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Above-average second season bimodal harvest improves food security in Uganda

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Uganda
  • December 2023
Above-average second season bimodal harvest improves food security in Uganda

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through May 2024
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • In bimodal areas, cumulative second season rainfall from September to December was generally above average, supporting above-average staple food production through the end of December. The availability of own-produced cereals and reduction in staple food prices have supported an increase in access to food and improved food security outcomes from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) for most poor households, particularly in northern and eastern Uganda. National bean production has generally been average, which is higher than the previous four consecutive seasons. The second season harvest is expected to continue into early 2024 for cereals like maize and millet and will likely sustain most household food stocks and market supply through April. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected across bimodal areas through May 2024.
    • Staple food prices continued to decline across monitored markets in bimodal areas between October and December, supported by increased supplies from second season harvests. The retail prices of beans, maize, and sorghum grain decreased by 6 to 20 percent across monitored markets from October to November and are generally trending below November 2022 prices. In accordance, annual food inflation decreased from 2.1 percent in November to 0.1 percent in December. Retail staple prices are expected to drop further between December 2023 and February 2024 with the boost in supply from the harvest, coupled with below-average regional demand for most Ugandan grains, which is expected to continue through March 2024. 
    • In Karamoja, poor households face an early start of the lean season due to the early exhaustion of below-average 2023 harvests. However, the neighboring second season bimodal harvest has increased staple food supply in Karamoja markets, which has helped stabilize – and even reduce – staple food prices to below-average levels. Financial access to food remains constrained by inadequate access to income from typical livelihood activities due to the several years of depleted assets through the 2020-2023 drought. While levels of acute food insecurity are likely lower than last year, it is expected that households will face a seasonal increase in food consumption gaps through the remainder of the lean season and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through May 2024. 
    • According to UNHCR, Uganda hosted 1,615,162 refugees and asylum seekers as of December 31, registering 21,804 new refugees in October and November alone. Although food availability and access have improved with second season bimodal harvests and seasonally reduced staple food prices, many poor households had minimal access to land or agricultural inputs for cultivation, limiting their own-produced food stocks. Poor refugees continue to rely on negative food-based coping strategies, including eating less preferred or nutritious meals and reducing meal frequency and portion size. Sustained influxes of refugees continue to drive high competition for scarce labor opportunities and community resources, limiting household access to income and food. This, compounded by seasonal price increases and harvest exhaustion by March, is expected to lead to an increased number of households facing consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through May 2024.

    Current Situation

    Rainfall performance and seasonal crop and livestock production: In bimodal areas, cumulative rainfall from October to December has generally been above average, supported by the effects of El Niño (Figure 1). However, in early to mid-December, rainfall reduced to below-average levels, with deficits ranging from 30 to 75 percent of normal, particularly in central, southern, and northeastern Uganda, before increasing again in mid-to-late December. Southern Karamoja was the most severely impacted by the December rainfall deficits manifested in below-average vegetation, which were compounded by above-average temperatures of 3 to 7 degrees Celsius.

    Harvesting and green consumption in bimodal areas started on-time in late November and continued through December. Following the favorable rains, national second-season cereal production in bimodal areas so far is likely above average, while legume production is likely average, with regional pockets of below-average production due to excess moisture. Preliminary estimates by FEWS NET supported by field key informants indicate that the production of legumes including beans is likely to have outperformed the past four to five seasons.  The above-average second season rainfall has also supported favorable growth for perennial crops, such as cassava and sweet potatoes, and plantation crops, including bananas, coffee, tea, and sugarcane, primarily in western, central, and eastern Uganda. 

    Despite mostly favorable rainfall conditions, localized heavy rainfall in October and November resulted in flooding – including the overflow of major riverbanks – and waterlogging events, resulting in the damage, destruction, and obstruction of some roads in the worst-affected rural and urban areas. In November, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that Madi Okollo, Adjumani, Yumbe, Kayunga, and Apac districts, among others, were the worst affected, with an estimated 38,547 individuals impacted.  However, overall, the extent of flooding, landslides, and crop damage was generally lower than what was initially anticipated with the forecasted El Niño-enhanced rainfall.

    In unimodal Karamoja, the April to October rainy season was spatially and temporally erratic, although cumulative rainfall totals were generally above average. In November and December, off-season rainfall was below average, which negatively impacted some pasture and water resources. Overall, the main sorghum harvest was below average, and fewer households have remaining dry harvest stocks by the end of December than normal, with some poor households already having exhausted their supply. 

    According to satellite-derived vegetation data, vegetation conditions at the end of December are largely average to above average across bimodal areas; however, some areas in southern and eastern Uganda do contain maturing crops showing signs of senescence (yellowing and browning of leaves) by satellite. In most parts of the cattle corridor districts, including Karamoja, in December, pasture and water availability for livestock production are generally average to above average and considerably improved relative to 2022. However, in the southern Karamoja districts of Napak, Nakapiripirit, and Amudat, which experienced more severe dry spells during the rainy season, reportedly have slightly below-average pasture conditions. Livestock body condition and production in the cattle corridor districts and across the nation have been favorable, resulting in normal levels of milk production. However, several districts in central Uganda have experienced minor livestock disease outbreaks. This includes an anthrax outbreak in the Kyotera district, which reportedly resulted in the death of livestock, as well as foot and mouth disease in Sembabule and Lyantonde districts, which resulted in a livestock quarantine, a ban on the movement of live animals, and the sale of livestock products. This has resulted in a loss of food and income sources in the affected districts.

    Refugee settlements: According to the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR, Uganda hosted 1,615,162 refugees and asylum seekers as of December 31, 2023. South Sudanese refugees account for 923,658 (57 percent) of Uganda’s refugee population, while 505,738 refugees (32 percent) originated from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In the DRC, political turmoil and violence related to the 2023 presidential election and the ongoing activity of M23, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and other armed groups, particularly in North Kivu, continue to drive displacement into Uganda and neighboring countries. The remaining 11 percent of refugees in Uganda are from Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.

    Despite constraints to production, like inadequate inputs and lack of financial access to renting plots of land outside the settlements, the above-average seasonal rainfall was favorable for the approximately 40 percent of refugee households that cultivated crops. The timing for both green consumption and dry harvest was typical and resulted in seasonal improvement to food access. However, according to key informants, nearly all legume and cereal harvests are being consumed in green form. Own production is increasingly important among refugees following the reduction in food assistance in July, as detailed in the FEWS NET October Food Security Outlook.

    The increased availability of grain and other crops in surrounding markets supported a decrease in staple food prices in November; however, even with the decline in food prices, the persistent lack of income-generating opportunities continues to limit the household purchasing power of most poor refugees. 

    While the above-average rainfall was largely beneficial for crop production, heavy rains in Rhino Camp in November reportedly caused flooding, destruction of shelters, displacement of affected households, and loss of household items and income sources. Additionally, the floodwaters increased exposure of refugees to water and vector-borne diseases, including malaria, amid heavily stretched health services.

    Following the implementation of the needs-based re-prioritization of humanitarian food assistance in the 13 refugee settlements in July, several refugee households appealed for recategorization. Results from the joint appeals mechanism show that only five percent of those who appealed were successful. According to WFP, out of a total of 21,933 claims received, only 1,191 were recategorized. Of these, 136 households were re-assigned to category one and will start receiving 60 percent rations, and 1,055 households were re-assigned to category two and will start receiving 30 percent rations. Regardless, the ration sizes for both categories one and two remain inadequate to meet households' minimum daily caloric requirement. According to the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG), in December, nearly six months after the implementation of the reprioritized assistance, the monthly severe acute malnutrition (SAM) admissions slightly increased from 879 in September to 969 in October, although admissions rates remain lower than in December 2022.

    Markets and trade: In December, annual headline inflation remained stable at 2.6 percent, consistent with November and only a marginal increase from October. Meanwhile, food inflation reduced to 0.1 percent in December, down from 2.1 percent in November, the lowest it has been since mid-2021. This is following the increased supply of vegetables, tubers, plantains, cooking bananas, and pulses with the favorable first and second season harvests in 2023 and the decreased regional demand, resulting in decreased food prices on the market. 

    Above-average second season harvests in the west, southwest, and central regions for most cereals and generally average legume production are increasing supply in the local markets. The availability of harvests is reducing staple prices amidst atypically low regional demand from typical deficit-producing countries, including Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi. In November, the retail price of beans, maize, and sorghum grain seasonally declined 6 to 20 percent month-on-month across monitored markets in bimodal areas following the onset of second season harvesting. Bean prices in November were generally similar to prices in November 2022, except for in Gulu and Arua markets, where prices were 15 to 18 percent higher, likely because harvesting will commence in January/February in these areas. Meanwhile, bean prices remain 27 to 50 percent higher than the five-year average across monitored markets due to the residual impacts of the last two consecutive years of poor bean harvests. 

    Domestic maize prices were relatively stable month-on-month due to the availability of old-stock maize grain on the market, coupled with the arrival of new harvests from Soroti, Masindi, Kiboga, Mubende, Arua, Zombo, and Kyankwanzi. Meanwhile, maize grain prices are 20 to 30 percent below 2022 levels and remain only marginally above the five-year average (Figure 2). The retail prices of sorghum grain in the Karamoja region have declined by 6 to 16 percent between October and November and are 16 to 42 percent lower than November 2022 prices in most markets (Figure 3). In Moroto, Napak, and Kaabong, the price of sorghum is 35 to 52 percent below November 2022 prices, mainly due to the improved supply of sorghum from the Acholi sub-region. Terms of trade (ToT) of sorghum for charcoal and firewood were mostly negative in November, with households buying less sorghum with the sale of charcoal/firewood in November compared to October across most markets in Karamoja (Figure 4).

    Figure 1

    Retail price of Maize in November 2023, as a percent of November 2022, the five-year average, and October 2023
    Retail price of Maize in November 2023, as a percent of November 2022, the five-year average, and October 2023

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Figure 2

    Retail price of Sorghum in 2023, 2022, and the five-year average, in Moroto, Kotido, and Napak districts, Karamoja region
    Retail price of sorghum in 2022, 2023, and the five-year average, in Moroto, Kotido, and Napak districts, Karamoja region

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Figure 3

    Terms of Trade (ToT) for sorghum (Kg) relative to firewood and charcoal in November 2023, as a percent of November 2022, the five-year average, and October 2023
    Sorghum (Kg) Terms of Trade (ToT) relative to firewood and charcoal in November 2023, as a percent of November 2022, the five-year average, and October 2023

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Overall, the price of livestock in Karamoja – including goats, bulls, and cows – is 6 to 53 percent higher than in November 2022. Meanwhile, month-on-month price trends for livestock in Karamoja were mixed. The price of goats in Napak increased by 27 percent between October and November, but there was an 11 to 13 percent price decline in other monitored markets. Similar mixed trends were observed for bulls and cattle across monitored markets in November. Increasing livestock prices were likely driven by the scarcity of animals offered for sale amid increased demand ahead of the festive season. Additionally, the relative decline in food prices and improved financial access to food in Karamoja has resulted in reduced reliance on selling livestock for income and, thus, a lower number of animals on the market for sale. 

    In bimodal areas, most households are experiencing typical seasonal improvements in food availability with the second season harvest and increased access to food from the seasonally reduced staple prices. While rural households are receiving slightly lower than normal incomes from crop sales due to the reduced staple prices, the urban poor households have improved access to food through market purchases due to improved household purchasing power. Overall, households in western, central, and eastern Uganda continue to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in December. The greater north and Teso sub-region, which for most of 2023 faced Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to consecutive below-average seasonal harvests, has also improved to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) levels of acute food insecurity at the area level. Households that were previously atypically purchase-dependent for food are now obtaining most of their food from their own production, indicating a more food-secure situation compared to the same time last year.

    In Karamoja, area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes continue to prevail in December, with some extremely poor households likely facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. Most poor households have heavily depleted their food stocks by December, causing households to be atypically reliant on market purchases to access food. While market supply is normal and staple prices are lower than last year at this time, below-average seasonal income and limited income-earning opportunities are limiting poor households’ purchasing power. With limited access to on-farm labor opportunities in November and December and depleted livestock herd sizes following many years of conflict, livelihood profiles remain limited. Many continue to rely on negative food-based coping strategies such as eating less preferred/nutritious foods, skipping meals, and reducing meal portions. According to key informants, poor households also continue to rely on livelihood coping strategies associated with Crisis (IPC Phases 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4), including migration from rural Karamoja to towns like Soroti, Mbale, Kampala, begging, and bartering. School feeding is temporarily paused following the end of the school calendar year until the first term begins in February 2024. WFP continues to implement the supplementary feeding program in which children under five years old with moderate acute malnutrition and pregnant and breastfeeding women and girls are supported.

    Refugees: At least 20 percent of refugees continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Some households have benefited from green and limited dry harvests following the start of the second season harvest in November, resulting in temporary relief in food availability and access. However, many had only very minimal access to land or inputs for second season cultivation and received marginal harvests lasting less than a month. WFP’s food assistance ration sizes remain inadequate to mitigate the existing gaps and meet the daily minimum food needs for refugee households. Consequently, refugees continue to engage in negative food-based coping strategies, including eating less preferred foods, skipping meals, and reducing portions. As such, an increasing number of refugees in settlements are facing moderate food consumption deficits or are only marginally able to meet minimum food needs by engaging in negative coping strategies that deplete essential livelihood assets, as described in the Uganda Food Security Outlook for October 2023 to May 2024

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal Calendar
    Seasonal calendar for a typical year in Uganda.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Uganda Food Security Outlook for October 2023 to May 2024 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • Following a prolonged second season of rainfall and a prolonged planting period, second season harvesting is anticipated to continue beyond the normal October to December period, likely through January and into early February. With the positive impacts of the above-average El Niño-enhanced rainfall, above-average second-season cereal production is expected in bimodal areas through the remainder of the harvest period. Meanwhile, as previously projected, legume production is expected to be average overall – improved relative to the previous four consecutive seasons – with fewer localized post-harvest losses due to floods and waterlogging than previously anticipated.

    Projected Outlook through May 2024

    In most bimodal areas, above-average second-season cereal harvests will likely continue to support improved food availability and access to income through crop sales for poor households through the month of May. In urban areas, as staple food prices continue to decline into early 2024 in most major markets, the urban poor will continue to see improved financial access to food and non-food items through May 2024. Starting in January/February, land preparation for first season cultivation in bimodal areas will likely begin, supporting a seasonal increase in access to income through agricultural labor. As such, seasonal food availability and access for most rural and urban households is expected to continue improving into early 2024 to support Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through May 2024.

    In Karamoja, an increase in the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, with a small proportion of households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4), is expected to continue through May 2024. Following the early exhaustion of the significantly below-average 2023 seasonal harvests amid below-average household purchasing power, an increasing number of poor households are expected to face moderate food consumption gaps through May. While the improving security situation will likely support an increase in household engagement in livelihood activities, livestock asset depletion, limited access to oxen for plowing, and depleted income from livestock sales over the last several years will likely limit significant improvement in household earning capacity. Even with the resumption of forecasted average rains in April 2024, it is likely that farm labor incomes will be below average, and households will face poor plowing capacity, a lack of access to seeds and inputs, and limited purchasing power to hire agricultural labor. Despite the safety net programs by WFP supporting school feeding and supplementary feeding for children/infants under five and pregnant/lactating mothers, cases of moderately acute malnutrition are also expected to increase as the lean season progresses, but at lower levels compared to 2023.

    Refugees in settlements are expected to continue facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes through May 2024. An increasing number of refugees will face moderate food consumption deficits or only marginally be able to meet minimum food needs, but only by engaging in negative coping strategies that deplete essential livelihood assets. Most harvest stocks from own production will likely exhaust between January and February 2024, resulting in most households being heavily reliant on markets to access food. While staple food prices are likely to remain stable or decline through March, low purchasing power, exacerbated by limited income-generating opportunities among the refugees, is expected to remain a major limiting factor to food access. In the March to May first season cultivation, access to land and inputs will likely remain a key limiting factor to crop production, and thus green harvests in May are unlikely to support significant improvements in food availability or food consumption. WFP's humanitarian food assistance will continue to be inadequate to fill the growing food consumption gaps faced by refugee households or meet individuals' minimum daily caloric requirements. 

    Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Uganda Food Security Outlook Update December 2023: Above-average second season bimodal harvest improves food security in Uganda, 2023.

    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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