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In much of Karamoja, the lean season started at least a month early

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • February - June 2014
In much of Karamoja, the lean season started at least a month early

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • The second season harvests from November to January have increased supplies on the market. However, staple food prices are for the most part not declining, as overall 2013 crop production was somewhat below average. However, most agricultural areas in bimodal areas remain at Minimal (IPC Phase 1).
    • Poor agropastoral households in Karamoja have entered the lean season one-month early. They are meeting only their minimum food needs primarily through increased collection of wild food and sales of firewood and charcoal. They are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2).
    • Despite subsequent pasture, browse, and water availability increases along with increasing access to agricultural labor income following the start of the rains in March, poor households will still need to sell livestock to purchase food. Poor households will likely be Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) but only due to the presence of planned humanitarian assistance from April to June along with small ruminant sales.

    National Overview
    Current Situation
    • The second season harvests concluded in January across the bimodal areas, levels were higher than during the first season harvests in June/July 2013. However, annual production was 16 percent below average for maize and 5 percent below average for sorghum. The cassava harvests in the surplus-producing areas in West Nile Sub-region were average to above average, but banana production was slightly below average. Banana yields were reduced due to rainfall deficits in October.
    • At this time of year staple food prices typically seasonally decline, following the completion of the second season harvest and replenishment of both households and market stocks. While the harvest was mostly near average, the building of stocks, especially of beans for schools, occurs in January. Also, cross-border trade with South Sudan has been reduced by the outbreak of conflict since December. White sorghum and cassava chip prices were typically stable or increased marginally in the northern markets of Arua, Lira, Gulu, and Soroti. However, red sorghum prices have been gradually increasing since October. Wholesale bean prices increased unusually sharply by an average of 18 percent between December and January, and they were on average 24 percent higher than last year. Wholesale maize prices declined with a typical seasonal pattern, by an average of 20 percent across most markets. In general, markets were well supplied in January and most commodities had typical, seasonal prices trends.
    • Below-average rainfall as early as October was followed by an unusually dry November and December. Higher than usual, land surface temperatures in these dry conditions led vegetation conditions to deteriorate faster than usual in the January to February dry period. Areas in the southern part of the cattle corridor and the central districts that border the Northwest saw the largest declines. In addition to the drying out of pasture, some temporary water sources were drawn down or depleted between January and mid-February. However, by the middle of February, early, somewhat unusual rains intermittently fell in some areas. While limited in terms of total rainfall, these are helping regenerate pasture. Pasture availability in Karamoja, in general, was sufficient to maintain near-average lvestock body conditions.
    • Areas within wetland areas that usually retain moisture and are used for off-season cultivation of fast maturing beans, vegetables, tomatoes, and other horticultural crops are being used, and most crops are performing normally. These peri-urban farmers are continuing to meet off-season demand, and no consumer or farm-gate price shocks have occurred.
    • Refugee inflows: Since the outbreak of conflict in the South Sudan mid-December, over 70,700 refugees have crossed from South Sudan into Uganda. The rate of inflow has significantly reduced to between 50 and 150 people per day. Refugees continue to come mostly through the Nimule/Egule Border Post. In addition to refugees from South Sudan, some refugees continue to arrive from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) though Matanda and Bundibujo Transit Centers. They are being transferred to settlement sites in Oruchinga and Nakivale Sub-Counties in Isingiro District.
    • None or Minimal (IPC Phase 1) prevails in most bimodal areas, but in Karamoja, households continue to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Near average harvests from the second season replenished both household and market stocks to typical levels. Stable prices for staple food prices will allow poor households some access to food across the country. Normal seasonal activities including land preparation and dry planting are providing incomes for the poor. While dry rangeland and pasture conditions have been well below long-term averages, the current intermittent rains before the full onset of rains are already enhancing pasture regeneration.

    Between February and June 2014, the projected food security outcomes are based on the following key assumptions:

    • The March to June first season rains in bimodal areas in Uganda are expected to start at seasonally normal times and be near normal in terms of total rainfall.
    • With near normal rainfall patterns, agricultural labor for land preparation, planting, and weeding are likely to occur at near normal times in bimodal areas.
    • At the national level, prices of sorghum and beans are likely to increase moderately between now and the start of green consumption for the first season in May. These prices will be somewhat higher than seasonally typical due to the below-average, overall, national supply from the first and second seasons last year.
    • Other agricultural commodities such as maize, bananas, cassava, and millet are likely to remain near their current prices. While Kenya will continue to have high demand for maize, beans, and other agricultural commodities from Uganda, reductions in trade with South Sudan and slightly better supplies than for other crops, are likely to maintain these prices.
    • Conflict in South Sudan is likely to continue, and activities such as cross-border trade that have already been disrupted are likely to remain disrupted. However, ongoing flows of people and goods, such as refugee arrivals and some exports of goods to South Sudan are likely to continue.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Assuming a normal timing of the onset of the first season rains in mid-March, pasture conditions will quickly recover, land preparation and planting will resume, and agricultural labor demand will increase. Throughout the rainy season, no shocks are anticipated in terms of unusually low amounts of rain, disruptions to agricultural labor markets, or further disruption to food markets. Staple food prices will only rise moderately between now and June, household who depend on market purchases of maize, sorghum, bananas, and beans may substitute less expensive foods for these in their diet, especially root crops. While some substitution may occur, most areas of Uganda are expected to remain at Minimal (IPC Phase 1). 

    Areas of Concern

    Central Sorghum and Livestock livelihood zone in Karamoja

    This zone includes parts of Northern Nakapiripirit, Moroto, Kotido, Napak, and Kaabong Districts (Figure 1) with an estimated population of around 752,000 persons. About 30 percent of the households are estimated to be poor.

    Current Situation

    In 2012, the sorghum harvest was below average as some areas saw reduced yields due to flooding and water logging in some areas and dryness in others. The rainy season in 2013 started normally and somewhat heavily in mid, March, but in May/June, the typical dry spell started earlier in some places and was longer than usual (Figure 2). Much of the sorghum was planted late, but it failed to flower before the start of the dry spell. Sorghum in this condition often acquires a disease, locally known as “honeydew” that reduces yields and edibility of the grain. This year, much of the sorghum acquired this plant disease. Yields of sorghum and other crops were below average despite the levels of rainfall being mostly normal once the rains resumed after the dry spell.

    Overall, the August to December main harvest was well below average. Total harvested sorghum, the primary staple food, was estimated to be only 50 to 60 percent of average. The maize harvest was around 30 percent of average, but beans and sunflowers had a total volume of harvest only estimated to be approaching 20 percent of average. Groundnuts and cowpeas performed similar, but vegetables were more typical in their yield. The major exception to the poor harvest was in Kotido District, where the volume of bulrush millet harvested was estimated to be 80 percent of average (Kotido District). Due to water logging, flooding, plant diseases, and the extended dry spell, there were households that did not harvest anything at all. As a result of the well below average harvest, household stocks were not replenished to usual levels, typically enough to provide between two and six months supply of grain for a poor household. Many households have already exhausted their stocks, despite trying to smooth the consumption, and they have switched primarily to food from the market but also to other sources of food.

    In addition to the poor harvest, households also encountered a variety of other shocks that reduced their access to food and income. While Newcastle disease, a chicken disease, is endemic in Karamoja, between October and December 2013, many villages reporting losing many or complete flocks of their chickens to the disease. Chickens are an important source of income for many poor households, and the loss of chickens has also dramatically reduced the availability of eggs for households consumption or for sale, a common way poor households gain additional cash when needed. While a smaller shock to household food consumption, school feeding has been in the past an important way for some households to access additional food and to do so more frequently for the school-attending children or at times of day when the rest of the household is not eating.

    This year, school feeding is lower in terms of frequency and quantity than in other recent years. The World Food Program’s (WFP) McGovern-Dole Global Food for Education (GFE) program has ended, which was in recent years providing both a small morning meal of porridge and an early afternoon meal, often of sorghum or maize bread and beans. Currently, schools supported by WFP are still serving one meal per day, consisting of a small portion of porridge at lunch time. School attendance in Karamoja continues to lag behind other parts of Uganda, though a significantly large number of withdrawals from schools has not been reported.

    Rangelands conditions are generally adequate. Both dry pasture and browse are widely available, and while distances to water points for livestock have increased since the start of the dry season in September, most are within the range of seasonally typical. Overall, the September to February dry season has been unusually mild. Temperatures have generally been a bit lower, and the winds have been less strong and less frequent. By the end of February, much of the zone had intentional bush burning, which is a normal practice at this time of the year, done to provide soil nutrients and clear space for pasture growth once the rains start in March. Of course, in addition to areas that have been burnt, pasture and water has steadily declined since the start of the rains. Some measurements of vegetation, such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from the eMODIS satellite, indicate that overall vegetation is below its 10-year average conditions, but no shortages of dry pasture, browse, or water have been reported. The driest pasture to bare ground is observable in the northeastern parts of the region in Kotido and Kaabong Districts.

    Livestock continue to have near average body conditions. Only typical dry season livestock migration has occurred. However, across the region, access to milk remains very low. This is both due in some places to large distances between homesteads and kraals where livestock are guarded at night. Also, this is due both to the seasonal decline in milk production during the dry season, and low livestock holdings of some poor households.

    While crop production in the region was well below average, markets are functioning. Sorghum is being supplied to markets, generally around the range of UGX 600 to 800 per kilogram (kg). Traders are reported to have arrived on markets slightly earlier this year, probably anticipating more robust sales of grain earlier in the year and slightly more availability of livestock on the market. Livestock off take that usually occurs at the peak of the lean season April/May is occurring earlier than usual this year, and the volume of sorghum being traded is higher than usual. Recent improvements in road conditions are helping to control traders’ transaction costs, so local, prices have been quite stable for sorghum since October.

    Livestock to sorghum terms of trade (TOT) have generally been favorable, allowing market access for households selling livestock in order to buy food. A medium-sized, male goat can be exchanged for 138 to 192 kg of sorghum. Meanwhile, a day of casual labor is worth between four and six kg of sorghum at the larger markets.

    Right now, very few poor households still have sorghum stocks, though some households have saved some sorghum for seed usage and others have smoothed their own-produced sorghum consumption over time. In addition to wild foods collection and collection of firewood and other natural products, some households are accessing a minimal amount of labor opportunities, primarily in nearby towns. Safety net assistance, typically provided in the form of food- or cash-for-work (FFW or CFW) has also provided an additional source of income for some households, though this is not the peak time of year for these programs, and some programs are paying somewhat less than in recent years. A few households are also sending their children to school, where they receive some food from school feeding. Overall, households are eating one or in a some cases two meals per day as is typical during the lean season sourced primarily with cash purchases from the market, supplemented with a variety of other strategies, especially increased consumption of wild foods. As a result, malnutrition is likely following a seasonally typical trend, though it may be increasing somewhat earlier than normal due to the early start of the lean season.No asset stripping has been observed, but to make up for crop production losses, households have increased their consumption of wild foods. To gain income to purchase food, most households are selling firewood, charcoal, or grass sales. This time of year, these livelihood strategies are at their seasonal peaks, and they are not highly atypical. However, households have intensified their use of these strategies. They are collecting these natural products and wild foods more frequently, and in some areas they are travelling further, up to ten kilometers (km) from their homesteads Availability of dry season wild foods is mostly normal, but in parts of Kaabong District, poor distribution of the rains may have led to availability being below average.

    Despite the early start of the lean season this year, most poor households remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2).


    In addition to the national assumptions made above, the most likely scenario in Central Sorghum and Livestock livelihood zone in Karamoja for February to June 2014 is based on the following additional assumptions:

    • The March to September, unimodal rains are expected to start at seasonally normal times and be near normal in terms of total rainfall. The dry spell is not expected to be any longer or less wet than usual in May/June, and it is expected to be of a near normal length of time.
    • With a normal start of the rains, land preparation activities and planting for the main cropping season expected to be timely and to commence in March.
    • Labor opportunities are available at a seasonally normal levels, and wages either in-kind or in the form of cash are expected to be similar to or slightly more than recent years.
    • Once the rainy season starts in March, the prices of firewood and charcoal will increase seasonally, but not dramatically. The supply on the market decreases seasonally as people divert time from firewood and charcoal production towards agricultural labor.
    • Wild foods will continue to be available at normal times of year in normal locations. There is some competition for wild foods and some households are traveling further to collect them than in previous years, which will continue. Some households will continue to collect more than usual, though the peak period for collection, especially of tree nuts, will end once the rains start.
    • Livestock diseases will continue at their current endemic levels, but no additional widespread outbreaks of disease are expected among small or large ruminants. Periodic Newcastle’s disease outbreaks are still likely among chickens between now and June
    • FFW and CFW are expected to continue at near normal levels. School feeding is also likely to continue near its current level.
    • Food distribution for extremely vulnerable households (EVH) and for an additional caseload of poor households is currently likely to start earlier than usual in March in some areas, and distribution is expected to continue through the end of the lean season in July.
    • Livestock prices in the region are likely to remain near their current levels, though there may be slight seasonal declines in price in few markets. A goat is likely to cost between UGX 50,000 and 80,000, depending on the market. Livestock prices will likely not peak again until their usual season high points in July and December 2014.
    • Retail red sorghum prices in the region have been remarkably stable for several months, but they will rise at the start of the rainy season somewhat more than usual and stay high until the rains end. The increase will be more than usual, but is unlikely to be as high as 2012 as national production and supplies were only somewhat below average in 2013, and demand from South Sudan has fallen a bit due to conflict since December.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
    • From now until the dry season ends in mid-to-late March, households will continue with their current food consumption patterns. They will eat once or in some cases twice a day. They will gather firewood, gather grass or poles for construction in a few places, or they will produce charcoal. Income from sales of these products will be the primary source of cash income, but households will supplement food purchased in this manner with anything left in their granaries, wild foods, and some amounts of food or income from assistance or safety net programs.
    • Once the rains start in mid-to-late March, the income earning strategies will likely shift. Households will prioritize agricultural labor, paid both in cash and in-kind in the form of local brew or of grain from better-off households. In addition to searching for labor or being offered labor opportunities by neighbors, other contacts, and better-off households, households will start to work on their own land, and some will need to take on additional labor or collect firewood or charcoal in order to purchase seeds for planting. As the rains progress, weeding will become the primary agricultural labor activity, once land preparation and planting are completed.
    • Some livestock will give birth after the start of the rains, increasing milk availability in the region after April, but this is unlikely to be a significant source of either food or income for most poor households who are more likely to have lower-yielding goats than cattle, and who may not have immediate access to the milk as their livestock return to kralls or stay in wet season grazing areas at night.
    • While labor opportunities will be much more available than they are currently, following the start of the rains, many household will continue to have constrained purchasing power. In order to purchase food, many will need to sell livestock to access income.
    • Much uncertainty exists about the total numbers of livestock in Karamoja and typical levels of livestock ownership by the poor. However, poor households often have between two and five small ruminants, and households are likely to only need to sell a single goat or sheep at typical prices to supplement their other income-generating activities during the extended February to June lean season. While most households will still be able to maintain breeding stock, pregnant or lactating female livestock, and other essential holdings, a few may have to make a livestock sale that may require restocking to maintain their herds at or near their current size.
    • For households without small ruminants, poultry production will help provide income for purchasing grain. Also, some of these households may borrow food, receive food assistance or food or income from safety net programs, or sell additional charcoal or firewood in order to gain access to food, especially as lean season consumption patterns drag on into May and June.
    • Malnutrition is likely to increase in prevalence during the lean season along a higher than usual seasonal trend.
    • From April to June, as lean season-style consumption drags on, many poor households are likely to only be consuming minimally adequate amounts of food thanks to the presence of food assistance. The households will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) but only due to the presence of humanitarian assistance. Without this assistance, many households will move into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and experience a gap in their food consumption.
    • While outside of the February to June most likely scenario, if the assumptions regarding progress of the growing season hold, a near normal harvest would be expected from August. However, food consumption would likely improve before that as green consumption of maize, beans, and sorghum begins in July and August.

    Refugees from South Sudan

    • Following the outbreak of conflict that began in South Sudan in mid-December, refugees began to arrive in Uganda. As of February 20, 79,700 people have arrived in northwestern Uganda. Arrivals are currently estimated  at 50  to 150 refugees per day. Refugees are hosted in settlements though there are not restrictions in Uganda on where they may live or their movement.
    • Within the settlements, the Government of Uganda provides land for housing and farming. The World Food Program (WFP) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are providing food and water for new arrivals. Refugees supply their own housing.
    • The host community in Uganda has yet to report any adverse affects of the large number of arrivals. Additional arrivals may place additional pressure on firewood availability, labor markets, and other resources shared by both refugees and the host community.
    • While some resources are available to support new arrivals, breaks in assistance to the settlements are expected between now and the first season harvest in June/July.
    • In Uganda, refugees from South Sudan are currently being received at Dzaipi Transit Center in Adjumani, Ocea Reception Center in Arua, and Kiryandongo Reception Center. They are being relocated to settlement clusters in Arua, Adjumani, and Kiryandongo Districts. 

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes


    An early start to the dry spell in May

    An early dry spell would likely increase the level of “honeydew,” a plant disease that effects sorghum, often causing it to fail to reach maturity.


    A late start of the March to September rains

    This would exacerbate the dry season conditions and diet, with households needing to continue to survive from charcoal and firewood sales along with wild foods until agricultural labor and the rains started.


    Diversion of planned humanitarian assistance

    If planned emergency food assistance or planned safety net programs were to lose supplies of food and funding to other on-going programs in East Africa, food security would likely deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3), especially among agropastoralists.

    Refugees arriving from South Sudan

    Lack of funding

    Smaller food rations to refugees would likely lead to use of additional coping mechanisms, in addition to the distress migration to Uganda. Food insecurity would be most likely among new arrivals and those who arrived after the first season planting window. In general, after the first season harvest begins in June, this would place less pressure on refugee households who planted for the season.


    Unexpected, unplanned local or regional procurement of food assistance

    With tighter supplies than in other recent years, especially for maize, unusually large, unexpected purchases in markets could lead to increasing food prices and reduce the purchasing power of households whose staple foods have higher prices.


    Late start of first season rains after March/early April         

    As crop production prospects become less favorable, price increases of affected crops are likely in some markets. Lost or delayed agricultural labor opportunities may also deprive some poor households of a necessary source of income at this time of year.


    Figures Uganda Seasonal Calendar for Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for A Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: Government of Uganda, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (…

    Rainfall in millimeters (mm) in Moroto District by 10 day period (dekad), 2013 and 2000 to 2012 mean

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)/FEWS NET

    Figure 4


    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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