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Below-normal harvests and COVID-19 restrictions will likely worsen food security outcomes

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • June 2021 - January 2022
Below-normal harvests and COVID-19 restrictions will likely worsen food security outcomes

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  • Key Messages
  • Events that could change the outlook
  • Key Messages
    • In June, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely among poor households in urban areas with some of the worst-affected households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes following the reinstatement of stringent COVID-19 movement restrictions for 42 days. Reductions in daily wage-earning opportunities, limited alternatives for earning income, and delayed and inadequate coverage of cash assistance from the government are expected to drive insufficient food access. Although the availability of the bimodal harvest in June is maintaining below-average staple food prices, the loss of income during this period is expected to reduce food access among poor urban households through at least August.

    • Due to persistently poor rainfall through the end of the March to May first season harvests in most of greater northern Uganda are delayed and below-average. As a result, most poor rural households have below-normal income from crop sales and seasonally limited income from other sources. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely in greater northern Uganda through September.

    • In Karamoja, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected through September with some of the poorest households likely in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), particularly in Kaabong and Moroto districts worsened by limited income sources to purchase food. Food insecurity is driven by a delayed and significantly below-average main season harvest, COVID-19 restrictions, and livestock loss through raids, which have together reduced local food availability and household purchasing power. Although the availability of the harvest in October/November will temporarily improve food security, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will persist in areas where crop harvests are likely to be insignificant.

    • Given below-normal crop production and low capacity to earn income following a reinstated national lockdown, many refugees are expected to face Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes throughout the projection period, meaning that at least 20 percent of refugees in each settlement are likely experiencing slight to moderate food consumption gaps or engaging in negative and unsustainable coping strategies. Humanitarian food assistance, estimated at a 60 percent ration, is likely preventing worse outcomes but is insufficient to meet all basic food needs for many refugee households. Based on available plans from WFP, in-kind assistance is funded through August and cash-based assistance is funded through September. WFP anticipates a pipeline break in funding after September. However, historical trends suggest that additional funding will likely be secured to continue with assistance throughout the projection period, even though ration sizes may be reduced.


    Current Situation

    FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

    Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic: The second wave of COVID-19 in Uganda has worsened since late May, with the 7-day rolling average of confirmed COVID-19 cases peaking at over 1,400 new cases in mid-June. To mitigate the spread of infections, the Government of Uganda (GoU) imposed strict movement restrictions nationwide for a 42-day period starting on June 18. Most significantly, the GoU closed institutions of learning, weekly open-air and livestock markets, and worship centers; banned public and private transport; and implemented a curfew from 19:00 to 05:30. While commercial transport of goods and commodities is permitted, the vast majority of small and informal traders are unable to access closed markets in the source and destination markets. These restrictions have disrupted trade and input and commodity supply chains for various sectors and led businesses to close or downsize their operations, resulting in a spike in formal and informal unemployment.

    The impacts of a second national lockdown in slightly over a year on economic activity is a setback to the gradual pace of economic recovery observed since late 2020.  Movement restrictions coupled with closure of businesses and low purchasing capacity by the poor and unemployed resulted in low food demand in urban areas. Farmers are getting lower farmgate prices especially for perishables like cooking bananas, horticultural commodities, and poultry products. Many urban poor households which rely on daily wages to purchase food have diminished income and purchasing capacity given that they have limited alternative livelihood options. Despite the lockdown, rural households that depend more on own food production are not expected to experience consumption deficits. Farmers are earning less income than usual from crop sales due to low prices, limiting their ability to access to other non-food needs.

    Crop and livestock production: The March to June rainfall season in bimodal areas was mixed, with significant rainfall deficits occurring in northern and western Uganda (Figure 1). Although southern and parts of eastern Uganda also experienced deficits, these areas received more favorable rainfall in March and April. At the end of the season in May/June, moderate to large (>50 mm) rainfall deficits became increasingly widespread in northern Uganda, including Karamoja, and the Southwest.

    The impacts of rainfall on crop development have depended on the timing of planting. Poor May rainfall caused crops to suffer moisture deficits, which has resulted in a delayed and below-average harvest mostly in northern Uganda. Production of crops like simsim, groundnuts, cowpeas, maize, and sorghum are below average. Localized average harvests are occurring in southern and parts of central Uganda despite reported declines in yields among late-planted crops.  In other areas, crop losses in April or May were due to waterlogging or floods due to erratic rains that were short lived. These conditions have equally affected crop production in refugee settlement areas. Preliminary field reports indicate that northeastern and northwestern Uganda have experienced poor crop production outcomes.

    In Karamoja, the April to September rainy season was marked by similar rainfall patterns to the bimodal areas of northern Uganda. Although cumulative rainfall since April is within 80 percent of the historical average, rainfall in June has performed at more 55 percent below average. Waterlogging experienced destroyed crops in some areas and delayed planting. Poor access to quality seeds and the subsequent dry spell drive below-normal crop production projections.

    The rains have supported fair livestock production outcomes except in areas where foot and mouth and other livestock diseases are endemic. The livestock quarantine since early 2021 to limit the spread of the foot and mouth disease in about 45 districts of the southwest cattle corridor districts and central region, remains in place. March through early May rainfall resulted in above-normal pasture conditions and near-normal water availability for livestock in both bimodal areas and unimodal Karamoja. Vegetation conditions currently range from near to above the long-term median but exhibit a seasonally declining trend due to below-normal rainfall since late May (Figure 2). Restrictions of livestock movement and closure of livestock has negatively affected incomes from the sale of animals and their products, which is currently prohibited in the affected districts.

    Markets and trade: Staple food prices remain below the five-year average, a trend observed between April and May. Below-average prices are driven by the combined impacts of suppressed agricultural demand in 2020, surplus stocks from 2020 production, and the short-term fall in domestic demand during the current period of COVID-19 restrictions.  In May 2021, the retail price of beans, cassava chips, maize grain, and sorghum was about 36 percent below the five-year average in numerous key reference markets, such as Arua and Masindi (Figure 3). However, this trend is less strong in Kampala, where sorghum grain prices are near average and beans are 8 percent above average.

    Current food security outcomes

    In most bimodal areas, the bulk of rural households which rely on own production are able to access their minimum food needs from the green harvest in June, sustaining None (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely in areas affected by below-average rainfall, primarily located in northern Uganda and parts of central Uganda. In these sub-regional areas, poor households’ food stocks from the harvest are expected to be moderately to significantly below normal. Additionally, farming households are earning below-average income from crop sales due to disrupted marketing activities, reduced aggregate demand, and supply chain disruptions. As a result, household food availability and income from crop sales are inadequate to fulfill their food needs without compromising their ability to purchase non-food essentials.  

    The implementation of the national lockdown is already impacting food security among urban poor households, which are likely deteriorating to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes and worst affected households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Lack of opportunities to earn daily wages to purchase food is the main driver of food insecurity among these households, who are most vulnerable to income and price shocks. Movement restrictions have limited rural linkages by which urban populations would access food assistance support from their rural family members.

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely in much of Karamoja, with some worst-affected households in Emergency (IPC Phase 4), where low food availability is exacerbated by atypically declining terms of trade and low household income. Low purchasing power to access food has resulted in consumption gaps and – in combination with other factors – has contributed to an atypically high prevalence of acute malnutrition among children. Preliminary findings from the May/June Karamoja IPC analysis indicated that more than half of the population have been using negative food-based coping strategies since late 2020. These included reduced meal portions and sizes, reducing meal frequency, and consuming less preferred food. Worse acute malnutrition outcomes are likely mitigated by WFP supplementary feeding programs for about 29,000 targeted beneficiaries. COVID-19 restrictions are now further constraining household incomes from typical livelihood sources to meet food and non-food needs during the ongoing lean season. In addition to limited livestock assets to sell, insecurity related to armed livestock raids, and the closure of livestock markets, and limited on-farm labor demand are exacerbating the economic impacts of the pandemic. Loss of livestock through raids has denied households access to typical milk and income sources from live animal sales and livestock products. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are prevalent in most areas of the other livelihood zones due to slightly better market access, and relatively better terms of trade obtained from typical income sources. Additional analysis on Karamoja is provided on pages 6-9 of this report.

    According to UNHCR/OPM, Uganda hosted 1,494,505 refugees and asylum seekers as of May 30. Although the international border has remained closed to refugee arrivals since March 2020, refugees, mostly from DRC, continue to informally arrive in Uganda. Since February 2021, refugees living in settlements have received a 60 percent ration while newly arrived refugees receive a full ration for their first three months. With movement restrictions, other sources of income are lower than usual. Typically in June, some households would access green harvests, but following the below-average rainfall performance, crop production is below normal. Given the limited access to food and income sources, Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are prevailing, though humanitarian food assistance is preventing worse outcomes. Additional analysis on refugee settlements is provided on pages 10-11 of this report.


    From June 2021 to January 2022, the most likely food security outcomes are based on the following key assumptions:

    • The current 42-day restrictions will likely achieve a reduced rate of COVID-19 transmission in the near term (1-3 months). In the medium term (3-6 months), the curfew, social distancing measures, border closures to refugees, restrictions on social gatherings, partial reopening of schools, public transportation restrictions and market closures are likely to still be in place to keep transmission rate low.
    • Delayed and below-average rainfall in Karamoja through June/July coupled with limited access to seed for replanting is expected to result in below-normal area planted, in turn sustaining below-normal labor demand for typical weeding and harvesting activities. A delayed and significantly below-average harvest is expected in September/October.
    • Based on NOAA/CPC and USGS analysis of the NMME and ECMWF C3S and WMO forecasts, the August to November second rainy season in bimodal Uganda is most likely to be near average with localized areas of below average rainfall. Based on this forecast, second season crop production and the timing of the harvest will vary depending on rainfall distribution, with sub-national production likely to range from normal to below normal in localized areas during November/December. Agricultural labor demand in localized areas is expected to drop while wage rates overall are expected to be normal.
    • Based on the second season rainfall forecast, localized areas are likely to have below-average pasture conditions and water availability. However, given Uganda’s characteristically wet climate, rangeland conditions will most likely be adequate to support near-normal livestock body conditions and milk production through January.
    • Following the stricter implementation of certification standards for conformity on maize aflatoxin levels by the Kenyan government, export/import companies are expected to comply in the short to medium term and fully implement them during the next harvest season. Following the lifting of the export ban by Kenya, formal maize exports to Kenya are expected to recover to pre-ban levels in the short to medium term.
    • Due to the ongoing closure of Uganda’s international borders to refugees since March 2020, formal refugee arrivals will likely remain low in the near to medium term. However, informal refugee arrivals from the DRC, South Sudan, and other locations are expected to continue at low levels that will likely be higher than last year given ongoing conflict in the DRC.
    • Based on available information on planned and funded humanitarian food assistance to refugees in rural refugee settlements, WFP is expected to deliver cash or in-kind assistance equivalent to a 60 percent ration through at least September to all beneficiaries while those that arrived less than three months ago are likely to receive a full ration. WFP anticipates a pipeline break in funding after September. However, based on historical trends, additional funding will likely be secured to continue with assistance throughout the projection period, even though ration sizes may be reduced. A one-off cash assistance ration of 100,000 UGX by the government is planned to target about 530,000 households in Kampala, 11 cities and 42 municipalities beginning early July.
    • Cereals and legume prices across key reference markets in bimodal areas of Uganda are expected to be average to slightly above average due to declining carryover stocks from 2020, and? atypically low relative demand following the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Above average prices likely in areas with significantly below normal first-season stocks.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In bimodal areas of Uganda, below-normal first season harvests in June and normal second season harvests in November are expected to improve food availability and access among subsistence households in comparison to the pre-harvest period. Overall, subsistence farming households are expected to face No acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) based on food and income from crop production and some poultry or livestock sales. Households in Acholi, Lango, Teso and parts of West Nile, however, are expected to experience below-average harvests insufficient to last through the next harvest season. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, and resulting limited income-earning opportunities, in the near term (one to three months) and below-normal aggregate demand for food locally, farmers are likely to earn below-average income from crop sales. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely in these areas.

    In urban areas, typical daily wage labor opportunities will likely be below normal with slow informal economic activity. Increased supplies and availability of first season harvests are expected to keep staple food prices average to slightly above average, which will somewhat mitigate the decline in household purchasing capacity. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are also likely in many urban areas with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely among worst-affected households, where COVID-19 restrictions will limit household income sources and purchasing power. The cash assistance planned by government will provide short-term support, but is unlikely to cover all households in need and be insufficient to meet the minimum food and non-food needs through the 42-day lockdown. In Kampala, where rural-urban linkages are weakest, expanding food consumption gaps are likely to result in increased acute malnutrition levels.

    In Karamoja, over 25 percent of the population is expected to experience slight to moderate food gaps through the lean season, driven in part by the delayed harvest, limited income-earning opportunities, and below-average purchasing power, as measured by the terms of trade for sorghum, all of which have been exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist longer than previously expected given the delayed start of planting and, consequently, the delayed availability of the green harvest in August and dry harvest in September/October. Furthermore, the significantly below-average harvests are not expected to adequately replenish food stocks, leading to an early start of the lean season in 2022. Households are expected to cope with limited food availability and access by intensifying sales of firewood, charcoal, grass, and building poles and their engagement in brewing, stone quarrying, agricultural labor, and sand mining. However, household income from these sources is not expected to meet their minimum food requirements. Worsening prevalence of acute malnutrition is expected to be mitigated by WFP’s blanket supplementary feeding program. Temporary improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) is expected by October; however, the share of the population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected to be atypically high relative to the post-harvest period in recent years. 

    In refugee settlements, COVID-19 restrictions are likely to continue to constrain opportunities to engage in typical livelihood activities. Further, in the northern refugee settlements, below-average first season harvests among farming households are expected to provide less than the typical 1.5 months of food stocks. Since most refugee households have limited access to food and income sources even in a normal year, the loss of income and food leaves refugees increasingly reliant on humanitarian food assistance. Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected to prevail, though food assistance will prevent worse outcomes.

    Events that could change the outlook
    AReaeventimpact on food security outcomes

    Delayed, and significantly below-average, or poorly distributed second season rainfall

    Significantly below-average or irregular second season rainfall would result in a second consecutive season of below normal production, and below-normal agricultural labor demand household incomes. Households already facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in urban and rural areas where first season production in northern Uganda would likely deteriorate to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
    NationalAccelerated COVID-19 cases leading to prolonged regional or nationwide lockdownsProlonged lockdown or slower easing of lock down measures would likely lead to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in some urban areas. Last years’ lockdown already eroded household’s capacity to cope with the reduction or loss of income linked to the lockdowns. While food would likely be available in the markets, low purchasing power would constrain their food access. In Karamoja, an atypical number of households would likely remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the post-harvest period if markets remain closed. 
    Refugee settlementsSignificantly reduced ration or no humanitarian food assistance due to funding limitationsA significant reduction in ration size or total absence of humanitarian food assistance to the newly arriving refugees or old refugees would likely result in wide food consumptions gaps. A high prevalence of severe to critical levels of acute malnutrition outcomes among the poorest refugee households would likely lead to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes by December or January.
    Refugee settlementsAn accelerated spread of COVID-19 among refugee settlementsA prolonged period of lockdown measures, in combination with rising cases of COVID-19, would increase the risk of more severe food insecurity outcomes among refugee households given concurrent reductions in planned food assistance. This could lead to supply chain disruptions resulting in above average food prices and sustained higher populations with Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes 



    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: USGS

    Figure 2

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 3

    Source: Farmgain

    Figure 4

    Uganda Seasonal Calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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