earning opportunities available in rural areas. Based on field inquiries and key informants, an increasing number of households are missing at least one meal a day and turned to consuming less preferred foods. Some poor households are unable to access seeds and other inputs in preparation for the second season rains. Staples from other surplus producing areas are available on the market, though poor households are finding difficulty to accessing food on markets due to limited purchasing power.

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes prevail in Karamoja while some extremely poor households already facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes since June have not improved. Typical access to green harvest consumption in July will be unavailable until September for most due to delayed planting and interrupted crop development from the long dry spell in May/June. Current food consumption is inadequate and driven by the prolonged lean season resulting from delayed harvests and below-average household incomes, exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions. Alternative income earning opportunities remain limited resulting in low purchasing power. Persistent insecurity from livestock raids by armed Karamojong, as described in the June 2021 Food Security Outlook, has intensified poor food security outcomes especially in Kaabong, Napak, and Kotido districts despite the on-going voluntary disarmament exercise.

    While food security among poor households in the urban areas is improving, most households are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes and are unable to afford essential non-food items. The government distributed cash assistance of 100,000 UGX to about 500,000 beneficiaries in July although the timing of the relief was delayed and the coverage inadequate to meet needs. Beneficiary groups included those deemed to be the most affected by the national lockdown across the country.

    Refugees were impacted by below-average rainfall in northern Uganda as well as COVID-19 restrictions. Refugee households who practice farming harvested below-normal yields especially those in the West Nile region and the southwest. The typical contribution to household food and income sources are less than usual. However, a 60 percent ration of humanitarian food assistance is notably contributing to consumption and preventing worse outcomes. However, available information suggests many refugees still face slight consumption deficits or are engaging in negative coping and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) food security outcomes are anticipated. According to UNHCR/OPM, Uganda hosted 1,499,562 refugees and asylum seekers as of 30th July.


    Revisions to the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Uganda Food Security Outlook for June 2021 to January 2022 include:

    • In Karamoja, based on short-term GEFS and monthly NMME and WMO forecasts, light to moderate rainfall that is near average is most likely through the end of the April to September rainfall season in Karamoja, Uganda. Total cumulative rainfall is most likely to conclude at below average totals, and late season rainfall is unlikely to alleviate the impact of earlier dry spells or significantly change below-average crop production prospects.
    • Based on the revised forecast of cumulative below-average rainfall through September is expected to lead to below average pasture and water availability to support typical livestock body conditions and productivity. As a result, livestock grazing routes and livestock-related income are expected to continue to be periodically disrupted by ongoing insecurity and thefts as well as the near-term closure of livestock markets under COVID-19 restrictions.


    In urban areas, unemployment levels are expected to be higher than typical given the impact of COVID-19 restrictive measures on economic activity. In the near term, COVID-19 cases are likely to increase given the low vaccination levels and relaxation in observing the recommended standard operating procedures by the Ministry of Health. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist among households in who work in the informal sector, who rely on a daily wage to access food.

    In most bimodal areas, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes will likely be sustained, given the below-normal harvests coupled with below average local demand for food. However, an atypically high number of households will likely experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in flood-affected areas due to rising water levels and susceptible rivers that burst their banks. Similar outcomes are likely to persist in the greater northern Uganda where first-season crop losses were most significant and available food stocks are not expected to last through to the next harvest season as is typical. Some households are likely not able to access seeds and other inputs for the next season following the losses incurred from first season and limited alternative income sources. Typical crop sale income used to access non-food items is expected to be below average because of below-normal domestic demand that suppressed farmgate prices after harvests. The continued closure of food and livestock markets in the rural areas is expected to deny farmers more competitive prices for their commodities and livestock.

    In Karamoja, even with delayed access to green harvest in September, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food security outcomes are expected to persist during the harvest period and deteriorate further following significantly below-average harvests. It is expected that several households will not harvest anything or will consume all their harvest in green form, leading to an early start of the lean season. Any minor improvement in food availability is likely not going to be uniform in the region because of the differences in the rainfall distribution and timing of planting. Food purchases are expected to continue to be a main source of food until January, yet staple prices are expected to be above average. Below-average seasonal incomes from crop sales and other typical livelihood sources like firewood and charcoal sales will likely not be sufficient to enhance food purchases to meet food and non-food needs, thereby sustaining significant food consumption gaps. Food consumption coping measures like eating less preferred food, reduced meal sizes and frequency are expected to continue among the poor households, resulting in higher than usual acute malnutrition prevalence in the post-harvest period.

    In refugee settlements, Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes will likely persist through January with expected near normal second season crop production. Refugees’ dependence on food assistance will most likely remain very high as COVID-19 movement restrictions continue to limit their access to income sources in the near term. With food assistance remaining critical to preventing more severe food consumption gaps. Between October and January, relative improvements in household mobility in the near term and the availability of second season harvests in November, provision of the 60 percent ration, will likely improve individual food and income sources but will be insufficient to prevent food consumption gaps in the medium term.  


    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: UCSB

    Figure 2

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 3

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Figure 4

    Figure 4

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Figure 5

    Figure 5

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    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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