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Threat of locusts and atypically high staple prices to impact food security outcomes

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • February - September 2020
Threat of locusts and atypically high staple prices to impact food security outcomes

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In bimodal areas, irregular off-season rainfall is encouraging early field preparation activities for the March-May season. Given the forecast for above-average rainfall, favorable crop and livestock production is expected to support normal seasonal access to food and income, with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes anticipated through September. However, households affected by flooding and landslides in the previous season are expected to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or worse outcomes through September due to inadequate resources to support access to food and income.

    • In early February, small swarms of adult locusts invaded the Karamoja region from Kenya and have since spread to several northeastern and eastern bimodal areas. Given the agricultural offseason, damage to crops has thus far been minimal. However, risk-averse farmers in affected villages are expected to delay planting. While additional, larger swarms from Kenya and successful hatching of eggs laid in Ugandan territory pose a risk to first-season crop production, current forecasts of wind direction and use of aerial spraying are likely to reduce locust presence in Uganda prior to crop development, limiting damage and significant economic loss.

    • Atypical increases in staple food prices nationwide are expected to constrain food access among poor households in Karamoja and disaster-affected households in eastern and western Uganda. Retail prices of beans, maize, and sorghum continued to increase in most markets in January. Prices are expected to remain atypically high through June when new harvests from bimodal areas are expected to boost supplies. Meanwhile, given stable or declining seasonal incomes, terms of trade for staple foods are expected to decline during this time.


    Current Situation

    Despite above-average rainfall from October to December 2019 across most of the country (Figure 1), expectations for an above-average second-season harvest in bimodal areas did not manifest due to impacts of atypically heavy rainfall. Flooding and landslides resulted in localized crop losses and excessive humidity extending into January (typically a dry month) resulted in widespread pre- and post-harvest losses, particularly affecting sensitive legumes and cereals. However, perennial crops including coffee, bananas, sugarcane, tea, and cocoa performed well. Overall, production is expected to be slightly below average. Second-season harvesting is now complete, though some off-season harvesting is ongoing for short-maturing varieties of crops such as beans, maize, and vegetables.

    Since January, many bimodal areas have received irregular rainfall in terms of both temporal and spatial distribution, with the Central and Eastern Regions experiencing periods of particularly heavy rainfall in February (Figure 2). Though national weather experts have warned not to plant until the rains are fully established in mid-March to early April, some farmers are already ploughing and preparing their fields for first-season planting. Despite the negative impacts on second-season crop production, above-average rainfall throughout most of late 2019 and early 2020 has sustained seasonally above-average pasture and water resources for livestock production. These resources are also significantly better than resources during the same time period last year, as measured by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) (Figure 3). Favorable rangeland resources have resulted in above-average livestock body conditions and good productivity of meat and milk in the cattle corridor districts.

    In Karamoja, above-average rainfall in the 2019 unimodal season resulted in average to slightly above-average sorghum production overall. However, continuous heavy rainfall during the harvest season resulted in pre- and post-harvest losses, especially in Kotido and Kaabong where the harvests occurred latest. Meanwhile, atypical rainfall through February has supported above-average availability of pasture and water resources, limiting the need to migrate livestock in search of pasture. As a result, livestock body conditions and milk production are above average. However, Foot and Mouth Disease remains prevalent in the region. A quarantine banning livestock movement is in place in Kotido while the districts of Moroto, Kaabong, and Napak remain highly susceptible. Meanwhile, cattle thefts, raids, and related insecurity in the central and northern parts of Karamoja have restricted free movement of livestock to access wider grazing areas.

    Although food from the end of second-season harvests typically boosts market supply during this time of year, supplies have tightened earlier than usual. This is likely due to second-season production losses, high regional demand for Uganda’s staples, and increased transport costs due to damaged rural road infrastructure during periods of heavy rainfall. As a result, below-average domestic supply has led to atypical increases in staple food prices in most markets across Uganda. Due to continuing rainfall in some areas and variable timing of planting, some off-season harvests of beans and maize are ongoing. However, these harvests – mainly from the Central Region – have not significantly impacted market supplies or prices.

    Bean retail prices increased by 6-20 percent between December 2019 and January 2020 in most monitored markets. As of January, prices were 26-35 percent higher than the five-year average and 21-38 percent higher than prices observed in January 2019 (Figures 4 & 5). Though maize retail prices were stable between December and January, prices remain 13-29 percent higher than the five-year average and 13-45 percent higher than those observed one year ago. In Karamoja, sorghum retail prices were stable in Kotido and Moroto, but increased by 8-18 percent between December and January in Nakapiripirit, Napak, and Kaabong. In Abim, sorghum prices increased by an estimated 50 percent. Sorghum prices remain near average levels. Retail prices for beans and maize increased by 6-29 percent between December and January in Karamoja markets, while charcoal prices were mostly stable but declined by 10-14 in Abim and Napak.

    The closure of the border between Uganda and Rwanda has continued to hinder trade, resulting in decreased exports of Ugandan maize, beans, and other commodities to Rwanda. Meanwhile, maize exports to South Sudan were above average in the last quarter of 2019 due to reduced levels of conflict in South Sudan and consequent expansion of market activity and trade routes. Exports of maize by Uganda accounted for 14 percent of the total 457,000 MT traded in the East African region between October and December 2019. Exports of sorghum, meanwhile, accounted for 44 percent of the 40,000 MT traded during the same period. While Ugandan maize exports in the fourth quarter of 2019 were near average, bean exports were slightly above average and sorghum exports were significantly above average. High regional demand for Ugandan staples from Tanzania, Kenya, and South Sudan is currently exerting upward pressure on food prices.

    In early February, swarms of mostly adult desert locusts crossed from Kenya into the northeastern border areas of the Karamoja region. Locusts have since been observed in all Karamoja districts and reportedly in over 20 districts in the Acholi, Teso, Sebei, Elgon, and Lango bimodal subregions. The swarms are reported to be relatively small; estimates range from 20,000 to 50,000 insects, whereas a typical swarm comprises millions. Furthermore, adult locusts are less destructive than younger hoppers. Damage to vegetation in these areas has so far been minor given that it is the agricultural offseason, though cassava, bananas and sweet potatoes are currently growing in some areas. Given the small swarms and the locusts’ apparent preference for feeding on shrubs and treetops, damage to browse and pasture resources has been minimal. Currently, agricultural land preparation activities are ongoing as normal. The government of Uganda has so far sought to control the spread of locusts mainly through pesticide applications by foot soldiers. However, this has proven challenging as sprays are not reaching high enough to impact most locusts. As of late February, the government was working toward implementing aerial spraying, though widespread spraying had not commenced. Meanwhile, relatively hot and dry weather and favorable directional wind speed and direction have facilitated migratory movements. A small swarm of locusts is reported to have crossed into South Sudan through Lamwo district. Technical specialists say that that adult locusts have laid eggs along their path of migration which could, given favorable conditions, hatch and give rise to new populations.

    As of the end of January 2020, Uganda hosted a total of 1,394,678 refugees, an estimated 65 percent of whom were from South Sudan and 30 percent of whom were from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Domestic conflict in these countries continues to cause displacement, although fewer refugees arrived in 2019 compared to 2018. In 2019, 31,663 refugees arrived from South Sudan and 57,242 refugees arrived from the DRC, compared to 40,758 and 119,919, respectively, the previous year. Spontaneous refugee returns to South Sudan remained relatively low despite improved road conditions and relative peace. Uganda has pledged to maintain an open-door policy for all refugees.

    In bimodal areas, most poor households are currently accessing food from own production as well as income from crop sales, agricultural labor, petty trade, and sale of poultry, animal products, and crafts. Sufficient access to food and income is currently supporting Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in most areas. However, many households affected by flooding and landslides in the east and west remain unable to engage in typical livelihood activities, restricting access to income at a time when high staple prices are reducing purchasing power. As a result, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes persist in Bundibugyo district, with localized Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in other affected areas. In Karamoja where the lean season typically starts in March, many households experienced pre- and post-harvest crop losses due to excessive rainfall, while others sold a significant portion of their harvests to meet non-food needs and pay debts incurred during the poor previous season. As a result, an atypically high number of poor households have already run out of own-produced food and exhausted income from crop sales.

    Meanwhile, better-off households who typically hire labor experienced below-average income from crop sales during the previous season, hindering investment in the current season and further reducing labor opportunities for poor households. At the same time, high staple food prices are limiting food access through market purchases. As a result, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are prevalent in the Karamoja region and food security conditions are currently deteriorating. Among refugees, full rations through in-kind or cash assistance are expected to be supporting Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes.


    Between February and September 2020, the projected food security outcomes are based on the following key assumptions:

    • According to forecasts by NOAA and USGS, the March to June 2020 first rainy season in bimodal Uganda is most likely to be above average. Given the long-term nature of the forecast, the start of the August to November 2020 second rainy season in bimodal Uganda is assumed to be average.
    • Based on expected climatological conditions including air temperature, cloud cover, and wind speed and direction, it is expected that locusts currently in Uganda will have largely migrated out of the country prior to April when most crop development starts in bimodal areas. However, some crop damage around March/April is expected in northern areas as eggs hatch and develop into hoppers, or as new swarms migrate into Uganda. During this time, government control measures are expected to improve, though remain generally inadequate.
    • Given the current rainfall forecast, first-season bimodal food production is most likely to be average, though some localized crop damage from locusts is expected in northern areas. Green harvests are expected in May/June in areas unaffected by locusts, with household and market food stocks in bimodal areas expected to be at normal levels from June through September. In localized areas where locusts are present, planting is likely to be delayed and area planted below-average. This is expected to lead to delayed harvests and slightly below-average production in these areas. In Karamoja where planting is likely to be delayed and the area planted below average due to the presence of locusts, below-average production is expected, with delayed green harvests likely in August.
    • Agricultural labor opportunities are expected to seasonally increase in most areas from February to April with the progression of first season land preparation, planting, and weeding activities. During this time, typical wage levels are expected to support usual seasonal income for poor households. Demand for agricultural labor supporting first-season planting, weeding, and harvest activities from March to May is expected to be average. However, the availability of agricultural labor opportunities is expected to be below-average in areas that were affected by floods and landslides in late 2019 and in areas where the presence of locusts delays agricultural activity. Availability of labor opportunities for second-season land preparation, planting, and weeding beginning in September is expected to be average.
    • The presence of Fall Armyworm is anticipated from March to May, though incidence is expected to be lower than in recent years and minimal impact on the maize crop is anticipated. Heavy rainfall from October to December has likely reduced their reproduction and spread, and awareness of control measures is increasing among farmers.
    • Given current above-average conditions and expectations for rainfall and ground surface temperatures, pasture conditions and water resources are expected to remain above-average in the cattle corridor districts and other bimodal areas through May, with further seasonal improvement expected in late March and April. As a result, livestock body conditions and seasonally increasing milk production will likely remain above average from February to May. In localized areas affected by locusts, some damage to browse and pasture resources is anticipated.
    • In Karamoja, pasture conditions and water resources are likely to remain above average until the start of the rainy season in April when continued favorable conditions will be closer to the seasonal norm. While some damage to pasture from locusts is anticipated, impact is expected to be limited. Access to traditional and migratory grazing areas in Moroto, Kotido, Napak, and Kaabong is likely to continue to be hindered by recent insecurity. Overall, however, livestock body conditions are expected to remain above average through May, when continued favorable livestock conditions will be closer to the seasonal norm.
    • Following below-average second season bimodal production of beans, groundnuts, and other crops sensitive to heavy rainfall, coupled with significant losses of cereals, legumes, and cassava/sweet potato chips due to poor drying and post-harvest handling, staple food prices in Uganda are expected to seasonally increase and remain above average in many key markets from February to May as household and market stocks decline. In June and July, production from the first season harvest is expected to boost household and market stocks, supporting seasonally declining prices.
    • Given production and post-harvest losses due to heavy rainfall in structurally deficit neighboring countries of Kenya and South Sudan, exports of maize and dry beans to these areas are expected to be above both the five-year average and last year’s levels. Given below-average national supplies of maize and beans, elevated prices are expected throughout the region. Exports of sorghum and other staples from Uganda to South Sudan are expected to increase slightly as a result of improving security within South Sudan. Due to the closure of the Katuna border post between Uganda and Rwanda, exports to Rwanda are expected to remain significantly below-average throughout the outlook period.
    • Due to below-average national production and increased regional demand, staple food prices are expected to remain above both the five-year average and last year’s prices while seasonally increasing from February through May. Prices are expected to decrease in May/June when the first-season harvest replenishes household and market stocks. Following this, prices are expected to seasonally increase through September.
    • Given below-average second-season production, income from crop sales is expected to be below average overall despite above-average prices, although variation will exist among households. In areas affected by flooding and landslides in late 2019, income from crop sales will be well below average due to significant production losses.
    • Due to ongoing conflict and food insecurity in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, refugees from these areas will likely continue arriving in Uganda at recently observed rates. However, sporadic fighting in the DRC may lead to occasional spikes in arrivals while rates of return to South Sudan are likely to continue fluctuating.
    • Due to funding shortfalls for humanitarian food assistance supporting refugees, WFP currently expects the cash and food pipelines to break in May and June 2020, respectively. In the absence of additional funding, WFP will likely institute ration cuts for all beneficiaries except those households deemed extremely vulnerable.  In the absence of planned and funded assistance, significant ration cuts beginning in May are assumed.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In most bimodal areas, food stocks are seasonally declining for the poor households who harvested less than their consumption needs. These households are expected to run out of own-produced food and become reliant on market purchases earlier than usual and prior to the next harvest. While a small number of households who utilized the atypical rains experienced since January are expected to harvest some fast-maturing crops in February, this is not expected to meaningfully impact household or market food stocks. As is typical, most poor households are expected to engage in agricultural labor at normal wage rates through June. Despite below-average income from crop sales, households will generally have access to minimally adequate levels of food through market purchases given atypically high prices. However, availability of agricultural labor opportunities is expected to be below-average in areas affected by flooding and landslides in late 2019 and in areas where locusts are present and agricultural activities are delayed. In May/June, most households are expected to access the green harvest, increasing food access.

    In areas not affected by flooding and landslides or the presence of locusts, household stocks and market supplies are likely to improve to normal levels in June with the beginning of the dry harvest, increasing food access and supporting declining staple food prices. Given expected average production of cereals, legumes, and perennial crops such as tea, coffee, sugarcane, and bananas, poor households are also expected to earn near-normal levels of income from crop sales. Most households in these areas are likely to access sufficient food and income to meet food and essential non-food needs, expected to support Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through September.

    In areas worst impacted by flooding and landslides – including Teso, Bugisu, Bukedi, and Elgon sub-regions in eastern Uganda and parts of Bundibugyo, Ntoroko, and Kasese districts in western Uganda – crop production was below average and some households experienced losses of property, livestock, and other assets. In these areas, below-average income is expected to limit food access and investment in livelihoods. In worst affected Bundibugyo, many households’ assets and income sources – including cocoa trees that provide most income and are not easily replaceable – were totally destroyed. Meanwhile, households will likely be unable to purchase adequate seed or plough normal field sizes, while others whose cropland and grazing land were totally lost to rubble will not engage in any production activities. Overall, below-average seasonal income is expected to be inadequate for these households to meet all essential non-food needs, with limited ability to engage in normal first season March-May agricultural activities expected. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist through September 2020, with worse outcomes likely to emerge among the poorest and worst-affected households.

    While locusts are not currently expected to cause severe damage to first-season crops, the presence of locusts and current inadequate control measures are likely to influence farmer behavior in the Karamoja region and in parts of Teso, Acholi, and Lango where the locusts have been sighted or are predicted to migrate. In these areas, farmers are expected to delay planting and/or plant less area than usual due to fears of complete destruction by the locusts. Given current locust presence and reports of locusts laying eggs, some crop damage in northern areas is anticipated as eggs hatch and develop into destructive hoppers. Some minimal damage to pasture resources is also anticipated. The current presence of locusts is also likely to lead to speculative behavior among traders, who may hoard stocks in anticipation of higher prices by April. As such, already high staple food prices for cereals and pulses are likely to increase and remain above both the five-year average and last years’ prices, further constraining food access to the poor.

    In Karamoja, labor opportunities are typically expected to be available beginning in February/March, assuming timely start of seasonal rains. However, given continued presence of locusts and sustained anticipation of new locust swarms, farmers are likely to delay agricultural activities and/or cultivate less land area than usual. This is expected to lead to reduced income from agricultural labor opportunities, delayed and slightly below average harvests, and sustained high staple prices. In this environment of constrained access to food and income, some households will deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes by April, though area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to persist.

    As has been typical, refugees in settlement areas are expected to access food mainly through humanitarian food assistance. This is expected to be supplemented by minimal food purchases enabled through coping strategies such as borrowing or diverting funds from investment in livelihoods. Some refugees with arable plots of land are expected to cultivate some crops to be harvested in June/July. Planned and funded humanitarian food assistance is expected to sustain Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes among refugee populations through May 2020. Between June and September, food security outcomes are likely to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) given ration cuts assumed to begin in May in the absence of planned and funded humanitarian assistance. As a result, many households will experience food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario:



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Bimodal and Karamoja areas affected by locust invasion

    Wind direction does not facilitate locust movement northward out of Uganda, significant populations hatch and develop in Uganda, and/or additional large locust swarms enter Uganda in future months

    Damage to crops and pasture would be more severe than anticipated. First season bimodal production and, later, Karamoja production would likely be below average and harvests would likely be delayed. Agricultural labor opportunities would be expected rapidly diminish, restricting access to food and income and resulting in deteriorating food security in both bimodal and Karamoja areas through the time of delayed green harvests in June and August, respectively, when some food becomes available.


    Government and partners implement effective measures to control locusts

    Crop production is expected to be average, and farmers are expected to plant as usual. Harvests are expected to be on time.


    Delayed, below-average, or poorly distributed seasonal rainfall

    This would reduce availability of agricultural labor opportunities and delay the arrival of harvests. Below-average crop performance would likely result in below-average production.


    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures This is a map of Uganda showing that most of the country received at least 50-100mm of rainfall above the long-term average.

    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Graph showing pentadal rainfall data from January 2020 present. All regions received above-average amounts of rainfall in Feb

    Figure 2

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Two maps of Uganda comparing NDVI values in late February 2019 and in late February 2020. NDVI values in 2019 were slightly b

    Figure 3

    Figure 3

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    This is a graph showing that prices of beans, cassava chips, maize grain, and sorghum grain in January 2020 were higher than

    Figure 4

    Figure 4

    Source: Farmgain

    This is a graph showing that prices of beans and maize grain in January 2020 were higher than the five-year average. Prices o

    Figure 5

    Figure 5

    Source: Farmgain

    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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