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Increasing number of refugees and poor households in Karamoja in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through May

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Uganda
  • December 2021
Increasing number of refugees and poor households in Karamoja in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through May

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Significantly below-average October to December rainfall in northern, parts of central, and eastern Uganda is expected to result in below-average second season production. While most poor households, concentrated in central and western areas where production will be relatively better, will experience None (IPC Phase 1) through May 2022, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected among poor households in northern and eastern areas. In Karamoja, exceptionally dry conditions are causing early declines in livestock productivity, while rising food prices and below-average harvests are expected to drive further declines in food availability. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will persist through at least May 2022 in large parts of Karamoja.

    • Staple food prices have increased above the five-year average and 2021 levels across most of Uganda. Sorghum and maize prices are significantly above average in several key reference markets in Karamoja. A less than usual surplus from 2021 first and second season production, relative recovery in net exports, and anticipation for a full reopened economy in January drove high national staple prices. Scarce local food supply is already impacting Karamoja as it relies on imports from neighboring districts. The sale of firewood, charcoal, and goats all purchase less sorghum currently than the five-year average, driving lower food access for poor households.

    • Food security outcomes in refugee settlements have been supported by assistance covering 40-70 percent of basic kilocalorie needs. However, as stocks from second season harvests deplete in early 2022, an increasing number of refugees will face food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). This relatively higher level of acute food insecurity will persist until the next harvest in June. Although FEWS NET expects that the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the presence of assistance will remain under 20 percent, and assistance will continue to support Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes at the area-level, more severe and widespread outcomes would be likely in the absence of assistance.


    Crop and livestock production: In bimodal Uganda, cumulative second season rainfall (September – December) was significantly below average and poorly distributed temporally and spatially. Cumulative rainfall was 55 to 75 percent of the long-term average in northern and eastern Uganda, equivalent to 100 to 200 mm of rainfall, with larger deficits in central Uganda (Figure 1). Ground conditions were worsened by the corresponding hotter-than-normal land surface conditions. The seasonal performance is associated with the adverse impacts of the current La-Nina and warm west Pacific events.

    Generally, following the late and varied onset of September to December rainfall which resulted in unsynchronized planting activities across cropping zones, crop performance was varied depending on the time of planting and rainfall distribution. In northern and eastern Uganda, dry spells were more frequent while in other areas, poor rainfall was punctuated by brief, torrential rains that led to severe flash floods, heavy storms/hailstorms, and landslides notably in Kasese, Rakai, Sironko, and Bukomansimbi. In December, the last month of the growing season, rainfall atypically decreased while in eastern and north-eastern regions and parts of the Victoria basin it has decreased significantly.

    In bimodal areas, harvesting is ongoing following the patterns of varied and staggered planting and rainfall distribution. While some harvesting for cereals and legumes began by mid-November, the main harvest is delayed in some areas but expected to be complete by early January for crops like millet and sorghum in western and northern Uganda. Overall, the cereal and legume harvest is moderate to slightly below average with localized areas of very poor crop harvests in Teso and parts of northeastern Uganda. However, other crops like cassava, bananas, sweet potatoes had near-average production.

    Meanwhile, in Karamoja, the main crop production season is concluding with the minor, long-cycle sorghum harvest in December which is significantly below average. FEWS NET estimates from the crop tour by the regional scientists that, the total main season harvest in 2021 was poorest in parts of Moroto, Kaabong, Kotido, and Napak with cereal production estimated at 40-50 percent of the normal harvest. Conversely, the southern and western districts of Nakapiripirit and Nabilatuk saw relatively better grain production prospects of between 60-80 percent of normal harvest. Crop losses occurred due to the impacts of below-average erratic rainfall, interspaced with an atypically long dry spell and two flooding/waterlogging events during the April-September main rainfall season that also contributed to the below normal area planted.

    According to the latest eMODIS/NDVI percent of median (Figure 2), current vegetation conditions are exceptionally drier-than-normal over Karamoja and localized parts of the cattle corridor districts, in response to sequential poor rainfall performance since November – exacerbated by the ongoing hotter-than-normal temperatures. However, the impacts on livestock production are being somewhat mitigated by dry pasture and occasional rains that result in some regrowth. 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 and water availability is likely to be competitive as herds from Turkana come to forage in Karamoja while livestock-related insecurity continues to hinder normal seasonal grazing movements.

    Resurgence of COVID-19 infections and economic recovery: According to the Bank of Uganda (BOU) State of the Economy Report December 2021, economic activity weakened in the second quarter amidst the reimposition of COVID-19 restrictions. However, in line with the relaxation of restrictions and growing consumer demand, the latest high-frequency indicators showed some recovery beginning in October 2021. However, annual headline inflation and core inflation rose to 2.6 percent in November 2021, from 1.9 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively, in October 2021. This increase was driven by rapidly increasing energy and food prices resulting in inflation on all components in the CPI basket. Crude oil prices rose sharply to 83.7 USD per barrel in October 2021, increasing by 12.1 percent relative to September 2021 and 22.9 percent relative to May 2021, leading to significant increases in local pump prices. This increased the cost of doing business and subsequently led to higher prices of goods and services, further constraining business and momentum in consumer demand. Given the high uncertainty, inflation pressures will likely continue rising driven by weaker-than-expected global growth, supply chain disruptions, and the re-imposition of containment measures due to the resurgence of COVID-19 variants. These economic conditions are expected to further constrain food access among urban households with reduced income-earning opportunities, and the increasing price of the food basket overall resulting in reduced purchasing power.

    Markets and trade: Despite the pandemic's impacts on Uganda’s agricultural exports, regional demand due to drought and other natural hazards continues to drive improving cross-border trade volumes given the relative competitive staple food prices. Domestic demand for staple food commodities remains atypically low due to various factors including reduced high-volume demand from institutional consumers like schools, which remain closed. Staple food prices have generally increased following seasonal reduction of household and market stocks, made worse by the below-average seasonal rainfall for the second season. Sorghum grain and maize prices are around 10 to 50 percent above the five-year average in November across major markets (Figure 3). Retail prices for maize, cassava chips, and sorghum increased by 11-77 percent in comparison to 2020. Bean prices, however, were below average for all markets monitored. The second consecutive below average harvest in December/January is not replenishing household and market stocks nor incomes from crop sales as is typical. Uganda is expected to remain a major source of regional supply although the tradeable surplus in 2021 is less than usual. Speculation over the likelihood of increased local and cross-border demand following less than usual surplus production in Uganda and Kenya is expected to keep prices above last year and the recent five-year average. 

    In Karamoja, sorghum prices increased significantly by around 10-55 percent compared to the five-year average and 2020 prices at the same time. This follows the significantly poor 2021 crop harvest in the region but also from surrounding districts in the bimodal areas that serve Karamoja as a food basket. Given the increase in food prices and declining value of the sale of a bundle of firewood or charcoal – a key source of income for poor households – earning less income than usual and, therefore, purchasing less food than last year and the five-year average in most local markets (Figure 4).

    Current food security outcomes

    In bimodal areas, as the harvesting comes to completion, below-average food stocks at household and market levels are already anticipated given the below-average second season harvests. While food availability and some purchases are likely to sustain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in most areas, the greater northern Uganda including parts of Teso and eastern region are expected to continue facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through May. Above-average staple prices are limiting food access for poor households with greater dependence on markets, given that income sources such as charcoal and firewood sales, agricultural labor, and livestock sales have been below average. Below-average rainfall, as well as the slow-paced and uncertain economic recovery, has kept incomes below average. While income sources for poor urban households without savings and who rely on daily wages have been improving, others with limited coping capacity are expected to continue experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes given the rising food and non-food commodity prices. Overall, below-average harvests in November/December have improved food availability and access though to a lesser degree than normal. Regional trade in staple commodities is exerting pressure on prices due to an increase in demand in spite of the below-average harvest since Uganda’s staple prices remain competitive. Below-normal income levels because of reduced crop sales are expected to constrain poor households’ purchasing power.

    In Karamoja, significantly below-average harvests have left poor households highly reliant on market purchases to meet their minimum food needs. Insecurity from cattle thefts continues to negatively affect poor households by denying them the ability to access income for food purchase and safe grazing areas for their herds. Below-average terms of trade following high staple prices and below-average incomes earned from selling firewood and charcoal is limiting food access. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist as many very poor households continue to limit meal sizes, substitute less preferred foods, and reduce expenditure on non-food items.

    Among the refugee settlements, below-average second season rainfall has resulted in poor crop production, especially among the north and West Nile settlements. In these areas, most refugee households are minimally meeting their basic needs through small harvest, income-earning opportunities – though at lower levels than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic – and, most vitally, humanitarian assistance consisting of about 60-70 percent of basic kilocalorie needs. Among those worst-affected who were unable to harvest or who face difficulty accessing income to purchase even small amounts of food, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely.

    For the settlements in the southwest, refugees are now receiving assistance meeting only 40 percent of their basic kilocalorie needs. In these areas, though, the second season harvest was relatively better and is improving food consumption. Overall economic activity and livelihood options are relatively better in the refugee settlements in the southwest, and this also supports relatively greater food access than in northern refugee settlements. However, among those who were unable to harvest and face difficulty accessing income-earning opportunities – which have declined since the start of the pandemic – it is likely they are facing food consumption gaps even in the presence of humanitarian food assistance. Overall, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes persist at the area-level, signifying that over 80 percent of the population is minimally meeting their basic food needs with the support of assistance, though they are unable to meet their non-food needs, and a proportion of the population is in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4), even in the presence of ongoing assistance.


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

    • Despite rising COVID-19 cases since mid-December, the remaining movement restrictions are expected to be further reduced in preparation for the full reopening of the economy in January.


    Given the highly uncertain economic outlook dependent on the availability of sufficient vaccines to counter the new vaccine-resistant virus strains, and a balance between containment measures and economic recovery, growth prospects remain tilted to the downside. It is expected that the new Omicron variant - considered more infectious than other strains is expected to slow recovery and growth in 2022. Inflation risks are expected to be skewed to the upside given that global commodity prices and global pandemic-induced supply-demand mismatches are likely to lead to more sustained price pressures, as projected by BOU. Income earning opportunities for the poor households especially in the urban areas and the increasing food basket are expected to constrain access to food and non-food items.

    In bimodal areas, the below-average second season harvest is not expected to replenish household and market stocks to a normal level. Pasture and water availability, especially in northern Uganda including Karamoja, are expected to deteriorate faster than usual given the below-average rainfall received. Below average income from crop sales, continued limited livestock movement, limited income-earning opportunities during the January-February dry season coupled with high food prices are expected to limit access to food. While the majority are expected to have increased food availability in December to support Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in most rural areas of the southwest and parts of central Uganda, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist in parts of northern Uganda where this poor harvest will be the second consecutive below-average harvest.

    In Karamoja, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) area-level outcomes and a small proportion of households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes will likely persist, following the significantly below-average seasonal harvests in 2021. While minimal harvests and safety net programs by WFP and government are positively contributing to food access, poor households continue to face slight to moderate food consumption gaps given the low harvests and high staple prices alongside below-average and declining firewood/charcoal-to-cereal terms of trade. Livestock thefts and related insecurity are expected to continue limiting income from animal sales for some, as well as the movement of livestock in need of accessing the dry season grazing areas. An increasing number of poor households are expected to exhaust stocks from own production and engage in consumption and livelihoods coping in an effort to mitigate consumption gaps.

    In northern refugee settlements, the harvest will contribute even less than is typical, depleting in early 2022 for most households. The continuation of a 60-70 percent ration, alongside some income-earning opportunities in West Nile and northern Uganda settlements, will allow most to continue to meet their basic food needs and be Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!). However, given the importance of the harvest in contributing to total food sources, an increasing number of refugees in these settlements will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes even in the presence of assistance through May, until the next harvest is available in June.  For refugees in settlements in the southwest, food security improvements from the harvest will last slightly less than usual compared to settlements in the north and West Nile, since with the 40 percent ration, they are expected to rely more on own food stocks to narrow the gap in consumption. Income-earning opportunities and market purchases will remain key to refugees minimally meeting their basic food needs and are expected to be supported by the relatively higher economic activity and livelihood options near these settlements. Overall, area-level Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) are expected at the area-level. However, among those who were not able to harvest and who will continue to face significant difficulty earning income to purchase food, the now 40 percent ration will be insufficient to support refugees meeting their basic food needs and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes will be likely.  

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

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

    AreaeventImpact on food security outcomes


    Reinstated COVID-19 movements restrictions

    In the event that COVID-19 movement restrictions are reinstated due to a third wave of increased cases, further slow down in the trajectory of economic recovery would affect poor urban households’ ability to earn off-farm and daily wages resulting in a likely higher population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Additionally, in refugee settlements where many are facing lower access to food assistance following ration cuts, access to income to purchase food is key (alongside biannual harvest) to many households’ ability to meet their basic food needs. Should movement restrictions significantly restrict current levels of income-earning, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes would be likely in refugee settlements. 



    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1.

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 2.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Figure 3.

    Source: Farmgain

    Figure 5

    Figure 4.

    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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