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Favorable second season harvest prospects in bimodal areas; early lean season likely in Karamoja

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • October 2013 - March 2014
Favorable second season harvest prospects in bimodal areas; early lean season likely in Karamoja

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • The main harvest is nearing completion in the unimodal Karamoja region, though harvests normally continue through November. Across northern districts, including Napak, Kaabong, Kotido and parts of Moroto, staple cereal harvests are inconsistent and lower than average. In these areas, harvesting is already completed or likely to end early. In southern districts, to-date harvests are closer to average.

    • In Karamoja, some  households are still consuming green harvests, which have temporarily eased acute food security. Ongoing main (dry sorghum) harvests are below average.  Projected early exhaustion of stocks, lower incomes for crop sales, and reduced productive assets will drive poor households to the market as early as January/February, triggering an early start to the lean season. IPC Phase 2:  Stress levels of acute food insecurity will continue through March.

    • In bimodal areas, favorable rainfall and crop development point to the likelihood of at least average second harvests in November and December. Seasonal restocking of household staple food reserves and income from crop sales will support minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) through March.

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    The ongoing second rainy season in bimodal areas represents the main cropping and agricultural production cycle at a national level. In unimodal Karamoja region, the main harvest is nearing completion in most areas, but due to poor production, food security outcomes are likely to worsen as the consumption year progresses.  Food security across the country can generally be described as follows:

    Bimodal Zones

    • Despite some below average rainfall accumulation in October, second season performance in bimodal production areas has been generally favorable.  The onset of second season rainfall was generally on-time in September, though slightly inconsistent from one region to another, with most areas experiencing the onset of rains by mid-September, according to the Meteorological Department. Fearing a repeat in dry spells and rainfall deficits observed during the first season, some farmers began planting maize and beans as early as August. Cumulative rainfall over bimodal areas, mostly in the north/northwestern parts of the country, has been sufficient to project above average crop performance for most crops like millet, cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum, beans, and maize. However the areas around the Lake Victoria basin, central, and south/southwestern have been experiencing light rains, resulting in rainfall deficits since early October (Figure 2). Some minor and sporadic disruptions to crop growth have been observed in these areas, and could be more widespread if rainfall continues to be below average through mid-November.  Currently, forecasts are calling for continuing normal rainfall in these areas through December.    
    • Overall, seasonal progress in bimodal areas is average, with some localized areas affected by rainfall deficits. Seasonal agricultural activities such as labor have progressed normally and in accordance with the typical agricultural calendar. Near sufficient soil moisture levels have enhanced normal crop growth, especially in northern Uganda where rains have been average to above average. Weeding is ongoing for cereals, pulses and tubers, while pruning of vegetative undergrowth is underway for perennial crops. Flowering and grain filling are occurring normally.  In some wetland areas, notably in the central region, households are already consuming or selling their early green harvests for beans, vegetables and horticultural crops that were planted early, in August. All other crops are at 45-60 percent reproductive stage and are on track for full maturation by late November into December.
    • Normal on-farm seasonal livelihood activities are providing average incomes.  October is a peak period for on-farm labor demand for post first harvest activities such as drying, threshing, cleaning, and storage.  Though these activities have ended, both farmers and casual laborers who depend on second season rains for agricultural-based income earning have continued to benefit from the second season performance to-date.   Poor households who typically depend on these on-farm incomes are able to meet their food needs through market purchase while awaiting additional availability from anticipated green consumption.
    • Slightly below average staple crop production from the first season (June/July harvest) has impacted formal exports to key destination markets of Kenya and South Sudan. Rice, maize, and bean exports declined by 38  and 22 percent in the third quarter of 2013 when compared to the average of 2011/2012 July to September quarter (East Africa FSNWG cross border trader bulletin, October 2013). Export volumes for informal trade increased by 51 percent for beans, 96 percent for cassava to South Sudan, 20 percent for Maize to Kenya, 27 percent for millet to Kenya, and 10 percent for sorghum to the regional countries when compared between September and August.  These increases can be at least partially attributed to higher prices for staple foods in destination markets, and some shortages in those market supply areas following  less optimal seasonal performance.
    • Water and pasture availability is average.  While areas around the Lake Victoria basin, central and south/southwestern zones have experienced slight rainfall deficits since October,  pasture and water availability in cattle rearing areas remain sufficient for favorable livestock production. Previously dry pasture areas in southwest districts of the cattle corridor have been revived, resulting in seasonal improvement to milk production.
    • Minimal food insecurity in bimodal areas. Despite below average to average harvests from the first season, food access by households has been possible with the normal seasonal agricultural wage earning with the timely onset of second season rains. On-farm labor opportunities have enabled households to meet their food needs through market purchase.  Green consumption especially for bean and other vegetables is already beginning as more substantial amounts continue to be available through November.  Acute food insecurity is currently at minimal levels (IPC Phase 1) in all bimodal areas.
    • Country-wide, atypical food price increases have been observed for the third consecutive month.  In September, declining supplies of staple foods on key markets following average/below average harvests, coupled with steady demand, drove prices up for the third consecutive month. Monthly food price inflation increased by 5 percent compared to August while the annual change increased by 16 percent for the month ending September.
      • Bananas: Retail prices for bananas increased by 41 and 74 percent for Mbarara and Kampala respectively compared to August, largely attributable to seasonal supply decline due to the perennial nature of this crop. Banana retail prices remain slightly below 2012 prices but 13-19 percent higher than the 2-year average at the same time.
      • Sorghum:  Sorghum prices remain stable and below last year and 2-year average prices by a 20-26 percent range as a result of relative supplies from  first season cereal harvests in Acholi, West Nile, Lango, and Teso districts.
      • Millet:  Millet retail prices in Lira and Soroti have remained stable for the third consecutive month and are similar to prices at the same time last year.  
      • Cassava:  Steady supply is linked to price stability observed Arua and Soroti but at levels that are 16-17 percent higher than 2012 prices.
      • Beans: Prices have increased steadily for the last three months country-wide.  Increases have averaged 7 percent in Kampala, Lira and Gulu but doubled in Mbarara by 17 percent compared to August.  Bean crops were hardest hit country-wide by inconsistent and in some cases, insufficient and poorly distributed rainfall during the last growing season.  Beans also represent a primary protein source for poor households who cannot afford meat.
      • Maize:  Maize prices were stable in Masindi but increased by 10 percent in Kampala compared to August, and are 25 and 39 percent higher than 2012 prices, respectively. Shortfalls of this staple following inconsistent first season harvests, coupled with steady demand, are increasing price levels. These relative high prices may limit poor households from accessing food from the markets but the availability of cheaper substitutes is a mitigating factor.

    Unimodal Zones (Karamoja Region)

    • In unimodal areas, households are consuming green harvests.  In most areas, the main harvest is underway or already over, nearly 2 months early, and estimated to be 30-50 percent below average in the worst affected districts.  Poor and very poor households continue to supplement consumption of below average household produce with food assistance, as well as wild food consumption and market purchase.
    • IPC Phase 2 Stress levels of food insecurity continue in unimodal Karamoja.  Following the impacts of the atypically dry season in May-July that compromised crop performance in the season, on-going harvests are below average for the second consecutive year. Poor main season performance decreased household incomes from crop sales and agricultural labor.  More than 20 percent of households in pastoral and agropastoral zones of Karamoja are currently facing IPC Phase 2: Stressed acute food insecurity.

    The most likely scenario during the October 2013 to March 2014 period is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • FEWS NET expects that the remainder of the second season rains in bimodal areas will be at least average, consistent with forecasts made by the Uganda Department of Meteorology. Forecasted rainfall is expected to favor average to above average crop performance, with peak rains continuing into mid-November.  Harvests in November and December should be on-time and at least average.
    • Normal sustained local and regional demand for major staples from Uganda destined for Rwanda, South Sudan and Kenya, DRC will continue to keep retail food prices higher than the 5-year average and in an upward trend for the next month amidst the constrained supplies. Relatively high retail prices for beans, bananas, and maize will continue through the next green harvest begins to increase market supply in November.  Prices for most staple foods will decline seasonally but remain above 2012 prices following the bimodal second season harvests in November/December and will follow seasonal trends through March.
    • Seasonal revenues in bimodal areas are expected to be normal, and poor and very poor households will earn at least average wages through typical livelihoods activities, including fishing, petty trade, and casual agriculture labor.  Earning potential is expected to be normal to allow for seasonally average access to food and non-food needs in both the rural and urban households. 
    • FEWS NET does not anticipate any major outbreaks of livestock disease that would necessitate longer quarantine periods or the closure of livestock markets.
    • Funding for the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF II) through which the cash/food for work assistance is supported will be sufficient and consistent to provide status quo levels of assistance over the scenario period.
    • Normal trading activities in the country and across the region are expected to continue uninterrupted, with sustained demand from both eastern and central African countries expected to continue. No policy interventions preventing the free movement of food commodities from surplus to deficit areas are anticipated.
    • A decrease in tension and conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is expected to reduce the recent influx of refugees into the southwestern districts of Uganda as a result of fewer displacements from the fighting in eastern DRC.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Average rainfall in most bimodal areas and the near normal progression of the season is likely to result in at least average harvests, which will occur on time from November to January.  From October to December, poor households in bimodal areas will meet their food needs through market purchase, made possible by average wage earnings through seasonal labor, and through consumption of both green and main harvest crops.   Normal food availability is expected to continue on local markets, and supplies will increase seasonably, driving prices down, as harvested crops enter key markets. Additionally, the favorable rainfall that has significantly improved pasture and water availability across bimodal areas is expected to result in good livestock body conditions and normal milk production during the season is expected, supplementing household nutritional requirements and incomes for those households that will have a milk surplus in livestock producing areas. On-farm seasonal labor opportunities have provided incomes to the poor house to continue accessing food until their production is available.  During this period, which corresponds to the peak period of food security in these areas, households are expected to remain at IPC Phase 1: Minimal acute food insecurity.  Beginning in January, households will begin to engage in seasonal crop sales at a profitable rate due to the likelihood of slightly elevated prices well after the harvest season. Household food stocks are expected to return to normal levels for sustain the households for the next 5 or so months before the next harvest. Postharvest supplies to local markets are expected to be at average levels typical for the time of the year.

    In unimodal areas, where harvests are likely to be significantly below average across Karamoja region, IPC Phase 2:  Stressed food security outcomes will continue through March in the agropastoral and pastoral zones due to anticipated below average harvests for the second consecutive year, below average cash incomes and an early start of the lean season 2 months earlier in January rather than the normal start in March. Household food stocks are expected to be exhausted by then since their replenishment after the harvest season is going to below average. This will be further  compounded by below average incomes that would have been boosted by crop sales. Overall, acute food insecurity  at IPC Phase 2:  Stress levels outcomes for the Karamoja region are likely to persist through March.

    Areas of Concern

    Agropastoral and Pastoral livelihood zones in Karamoja

    Recent livelihood dynamics in the pastoral and agropastoral zones: Available evidence suggests a shift in livelihoods since 2008. The FAO Karamoja Food security Assessment report 2012 reports increased importance of crop production in the pastoral zone as a source of food (>30 percent vs. <10 percent in 2008). This means that that food production was greater in some pastoral areas than in some agropastoral or even agriculture zones. The report also suggests a 20‐50 percent reduction in livestock ownership among the poor households. Many households in the pastoral zone do not own any livestock. Livestock sales remain an important source of income, but for the poor, these sales are being done at unsustainable levels. Cash earned from charcoal production has reached roughly 15 percent of annual income, another modification from past livelihoods strategies. Other income sources are also becoming more prominent, including mining for precious stones/minerals and brewing.

    Current Situation

    Poor households in the pastoral and agropastoral areas are recovering from an extended lean season and near total market dependence, which ended temporarily after a 2 month delay of green and main harvest availability.  Poor and very poor households are currently benefitting from the availability of newly harvested cereals, tubers, and pulses in September, instead of July, when the lean period normally ends.  However, seasonal income levels and food reserves remain well below average, even during the harvest/post-harvest period where food security is typically highest.  In areas where production was most compromised by poor seasonal performance from May to July, the green harvest makes up the entirety of household production and reserves.  Though no formal harvest assessments have taken place in Karamoja to-date, crop production estimates indicate significant shortfalls ranging from 30 to 50 percent, depending on the district.  Production deficits of this magnitude constitute a deterrent to household livelihood investments in replenishing productive assets (i.e. livestock) and cereal sales to increase purchasing power for non-food needs.

    There are wide disparities in household consumption; in some areas, households are fully meeting food needs while in others, they have little or no production to consume. Districts most adversely affected by poor seasonal performance and low crop production levels include:  significant portions of Napak district, as well as Moroto and Kaabong districts, where production of sorghum, maize, millet were seriously affected. Supplementary consumption of wild food - vegetables, shrubs, nuts, white ants (less than 5 percent of the diet) is ongoing at varying levels in the region, especially among the pastoral areas as a supplemental food source.

    The September-December forecast over these Karamoja zones given by the Department of Meteorology projects that the region will experience seasonal rains punctuated by dry spells reaching peak levels around mid to late October. Normal to above normal rainfall has been observed during October to-date, and pasture and water resources availability have been sufficient and commensurate with rainfall availability but are steadily declining since September following typical seasonal trends. Rangeland conditions remain average, even as seasonal burning takes place. October marks the end of the peak livestock conception period, ongoing since August.  Pasture and water availability, coupled with minimal livestock migrations, have enhanced this cycle to occur to ensure the timing of peak milk availability next year, beginning in March/April. Despite average rangeland conditions and average livestock body conditions, October typically marks the beginning of seasonal declines in milk production. Milk availability, while declining compared to seasonal peak levels earlier in the year, is at average levels. 

    The relative increase in supply of food on the market is temporarily moderating sorghum prices which would have increased atypically because of low supplies, and this is improving food access for those households already supplementing their food sources from the market. Though stable, sorghum prices have increased overall by 14-18 percent since July but remain 13 percent lower than 2012 prices at the same time.   Higher market demand stemming from the atypically long 8 month lean period has maintained price levels in parity with the three year average.  However, an average monthly price decrease (9 percent) in sorghum prices was observed between September and August following an increase of market supply from household producers.

    In May at the peak of the lean season, 59-84 percent of the food consumed was purchased, with Moroto and Kotido districts having the highest proportion of food sourced from markets (Food security and nutrition study by the School of Public Health sponsored by WFP and UNICEF in May 2013). This proportion has reduced significantly to 30-40 percent with the onset of harvest activities and household consumption from their own production. Bean prices are 13-19 percent higher than 2012 levels and the 2 year average. Improving terms of trade in respect to the good livestock body condition and the relative decline of food prices in the region will favor the access and build-up of food stocks for November and December for poor households who retain saleable livestock. Migration in search of casual labor opportunities in neighboring towns and border areas remains at normal levels. Though opportunities remain limited since in this off-season production period, daily wage rates remain in a stable range (Ushs 3,000-5,000) for those that can access them to do harvesting and other non farm activities like domestic work. Other vulnerable households are still dependent on food assistance provided by WFP school feeding programme, and cash/food for work programmes.

    Availability of water for household consumption is near average though declining seasonably, limiting water sources as other open water resources dry up. Nearly 80 percent of households have access to a water source within reasonable proximity. However, hygiene and food utilization practices remain inadequate.  Global acute malnutrition (GAM) remains high at levels above 10 percent for all Karamoja districts according to historical trends except for Abim as shown in figure 5. While the nutrition indicators remain at serious levels of malnutrition also based on historical trends, the contextual and historical data available does not point to a gravely deteriorated situation but perhaps one pointing to the urgent need for interventions to address chronic malnutrition

    According to the rapid food security assessment led by the Office of the Prime Minister, FAO and WFP in August, a total of 351,220 persons equivalent to 26 percent of the Karamoja population were under food stress with Moroto, Kotido, Napak, Kaabong accounting for 40, 31, 30 and 25 percent respectively. While these levels have temporarily decreased with the relative availability of seasonal harvests, food insecurity is likely to worsen into the early 2014 lean season. About 20 percent of households are meeting household food requirements through detrimental coping strategies, including  reduced food intake, both in quantity and number of meals eaten per day. An average number of two meals is slightly lower than the typical number of meals at this time. Poor households under food stress and unable to afford some non-food expenditures as income sources are not being restored to normal levels for this time.  More than 20 percent of poor and very poor households throughout Karamoja region are currently facing IPC phase 2: Stress levels of acute food insecurity, even with the mitigating impact of some household cereal production and consumption.


    The most likely scenario for October 2013 to March 2014 is based on the following regional assumptions:

    • Incomes from casual labor opportunities are expected to resume in March for activities as land preparation, planting activities, weeding, when the wet season is expected to commence. This income to the households is highly dependent on the timely  onset of rains.
    • Household food stocks will not be replenished to normal levels following the poor to below average harvests, resulting in market dependence 2-3 months earlier than normal in January, for the second consecutive year, whereas harvests typically produce up to 3-4 months of reserves in a normal year.
    • Minimal livestock sales during the scenario period are expected. Peak livestock sales normally begin in March but since some households have some food stocks from own production, regulated sales may take place especially if food gaps are experienced earlier than usual for the lean season. Since atypical livestock sales may have occurred with the prolonged lean season for 2013, available assets for sale will be limited.
    • The period from October to March is marked by seasonably negligible milk and dairy production since the main lactation period is over and milk levels restored to peak levels in March with the resumption of the wet season and end of gestation. Milk is typically not as important to food security during this time  compared to peak production periods.
    • Charcoal/firewood sales will continue to be important to about 30 percent of the households but will peak in the months of December through March. Prices of charcoal and firewood prices are expected to remain stable to sustain incomes. Because income levels from other sources are likely to be lower, atypically more households will increase dependence on natural resource products since households will depend on the products longer than usual.
    • Crops are maturing at different times by district and therefore harvesting is expected to be prolonged into November in some districts largely in the southern Karamoja areas. However lengthy the harvesting period maybe, poor to below average harvests expected of the main staple crops for the second year in a row.  Cop sale incomes will likely be below average, reducing household resources for food and non-food expenditures.
    • Seasonally increasing market prices for main staple foods like sorghum and maize compared to 2012 are likely to be observed in the supply markets of Lira and Soroti in October through December due to lower supplies in the post harvest period. This will likely cause a gradual rise in these staples in the Karamoja region. Price increases for sorghum of up to 50 percent above the 5-year average could occur by December. This will correspond to 12-28 percent increase compared to last years’ prices between October and December. Maize, sorghum and other food stuffs prices are expected to be moderately regulated by the relative increase of post-harvest supplies in the short term but there after are expected to increase seasonably as households stocks decline and market dependence resumes.
    • Ongoing, supplemental incomes from grass sales will remain normal up to the end of January; some honey harvesting will still occur up to end of November though at low levels compared to the main season; pole cutting and brick making will provide supplemental incomes in November-January.
    • Wild food consumption is expected to continue at atypical levels (October-March) in the dry season as supplemental food source since household stocks will be below usual levels with more households getting turning to this food source.
    • The September/December forecast reports that after attaining the peak rains late October, a seasonal decline in rainfall is expected with cessation of the season expected around late November.  The likelihood  of near normal rains over this region  between now and November is strong. Therefore, sufficient pasture and water resources will help maintain  average body conditions without mass livestock migrations for the period October to December.
    • Trading activities are expected to be normal and continue to occur uninterrupted to supply the region with traders bringing staple foods from the eastern region of Mbale and west of Karamoja from Soroti, Lira and surrounding districts which are the source of commodities like maize, beans, sorghum.
    • Additional incomes from WFP’s cash for work programme will be provided through December as a continued measure to provide additional food source as a safety net. About 400,000 persons (60,000 food insecure households) are expected to be beneficiaries. Additionally, the resumption of Food for Work by the NUSAF 2 programme through WFP will be sustained throughout the scenario period with an average daily wage rate of Ushs 4600.
    • Interannual humanitarian assistance will continue uninterrupted and at normal levels in the Karamoja region and the current beneficiary caseload will continue to receive aid. These targeted 155,000 persons (34,000 households) will receive unconditional food assistance during the months October-December period (although this is reported to be at 50% recommended daily allowance). These are the chronically food insecure households consisting of the elderly, sickly and child headed.  Additionally, a total of 25,000 beneficiaries who are malnourished children, malnourished pregnant and lactating mothers will continue to receive highly fortified foods under the community Based Supplementary Feeding Programme (CBSFP) for the period October-December. All other pregnant and lactating women and children under two who attend antenatal, postnatal, and young child health services under the Maternal Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) programme will receive highly fortified food.  Additionally, More than 100,000 school children on the school feeding programme already targeted will continue until December to receive assistance.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Over the scenario period (October-March), poor households will depend on their own food stocks which are expected to be exhausted by January, forcing an early return to market purchase as well as wild foods earlier than usual as a food source. Food stocks from 2013 production will be sufficient to sustain the households through atleast 3 months instead of about 6 months post-harvest. This is likely to result in an early need for food assistance since poor households are likely not to have recovered from the impacts of the previous years’ long dependence on the market and atypical sale of livestock assets to purchase food.  More atypical coping strategies will be engaged by poor households attempting to fill the food gaps especially with the early start of the lean season in January. These may include sending children to school mainly to eat food provided by WFP school feeding programme, going entire days without a meal, reducing the number of meals eaten in a day, reducing the quantity of food eaten, migration in search of labor opportunities. As a result, many poor households, especially those that do not own livestock, will likely be constrained in their ability to obtain food with what is likely to be a longer than average lean season for the second consecutive year.  Poor and very poor households will remain in IPC Phase 2: Stress.

    The forecasted normal rains for October/December period will likely sustain the availability of pasture and water resources for favorable livestock production which also marks the end of the wet season. Migration to nearby towns in search of casual labor opportunities maybe pursued by the able bodied members of the households. An atypical dependence on consumption of wild foods will likely happen to supplement available sources. Available food sources will likely expected to fall short of meeting the nutritional needs for both the adults and the children especially during the December-March period. Market purchases will likely form a larger proportion of food sources than normal during the months of January-March. Since seasonal income sources will likely be below average, households will not have sufficient purchasing power to meet all needs through markets. Sorghum and other staple food stuff prices will likely be higher  during this time, and poor terms of trade may further constrain ability to access household food needs.   IPC Phase 2: Stress levels of acute food insecurity will be most widespread during this time.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Karamoja agropastoral and pastoral zones

    An outbreak or increased incidence of livestock diseases, such as contagious bovine pleural pneumonia (CBPP) or foot and mouth disease (FMD) or trypanasomiasis

    • Quarantines are put in place that would reduce or delay livestock sales and reduce household income levels critical for the market dependent households.

    Karamoja agropastoral and pastoral zones

    Non implementation of additional, atypical humanitarian assistance programming from January through March 2014 because of non-funding

    • Increase market dependence and reduced regular food consumption for households, with negative impact on food security outcomes resulting in IPC Phase 3 food security outcomes.

    Karamoja agropastoral and pastoral zones

    Abnormally high prices for staple foods resulting from any interruption of trading activities or road inaccessibility by traders or the increase in transaction costs

    • Market food access would be severely limited for poor households.

    Central, south/southwestern, Lake Victoria basin areas

    Continued rainfall deficits into November that could potentially affect crop maturity and grain filling

    • Decreased harvests from the areas that could potentially reduce food stocks and market surplus for the period January-March
    Figures Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2013

    Source: FEWS NET

    Rainfall deficits in the 2nd dekad of October

    Figure 3

    Rainfall deficits in the 2nd dekad of October

    Source: USGS

    Historical GAM rates in Karamoja in Dec (2009-2012)

    Figure 4

    Historical GAM rates in Karamoja in Dec (2009-2012)

    Source: WFP, UNICEF, School of Public Health

    Figure 5


    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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