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Economic re-opening, low food prices, and new harvests improve food security in late 2020

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • October 2020 - May 2021
Economic re-opening, low food prices, and new harvests improve food security in late 2020

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Across most of Uganda, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are anticipated through May 2021. Low to near-average food prices, the second season harvest in November/December, and above-normal livestock production will likely provide minimally adequate food and income for most household to meet their basic food and non-food needs. In urban areas and some rural districts that have been worst affected by recent floods, however, some households will most likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Among these households, sluggish economic activity, flood-induced crop losses, and high bean prices will continue to limit household income and dietary diversity.

    • In Karamoja, food insecurity has improved to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). The green and dry harvests are replenishing household and market stocks, while broadly favorable terms of trade are enhancing household purchasing power. However, household income remains below normal, especially among households that rely on livestock and milk sales. These sales remain limited by localized quarantine measures and market closures to limit the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease and COVID-19. Heightened levels of insecurity and cattle rustling are also compelling farmers to keep animals in protected kraals. By early 2021, deterioration to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected. Many households will likely have food consumption gaps during the lean season, since food stocks will be depleted and local staple food prices are projected to rise to above-average levels.

    • In late 2020, humanitarian food assistance coupled with the second season harvest is expected to sustain Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across the refugee settlements. However, food supplies and income sources among refugee households remain below normal and coping capacity has been eroded by COVID-19 restrictions. Deterioration to Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) is expected between February and May, based on depleted household food stocks, limited income sources, and anticipated reductions in ration sizes.


    Current Situation

    Seasonal rainfall performance: The transition of the Indian Ocean Dipole from negative to neutral conditions has contributed to higher-than-anticipated second season rainfall in bimodal Uganda and end-of-season rainfall in the unimodal Karamoja sub region. Coinciding with second season cultivation activities, cumulative rainfall in bimodal areas during September and October ranged from 80 to 120 percent above the 1981-2018/19 historical average. Eastern Uganda has received the most rainfall with moderate positive anomalies of up to 100 mm compared to average, while central and southwestern Uganda have experienced slight to moderate deficits of 10-50 mm (Figure 1).

    River and lake water levels remain high, particularly in the basins of Lakes Albert, Kyoga, and Victoria. In September and October, localized heavy rainfall and the release of extra volumes of water from the Jinja Dam led to another round of floods in Bundibugyo, Kasese, and the districts surrounding Lake Albert in western Uganda and in districts surrounding Lake Kyoga. New flooding also occurred in northwestern Uganda (Amuru, Adjumani, Obongi, Packwach, Moyo, Lamwo and Arua districts) and in Butaleja and Mbale districts in eastern Uganda. The worst-affected areas include Ntoroko district adjacent to Lake Albert. Additionally, localized landslides occurred in the mountainous areas of Mbale, Kisoro and Bunyangabo districts. According to OCHA, floods affected over 16,500 people in September in terms of displacement, disruptions to or loss of livelihoods, and property damage. Altogether, floods have affected an estimated 100,000 people since June.

    Crop and livestock production: In bimodal areas, field and satellite-derived information indicate that second season cropping conditions are broadly favorable due to the recent rains. Additionally, Fall Armyworm (FAW) incidence in Northern and Eastern Uganda is generally lower than past years, which is likely due to both heavier rainfall and improvements in farmers’ capacity to implement control measures. In localized areas with rainfall deficits in parts of southwestern and central Uganda, crops have reportedly already recovered from slight to moderate moisture stress. Staple food crops – including cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum, beans, and maize – are currently in vegetative or reproductive stages with above-average yield prospects. Indeed, some farmers in localized areas already have access to early, green maize and bean harvests for second crop season. However, there are reports of widespread incidence of FAW in both Central and Western regions. In flood-affected areas, some crop losses (e.g. rotting of root crops in flooded areas) have occurred.

    In Karamoja, above-average rainfall has led to mixed crop production outcomes according to field reports. In central and northern Karamoja, where early-season waterlogging had already reduced harvest prospects, the continuation of rainfall into the harvesting period is raising the risk of significant postharvest losses due to poor drying and storage. In contrast, harvests are reportedly near normal in the Western Mixed Cropping livelihood zone and other localized areas that have not experienced early-season waterlogging. Some farmers in this zone were even able to plant a ‘second season’ crop of quick-maturing legumes, fruits, and vegetables with an approximate two-month cycle.

    As of late October, the threat level posed by desert locusts to crops in northeastern Uganda is low and declining due to prevailing wind direction. No swarms are currently present within the country, though FAO and ICPAC note a possibility that new swarms could enter from Kenya. In Karamoja, the threat to crops is further declining since crops are maturing and are being harvested. The desert locust response is 89 percent funded through multiple donors and agencies, and contingency plans are in place for surveillance and control measures.

    In cattle corridor districts and in Karamoja, the rains are regenerating pasture and increasing water availability for livestock, which have supported normal to above-normal milk and meat production. However, floods destroyed significant pasture in areas such as Ntoroko, Bullisa, and Nakasongola districts in southwestern and central Uganda. According to satellite-derived data, vegetation conditions range from slightly below normal to above normal and (Figure 2). However, endemic Foot and Mouth Disease and other livestock diseases remain threats to livestock health.

    Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic: The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to affect food insecurity despite the easing of movement restrictions in June/July by the government of Uganda (GoU). The most significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic include the loss or reduction in income sources in the formal and informal sectors, lower domestic and export demand for agricultural products, and restrictions affecting both formal and informal trade flows. At present, the direct health impacts remain low. The daily case incidence of officially confirmed COVID-cases has exhibited a declining trend since late September; however, testing per thousand people remains low at about 0.05/day.

    Economic growth estimates released by UBOS showed that the Ugandan economy expanded by only 2.9 percent in FY 2019/20, compared to the earlier projection of 3.1 percent and below the 6.8 percent growth recorded in 2018/19. According to the September economic performance report by the Bank of Uganda (BoU), agriculture was the most resilient sector in FY 2019/20 while the industry and services sectors were worst affected by the pandemic. However, the BoU reports that multiple economic indicators signal nascent recovery in FY 2020/21, which bodes well for recovery in household labor demand, income, and purchasing power – especially compared to the lockdown period of May-August 2020. For example, the Business Tendency Index turned positive (recording above 50) and reached 50.8 in September 2020 for the first time since February 2020, signaling optimism and confidence in the business environment. Additionally, annual headline inflation[1] declined from 4.7 to 4.5 percent between July and September (Figure 3). The decline is mainly attributed to falling staple food prices, with food inflation dropping to -6.2 percent in September, and a slowdown energy, fuel, and utility prices, which fell to 2.3 percent. However, core inflation rose to 6.2 percent in September, primarily due to higher transport services costs associated with passenger restrictions.

    Markets and trade: Aggregate food demand declined following the lockdown measures against the spread of COVID-19 that reduced consumption of agricultural products by institutions like restaurants/hotels and boarding schools, a decline in household demand in urban areas, and a decline in export trade volumes. Food demand is slowly returning with some improvements in household income and purchasing power among poor urban households – facilitated by further easing of movement restrictions – and some incremental food demand from the partial re-opening of education establishments for finalist students. However, weekly open-air food markets remain closed and participation by traders in informal trade at the border crossing points is prohibited. Export traders continue to be constrained by onerous truck clearance requirements, and delays associated with mandatory COVID-19 testing of drivers.

    Generally, local and regional supply chain linkages are gradually being restored after trade volumes dropped between March and May. According to the BoU, maize and pulse exports have rebounded since June. Bean exports, however, are limited by below average supplies from the 2020 first season and 2019 seasons, while locally high prices undercut export profit margins.

    Meanwhile, local trade in staples has been boosted by recent harvests in bimodal areas and ongoing harvests in unimodalKaramoja. The first season harvest of maize grain continues to provide a stable supply to the market, leading to a 11-20 percent decline in its retail price across all key markets from August to September. In comparison to the five-year average, the retail price of maize, cassava, and sorghum fell to near- or below-average levels (Figure 4). Retail prices for cassava chips in September were particularly low, ranging from 17 to 40 percent below average. Similar trends are observed in Karamoja, where sorghum prices in most markets were up to 20 percent below those of September 2019. In contrast, retail prices for beans in bimodal areas were between 19 and 44 per cent higher than the five-year average for all the monitored markets, reflecting poor bean crop harvests nationally.

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Food security outcomes have improved with the re-opening of the economy, the national food surplus from first season and carryover stocks, and the impact of favorable rainfall on crop and livestock production. Studies by UBOS, EPRC and other organizations suggest demand for labor, goods and services are beginning to improve following the end of the COVID-19 lockdown period, enabling more poor urban households to receive daily wages to purchase food.  This has brought about a decline in the urban population that is in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    In most bimodal areas, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are likely prevalent, though Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes remain most likely in flood-affected areas where first season crop losses were highest. Food availability and stability for rural farming households have improved following first season harvests in June-August and favorable rainfall to date. However, many farming households are likely still earning below-normal levels of income from seasonal crop sales because the continued closure of open-air markets means they are selling their stocks at the farmgate, which typically commands a lower price than the market. Similarly, livestock sales income also remains limited by the low prices offered at the farmgate.

    In Karamoja region, food availability and access have significantly improved due to ongoing harvest and declining staple food prices. Although production is below normal, households currently have own-produced food stocks for consumption and sale in the near term. Meanwhile, low food prices are supporting improved household purchasing power with respect to sorghum despite below-normal income from natural resource sales, petty trading, domestic labor in urban centers, and brewing. Livestock production and sales income remain constrained by localized Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) quarantines and persisting insecurity related to cattle raids and loss of human life. Generally, the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) since early this year has reduced significantly and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity outcomes are prevalent. A more detailed analysis is provided in the ‘Area of Concern’ section, below.

    Refugees have continued to receive a reduced, 70 percent ration since April, which constitutes their most significant food and income source. While movement restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 have limited access to other sources of income, some refugee households are cultivating crops on their 30m by 30m plots for the second season. Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are prevalent with ongoing humanitarian food and cash assistance distributions. A more detailed analysis is provided in the ‘Area of Concern’ section, below.


    From October 2020 to May 2021, the most likely food security outcomes are based on the following key assumptions:

    • According to the CPC/IRI probabilistic ENSO forecast, La Niña conditions are likely through early April 2021. According to the Australian BoM forecast, the Indian Ocean Dipole is anticipated to maintain neutral conditions through May.
    • Based on observed rainfall to date, the two-week forecast, and prevailing La Niña conditions, cumulative second season rainfall from August to November in bimodal areas is most likely to be below average in localized parts of southern Uganda and near average in northern and central Uganda. Above-average temperatures are also most likely.
    • Although the performance of second season rainfall in northern and central Uganda would likely enhance crop yields and boost harvests in a typical year, farmers’ reduced ability to purchase inputs/invest in production is anticipated to result in an average second season harvest in November-December. In southern Uganda, slight rainfall deficits and reduced investment are anticipated to result in a slightly below-average harvest.
    • In Karamoja, the sorghum, pulse, and legume harvests (October-December) will likely be 10-20 percent below average, due to early-season waterlogging caused by erratic rainfall, which led to an overall reduction in planted area.
    • Based on historical trends, the first season rainfall in bimodal areas is expected to be average from March to June 2021, despite waning La Niña conditions. However, there is uncertainty due to the long-range nature of this forecast.
    • Due to favorable vegetation conditions in eastern Uganda and residual breeding in northwestern Kenya, Desert Locusts are expected to remain a threat to crops and pasture throughout the scenario period. However, ICPAC predicts the risk of invasion in equatorial regions of East Africa – including Uganda – will decline between October and December, when the local wind direction will favor northward and westward movement. If damage from Desert Locust occurs, it will most likely be localized and contained to the bimodal areas of eastern Uganda.
    • Labor demand and income from on-farm agricultural activities are expected to be slightly below normal during the 2020 second season. In 2021, better-off households will most likely have relatively higher financial capacity to hire labor and invest in production, due to the anticipated economic recovery and resilience of the agricultural sector. Based on historical trends, daily wage rates for agricultural labor are likely to remain stable or decline slightly.
    • Based on crop production projections, the national export surplus of legumes, pulses, and cereals is expected to be below normal. Some households – particularly those in the middle and better-off wealth groups – are likely to earn below average crop sales income for a second consecutive season, which will affect their ability to access their non-food needs.
    • The cost of exporting food commodities is expected to remain higher due to COVID-19 preventive measures. Meanwhile, regional demand for staple food commodities is expected to slightly improve but remain below normal overall, reflecting the gradual economic re-opening and easing of COVID-19 measures across East Africa. Exceptions to the overall trend will most likely include maize exports to Kenya, which are projected to remain high, and exports to South Sudan, which are projected to be above average. 
    • Local staple food prices are expected to rise to near-average levels, driven by the anticipated, slight decline in supply from average to below-average second season harvests and the anticipated, slight increase in regional demand.
    • Due to slower economic growth in 2020/21 and lingering COVID-19 restrictions on business operations and public transportation, income-earning opportunities among urban populations will likely remain below normal but will continue to increase as demand for casual labor and other goods/services rises as a result of the gradual economic recovery.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Based on the gradual improvement in economic activity, the availability of the near- to below-average bimodal harvest in November/December, and near-average staple food prices, most urban and rural households in Uganda are expected to be food secure between October 2020 and May 2021. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected in urban and rural bimodal areas. However, less than 20 percent of households in a given area may continue to face atypical Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, since some households will likely continue to see suppressed income from crop and livestock sales, agricultural labor, and off-farm sectors. Flood-affected areas are likely to see a higher proportion of the population experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, due to consecutive seasons of flood-induced crop losses during 2020. Overall, the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) population in urban and bimodal areas is expected to be lower in late-2020 and early-2021 compared to the period of peak needs recorded between March and May 2020.

    In Karamoja, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely during the post-harvest period through January, while Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected during the lean season period from February through May. Food availability and access are expected to be seasonally high through at least December, when the harvests of long-cycle sorghum and bulrush millet are completed. Taking into account the delayed timing of the final harvest and the 10-20 percent reduction in total crop production, most households are expected to deplete their food stocks before March. Poor households tend to sell their sorghum stocks at low prices immediately after the harvest to meet non-food needs including debt payment, yet purchase food at high prices during the lean season (March-May). While staple food prices are projected to range from normal to slightly above-average, household income from typical livelihood sources are expected to be below average. Income from livestock and milk sales and alcohol production will most likely remain limited, due to varying quarantine measures and market closures to limit the spread of the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak and COVID-19. Insecurity related to livestock thefts is also likely to persist.

    In refugee settlements, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will likely be sustained in the near term, based on the November/December harvest and planned food assistance through December. However, once food stocks from the harvest are depleted, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on off-farm income sources will likely continue to constrain refugees’ income from typical livelihood activities. Given the protracted limitations on their ability to earn income since March, the 30 percent cut in food assistance rations since April, and the likelihood of additional ration cuts in 2021, refugee households are likely to increase their reliance on negative coping strategies or face food consumptions gaps beginning in January. Deterioration to Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes is expected from February to May, indicating that food assistance will likely be needed to prevent Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes during the lean season period. 


    [1] Headline inflation includes food and energy, while core inflation excludes food and energy.




    Impact on food security outcomes


    Extremely delayed, below-average, or poorly distributed first season rainfall

    Below-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.


    Lockdown measures reinstated to prevent the spread of COVID-19

    The reinstatement of a lockdown would drastically reduce households’ ability to earn income. Poor households who rely on off-farm, daily income sources would be most affected, especially in urban areas and refugee settlements where access to own-produced food is low. Prolonged supply chain disruptions would likely also lead to higher food prices than currently anticipated. The population experiencing food consumption gaps or negative livelihoods coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) would quickly increase and be more widespread, given that coping capacity is lower after the first lockdown.

    Karamoja sub region

    Extremely delayed, below-average, or poorly distributed rainfall in April-May

    Poor rainfall performance during the start of the season would impact the timeliness of plowing, planting, and weeding and likely lead to significantly below-average agricultural labor demand and income, which the poor depend on to purchase food. Additional households would quickly deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse within the projection period.

    Re-opening livestock markets

    The re-opening of livestock markets in the medium term would likely improve access to markets and improve income from livestock and milk sales, which in turn would improve food access and capacity to employ labor for agricultural activity by middle and better-off households.

    Refugee settlements

    Additional funding maintains rations at 70 percent or restores full rations

    In the event that donors provide additional funding and rations for refugee households are maintained at 70 percent from January to May, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes would be anticipated. Given that this period overlaps with the lean season, food assistance would likely mitigate food deficits and the use of negative coping strategies, but households would likely still have at least slight food gaps. However, in the event that rations are fully restored, improvement to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes would likely occur.

    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

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Map of Uganda showing current food security outcomes in October 2020

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2020

    Source: FEWS NET

    Map of Uganda showing the rainfall anomaly in mm compared to the 1981-2018 average, September 1 – October 25, 2020

    Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Map of Uganda showing vegetation conditions as a percent of normal during the period of October 10-20, 2020

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    Graph showing the monthly change in annual inflation between September 2019 and 2020

    Figure 5

    Figure 3

    Source: Uganda Bureau of Statistics

    Graph showing the difference in the price of beans, cassava, maize, and sorghum in September 2020 compared to the 2015-2019 a

    Figure 6

    Figure 4

    Source: Farmgain

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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