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Low staple food prices mitigate worse outcomes in Karamoja and refugee settlements, though Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • February - September 2024
Low staple food prices mitigate worse outcomes in Karamoja and refugee settlements, though Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Area of Concern: Refugees in Settlements
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • In rural and urban bimodal areas, above-average carryover stocks from the second season 2023 harvests and low staple food prices have supported normal food availability and access in February. Atypical off-season rainfall in January and February and an early start to the March to May first rainfall season are facilitating early demand for labor for land preparation and planting activities, increasing income generation. Anticipated on-time and average first season harvests in June and July, in conjunction with the availability of typical livelihood activities, are expected to support most households in meeting their essential food and non-food needs. While the increased volatility in the Ugandan Shilling relative to the USD is likely to result in slightly higher inflation for consumer goods and farm inputs, reduced staple food prices relative to last year will likely continue supporting favorable financial access to food for poor urban households. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected from February through September. 
    • In Karamoja, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected through May, with the most vulnerable households likely facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Depleted carryover stocks from the meager 2023 harvests, below-average incomes from 2023 crop and livestock sales, and low purchasing power to purchase food are driving food consumption gaps and poor dietary diversity. Although, the above-average rainfall forecasted for April to September is expected to enhance agricultural labor opportunities for poor households, despite difficulty affording farm inputs. The harvest in August and September, which is anticipated to be more favorable than last year, will likely reduce the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes relative to previous drought-affected years. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will persist through September.  
    • Retail prices of staple food in bimodal areas have generally remained stable or shown declining trends. In January, staple prices were 6 to 43 percent below prices in January 2023, driven by average harvests and carryover stocks from 2023 second season bimodal harvests that coincided with atypically low regional demand from Kenya, South Sudan, DRC, Rwanda, and Burundi. However, staple food prices remain 6 to 38 percent higher than the five-year average and are expected to increase between March and May as food stocks exhaust and ahead of the first season bimodal harvests. In July and August, the bimodal harvest will replenish household and market food stocks, seasonally reducing staple prices in bimodal areas and improving purchasing power for households that are purchase-reliant for food. 
    • In refugee settlements, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected from February to September. Low refugee household incomes are expected to sustain low purchasing power and constrain financial access to food, especially among the most vulnerable refugee households, despite the 60 percent ration from WFP and relatively stable staple food prices. Between March and May, more refugee households are expected to face consumption gaps due to seasonally increasing staple food prices, exacerbated by the atypically high refugee influx and overstretched general food assistance resources. Some households will only be able to meet their food and non-food needs by engaging in negative coping strategies. In May/June, food availability will increase with the harvest, and prices will likely decline, improving food security outcomes for households that cultivate food, although area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected to persist through September, with some of the very poor refugee households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Seasonal rainfall performance and crop production: In bimodal areas, following the above-average September to December 2023 rains, the January to February dry period has been characterized by atypical light to moderately heavy rainfall, likely due to waning El Niño conditions. However, the spatial and temporal distribution of the unseasonable rainfall has been erratic (Figure 1). Western Uganda has received notably less rainfall than the rest of the country, as well as experiencing more frequent dry spells. January to February is typically when drying and second-season harvesting activities are completed, although in much of the eastern, northern, and parts of the central region, cumulative rainfall has ranged from 110 to 200 percent above average. The favorable rains have supported the early start of land preparation for first-season cultivation, including, bush clearing and plowing. Inland surface temperatures have generally been normal, except in northeastern bimodal areas in Uganda and Karamoja region, where temperatures were 3 to 6 °C above average.

    Figure 1

    Rainfall accumulation and forecast (mm) per five-day period compared to average, November 2023–February 2024, by region
    Cumulative and forecasted rainfall (mm) by region, November 2023 to February 2024

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), difference from 2012–2021 average, February 2023 (left) and February 2024 (right)
    Vegetation conditions February 21-28 2023 versus 2024

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Livestock production and trade: In bimodal areas, the atypical rains in January and February have been beneficial for livestock productivity. Pasture conditions and water resources are generally reported to be above average in these areas. However, in Karamoja region, according to the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) derived from satellite data, vegetation conditions remain seasonally below average in mid-February, although they are better than at the same time last year (Figure 2). As such, in these areas of the cattle corridor, livestock body conditions have been slightly below average.

    In Karamoja, despite the relative improvement in security conditions, periodic insecurity, including random killings, livestock thefts, and cattle rustling, continue to occur. To protect livestock, herders limit grazing to areas where security is guaranteed, resulting in these areas becoming overgrazed. To curb livestock theft, authorities have channeled all livestock migration through a single route through Moroto at which livestock are inspected before proceeding to Soroti. This has significantly reduced the number of traders coming to the region to purchase livestock and disrupted livestock trade. 

    During a FEWS NET field assessment in Karamoja in January 2024, key informants indicated that typically about 14 to 20 lorries are at the weekly livestock market to transport purchased animals. However, as of January 2024, only around five lorries are present on market days. Of those, most are medium or smaller trucks used to ferry young breeding stock to neighboring districts of Karamoja, as opposed to high-capacity trucks used to ferry large slaughter bulls as far as Kampala. Consequently, the livestock economy in Karamoja and the purchasing power of herders and traders have been significantly reduced.

    Since the start of 2024, a foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak has worsened, rapidly spreading to over 32 districts in and out of the cattle corridor in two months. Livestock quarantines have been implemented in some areas, prohibiting livestock migration, and livestock markets have closed in several districts, including but not limited to Sembabule, Lwengo, Mbarara, Rakai, and Kyotera districts. Uncontrolled movements, inadequate availability of vaccines, the sale of counterfeit vaccines, and poor enforcement of quarantines have led to the continued spread. As a result, many livestock-dependent households have lost access to their key income source for meeting household needs, such as paying school tuition, hiring labor for farming activities, or purchasing inputs. Additionally, with the prohibition against consuming milk, meat, and other livestock products in affected districts, many households have also lost access to a key source of food. While FMD is endemic to these areas of the cattle corridor, and outbreaks are frequent, this particular outbreak, which started in November, has spread faster than in the past, when such outbreaks would typically remain relatively localized within a particular district. Short supplies of FMD vaccines, along with the onset of the outbreak during the festive season, which is a peak animal sales period, were responsible for the rapid spread. 

    While livestock has historically played a principle roll in income generation in Karamoja, few poor households still own livestock after several years of conflict related to livestock raids, resulting in the severe depletion or loss this livelihood. Most households are unable to rely on income from livestock sales or consumption of livestock products including blood and milk. According to key informants, the practice of bleeding cattle is reportedly increasingly limited, and households are facing atypically low milk access due to reduced herd sizes and limited conception and birthing rates. Most poor households have been unable to generate the capital to restock their herds, and limited alternatives have resulted in constrained access to income.

    Figure 3

    Quarterly cross-border exports of maize (left) and dry beans (right) in metric tons, October-December (Q4) 2023, compared to Q4 2022, Q3 2023, and five-year average
    Share of quarterly cross-border exports of maize (left) and dry beans (right) in metric tons from Uganda, October-December (Q4) 2023, compared to Q4 2022, Q3 2023, and five-year average

    Source: FEWS NET/EAGC/FAO/WFP

    Macroeconomic conditions: According to the Bank of Uganda’s Monetary Policy Statement for February 2024, annual headline inflation rose slightly from 2.6 percent in December to 2.8 percent in January 2024. However, food inflation remains subdued and stable at 2.5 percent in December and 2.6 percent in January, linked to improved domestic supply following above-average rainfall in 2023. The exchange rate remains relatively stable due to a favorable balance of payments and tight monetary policy. However, instability in the Middle East is disrupting some supply chains, contributing to elevated prices for oil and other imported goods. Increased household expenditure indicative of continued economic growth led to a 5.3 percent Growth Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate over the first quarter of FY 2023/2024, supported by the recovery of external demand and relatively low inflationary pressures, which have boosted household income and stimulated spending.

    Markets and trade: From October to December 2023, an estimated 106,000 MT of maize were traded in East Africa, 71 percent of which was exported from Uganda. This was 39 percent lower than in the fourth quarter of 2022 and 47 percent below the five-year average. Kenya, Rwanda, and South Sudan represented 60, 21, and 9 percent of total maize imports, respectively (Figure 3). El Niño-enhanced rainfall that supported above-average production in Kenya, parts of South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi reduced regional demand for grain exports from Uganda. Reduced exports from Uganda to South Sudan were also driven by recent changes in customs payments, increasing the cost of transactions and transportation. 

    In bimodal areas, retail prices of staple foods were generally stable or declined across most monitored markets from December to January, linked to above-average availability of staple food stocks from the favorable 2023 second season harvests and low regional demand for Ugandan grains. In most markets, cereal prices were 6 to 43 percent lower than in January 2023, though remained 6 to 38 percent higher than the five-year average (Figure 4). However, in some major markets, bean prices remain higher than last year and the five-year average, driven by the low supply following below-average bean harvests in the 2023 second season due to damage from excess rainfall (Figure 5). In Karamoja, retail prices of sorghum showed varying trends in January. In Moroto, Kaabong, and Kotido markets, prices increased by 5 to 16 percent from December to January, as household stocks continue to exhaust with the early onset of the lean season. However, in Nakapiripirit prices declined by 29 percent month-on-month, likely attributable to the higher production of sorghum in that area and lower market demand. In most markets in Karamoja, sorghum prices are lower in January 2024 than they were in 2023 while remaining 5 to 30 percent above average across most Karamoja markets following the below-average harvests in 2023 and atypically early onset of the lean season (Figure 6, 7). 

    Figure 4

    Retail price of maize in January 2024, compared to December 2023, January 2023, and five-year average in bimodal areas
    Retail price of maize in January 2024, compared to December 2023, January 2023, and 5YA

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Figure 5

    Retail price of beans in January 2024, compared to December 2023, January 2023, and the five-year average in bimodal areas
    Retail price of beans in January 2024, compared to December 2023, January 2023, and 5YA in bimodal areas

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    In Karamoja, while staple food prices have been declining since August 2023 and trending below the previous year’s levels, contributing to relatively improved household food access, household purchasing power remains a major limiting factor. Households in Karamoja heavily rely on firewood collection and charcoal production and sales for income. However, firewood prices are below average due to oversupply in the markets. Prices of charcoal decreased 6 to 26 percent and firewood prices declined 6 to 45 percent between December and January 2024, resulting in unfavorable terms of trade compared to the five-year average across most markets in Karamoja (Figure 8). The poor purchasing power is exacerbated by the increasing sorghum prices in Moroto, Kaabong, and Kotido, where households are more market-dependent for food compared to other districts of Karamoja.

    Figure 6

    Retail price of sorghum, January to December 2023, 2022, and five-year average in Karamoja
    Retail price of sorghum in Jan-Dec 2022, 2023, and five-year average

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Figure 7

    Retail price of beans, January to December 2023, 2022, and five-year average in Karamoja
    Retail price of beans, January to December 2023, 2022, and five-year average in Karamoja

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    In bimodal areas, the above-average 2023 second season harvest bolstered household access to own-produced food stocks and income through February. Most poor households generally have access to typical income from crop sales to meet their minimum food needs, as well as to repay debt obligations and purchase some essential non-food items, including agricultural inputs. The atypical dry season rainfall has supported an early start of agricultural activities in January and February 2024, increasing demand for agricultural labor unseasonably early, and access to income for poor households. Additionally, the rainfall in January and February has supported the growth of off-season vegetables, which have supplemented households’ food stocks. Though reliance on market purchases for food is seasonally low in February, the poor urban households that remain purchase-reliant for food are generally able to meet their minimum food needs due to the lower prices for maize, sorghum, millet, cassava, and potatoes and seasonally improved purchasing power. Area-level Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes prevail in bimodal and urban areas.

    In Karamoja, the lean season has been underway since December, three months ahead of its typical start in March when harvests usually exhaust. The largely below-average harvests in August 2023 only temporarily improved food availability and access and some poor households reportedly had failed harvests, resulting in households remaining atypically purchase-reliant for food through the post-harvest period. Although staple food prices have decreased with the availability of favorable bimodal harvests, the terms of trade for key livelihoods activities for poor households are highly unfavorable in many areas, resulting in households needing to collect and sell more units of firewood to purchase the same quantity of sorghum compared to last year and the five-year average. This has resulted in sustained low household purchasing power and financial access to food for many poor households. Cash assistance vouchers from some NGOs operating in the region and some cash distributions from the government’s Parish Development Model (PDM) program and diverted have slightly improved household purchasing power and food access for some households. However, households continue to face moderate food gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across most of Karamoja. 

    Among refugees in settlements, poor access to land and other inputs limited households’ ability to produce adequate food to meet their minimum food needs. Despite the generally above-average second season rainfall performance, most vulnerable refugee households, including but not limited to the elderly, child-headed households, or households with high dependence ratios, had limited harvests, reportedly exhausting their second season food stocks within four to six weeks of harvesting. Consequently, by February, many already depend on market purchases to access food.  With limited labor opportunities, households are reportedly increasing their reliance on livelihood coping strategies such as selling household assets – including productive assets – borrowing money or food on credit, withdrawing children from school, and marrying off young girls in exchange for cash and in-kind support. Children also reportedly engage in child labor, like fetching water, collecting firewood, and bricklaying. Even when using coping strategies, households' access to adequate and nutritious food is constrained among poor refugees. Many refugees are also reportedly engaging in food-based coping strategies, such as eating fewer meals per day and consuming less-preferred foods. With the implementation of the third phase of WFP’s vulnerability-based re-prioritization of assistance, the 30 percent rations for over 80 percent of the population are insufficient to supplement most refugees’ own-produced and purchased food. Refugees in settlements are likely facing food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Please find a detailed analysis of the food security outcomes in refugee settlements in the Area of Concern section below. 

    Assumptions

    The most-likely scenario from February to September 2024 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Based on ensemble forecasts, the March to May 2024, first-season rains in bimodal Uganda are likely to be above average. Meanwhile, the April to September 2024 unimodal rainfall season in Karamoja, Uganda, is likely to be slightly above average, though there is uncertainty given the long-range nature of the forecast. Given the increased odds of above-average rainfall across the country, some water logging of crops is likely to occur, especially in the early growth stages.
    • First season bimodal crop production of cereals and pulses is anticipated to be average at the national level. The harvest is expected to occur from June to September, with the green harvest occurring in May, as is typical. Crop production is expected to support average levels of household food stocks and market supplies through September. 
    • Near-average seasonal incomes from the 2023 second season crop sales are likely to support normal investment in agricultural production activities for 2024 first-season bimodal cultivation, including hiring labor and purchasing inputs. Agricultural labor demand is generally expected to be average, with seasonal increases in demand from February through April and again in August and September associated with land preparation, planting, and weeding activities for the first and second harvests. 
    • Household food stocks from the second season 2023 harvest are likely to exhaust at a normal pace, lasting through April for most poor rural households. 
    • Based on the most likely scenario of slightly above-average April to September rainfall in Karamoja, the 2024 green and main unimodal harvests are expected to be near-average and better than 2023 crop production. The limiting factors will include the low financial capacity of agropastoral households to purchase inputs and hire labor or oxen. The area planted and demand for agricultural labor will likely remain below average. Harvests will likely seasonally increase food availability starting in July/August, beginning first in southern Karamoja and then progressing toward the north.
    • Pasture conditions and water resources for livestock in bimodal areas are expected to decline seasonally in February but improve to above average in March/April in both bimodal areas and Karamoja region. Average livestock body conditions and milk production are expected from April through September due to pasture restoration, although the benefits will be limited to households with significant herd sizes. Overall, pasture conditions and water availability are expected to be average in both bimodal and unimodal Karamoja during these months.
    • Staple food prices in bimodal areas are expected to trend at lower levels than in 2023 and be near the five-year average through September because of the above-average 2023 second season harvest. In April/early May, staple prices are anticipated to seasonally increase as household food stocks from 2023 dwindle ahead of the first-season harvest. From June to September, prices are expected to decline as first-season harvests increase access to own-produced food and reduce market demand. 
    • In Karamoja, the retail price of sorghum is projected to trend 11 to 34 percent lower than in 2023 but remain near the five-year average through September in Moroto market. Meanwhile, the prices of beans will likely trend 7 to 16 percent below last year and 6 to 29 percent above the five-year average from February through August. Prices are expected to seasonally decline starting in June/July with the increased supply from the first season harvest in bimodal areas, followed by the onset of the green harvest in August in Karamoja. 
    • Maize and dry bean exports from Uganda to structurally deficit-producing countries of Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi are expected to seasonally increase but remain below average between February and September following favorable 2023 and projected first-season 2024 harvests in Kenya and Tanzania. Elastic maize supplies bolstered by average first-season harvests and low domestic and export demand are expected to support stable or declining prices across most domestic markets through September. 
    • Based on WFP’s planned and funded humanitarian food assistance for refugees living in settlements, roughly 80 percent of refugee households are expected to continue receiving either cash or in-kind rations equivalent to 30 percent of an individual's minimum daily kilocalorie requirement, while roughly 15 percent of households will likely continue receiving rations equivalent to roughly 60 percent of their minimum daily kilocalorie requirements through September. 
    • In Karamoja, insecurity—including cattle thefts, destruction of property, and armed confrontation with security forces—is anticipated to improve slightly during the scenario period due to heightened security enforcement, including the implementation of a designated transport route of livestock exiting Karamoja to curb thefts. Pastoral households are expected to have relatively normal access to traditional dry season grazing and migratory grazing areas in central and northern Karamoja and neighboring districts, with slight improvements relative to last year.
    • The availability of wild foods—including green leafy vegetables and fruits and nuts—is expected to be seasonally low from February to April during the remainder of the dry season, followed by increased availability with the start of the rains in April, in line with seasonal trends. As own-produced food stocks deplete as the lean season progresses, demand for wild foods will likely exceed supply, compounded by a reduced supply of leaves and nuts due to reduced tree cover.
    • Charcoal and firewood prices and labor wage rates are expected to seasonally decline to below the five-year average, primarily due to supply oversaturation in the market. Given that charcoal and firewood prices and labor wages have decreased considerably more than sorghum prices, the charcoal/firewood-to-sorghum and labor-to-sorghum terms of trade in Karamoja are expected to be average and lower than last year. 

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for Uganda

    Source: FEWS NET

    Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes

    In bimodal areas, 2023 second-season carryover stocks are expected to last until April or early May for most households, sustaining normal food availability. An early onset of the March to May rainfall season and the associated early growth of vegetables and other fast-maturing crops in late April/early May will temporarily mitigate marginal food consumption gaps and support food access for poor households until the start of the green harvest in late May. Additionally, the early start of first season cultivation will likely increase opportunities for agricultural labor earlier than normal, increasing access to income for poor households in the February to May period. From June to September, the favorable first season harvests are expected to bolster food availability, as well as increase access to food and income associated with crop sales, supporting most households to meet both their food and non-food needs. The seasonal reduction in staple food prices will support adequate food access for poor urban households or households with limited land for cultivation that are more purchase-reliant for food. Overall, most households are expected to access sufficient food and income to cover at least their minimally adequate food needs and essential non-food needs, sustaining Minimal (IPC Phase 1) area-level outcomes from March to September.

    In Karamoja, poor households experiencing a prolonged lean season will continue face challenges accessing food and income through May. The atypically early reliance on market purchases this year will continue to drive heightened competition for the few income-earning opportunities through the lean season, particularly for casual labor, firewood collection and sales, and charcoal making and sales. However, typical income sources are unlikely to be sufficient to meet households’ needs. Heightened reliance on charcoal and firewood sales will continue to saturate the market as the lean season progresses, resulting in limited income earned and sustaining the poor terms of trade with sorghum. Other sources of income, such as brewing, grass and pole sales, food vending, and poultry sales will also generate insufficient income to support households in meeting their minimum food needs or purchase planting seeds or hire oxen or labor for normal crop production activities in 2024. Households will continue to face moderate food consumption gaps and the poor and very poor will rely on food-based coping strategies such as reducing the quantity of food and frequency of meals consumed per day. For some very poor households, even children are anticipated to only eat one meal per day. Widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated through May, with some very poor households likely facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4). As the lean season progresses, the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes is expected to peak in July, along with a seasonal increase in acute malnutrition.

    The forecasted slightly above-average April to September rainfall is expected to support near-average unimodal crop production. The poor financial access to agricultural inputs and low household purchasing power to hire labor will result in slightly below-average demand for on-farm labor; however, the availability of some seasonal labor opportunities will still support improved income generation and access to food during the lean season. A timely start of near-average green harvests in late July and August, followed by dry harvests in August and September, will result in seasonal improvements in food availability. It will also support reduced staple food prices and facilitate increased financial access to food by the end of the scenario period. The harvest – which is expected to be better than last year and previous years – will reduce food consumption gaps for many households, improving area-level outcomes from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in some parts of Karamoja by September. However, the areas worst affected by consecutive years of below-average harvests during the drought, periodic episodes of insecurity, and severe asset depletion, are facing a longer-term recovery and will continue to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through the projection period. 

    In refugee settlements, exhausted food stocks and limited labor opportunities will continue to limit access to food or most households through May. While the cropping season will offer increased labor opportunities, income generation will be lower than normal due to high competition, exacerbated by the sustained influx of new refugees. The influx of refugees is also expected to further stretch humanitarian services, including health, nutrition, and sanitation/hygiene, in refugee settlements, increasing the spread of hygiene-related or water-borne diseases, especially during the March to May rainy season. In June, anticipated average harvests will likely improve household food stocks for refugees who cultivated, easing financial access for those who rely on market purchases. However, the expected harvest will not be sufficient to last through the projection period because of the limited area allocated for crop cultivation. Food prices are expected to remain below 2023 levels over the scenario period, but low refugee household income is expected to sustain low purchasing power and constrain financial access to food, especially among the most vulnerable refugee households, despite the 60 percent ration from WFP. Vulnerable refugee households will increase their reliance on food-based coping strategies, such as consuming less-preferred foods and surviving on fewer meals, and many will likely employ more severe negative livelihood coping strategies, such as selling productive assets, withdrawing children from school, marrying off young girls, and engaging in prostitution to supplement household income. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to continue through September 2024, with the worst-affected refugee households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Please find a detailed analysis of the food security outcomes in refugee settlements in the Area of Concern section below.

    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationalDelayed, below-average, or poorly distributed first season 2024 rainfallBelow-average national crop production and below-normal agricultural labor demand would reduce household income and market supply. While even below-average rainfall amounts typically produce enough crops to maintain adequate food availability for subsistence farmers, the decline in income could cause an atypical increase in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) population in April/May.
    Excessive flooding due to very heavy rainfall episodes during the 2024 first-season rainfallUnexpected excessive rainfall during the first season is likely to result in severe flooding and waterlogging events during the cropping season. These events typically damage crops, reducing the harvest of legumes especially, as well as crops grown in lowland areas with poor drainage. This would limit access to food and income due to below-average production, likely resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in the affected areas during the scenario period.
    Refugee settlementsAn unexpected surge in regional conflict resulting in atypically high influx of refugees into settlementsAn atypical surge in refugees following increased conflict in the region and mass displacement would likely exceed the capacity of humanitarian agencies to provide food and non-food assistance. Inadequate funding would likely lead to a reduction in rations or a reduction in the duration of full rations than the first three months for new arrivals. Given the limited coping capacities of newly arrived refugee households, food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes would be likely among the most vulnerable new arrivals.
    Karamoja subregionDelayed, below-average, and erratic rainfall in the April to September 2024 unimodal rainfall season Poor, erratic, and delayed rainfall performance during the start of the season would impact the timeliness of plowing, planting, and weeding and would likely lead to significantly below-average agricultural labor demand and income, which the poor depend on to purchase food. this would also likely result in below-average harvests. More poor households would deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) than previously anticipated.

    Area of Concern: Refugees in Settlements

    Figure 8

    Refugee Settlements in Uganda, February 2024
    All refugee settlements in Uganda

    Source: FEWS NET/UNHCR

    Current Situation

    Between January 1 and February 22, 19,898 refugees arrived in Uganda from South Sudan (18 percent), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (19 percent), and Sudan (36 percent), bringing the total refugee population up to 1.63 million. Over the last five months, Uganda has seen record-high new arrivals each month relative to the past three years (Figure 10). In January, the number of arrivals nearly doubled relative to last January. This is largely attributable to the conflict in Sudan and a resurgence of armed conflict between the Congolese army and the M23 armed group in DRC. 

    The influx of new arrivals is heavily taxing the resources of an already stretched refugee response, and many of the reception centers are over-capacity already. Since early January—following a directive by the Office of the Prime Minister—new arrivals from Sudan are being exclusively registered and settled in the Kiryandongo settlement in western Uganda, where more than 2,000 refugees have been received so far. Similarly, overcrowding persists at the Nyumanzi reception center in the West Nile region, where more than 1,100 Sudanese await relocation. In Kiryandongo, the new arrivals’ registration has triggered additional needs for re-establishing reception facilities, increasing registration services, providing relief items, and enhancing access to essential services, including health care, water, and sanitation services. This spike in influx comes only a few months after the implementation of the re-prioritization of food assistance to follow a needs-based approach. 

    Figure 9

    Refugee new arrival trends per month, January to December, 2021-2024
    Refugee Influx into settlements from january to december, 2021-2024

    Source: FEWS NET/UNHCR/OPM

    The influx of new arrivals is heavily taxing the resources of an already stretched refugee response, and many of the reception centers are over-capacity already. Since early January—following a directive by the Office of the Prime Minister—new arrivals from Sudan are being exclusively registered and settled in the Kiryandongo settlement in western Uganda, where more than 2,000 refugees have been received so far. Similarly, overcrowding persists at the Nyumanzi reception center in the West Nile region, where more than 1,100 Sudanese await relocation. In Kiryandongo, the new arrivals’ registration has triggered additional needs for re-establishing reception facilities, increasing registration services, providing relief items, and enhancing access to essential services, including health care, water, and sanitation services. This spike in influx comes only a few months after the implementation of the re-prioritization of food assistance to follow a needs-based approach. 

    The above-average 2023 second-season rainfall in northern and western Uganda generally supported favorable yields per acre for the roughly 40 percent of refugees who planted. In Palabek, in West Nile region, a key informant reported receiving above-average harvests of sorghum, maize, and simsim, despite early-season dry spells. In Rwamwanja, in the southwest, harvests were also reportedly above average for those who cultivated, with some households having food stocks through January. Although, refugees who had improved maize grain harvests faced difficulty storing the grain, given limited access to adequate and safe storage facilities, reducing food utilization. In Rwamwanja, refugee households were reportedly drying maize on the ground and using rudimentary threshing methods that negatively affected the quality of the grain and reduced its worth on the market. 

    However, more than half of refugee households—largely the poor and very poor households—do not cultivate due to their small plot sizes and limited financial access to hiring land or purchasing agricultural inputs, such as improved seeds and pesticides for cultivation. Key informants in the southwest reported that some poor refugees who planted small gardens sold their cultivated plots prior to harvesting, losing their harvests and the ability to cultivate in the future due to the urgent need for cash. Meanwhile, newly arrived refugees are not likely to start producing their own food in the first three months following arrival. As of late February, food stocks for most refugees that cultivated are mostly exhausted, lasting four to six weeks after harvest, resulting in high reliance on market purchases for food. 

    Additionally, the impacts of the reduction in food assistance in mid-2023 have contributed to heightened tensions between host and refugee communities. Beyond host community members' continued reports of theft from their homes or crops from their gardens by refugees, issues around land access and use have also become increasingly tense. Prices for hiring land remain extremely high, and host communities are reportedly increasingly engaging strict terms of payment as they rent land to refugees in fear refugees will not follow through on their payments for the land. This is increasingly limiting land access solely to the better-off refugees with more capital or households with stronger social connections with the host communities.

    Similar to national trends, the prices of maize, sorghum, and cassava chips declined in January and generally trended below 2023 in relevant reference markets, such as Arua, Gulu, and Lira, including those used by refugees. Although staple food prices are relatively low, access to adequate and nutritious food remains a major constraint due to limited income. The availability of labor opportunities and income generation are atypically low in February, even for the off-season. Refugees who cultivated reported having to sell considerably more maize grain to obtain the same amount of food and non-food essentials, given the low grain prices. A household selling 100 kgs of maize grain now gets 50,000 UGX, which is insufficient to pay the school fees for even one child in primary school. 

    The reduced prices have supported a slight improvement in household purchasing power for refugee households that receive monthly cash-based assistance. In December, households receiving 60 percent rations in the form of cash-based transfers were able to purchase 8 to 32 percent more food in northern and West Nile settlements[1] and 22 to 35 percent more food in the southwestern settlements[2] compared to the amounts received in the form of in-kind assistance by other households. Similarly, of the 80 percent of households receiving 30 percent rations, households who received cash-based food assistance could purchase roughly 7 to 25 percent more food in the northern and West Nile settlements and 20 to 33 percent more food in the southwest with the transfer value than the amount of food received in December by households enrolled in in-kind food assistance. Overall, the food minimum expenditure basket (MEB)[3]was approximately 7 percent cheaper in the southwest than in West Nile (70,262 UGX in southwest settlements and 75,528 UGX in West Nile settlements).

    Due to the limited sources of income, constrained financial access to food, and limited own-produced food, many households are resorting to livelihood coping strategies households are borrowing money to pay school fees, while others are withdrawing children from school, resorting to early child marriage, begging, or having children engage in paid labor like fetching water or firewood and bricklaying to supplement household income. According to key informants, in Nakivale refugee settlement, less than half of enrolled students reported for the first school term in February because parents could not afford school fees. Some households are also resorting to food-based coping strategies such as reducing the number of daily meals to save household food stocks or prioritizing children to eat first. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely widespread across refugee settlements. For some poor and very poor households, food assistance is likely preventing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. However, according to UNICEF, in the last quarter of 2023 and continuing into 2024, acute malnutrition is being managed effectively through increased screening and treatment of malnourished children by several humanitarian agencies operating in refugee settlements.


    [1] Bidibidi, Rhino camp, Palorinya, Lobule, Imvepi, Adjumani, Kiryandongo and Palabek

    [2] Rwamwanja, Kyaka II, Kyangwali, Oruchinga, and Nakivale

    [3] Represents the minimum culturally adjusted group of items required to support a five-person refugee household in Uganda for one month, including food, health, education, energy, water, transport, communication, WASH, livelihood items, and clothing.

    Assumptions

    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Engagement in cultivation is expected to continue at increased levels following the reduction in food assistance in July 2023, which is expected to increase crop production during the first season in refugee settlements relative to recent years. While first-season crop production in refugee settlements is generally anticipated to be average, this will likely vary widely at the household level, given poor households’ limited financial access to hired land and inputs, as well as due to the wide range of soil quality in camp plots. Most refugee households will likely have very limited ability to purchase inputs or hire land outside the camp, limiting the increase in crop production to middle and better-off households. 
    • Engagement in on-farm and off-farm casual labor activities is expected to be higher than in previous years to boost household incomes following the reduction in assistance in July 2023. However, opportunities are expected to remain limited relative to the level of labor supply.
    • Armed conflict and intercommunal violence in South Sudan, North Kivu and Ituri provinces in DRC, and Sudan will continue to drive refugees into Uganda through the scenario period. Inflation, rising food and fuel prices, and continued insecurity across DRC are anticipated to continue causing violent and frequent demonstrations over the next six months, following the recent elections. 
    • Given the likelihood of average 2023 second-season cereal crop production, staple prices in Arua market are expected to trend 23 to 29 percent lower than last year but near the recent five-year average through the projection period. 
    • Nutrition interventions by humanitarian agencies are expected to be sustained through the projection period. However, given the limited income-earning opportunities, above-average food prices, and food consumption gaps, amid reduced ration sizes, malnutrition in both southwest and northwest settlements is expected to be worse than last year.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    As household food stocks from the second-season 2023 harvest exhaust in February, the increased reliance on market purchases for food amid limited access to labor in March will further reduce household food access in refugee settlements. Additionally, while prices will be lower than last year, the seasonal increase in staple food prices after March is expected to reduce household purchasing power and drive deterioration in access to food, particularly for poor and very poor households.  However, with the forecasted above-average March to May rains, favorable demand for seasonal agricultural activities from March through May will likely increase labor opportunities and access to income, but wages associated with these opportunities are most likely to trend below average. Between April and May, before the first-season harvest begins, more refugee households will likely rely heavily on less preferred and less expensive food. At the peak of food scarcity and low purchasing power, some households will look to purchase food on credit, while others will likely seek assistance from relatives to share available food. In May, households will increasingly reduce meal frequency and portions and skip meals.  While WFP is expected to sustain the current food rations for highly and moderately vulnerable refugee households, the 30 percent rations for 80 percent of the population are inadequate to meet households' minimum food needs, and refugees will be unable to compensate. The number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes is expected to increase between March through May, likely peaking in May. Additionally, a high disease burden during the rainy season, exacerbated by the ongoing food consumption gaps, is likely to result in an increased prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM), particularly in most northern, West Nile, and southwestern refugee settlements.

    In June, the start of the first-season harvest will likely increase food availability and access in northern, West Nile, and southwestern settlements for most refugees. Additionally, reduced cereal prices during the harvest and post-harvest periods will slightly improve financial access to food for households with smaller harvests who remain highly market-reliant for food. While the improved food access is expected to decrease food consumption gaps and support improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes for the middle and better-off households, area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through September.


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

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Uganda Food Security Outlook February - September 2024: Low staple food prices mitigate worse outcomes in Karamoja and refugee settlements, though Crisis (IPC Phase 3) persists, 2024.

    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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