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Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes likely in refugee settlements by early 2021

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Uganda
  • December 2020
Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes likely in refugee settlements by early 2021

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected through May 2021 in most bimodal areas, driven by near-average second season harvests, the re-opening of livestock markets, anticipated agricultural labor income during the March-May 2021 planting season, and low food prices. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely among households in flood-affected areas and some urban areas, where crop losses and the sluggish recovery of economic activity continue to constrain their food and income sources. In the near-term, civil unrest related to the presidential elections in January 2021 could also periodically disrupt household access to food and income sources and slow down the trajectory of economic recovery.

    • In Karamoja, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are prevalent due to the availability of own-produced crops and the re-opening of livestock markets, which are contributing to improved household income and purchasing power. and are likely to stay below-to-near average through May as surplus second season crops from bimodal areas enter the local markets. However, after their own crops are consumed, household income is expected to be insufficient for many households to meet their food needs. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely during the February-May projection period.

    • Based on ongoing humanitarian food assistance and the near-average second season harvest, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are currently likely in refugee settlements. However, most households are still recovering from the impact of prolonged COVID-19 movement restrictions on income-earning opportunities. After the harvest is consumed and rations decline to 60 percent of a full ration from February, Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected from February to May. According to UNHCR/OPM, Uganda hosted 1,442,138 refugees and asylum seekers as of November 30th.


    Current Situation

    Crop and livestock production: In bimodal areas, an early start of seasonal rainfall, good rainfall performance, and early planting resulted in near-average second season harvests. Second season (August-November) rainfall was above average in most areas through November. Despite earlier concerns that excess rainfall would lead to yield losses, rainfall subsided in December and permitted farmers to dry and complete the harvest of mature crops. This was especially critical for bean production, and the bean harvest is estimated to be better than the past three consecutive harvests. According to annual crop production estimates produced by the FAO’s Global Information Early Warning Systems, total cereal production in Uganda in 2020 is 4.3 percent above 2019 and similar to the five-year average. Maize, sorghum, and other cereals are near to slightly above for both periods of comparison, while paddy rice is 13.6 percent below 2019 and 20.5 percent below the five-year average. Second season crop production in bimodal areas contributed more to annual production totals than the first production season.

    Meanwhile, in Karamoja, the main crop production season is concluding with the minor, long-cycle sorghum harvest in December. FEWS NET estimates that the total main season harvest in 2020 is approximately 10-20 percent below the five-year average. Crop losses occurred due to the impacts of above-average rainfall during the April-September main rainfall season, which caused early-season waterlogging in central and northern Karamoja.

    In the livestock production corridors in southwestern and parts of central Uganda, pasture and water resources are below normal levels. These localized areas experienced an atypical early start of the December-February dry season, which has been amplified by Land Surface Temperatures that range from 3 to 7 C° above average. As a result, the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index indicates that pasture conditions may be less than 60 percent of normal. However, the impacts on livestock production are somewhat mitigated by dry pasture. According to key informants, livestock migration to dry-season grazing areas is still limited, but milk productivity is slightly below seasonal levels. However, in Karamoja, pasture availability and livestock production are seasonally normal with typical declines in greenness and milk observed during the October-March dry season.

    COVID-19 pandemic and recovery: The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in mid-2020 continues to take a toll on economic activity and, consequently, household income. According to the results of the third round of the Uganda High-Frequency Phone Survey on COVID-19 conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank in September/October, the recovery in household income significantly lags behind the recovery in employment rates. Based on responses from surveyed households, employment rates in September/October have nearly returned to pre-COVID-19 levels in 2019/20, reflecting an improvement of 19 percentage points compared to June. Additionally, about 50 percent of respondents with non-farm businesses reported higher sale revenues in September/October compared to July/August. Despite a rising share of households reporting a recovery in income levels, approximately 30-50 percent of households who rely on income from farming, non-farm family businesses, wage employment, or assistance from kin are earning less income compared to July/August. The timing of the survey means that responses do not yet reflect the impact of the government of Uganda’s decision to lift more COVID-19 restrictions in late November, despite a 51 percent increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases from December 1st to the 21st. Specifically, rural open-air markets and livestock markets – where rural households typically sell crops, livestock, and other goods and purchase food – are now permitted to operate.

    Markets and trade: The pandemic's impacts on Uganda’s agricultural exports continue to drive below-normal cross-border trade volumes and suppressed staple food prices. Domestic and regional demand for staple food commodities remains atypically low due to various factors. High-volume, institutional consumers like schools and universities remain closed, and informal cross-border trade is restricted to limit the spread of COVID-19. The mandatory screening of truck drivers has also significantly increased transport costs. A bumper long rains harvest in western Kenya in late 2020 has also contributed to reduced Kenyan demand for maize. Although regional cross-border trade volumes of maize, beans, and rice increased in Q3 2020 compared to Q2 2020, trade volumes remain below Q3 of 2019 and the Q3 five-year average. Low demand and the domestic surplus, which has risen with the availability of the second season bimodal harvest, are the primary drivers of low food prices in key reference markets across Uganda.

    In November, the retail prices of a kilogram of beans, cassava chips, maize grain, and sorghum generally ranged from below to near the five-average in Kampala and other key reference markets across bimodal areas of Uganda (Figure 3). The price of cassava chips is especially low, ranging up to 35 percent below average. Prices generally declined or remained stable from October to November, driven by reduced demand and the second season harvest. Retail prices for beans declined by 8 to 29 percent from October to November, while maize grain prices remained stable in Kampala, Arua, Lira, Masindi, Soroti, Tororo, and Mubende and decreased by 8 percent in Gulu.

    Staple food prices also remain low in Karamoja, though the below-average main season harvest is beginning to affect market prices. From October to November, the retail price of sorghum increased by 19, 56, and 17 percent in Nakapiripirit, Napak, and Kotido, respectively. Despite the month-on-month price increase, however, the sale of a bundle of firewood or charcoal – a key source of income for poor households – could still purchase an atypically high amount of sorghum in most local markets (Figure 4).

    Current food security outcomes

    Despite the sluggish recovery in economic activity and household income, food availability and access generally remain favorable in most rural bimodal areas and among most urban households in Uganda. Average to slightly above-average second season harvests, low staple food prices, and partial recovery in household incomes enable most poor households to meet their minimum daily kilocalorie needs. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are likely in most rural bimodal areas and urban areas, though a low proportion of households may be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Below-normal agricultural demand, the earlier, extended closure of livestock markets, and other pandemic impacts have reduced annual household income from crop and livestock sales, casual labor, and petty trade. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes remain most likely in flood-affected areas in Kasese, Bundibugyo, and Ntoroko districts south of Lake Albert, where households are still recovering from significant first season crop losses.

    In Karamoja, food availability and access are at an annual peak at the end of the harvesting period in December. Most households either have their own-produced food stocks or can purchase staple foods from the market at near-to-below average prices. Middle and better-off households are likely realizing an increase in income from livestock sales following the re-opening of the markets, which has knock-on effects for poor households who rely on income from the associated rise in demand for labor and goods. The above-average terms of trade for sorghum from charcoal and firewood sales are further benefitting poor households, who rely on natural resources sales as a critical income source. As a result, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely as most households can meet their minimum kilocalorie needs but cannot fully cover other non-food needs. It is also likely that a low proportion of poor households who experienced more significant crop losses from early-season waterlogging and lacked resources to replant are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    The availability of average second season harvests to about 40 percent of the refugee population with access to arable land, coupled with humanitarian food assistance equivalent to a 70 percent ration per month, supports Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Although the borders remain closed to new refugees, new arrivals are still receiving full rations for their first three months after registration. Food assistance continues to be pivotal to preventing more severe food insecurity since most refugee households have yet to recover from the impacts of earlier COVID-19 movement restrictions on food and income sources, such as casual labor, trade, and other livelihood activities.


    Revisions to the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Uganda Food Security Outlook for October 2020 to May 2021 include:

    • Household crop and livestock sale income are expected to improve in the short term, resulting from the re-opening of livestock and open-air markets in late November and early December, respectively. However, seasonal income is likely to remain below normal for poor households due to prevailing low food demand and low farmgate prices.
    • Based on better-than-anticipated second season crop production, FEWS NET’s updated, integrated price projection for maize grain in Arua market – a proxy market for the refugee settlements in northwestern Uganda – predicts that the average wholesale price of a kilogram of maize grain is likely to range from 13 percent below the five-year average to 3 percent above the five-year average between December and May. In Karamoja, staple food prices are projected to remain near the five-year average and below 2020 levels.
    • According to WFP, rations to refugees are likely to be reduced to 60 percent of a full ration effective from February 2021.
    • Despite rising COVID-19 cases, movement restrictions are expected to remain limited for economic and political reasons.


    Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are likely to be sustained in most bimodal rural areas through at least May 2021, driven by near-average second season harvests, seasonally low and stable food prices, and labor income from first season (March-May) planting and weeding. 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 improvement in economic activity and lingering COVID-19 restrictions. Additionally, during the presidential and parliamentary elections in January, political and civil unrest may cause some of the urban poor to experience disruptions in access to daily income sources to purchase food.

    In Karamoja, food stocks from the below-average harvest are likely to last poor households through February or March. During the lean season, which begins in March, households will primarily rely on casual labor income, sales of natural resources like charcoal and firewood, and other goods and services to purchase food. The re-opening of the livestock market, in particular, is expected to drive recovery of household income among middle and better-off households and, in turn, lead to improved demand for labor, goods, and services offered by poor households. Based on household food stocks, rising income levels, and low-to-normal food prices, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) are likely to be sustained through March. As food stocks are depleted, however, deterioration to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes is likely during the March to June lean season.

    In refugee settlements, deterioration to Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes is expected after households that cultivated crops deplete their food stocks. Given that refugee households already have limited income sources in a normal year and that they experienced more stringent restrictions on their ability to earn income, household recovery from the COVID-19 economic shock is expected to be slow. Although the anticipated 60 percent ration is expected to mitigate worse outcomes from February, many households will be unable to meet their minimum daily kilocalorie needs.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Reinstated COVID-19 movements restrictions or significant civil unrest

    Civil unrest related to the presidential elections in January 2021 could periodically disrupt household access to food and income sources and slow down the trajectory of economic recovery. In the event that COVID-19 movement restrictions or civil insecurity disrupt poor urban households’ ability to earn off-farm, daily wages for a prolonged time, the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) would likely increase.

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

    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Map of Uganda showing the vegetation conditions compared to the recent median as of early December

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Chart showing the percent change in price for various staple foods

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: Farmgain

    Chart showing the percent change in the terms of trade of firewood and charcoal against sorghum

    Figure 4

    Figure 3

    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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