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Below-average production improves Karamoja outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2)

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • October 2019 - May 2020
Below-average production improves Karamoja outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2)

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In bimodal areas, food stocks from the first season harvest and declining market prices have improved food access for the poor. Meanwhile, above-average rainfall since June has prompted early planting for the second season. In most areas, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected to prevail through May 2020. However, heavy rainfall is leading to flooding and waterlogging in low-lying areas and mudslides in mountainous areas. Substantial risks are expected to persist through November given a forecast of significantly above-average rainfall.

    • In Karamoja, food supplies from the unimodal and first season bimodal harvests are improving food availability and firewood/charcoal-to-sorghum terms of trade. In southern and central areas, the harvest is completed or ongoing and outcomes have improved to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). In Kaabong, where the harvest has just commenced, reliance on market purchases and below-average incomes are sustaining Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. These outcomes are expected to persist until the harvest improves conditions to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in November.

    • According to UNHCR/OPM, Uganda now hosts a total of 1,347,360 refugees and asylum seekers. Arrival rates have declined in 2019, driven largely by the relative peace in South Sudan and reduced displacement risk in DRC. Ongoing humanitarian food assistance is expected to support Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes in these populations through December, when anticipated ration cuts between January and May will likely lead to Crisis (IPC Phase 3).


    Current Situation

    In bimodal areas, a late start to the rainy season and early seasonal rainfall deficits led to delayed planting and slightly reduced area planted for the first season harvest. However, favorable rainfall since June allowed late planted crops to mature. Most areas in the Eastern, Central, and Northern regions have received continuous above-average rainfall, while cumulative rainfall was slightly below average in the Western region until the first dekad of October (Figure 1). As a result, the typical dry spell between July-August, which usually allows for drying of harvested crops, did not manifest. First season harvesting was delayed by one to two months in most of the Eastern, Central, and Northern regions, with longer delays in areas farther north. Due to crops remaining in fields longer than usual, postharvest losses were slightly above average for maize and cassava.

    The atypical establishment and progression of the bimodal rains since June (compared to the typical mid-September/early October) in the Eastern, Central, and Northern regions prompted farmers to plant for the second season as early as August, despite delays in the first season harvest. While some farmers opened new fields, the majority planted in a relay manner on the same fields where the first season crop was maturing. Staggered planting for the second season between August and October has resulted in crops of varying maturity throughout these areas. Crop stages range from early germination to flowering, with a few farmers already accessing green harvests of maize and beans. Agricultural labor opportunities during this time have therefore included gathering the delayed first season harvest, managing postharvest activities, and preparing land/planting atypically early to take advantage of the rains. Farmers have been weeding their fields since September, likely to continue into November. In the Western region, planting for the second season occurred at the normal time in September/October.

    In Karamoja, all late-planted sorghum has been able to mature due to the absence of the typical dry spell between May-June, and staggered harvesting is ongoing. In Karamoja, the Western Karamoja Mixed Crop Farming (WKMC) livelihood zone received its harvest in August/September. Meanwhile, central areas including Moroto, Napak and central/northwest parts of Kotido started harvesting in late September. In northern Karamoja, including Kaabong and the rest of Kotido covered by the Central Sorghum and Livestock zone, the harvesting period is just beginning.

    Since October, above-average rainfall of 25-100 millimeters (mm) throughout much of the Eastern, Central, and Northern regions (Figure 2) has been generally beneficial for crop production. However, localized heavy rainfall has caused flooding, waterlogging, mudslides, and damage to buildings and road infrastructure in some areas including the Eastern districts surrounding mount Elgon, the Kasese mountainous areas, and the Western district of Kyegewa. Waterlogging is already impacting crop fields and grazing areas, with localized events expected to continue given significantly above average rainfall forecast through November.

    Vegetation conditions for western and cattle corridor districts were below the long-term median as of the first dekad of October (Figure 3), as measured by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). This closely reflects the pattern of below-average rainfall performance observed in much of the southwestern region and parts of central Uganda until early October. As a result of poor vegetation, livestock body conditions and milk productivity in these areas was below average, limiting income from milk sales. Furthermore, cattle productivity has been compromised by an endemic Foot and mouth disease (FMD), resulting in a quarantine restricting the movement and sale of livestock in Sembabule, Nakasongola, Rakai, and other districts. More recently, well below median vegetation conditions in the southwest have generally improved to slightly-below to near-normal levels due to increased rainfall in October. In Karamoja, pasture and water availability are above average, which has enhanced livestock productivity. A livestock quarantine due to FMD imposed in Moroto in January has been lifted, and legal livestock sales are improving household incomes.

    During the first season, Fall Army Worm (FAW) presence was reported on the maize crop in Eastern and Central Uganda, though the incidence rate was low and leaf damage was minimal. In the second season, early planting is further expected to protect against losses, as the crop was able to mature past the vulnerable growth stage before FAW presence typically peaks.

    Aggregate bimodal first season production was estimated during FEWS NET assessments to be slightly below average for cereals and legumes and significantly below average for beans and groundnuts. Despite delayed removal of the first season crop from the fields, area cultivated for the second season is estimated to be typical. According to a crop assessment conducted in early October by FEWS NET and USDA, seasonal crop development is significantly ahead of what is typical for this time of year in most Eastern, Northern, and Central regions.

    As a result of advances in crop development, the estimated national crop production deficit is now expected to be 10-15 percent below average, an improvement from previous estimates. According to FAO Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) estimates, cereal production including maize, sorghum, and rice is expected to be around 5 percent less than the four-year average and 10 percent less than 2018 levels. This deficit is largely driven by below-average production of beans, sweet potatoes, maize, sorghum, and groundnuts due to below-average area planted, lack of inputs, damage to beans from the bean fly pest, and early seasonal moisture deficits that caused stunting and poor flowering for early planted crops.

    Production from the first season harvest in July/August significantly boosted household food stocks and improved availability in markets. However, movements in staple food prices between August and September were mixed, with the prices of some staples remaining stable and others increasing or decreasing in accordance with first season production outcomes. Retail bean prices, for instance, increased between 8 and 20 percent in Kampala, Arua, Masindi, Soroti, and Tororo, mainly attributed to below-average first season bean production. In the surplus bean producing areas of Lira, Gulu, and Mubende, however, prices remained stable as not all production was lost. In Kampala, Arua, Lira, Masindi, Gulu, Soroti, Tororo, and Mubende, bean retail prices in September were 22-50 percent higher than the five-year average (Figure 4) and 35-81 percent higher than prices last year (Figure 5). Since September, bean stocks have continued to decline and the typical local and international demand from the region has put upward pressure on prices in many markets. 

    Maize retail prices were generally stable at near-average levels between August and September in bimodal area markets, except in Masindi and Tororo where they increased by 11-13 percent over August prices. Compared to September last year, maize prices were 6-17 percent higher in Arua, Masindi, Tororo, and Mubende, and 8-14 percent lower in Lira, Gulu, and Soroti. The arrival of harvests in Northern region markets was delayed compared to markets in the Central and Eastern areas where supplies tightened earlier. However, maize prices remain near or below five-year average levels. This is at least partly explained by a lower quality product after continuous rains made proper drying difficult.

    Sorghum retail price trends between August and September were mixed, with stable prices in Kampala, Lira, Tororo, and Mubende, but sharp increases of between 10-33 percent observed in Arua, Masindi, Gulu, and Soroti. Despite this, sorghum prices were between 4-29 percent below five-year average levels in all monitored markets except Lira, Gulu, and Soroti (where they were higher), though generally between 43-117 percent higher than last year. Retail prices of cassava chips were stable or declined by 15-17 percent between August and September, and remained below the five-year average by 35-50 percent and below last year’s prices by between 9-29 percent in all markets monitored. While there is typical supply in markets, prices are low because continuous rains did not allow for proper drying of the chips, resulting in a poor-quality product.

    Uganda’s share of regional trade in East Africa for maize and sorghum grain accounted for 72 and 73 percent, respectively, of the 190,155 MT and 43,000 MT traded across the region between July and September. Trade outflows of maize from Uganda to Kenya increased between the second and third quarters, while outflows to South Sudan were stable but 84 and 47 percent higher than last year’s export levels and the five-year average, respectively. The increase in exports to South Sudan is driven at least in part by relatively improved security along trade routes. Despite below-average production, Uganda exported 66 percent of the total 92,000 MT of beans traded in the region in the third quarter (July-to-September) of 2019. This is partly due to re-exports of beans from DRC, as well as to production shortfalls throughout the region. Total bean exports from Uganda during this time were above five-year average levels, but lower compared to the same time period of 2018. Regional demand for Uganda’s bean production and below-average national production is supporting higher staple prices locally. This is likely to negatively impact food access for the poor, who rely on market purchases to supplement their minimal harvests.

    Although slightly below average, delayed harvests from bimodal and unimodal areas have now significantly improved food availability and access across the country. Despite this, localized poor first season harvests have limited adequate access to food and income from crop sales for poor households who must supplement with market purchases, especially in areas where prices are high. Generally, demand for agricultural labor is above average in bimodal areas, as above-average rainfall between June and October supported high levels of second season farming activity such as land preparation and planting/weeding. This income source is being accessed earlier than usual given early second season planting. Additionally, the availability of both home-grown and wild vegetables has been above average, supporting food consumption among poor households. Although bimodal livelihood zones are currently experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes, some 

    poor households in eastern areas are only marginally able to meet their non-food needs. In Karamoja, food security outcomes have improved from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) following increased food availability from green and dry harvests, with declining sorghum prices and improved terms of trade further narrowing food consumption gaps. Even so, dietary diversity remains low in many areas and the prevalence of acute malnutrition is high but near typical levels. South Sudanese and Congolese refugees living in settlements experienced similar delayed harvests and below-average production, and generally lack sufficient income to meet both food and non-food needs. However, support from ongoing humanitarian food assistance is currently maintaining Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes for these populations. While WFP provides 100 percent rations to refugees, the Food Security and Nutrition Assessment (FSNA) report of October 2017 reported that these amounts are insufficient to meet needs, with households commonly running out of food before the end of the 30-day distribution cycle.


    Between October 2019 and May 2020, projected food security outcomes are based on the following key national-level assumptions:

    • According to the IRI/CPC consensus and NOAA forecasts, the most likely ENSO phase from October 2019 to May 2020 is neutral and the Indian Ocean Dipole is strongly positive, with conditions expected to transition to neutral in early 2020. Rainfall through December is forecast to be above average in northern, eastern, and central Uganda, and average in western Uganda. Between January and May 2020, average rainfall is assumed given the inherent uncertainly in the preliminary, long-term forecast. The first bimodal rainy season in 2020 (March-May) and start of the unimodal 2020 rainy season in Karamoja (April-September) are therefore assumed to be average, pending revisions to the rainfall forecast.
    • Based on observed planting in the August/September off-season in Eastern, Northern, and Central regions and anticipated favorable rainfall, total second season production in October-December is most likely to range from average to slightly above average across bimodal regions. Cereal production is expected to be average to above average, while the production of beans and groundnuts is likely to be negatively impacted by the heavy rains, resulting in a second consecutive below-average harvest.
    • The presence of Fall Army Worm is expected during the 2019 October-December season, though minimal impact on maize crops is anticipated. This assumption is based on the propensity of FAW to spread much less and cause less severe leaf damage with above-average rainfall performance.
    • Given favorable rains which enhance agricultural activity, agricultural labor opportunities are expected to be available at above-average levels in bimodal areas between October 2019 and January 2020. Despite an overlap of the delayed first season harvest with planting for the second season, average plot sizes and typical wage rates are expected through December. Between January and May 2020, agricultural labor opportunities are anticipated to be available at average levels.
    • Given the above-average rainfall forecast, seasonally low pasture conditions and availability of water resources in the cattle corridor districts of central and southwest Uganda are expected to improve as is typical through December.  
    • Based on FEWS NET’s integrated price projections in Arua, Mubende, and Soroti, maize and sorghum prices will likely remain above last year’s prices but below the five-year average through December, while bean prices are expected to remain above the five-year average through November/December. Between January and May, prices are expected to seasonally decline due to average second season 2019 production. In this period, prices are likely to remain below the five-year average and above 2018 prices.
    • Below-average maize production from first season harvests and a reduced exportable surplus through December are likely to reduce the volume of maize exports to South Sudan and Kenya through the last quarter of 2019. Exports to South Sudan, however, are expected to increase in the first quarter of 2020 due to the relative peace that is facilitating trade, but at lower levels than previously expected. Bean exports are projected to be below average overall due to below-average production from the June-August harvests.
    • Between October and May, it is likely that displaced persons from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, driven by conflict, will seek refuge in Uganda at recently observed rates. Arrivals in 2019 have been lower compared to 2018 due to a decline in violence in South Sudan throughout the first half of 2019. Refugees who arrive and are allocated a plot of land by October will likely miss land preparation and planting for second season cultivation, and it is expected that they will be heavily reliant on humanitarian food assistance throughout the outlook period.
    • The provision of full monthly food assistance rations is expected through December. According to WFP, food and cash pipeline breaks are expected in January. While “extremely vulnerable households” would not be affected, rations are expected to be reduced across the rest of the population. The extent of ration cuts will be determined based on available resources. As of late October, WFP Uganda required an additional 53 million USD to meet its funding needs for the November 2019 to May 2020 period in order to continue the provision of assistance at current levels.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In most bimodal areas, food stocks from the delayed first season harvest and early availability of second-season cereal and legume green harvests are expected to sustain current Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through at least May 2020. In parts of Teso – such as Bukedea – where first season production deficits were disproportionately large, some households are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until the second season harvest in November, when they will transition to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) until May 2020. Average to above-average cereal harvests as a result of generally favorable rainfall and limited FAW impact are expected to increase household food stocks and allow households to access income from crop sales, including for export to Kenya and South Sudan where prices are likely to remain relatively high. Below-average production of beans and groundnuts, however, is likely to restrict access to income from sales of these crops. This is an especially important income source in Teso and other northeastern areas. Meanwhile, demand for agricultural labor is likely to remain above average through December as a result of increased agricultural activity due to the heavy rains. This is expected to support access to income for the poor, enabling purchases of supplementary foods from markets and supporting the purchase of essential non-food expenditures. In general, seasonally declining staple food prices and above-average availability of seasonal vegetables is expected to continue supporting food availability for poor households. Prices of other starchy staples, such as sorghum, cassava, matoke, and sweet potatoes, will likely remain stable or decrease seasonally to near or slightly below average levels through November, within accessible levels for the poor. Localized heavy rainfall in November is likely to cause flash floods in urban and rural areas with poor drainage. In flood-prone areas of Teso region and Eastern and Western mountainous areas, worse impacts including damage to root crops could be experienced.  

    In Karamoja, households experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes since early this year are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in October with the ongoing harvest and declining staple food prices. Though production is projected to be 20-30 percent below average overall, supported by evidence from the late October FEWS NET and USDA crop assessment, food access is expected to improve as harvests continue. Improvements in food consumption will be further supported by seasonal below-average income from crop sales and below-average staple food prices, facilitating market purchases. In southern and central Karamoja, the ongoing harvest of most crops is expected to be completed by mid-November, with harvests of long-cycle sorghum and bulrush millet lasting until January. In Kaabong, delayed harvesting has just begun, expected to last through December. Ongoing heavy rainfall is likely to disrupt drying of the mature crops and cause pre- and post-harvest losses, while limiting the collection and sale of firewood and charcoal. However, above-average rainfall through December is also expected to support availability of wild vegetables, fishing activities, and rudimentary gold and sand mining. Seasonally high levels of engagement in brewing are likely, given the relative availability of sorghum. Stone-quarrying and labor opportunities in both agricultural and non-agricultural activities are expected to be available at normal levels. This relative availability of food and income coupled with declining sorghum prices is expected to stabilize food access and maintain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through May 2020.

    Refugee populations have already exhausted household food stocks from the first season harvest and are expected to experience typical low levels of access to income-earning opportunities. Furthermore, according to the multi-agency FSNA data, refugees often report depleting monthly food rations prior to the next distribution. As such, refugee households will likely supplement food assistance with meagre food purchases, enabled through coping strategies such as selling household items, spending savings and borrowing money. As such, planned and likely humanitarian food assistance is expected to sustain Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes among refugee populations through December, though pipeline breaks are currently anticipated beginning in January. Between January and May, food security outcomes are likely to deteriorate due to anticipated funding shortfalls and ration cuts of up to 50 percent. As a result, many households will experience food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

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


    Impact on food security outcomes

    Poorly distributed and below-average rainfall for March-May 2020 first season

    Would likely result in crop loss from moisture stress and reduce agricultural labor opportunities. Competition over natural resources and other labor opportunities could reduce household income from remaining sources. Trader speculation over first season production outcomes would result in higher prices than would be observed seasonally leading to reduced supplies on the market, early depletion of own food stocks at household level, and low staple food supplies to the Karamoja region. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) populations in Teso and greater northeastern areas would likely be higher than expected due to constrained food access.

    Flooding and waterlogging, mudslides as a result of heavy rainfall

    Crop production in flood prone areas – especially in the Teso sub-region – could result in fairly large-scale crop destruction. Mudslides in susceptible areas would likely result in mass displacements of people and destruction of crops, with the mountainous areas in the east and west likely to be worst impacted. Given significantly reduced food and income sources, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) populations would likely emerge in these areas by December.


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

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

    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Graph of rainfall in the Western region between June and October. Rainfall increased between July/August and September/Octobe

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Map of Uganda showing recent rainfall in the week of Oct 1- Oct 5 compared to average. Most areas in Eastern Uganda received

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Map of Uganda showing Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Areas in Northern Uganda have above average vegetation

    Figure 4

    Figure 3

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Column chart showing staple food prices in September 2019 in selected markets in bimodal areas as a percent of the five year

    Figure 5

    Figure 4

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Column chart showing staple food prices in September 2019 in selected markets in bimodal areas a percent of last year's price

    Figure 6

    Figure 5

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    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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