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Below-normal production in northern Uganda marginally improves food security outcomes

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • October 2021
Below-normal production in northern Uganda marginally improves food security outcomes

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  • Key Messages
  • Events that might change the outlook
  • Key Messages
    • In Karamoja, 2021 harvests are significantly below average following an estimated 50 to 70 percent crop loss; as such, food stocks will not be replenished to normal levels. While harvesting has been completed in parts of Nakapiripirit, Napak, and Moroto, delayed harvests have yet to start in Kotido and Kaabong. Loss of livestock assets through raids is expected to worsen food insecurity. Unfavorable terms of trade are unable to mitigate the negative impacts, poor households are employing consumption coping strategies and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist through May 2022.

    • In bimodal areas, erratic cumulative below average rainfall is supporting favorable crop growth in spatially random areas while in others heavy rains have led to crop loss and destruction of property. Below normal consecutive harvest likely in northern Uganda where income and food sources are expected to remain below normal levels driving Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Slightly below normal harvests in other bimodal area expected to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

    • WFP intends to distribute 40, 60 and 70 percent rations in November following a geographic needs-based resource prioritization by settlement. It is FEWS Net’s analysis that despite further ration cuts, households are still accessing sufficient food and income sources to support area-level Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes through May 2022. This represents a revision to FEWS NET’s previous analysis that refugee settlements were likely in Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!). While it is still expected that assistance is playing a key role in preventing worse outcomes, available information, including low GAM prevalence, suggests that refugees are not sustaining Crisis-level consumption deficits. While a smaller percentage are likely in Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!), most are expected to minimally meet their food needs through assistance and some access to land and other income-earning opportunities such that Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) is now considered the most likely outcome.  


    Current Situation

    Seasonal rainfall performance: In bimodal areas, the onset of September to December rainfall was varied which resulted in unsynchronized planting activities across cropping zones. While these rains brought relief to the worst-drought regions of Karamoja and parts of the northern districts, October rains were below average ranging between 45 to 90 percent below the historical average (Figure 1). However localized flashfloods, landslides, heavy storms, and water-logging occurred in eastern areas of Mt. Elgon and other areas of the countryside (Figure 2).

    Rainfall has been inadequate to recover from the long-term abnormal dryness especially in the cattle corridor areas and parts of northern Uganda. Nonetheless, the moisture has been beneficial to the grassland vegetation and replenishing water reservoirs though at below average levels. The vegetation health index as indicated by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index shows mixed performance with sporadic below-average vegetation and slow recovery across most of the country.

    Very heavy rainfall episodes occurred in localized areas resulting in several natural disasters in September and October that have displaced people and destroyed crop fields and other livelihoods activities. Other flooding events already occurred through the year in several other districts including those from Karamoja region, mountainous and flood-prone areas. According to the International Organization for Migration Uganda Infographic Sheet for September, over 315,478 people have been affected since 2021  while 20,739 people have been internally displaced.

    Crop and livestock production: In bimodal areas, available field and satellite-derived information indicate second season cropping conditions are broadly favorable due to the recent rains. Planted crops are in fair to good conditions at varying stages of growth from emergence to early vegetative stages or flowering in a few locations where rains have been more favorable. Its noteworthy that some localized areas across the country received insufficient early rains, resulting in wilted emerging crops, or dried up newly germinated crops, especially in parts of central, southern, and parts of northern Uganda, which have continued to experience below-average rainfall. In areas where natural disasters occurred, crop losses have also occurred.

    In Karamoja, cumulative below-average rainfall since the start of season in April, a delayed start and flood/water logging events coupled with moderate to extreme severe meteorological drought and conditions resulted in significantly below-average crop production. Crop harvesting is mostly complete in southern areas but ongoing in localized areas in central and northern areas of Karamoja. Late seasonal rains in September and October were more beneficial to pasture conditions than to crops. In addition to the damage by inadequate rains, incidences of maize crop losses due to the Fall Army Worm were reported during the season.

    Impacts of COVID-19 pandemic on macroeconomic indicators: According to the Bank of Uganda (BOU), the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted economic recovery and real GDP growth momentum is expected to decline in the third quarter because of COVID-19-related restrictions. However, with the subsiding second wave, phased relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions, and improving vaccine coverage, economic activity is gradually improving. Economic growth for the FY 2021/22 is projected at 3.5-3.8 percent compared to 3 percent in FY 2019/20 and 3.4 percent in FY 2020/21. While the annual headline inflation rate has remained low, averaging 2.3 percent in the last 12 months, it increased in September 2021 to 2.3 percent from 1.9 in August 2021, in part reflecting the increase in staple food prices and crude oil prices. Monthly change in headline inflation during April, May and June 2021 declined due to the decrease in the prices for food (Figure 3) however inflationary pressures have increased since June following the impacts of increased fuel prices on local markets and the impact of below average rainfall that resulted in below-normal harvests among other factors.

    Markets and trade: Staple food price trends vary from market to market in part determined by the quantity of first season production, availability of food substitutes, and prevailing local demand. In bimodal Uganda, prices of beans, cassava chips, and sorghum have increased by seven to 23 percent in monitored markets compared to August. This price increase was in response to increased demand and limited supply following below-normal first season harvests following below-average seasonal rainfall. Compared to same time last year, bean and cassava chip prices declined by 14-33 percent and are also 11-44 percent below the five-year average. The retail price for maize grain remains stable across monitored markets but has increased by 12-30 percent compared to last year and is 9 - 23 percent above the five-year average (Figure 4 & 5). Typical domestic demand for maize grain remains below pre-COVID-19 levels following closure of schools and other institutions of learning.

    In Karamoja’s key reference markets, the price of sorghum in September declined by seven to 30 percent following availability of new harvest on the market. The harvest was delayed by almost two months and is likely 30-50 percent below average, following delayed, unevenly distributed and below-average rainfall. Compared to last year, sorghum prices increased by 22-44 percent in most Karamoja markets. Compared to the five-year average, the price is 14-38 percent above average. The price of goats, charcoal and firewood have generally increased in Nakapiripirit, Kaabong and Moroto. This is associated with increased demand for goats and the reopening of livestock markets. Insecurity in the region continues to disrupt charcoal production and firewood collection. Goats, charcoal, and firewood to sorghum terms of trade are all positive following the fall in price of sorghum across Karamoja. However, this is expected to be short-lived as price of sorghum is expected to quickly rise above average as stocks get depleted.

    Regionally, continued regional demand for Uganda’s staples has put upward pressure on aggregate food demand amid below average national tradeable surplus, poor production in Kenya and a below average outlook for second season following the below average rainfall performance/forecast. The improved trade volumes to South Sudan were also enhanced by the relative peace and expanding market functioning. However, the maize tradeable surplus from Uganda was below average, accounting for 31 percent of the tradable surplus in the region. This was due to reduced carryover stocks from below-average harvests in 2020 and the first season of 2021.

    Current food security outcomes

    While food security outcomes have generally improved in urban areas with the gradual re-opening of the economy, decreased daily cases, and easing of movement restrictions, below average first season production resulted in below-average national food surpluses and carryover stocks to support typical food access levels before the next harvest. Although unemployment levels are quite high, alternative livelihood options have somewhat improved in the informal sector compared to the lockdown period, enabling poor urban households to better access daily wages to purchase food and driving an improvement in outcomes for urban populations now facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

    In most bimodal areas, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are prevalent, though Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes remain most likely in landslide and flood-affected areas as well as in northern Uganda where below average rainfall led to significant first-season crop losses. In these areas, most poor households have less than one month of carryover stocks from the first season harvest or are earning inadequate income from agricultural labor, petty trade, and brewing to access market purchases as prices are above average. At least 20 percent of the households are likely consuming at least 1.5 - 2 meals per day with meagre or depleted stocks from own production. Consequently, these households are only able to access their minimum food needs by engaging in stressed and crisis consumption and livelihoods coping strategies, such as restricting portion size by adults to increase intake for children, reducing meal frequency, selling more poultry than usual, borrowing money to purchase food or buying food on credit, and reducing essential non-food expenditures. However, reliance on these strategies is combined with consumption of seasonal vegetables and fruits.

    In Karamoja, most households are facing low food availability and reduced food access due to fluctuating terms of trade and significantly below-average harvests. Since the start of the year, most poor households have experienced Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during an atypically long lean season characterized by delayed, cumulatively below-average rainfall, flooding/water logging events, and an atypically long dry season in June/July. These events limited the seasonal availability of agricultural labor opportunities following reduced area cultivated and crop loss. While food availability has marginally improved, delayed minimal harvests were available to fewer households than is typical. Nonetheless, an increase in interannual safety net programming from the government and WFP has moderated the severity of food insecurity. A detailed analysis of these factors and their impact on food insecurity in the Karamoja region is provided in the area of concern section below.


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

    • Based on observed precipitation, La Niña conditions already developed and expected to last through February-April 2022, and NMME, WMO, and ECMWF forecasts, the September-November 2021 second rainy season in bimodal Uganda is most likely to have an early to timely start of season, while cumulative rainfall is likely to be below average in the southern half of the country and near average in the northwestern half of the country.
    • Based on cumulative below-average rainfall in bimodal areas, second season crop production is expected to be slightly delayed in localized areas and the harvest is expected to be slightly below normal in November and December.
    • Based on historical analogues, the March-May 2022 first rainfall season in bimodal Uganda is most likely to be average, though there is uncertainty given the long-range nature of the forecast.
    • Labor demand and income from on-farm agricultural activities are expected to be slightly below normal during the 2021 second season but near normal for the 2022 first season given the forecasts. Below-average staple prices since June will likely negatively impact the financial capacity to hire labor and invest in production. However, based on historical trends, daily wage rates for agricultural labor are likely to remain stable or slightly decline.
    • In cattle corridor areas of Western and Northern Uganda, near-average rainfall through November is expected to regenerate pasture and water availability to near-normal levels, supporting normal livestock body conditions and milk production through December.
    • Cross-border regional trade is expected to be above the five-year quarterly average in the medium term due to improved relative security along the transit corridor to South Sudan and the ongoing drought situation in Kenya that is expected to slightly increase demand for regional exports. 
    • The reopening of open-air weekly markets and livestock markets generally is expected to provide households with seasonal incomes and improve food access especially in the cattle corridor districts that are more dependent on livestock and its products for income. However, livestock markets in areas were Foot and Mouth have been prevalent this year are expected to remain closed.
    • FEWS NET’s price projection for beans in Soroti between September and May 2022 shows that retail prices are likely to remain 5-30 percent below last year and about 10 percent lower than historical five-year average. The price trends are likely to be driven by declining first season stocks and suppressed demand among consumers as incomes remain below normal following COVID-19 lockdowns. The forecast of near normal to below-average September to December rainfall is likely to result in less than average harvest in November/December. Nonetheless a national surplus is likely to keep prices 20 percent below last year in December and thereafter steadily rise through May 2022 before the first season stocks arrive in May/June.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In bimodal areas, below-average food stocks at household and market levels and the anticipated below average second season harvests are likely to sustain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in the most areas. However, greater northern Uganda including parts of the Teso region are expected to continue facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through at least December. Above-average staple prices are expected to constrain food access for households with greater dependence on markets, given that income sources such as charcoal and firewood sales, agricultural labor, and livestock sales are expected to be below average. Below-average rainfall and slow-paced economic recovery are expected to keep seasonal incomes below average. Mostly in Kampala, some poor urban households without savings and with limited coping capacity are expected to continue experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Urban poor households outside of Kampala with stronger family ties to rural areas will use those linkages to access food and will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes.

    Below-average harvests in November/December are expected to improve food availability and access from December through March before supplies decline in March and prices seasonally increase. Regional trade in staple commodities is expected to increase in 2021/22 in spite of the expected below average harvest in many countries as regional supplies from surplus countries flow to deficit areas. Below-normal income levels because of reduced crop sales are expected to constraining poor households’ ability to access food via market purchases. It is likely that by March/April, an increased number of households will have exhausted their stocks from own production and engage in stressed and crisis consumption and livelihoods coping strategies before the start of the harvest in June/July. It is expected that normal trade flows are likely to continue to delivering food commodities from surplus to deficit areas, including Karamoja. With average rainfall forecasted during the March to May rainy season, seasonal livelihood activities are likely to support Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes until first season harvests are available beginning in June to early July.

    In Karamoja, significantly below-average harvests will leave poor households highly reliant on market purchases to meet their minimum food needs, also indicative of a prolonged, continuous lean season. Insecurity from cattle thefts is likely to impoverish affected household denying them the ability to access income for food purchase. Below-average terms of trade following high staple prices and seasonally below average incomes are expected to lead to sustained consumption gaps should rainfall in the April-September unimodal season be below average. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will persist as many very poor households limit meal sizes, substitute less preferred foods, and reduce expenditure on non-food items.

    Events that might change the outlook

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

    AREAEVENTImpact on food security


    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 incomes. Households already facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in northern Uganda where first season production was below average would likely deteriorate to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.



    Accelerated COVID-19 cases leading to prolonged repeated nationwide lockdowns

    Prolonged or reinstatement of severe movement restrictions would likely lead to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in some urban areas. The previous two nationwide lockdowns have already eroded household capacity to cope with the reduction or loss of income linked to the lockdowns. While food would likely be available in 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 are closed again.

    Refugee settlements

    Significantly reduced ration or no humanitarian food assistance due to funding limitations

    Further significant reduction in ration sizes 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.

    Karamoja sub region

    Delayed onset of rainfall season or erratic rainfall distribution

    Poor rainfall performance during the unimodal season, particularly given that the previous two years have obtained below average harvest scale of delayed planting and replanting, would impact crops at the flowering and grain filling stage and lead to larger crop production deficits than currently anticipated. Due to reductions in weeding and harvesting labor in-kind/cash income and below-normal harvests, additional households would deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) within the projection period.



    Figure 1

    Current Situation for October 2021

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Uganda Seasonal Calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5

    Figure 3

    Source: Uganda Bureau of Statistics

    Figure 6

    Figure 4

    Source: Farmgain

    Figure 7

    Figure 5

    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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