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Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes are likely in Karamoja and rural refugee settlements

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • February - September 2021
Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes are likely in Karamoja and rural refugee settlements

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected in rural and urban areas in bimodal Uganda through September, underpinned by an above-average rainfall forecast from March to May and continued economic recovery in 2021. Available data suggest agricultural production, labor demand, and regional export demand are likely to continue to improve, while low staple food prices are likely to continue to offset the effects of lagging income levels on food access. However, the number of households facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes is still likely to be higher than average. Acutely food insecure households are most likely to be located in flood-affected areas near Lake Albert, areas that are vulnerable to floods or landslides during the rainfall season, areas where an FMD livestock quarantine is currently in place, and urban areas.  

    • In Karamoja, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to be widespread through at least July, driven by below-average 2020 crop production, below-normal household income, and declining terms of trade, among other factors. In January, the amount of sorghum that could be purchased with the sale of a goat, a charcoal or firewood bundle, or a day’s wage declined relative to December, January 2020, and the five-year average in Karamoja’s key reference markets. Based on the likelihood of above-average rainfall from April to September, food availability and access are expected to slowly improve as the 2021 harvest becomes available from July to September.

    • Given limited access to income-generating activities, inadequate crop production, and low coping capacity, households in rural refugee settlements are expected to face Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!)[1] outcomes during the agricultural lean season from February through May. Planned food assistance equivalent to a 60 percent ration is anticipated to prevent worse outcomes. However, a reduction in food assistance is likely after May due to an anticipated pipeline break, based on WFP’s report of a USD 114 million funding gap. Despite the availability of the first season harvest in June/July, households are likely to have slight to moderate food consumption gaps indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from June to September.

      [1] The use of (!) indicates areas that would likely be at least one phase worse in the absence of current or programmed humanitarian food assistance.


    Current Situation

    Agricultural and livestock production: During the January-February dry season, most rural households in bimodal areas of Uganda are consuming own-produced crops from the 2020 second season, which they harvested in November-December. Second season cereal production and perennial crop production – such as bananas, cassava, sweet potatoes, and Irish potatoes – ranged from near to slightly above the five-year average. Own-produced food stocks are supplemented with food purchased from the market, primarily funded with income from crop sales, labor, or livestock production.

    Livestock body conditions and milk productivity are slightly below seasonal levels in bimodal areas, reducing household food and income from these sources. Despite average to above-average rainfall during the October to December 2020 rainfall season, the early end of the rains and localized, above-average temperatures are driving drier-than-normal conditions. As a result, pasture and water resources are approximately 60 percent below normal in southwestern, central, and northeastern Uganda, including in the southwestern cattle corridor districts, according to the satellite-derived Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. Further, a livestock quarantine that prohibits livestock movement and sales have been enforced in Kiruhura, Kitagwenda, Rubirizi, Ibanda, Mbarara, Gomba, Isingiro, Sembabule Mukono, Wakiso, and Kazo districts of Central and Western Regions since late 2020 to control the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). Other neighboring districts along the transit corridors and those neighboring Lake Mburo national park are at risk.

    In Karamoja and much of eastern Uganda, the dry season has been more pronounced, with little rainfall observed since November/December (Figure 1). Water shortages are of high concern in parts of Moroto and Kotido, which share livestock watering facilities. Several wildfires in parts of Karamoja have also destroyed residential structures and property, including food stocks and household items. Frequent insecurity incidents involving intercommunal and cross-border conflict have resulted in the theft of livestock and loss of lives in the districts of Moroto, Napak, Kotido, and Kaabong. These have limited household access to normal dry season grazing areas and watering points, resulting in the overutilization of resources in areas where livestock are kept for better protection.

    Farmers are gradually beginning to engage in land preparation, plowing, and dry sowing for 2021 first season crop production and main season production in advance of the March to June rainfall season in bimodal areas and the April to September main rainfall season in Karamoja. Seasonal labor opportunities for on-farm activities are at normal levels, and wage rates remain near the five-year average. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, other rural income-generating activities are also available at typical levels, including petty trading, brewing, and running small businesses.

    Currently, there are no confirmed reports of desert locust swarms in Uganda. However, the presence of immature swarms in northern and central Kenya and reports of westward movement into Turkana – which is adjacent to Karamoja – poses a credible threat to bimodal first season and unimodal crop production, particularly during the crop emergence or vegetative stages. Surveillance, monitoring, and control measures remain key to the prevention and mitigation of potential damage to crops and pasture as the rainfall seasons begin. Last year, adult swarms were found in the northeastern border areas of Karamoja and Acholi, Teso, Sebei, Elgon, and Lango subregions, but control measures prevented large-scale crop losses.

    COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery: Urban households, along with poor households in Karamoja and refugee settlements who have less resilient rural livelihoods and are already at risk of food insecurity, remain most affected by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Bank of Uganda’s analysis of the state of the economy in December 2020, economic activity continues to gradually recover but is progressing unevenly between sectors. Economic growth in FY 2019/20 slowed to 2.9 percent compared to 6.8 percent in FY 2018/19, led by the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sector. The service and industry sectors continue to operate at significantly below normal levels, resulting in high levels of unemployment, including among informal workers. Meanwhile, annual headline inflation for the year ending January 2021 increased slightly to 3.7 percent compared to 3.6 percent in December 2020. Annual inflation of food crops and related items remains low at -5.6 percent in January 2021 compared to -7.0 percent in December 2020.

    The results of the Uganda High-Frequency Phone Survey on COVID-19 conducted by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) and the World Bank capture the impact of the national trend in economic activity on households. Among surveyed respondents (n=1669), the overall employment rate among respondents had returned to pre-COVID levels by late 2020, with 87 percent of respondents working by August. The share of those employed was highest in rural areas and among the poorest respondents, even exceeding employments levels prior to March 2020. Urban employment levels remained below normal. Additionally, households reported a shift in employment from non-farm to on-farm economic sectors, with 16 percent of those who worked in the services sector before March 2020 moving to agriculture by August 2020 (Uganda Economic Update, 2020; Figure 2). However, recovery in household income lags recovery in both farm and non-farm employment, with approximately 30-45 percent of respondents reporting they were making less or no earnings in September/October 2020 compared to July/August 2020.

    Markets and trade: Uganda registered an increase in regional exports of common staples, including maize, sorghum, and beans, in the last quarter of 2020 compared to the quarterly five-year average (Figure 3). This is partly explained by the increased availability of the second season harvest, which resulted in a national surplus. However, because the COVID-19 border closures forced informal trade into formal channels, the monitoring system is likely also capturing a switch from informal to formal channels. In comparison to Q3 2020, when a higher level of COVID-19 preventive measures were suppressing agricultural exports, exports have rebounded, reflecting the effect of the relaxation of preventive measures on regional demand and trade flows.

    Despite improved regional export flows, average to slightly above-average second season harvests and lagging domestic and export demand continue to suppress staple food prices in most key reference markets across the country. Available price data for the main staple food commodities, including dry beans, cassava chips, maize grain, and sorghum, show that retail prices in January 2021 generally ranged up to 40 percent below January 2020 and up to 30 percent below the January five-year average (Figure 4). However, anomalous price spikes are observed for sorghum and beans in a few markets, such as Kampala and Arua. Additionally, seasonal reductions in household stocks, speculation over future demand locally and regionally, and the improved cross-border trade volumes led to slight to moderate price increases between December and January.

    Conversely, sorghum prices have risen by up to 20 percent since December across most key reference markets in Karamoja. The trend is likely driven by increased household demand during the ongoing lean season, following below-average local crop production in 2020. The periodic impact of recent insecurity on trade routes and market functioning may also be a contributing factor. As a result, the terms of trade for a kilogram of sorghum that can be purchased with the sale of a firewood or charcoal bundle or the sale of a goat fell 5 to 55 percent below the five-year average in January in most markets.

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    In rural areas of bimodal Uganda, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are likely. A majority of households still have food stocks from their own production and are earning some income from crop sales, agricultural labor, petty trade, and the sale of poultry, animal products, crafts, and other activities. Additionally, low staple food prices are facilitating food access for households with higher market dependency. However, despite a relative increase in rural employment and income compared to 2020, income remains below normal in the post-lockdown, recovering economic environment. As a result, while most poor households can meet their minimum daily kilocalorie needs, income to purchase diverse food sources and income to purchase non-food items is lower than normal. Consequently, the food insecure population remains elevated compared to the five-year average. In addition, the share of households facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes likely remains above-normal in areas around Lake Albert, where crop and livestock production and other livelihood activities were affected by 2020 floods.

    In urban areas of Uganda, it is similarly expected that the population experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes is higher than normal but has declined compared to last year. As evidence by available economic monitoring data, urban households face higher unemployment levels, and income among the employed is lagging compared to pre-pandemic levels. As a result, their access to typical food and incomes remains somewhat constrained.

    In Karamoja, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely in most of the region. A rising proportion of poor households are experiencing slight to moderate food consumption gaps due to shortfalls in 2020 crop production, low access to income-generating activities, and elevated food prices, which marks an early start to the lean season in February. Many households sold a significant portion of their harvests to meet their non-food needs and pay debts incurred during the extended lean season of 2020. As a result, an atypically high number of poor households already consumed their own-produced food stocks and spent their income from crop sales. At the same time, below-average terms of trade for sorghum against sales of charcoal, goats, and firewood, as well as declines in the labor wage, are further limiting food access. Additional analysis on Karamoja is provided on pages 7-9 of this report.

    In rural refugee settlements, Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are likely given that most households have limited access to food and income sources in a normal year and have experienced further shortfalls due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. At this time of year, even households with access to arable land have already or nearly finished consumption or sales of their own-produced food stocks, which typically last less than two months. The reduction to a 60 percent monthly cash or in-kind ration as of February is inadequate to prevent slight to moderate food gaps each month among a substantial proportion of the population, and available evidence from WFP mVAM suggests many households have insufficient food consumption and engage in crisis or emergency livelihoods coping strategies. According to UNHCR/OPM, Uganda hosted 1,450,317 refugees and asylum seekers as of January 31, 2021. Additional analysis on refugee settlements is provided on pages 10-12 of this report.


    From February to September 2021, the most likely food security outcomes are based on the following key assumptions:

    • The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have long-lasting effects on the Ugandan economy, with economic growth projected to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels in FY2022/23. According to the Bank of Uganda, economic growth is projected in the range of 3.5-4.5 percent in FY2020/21 and 5.0-6.0 percent in FY2021/22 amid the pandemic, weak global economic activity, weather shocks, geopolitical tensions, and trade policy uncertainty. In the short term, inflation of consumer goods and services is expected to remain low but vulnerable to upward pressure by local and global factors.
    • Despite rising COVID-19 cases and fatalities, movement restrictions are expected to remain limited for economic and political reasons. Although the gradual recovery in economic activity is expected to lead to a relative improvement in household income in 2021 compared to 2020, especially among the urban poor, household income will still most likely remain below normal levels.
    • The CPC/IRI probabilistic forecast indicates La Niña conditions are most likely through May and will re-emerge in the August-October period. Based on the climate forecast, rainfall during the March to June 2021 first rainfall season in bimodal areas and the April to September 2021 main rainfall season in Karamoja are forecast to be above average, with rainfall amounts expected to peak in April. The start of the August to November 2021 second rainy season is likely to be average to above average, but uncertainty exists given the long-term nature of this forecast.
    • Based on the March to June rainfall forecast, first season crop production in bimodal areas will most likely be above average. Localized incidences of flooding and waterlogging damaging crops as well as landslides in the mountainous areas of eastern and western Uganda are likely. Conversely, based on the April to September rainfall forecast, unimodal production in Karamoja will most likely be above average and timely. Past trends indicate crop production in Karamoja is susceptible to waterlogging during heavier rainfall seasons.
    • Agricultural labor demand is anticipated to follow normal seasonal trends from February through September, including land preparation, planting, and weeding activities. However, the labor wages are likely to lag behind employment opportunities, thus suppressing overall income.
    • Based on below-average off-season rainfall, localized above-average ground surface temperatures, and current pasture conditions and water resources, livestock production is anticipated to decline to below normal levels through March in key cattle corridor districts and other bimodal areas. However, seasonal improvement is expected beginning in late March/April, following the start of the rainfall season. As a result, livestock body conditions and milk production are expected to decline and remain low through March and then improve beginning in April.
    • In central and northern Karamoja, access to dry season grazing areas will likely be constrained due to insecurity between the Turkana and Karamojong and among the Karamojong. Periodic cattle thefts, loss of human life, and other consequences are expected. Based on the rainfall forecast and pasture conditions, livestock body conditions and milk production are expected to seasonally decline through April and then reach their annual peak from April to September.
    • Due to the presence of Desert Locust in northwestern Kenya and based on seasonal wind patterns, Desert Locust will likely remain a threat to eastern Uganda. However, the improved capacity to monitor and control Desert Locust in Kenya and Uganda over the last year – as well as the expectation that above-average rainfall would regenerate pasture and support replanting – is expected to mitigate the extent of the damage to crops and pasture. 
    • Based on current trends, cross-border regional trade is expected to continue improving in the short to medium term due to the ongoing, modest recovery of economic activity across East Africa. Demand for maize, sorghum, dry beans, and livestock exports will slightly improve, except to Rwanda, where the border remains closed.
    • Following the seasonal decline in the national tradeable surplus and a slight increase in regional demand, staple food prices in Uganda are expected to seasonally rise from February to May but will remain near to slightly above the five-year average in most key reference markets. Prices are expected to increase at a slower rate compared to the same time in 2020 before and after the lockdown. New supplies from the June/July harvests are expected to drive a seasonal decline in staple food prices through September.
    • Seasonal income from second-season crop sales and livestock sales is likely to remain below normal for poor households through May, based on slow but gradual recovery in food demand and below-average farmgate prices. As economic activity accelerates and facilitates higher demand, income from these sources is expected to relatively improve during the first season harvest starting in June, except in districts under the livestock quarantine due to FMD.  

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In rural and urban areas in bimodal Uganda, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are likely to be sustained throughout the scenario period. However, some households may still face difficulty covering their non-food needs without engaging in coping strategies – indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) – or may face slight to moderate food consumption gaps – indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). These households are most likely to be located in flood-affected areas near Lake Albert, areas that are vulnerable to floods or landslides during the above-average March to May rainfall season, areas affected by the FMD livestock quarantine, and urban areas. The population that is Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected to be lower compared to the same period of 2020. Overall, food availability and access will be driven by above-average crop production, low staple food prices, and a relative increase in labor income compared to 2020. Food and labor income earned from above-average production of cereals and legumes, as well as typical perennial crops such as tea, coffee, sugarcane, and bananas, is expected to cover at least the minimally adequate dietary needs of most rural households. Some crop losses may occur in localized flood- or landslide-prone areas, and it is possible localized crop losses from Desert Locust may occur in parts of eastern Uganda, but these losses are unlikely to be widespread. In urban areas, low food prices are expected to help offset the impact of the slow economic recovery on employment and lagging income levels.

    In Karamoja, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will become more widespread as food and income sources further decline during the lean season, which is anticipated to last until at least July. Households will primarily rely on casual labor income, sales of natural resources like charcoal and firewood, and other goods and services to purchase food, but low demand and high competition for these activities are expected to continue to limit household income. Meanwhile, high staple prices coupled with constrained income will continue to suppress household purchasing power. During this period, a significant proportion of the population will experience slight to moderate food consumption gaps and will need food assistance. As the main 2021 harvest gradually begins in July and is fully underway by August or September, the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected to decline. However, the precise timing of the harvest is contingent on rainfall performance.

    In rural refugee settlements, refugees are expected to continue to rely on humanitarian food assistance heavily, but the 60 percent ration that is planned through May and the potential of an even lower ration after May is unlikely to prevent food consumption gaps. Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected from February to May, which encompasses the longer agricultural lean season. During the June to September period, the availability of the harvest among refugees with arable land is expected to mitigate worse outcomes, resulting in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Throughout the scenario period, many refugees will likely earn insufficient income to purchase their remaining food and essential non-food needs, and, as a result, most will have at least slight to moderate food consumption gaps and will likely use negative coping strategies. There is a likelihood of increased acute malnutrition among children and poor dietary diversity among pregnant and lactating women and girls.

    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. 


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



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Partial lockdown measures reinstated to prevent the spread of COVID-19

    Households’ ability to earn income would fall significantly. Poor households who rely on off-farm, daily income sources would be most affected, especially in urban areas and refugee settlements. Prolonged supply chain disruptions would likely lead to higher food prices than currently anticipated. The population experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) would quickly increase and be more widespread, given that coping capacity is already low due to the economic slowdown.


    Delayed, below-average, or poorly distributed seasonal rainfall

    This would reduce the availability of agricultural labor opportunities and delay the arrival of harvests. Below-average crop performance would likely result in below-average production.  More households would be Stressed (IPC Phase 2), especially in Teso region. In Karamoja, the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) would likely increase and food consumption gaps would widen.


    Significantly above-average rainfall

    Early-season over-saturation of soil would likely delay plowing and planting activities, while crop losses due to waterlogging, floods, or landslides would be likely as the season progressed. Flood- and landslide-prone areas would likely deteriorate to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) with some households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to the loss of crops and related on-farm livelihood activities. In Karamoja, the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) would likely remain atypically high during the harvest season.

    Karamoja region

    Significant invasion of Desert Locust from Kenya or Ethiopia

    Should a significant locust invasion occur in April/May, when crops are in the vegetative stages, there would be a higher likelihood of moderate to significant crop losses on the household level. However, the government’s existing surveillance and control response mechanisms would likely prevent widespread crop failure. Given limited capacity to replant, the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) would likely remain atypically high during the harvest season.

    Refugee settlements

    Secured funding that raises rations to 70 percent or more

    In the event that donors provide additional funding and rations for refugee households are restored to at least 70 percent during the June to September period, which overlaps with the June/July harvest, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes would be anticipated. However, a more significant increase in food assistance would be required in the February to May lean season period to prevent Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes; while food assistance would likely mitigate food deficits and the use of negative coping strategies, households would likely still have at least slight food gaps.

    Figures Map of food security outcomes in Uganda in February 2021

    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, February 2021

    Source: FEWS NET

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

    Figure 2

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Chart comparing estimated rainfall per 5-day period in Moroto from October 2020 to February 2021 against the 2000-2018 averag

    Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Chart comparing the share of the total population, the share of the rural versus urban population, and the share of the poore

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: World Bank/UBOS Uganda Economic Update

    Chart showing the share of maize, sorghum, and bean exports in the East Africa region that are from Uganda in Q42020 and the

    Figure 5

    Figure 3

    Source: FEWS NET/FAO/WFP

    Chart showing the change in the retail price of beans, cassava chips, maize grain, and sorghum gain in various Ugandan key re

    Figure 6

    Figure 4

    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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