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Crisis (IPC Phase 3) expected in Karamoja and among refugees through May 2024

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Uganda
  • October 2023 - May 2024
Crisis (IPC Phase 3) expected in Karamoja and among refugees through May 2024

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Assumptions
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes
  • Areas of Concern: Refugee settlements hosting refugees from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Area of Concern: Central Sorghum and Livestock livelihood zone, Karamoja region
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • In bimodal areas, the second season rains were generally on-time and have been cumulatively average to above average in most areas through October. Cropping conditions are generally favorable, with most cereals and legumes at reproductive stages. Crop production is expected to be average and on time, and rangeland resources in the cattle corridor have seen considerable improvements with the ongoing second season rains. However, flood-prone areas in parts of the West Nile region and Pakwach districts are inundated with flood waters following heavy rains in late October, causing displacement and minor destruction to infrastructure. The number of households facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or worse outcomes in the northern and eastern regions is expected to decrease in October, and area-level Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected with the onset of the harvest in November/December.  
    • In Karamoja, the compounding impacts of four/five consecutive below-average harvests due to poor and erratic rainfall, insecurity, and reduced household resilience will likely sustain Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through May 2024. The 2023 harvest is anticipated to exhaust as early as December, causing an early onset of the 2024 lean season. While staple prices are expected to decrease with the bimodal harvest in December, household purchasing power remains below average due to the loss of livestock assets and below-average income generation from crop sales and off-farm labor opportunities. Poor households will likely have limited access to food and depleted coping capacity. The proportion of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected to steadily increase between January and May 2024. 
    • Retail prices of staple foods were mostly stable between August and September, supported by the carryover of first-season food stocks, imported grain from Tanzania, and the decrease in regional demand following the maize harvest in western Kenya. While maize prices in bimodal markets are generally lower than in 2022 – by 20 to 30 percent in some areas – prices remain 7 to 18 percent above the five-year average. In Karamoja markets, sorghum prices showed similar trends, ranging from 24 to 54 percent lower than in 2022 but above the five-year average. The lower food prices relative to last year have improved financial access to food for many poor households, particularly in urban areas.
    • Significantly below-average first season harvests for refugees in settlements – particularly in the north – limited seasonal improvements in access to food during the post-harvest period and resulted in atypically high purchase reliance for food. However, increased competition for few alternative income-generating opportunities and low wages limit household purchasing power. The impacts of this are compounded by the recent implementation of the needs-based re-prioritization of food assistance in July. Now, roughly 80 percent of the refugees in settlements receive rations equivalent to only 30 percent of their minimum daily caloric needs. Findings from a recent FEWS NET assessment indicated that refugee households are increasingly relying on negative livelihood coping strategies to decrease expenditure and increase access to food, such as removing children from school, stealing food, early childhood marriage, or begging for food. Many refugees also reported reducing meal portions and limiting meal frequency to once per day. An increasing number of households will likely face food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through May 2024.

    National Overview

    Seasonal rainfall performance: In bimodal areas, during the June to September dry period, cumulative rainfall deficits ranged from 45 to 90 percent of average, with the largest deficits in central and southwestern Uganda, where conditions were atypically hot and dry. The second rainy season from October to December began on time – and in some places, in early September. By the end of October, cumulative rainfall has generally been average to slightly above average, with regionally mixed and temporally erratic performance. In western and parts of central Uganda, dry spells of up to 10 days were observed in late September and into mid-October. In northern, eastern, and some central areas, rainfall performance began below average but improved to average to slightly above average starting in mid-October. Meanwhile, in southwestern Uganda, rainfall has been below average through mid-October (Figures 1 and 2). Locally heavy rains have caused localized crop damage and flooding along the major river basins and in some urban areas.

    Figure 1

    Seasonal rainfall accumulation anomaly (mm), Jun 1 to Sept 30, 2023 (left) and Sept 1 to Oct 31 2023 (right), compared to the long-term mean
    Maps showing cumulative rainfall anomaly relative to the long term mean, indicating below average rainfal from Jun-Sept 2023 and average to above average rainfall from Sept to Oct 2023

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Rainfall accumulation and forecast (mm) per five-day period compared to average, July–October 2023, by region
    Graph indicating rainfall patterns for July-October 2023

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Crop and livestock production: In bimodal areas, following below-average first season crop production and with the localized early onset of second season rains, some farmers began second season planting as early as late August for maize, sim sim, groundnuts, assorted horticultural crops, sorghum, sweet potatoes, cassava, and beans. The early planted crops are generally in the reproductive stage in late October. In central and southern Uganda, planting was slightly delayed to late September owing to the erratic and below-average rainfall at the start of the cropping season, and most crops were in the advanced vegetative stage or nearing the flowering stage by late October. With the ongoing cultivation activities in September and October, seasonal agriculture labor demand has generally been average in most bimodal areas except for some households in northern Uganda, where the capacity to hire labor is constrained by below-average crop sales income from the previous season.

    In unimodal Karamoja, the short-cycle harvest for sorghum, some limited maize, and sunflowers ended in mid-October. However, much of the crop growth period – May to September – was characterized by below-average rainfall, atypical dryness, and hot temperatures (Figure 1). Sorghum production, the predominant crop grown in Karamoja, is likely well below average and worse relative to 2022 crop production. The below-average rainfall also negatively impacted crop production prospects for the long-cycle sorghum, typically harvested in December. The impacts of the poor rainfall were compounded by insecurity and the limited financial access to inputs or oxen plows, contributing to below-normal areas planted and poor crop production in Karamoja. 

    According to Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) satellite data, pasture conditions have slightly improved compared to the significantly below-average conditions since mid-July in the Karamoja region and the bimodal areas of the cattle corridor districts. Livestock productivity in these areas is average due to improved water and pasture resources following the September/October rains. In bimodal areas, the increased rainfall in mid to late October has improved pasture conditions following the below-average rainfall from June to September.

    Macroeconomic conditions: In October, annual headline inflation hit a two-year low, declining for the eighth consecutive month to 2.4, relative to 2.7 percent in September. The decline is primarily attributed to the decrease in annual core inflation to 2.0 percent in October, down from 2.4 percent in September. Similarly, food inflation decreased from 7.9 to 6.6 percent between September and October 2023 (Figure 3), following increased food availability from first-season harvests and reduced regional demand for Ugandan staples in Kenya and South Sudan. This has helped moderate domestic staple prices.

    Figure 3

    Annual headline inflation rate and inflation rate for the three component indices, monthly, Aug 2021 to Sept 2023
    Graph indicating the decreasing trend of annual headline inflation, as well as core, food crop, and energy fuel and utilities inflation

    Source: Uganda Bureau of Statistics

    In October, the Bank of Uganda maintained the Central Bank Rate at 9.5 percent to boost economic growth alongside declining inflation. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBoS) quarter-on-quarter real GDP growth estimates, the economy grew by 5.2 percent in the second quarter of 2023 compared to 0.4 percent in quarter one. The faster growth was attributed to a strong recovery in the services and industry sectors. The Composite Index of Economic Activity (CIEA), which measures economic activity, increased from 161.33 in July to 162.63 in August and has been on an upward trend for the last twelve months.

    In September, petrol and diesel pump prices increased by 8 and 3.6 percent, respectively, although the current prices are 17 and 18 percent lower than in 2022 (Figure 4). The increase in fuel prices since late August is mainly attributed to a global reduction in oil supply following a voluntary supply cut by Saudi Arabia and high global demand for energy, exacerbated by the decrease in supply from Russia due to the war with Ukraine and geopolitics with oil-producing countries in the middle east. The upward trend in fuel pump prices is already exerting upward pressure on staple food prices due to increased transportation costs.

    Figure 4

    National average pump prices for Petrol and Diesel prices in 2022 and 2023
    Graph showing the trend of fuel pump prices for petrol and diesel fuel between 2022 to 2023 indicating a peak in August 2023 and slightly decreasing thereafter

    Source: Uganda Bureau of Statistics

    Markets and trade: In September, staple food prices in bimodal areas generally remained stable month-on-month, moderated by the food stocks from the first season harvest in June/July, supplemented by imported staples from Tanzania and the availability of other local staple substitutes. Additionally, as neighboring parts of Kenya have had improved maize harvests this year after consecutive years of drought, Uganda’s maize production surplus exceeds local demand, moderating maize prices and resulting in 20 to 30 percent lower prices than last year at the same time in several markets (Figure 5). However, maize prices generally remain 7 to 18 percent above the five-year average. Meanwhile, retail prices of beans were also seasonally stable across monitored markets in September but were slightly higher than prices in September 2022 and 36 to 45 percent above the five-year average prices (Figure 6). In Kampala and Lira, bean prices were 8 and 9 percent higher than in 2022 and roughly 35 and 40 percent higher than the five-year average, respectively. The higher relative prices are likely driven by the limited supply following a below-average bean harvest in the first season and during the 2022 cultivation year.  The seasonal prices of sorghum grain in bimodal areas were mixed across markets. Between August and September, while prices increased by 13 percent in Gulu, there was a 14 percent decline in Masindi and price stability in many other markets. However, sorghum prices are currently 25 to 35 percent below 2022 levels, likely due to the availability of substitute staples like cassava, sweet potatoes, and millet, which are in greater supply than last year.

    Figure 5

    Maize grain retail prices in September 2023 as a percent of August 2023, September 2022, and the 2018-2022 average prices in various markets in bimodal areas
    Maize grain retail prices in September 2023 relative to August 2023, last year and the five year average

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Figure 6

    Bean retail prices in September 2023 as a percent of August 2023, September 2022, and the 2018-2022 average prices in various markets in bimodal areas
    Graph showing bean prices in September 2023 in key bimodal markets relative to August 2023, last year, and the five year average

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    In central and western bimodal areas, first season food stocks are supporting near-normal seasonal food availability in October. Additionally, near-normal income-earning opportunities associated with second season cultivation have increased income generation and supported improved access to food. The seasonally stable food prices for most staples are also contributing to improved financial access to food. Most households are likely able to meet their minimum essential food and non-food needs in the current period, with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. Meanwhile, in the greater north and Teso sub-region, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) is expected, due to the significantly below-average and delayed harvests from the first season crop cultivation. 

    The atypically early exhaustion of first season food stocks has resulted in households remaining purchase-reliant to supplement their meager own-produced food stocks. Additionally, many poor households in these areas had limited financial and physical access to seeds and inputs, constraining production prospects for second season cultivation. With the improved rainfall in mid-October, some of the households who were able to plant early are beginning to harvest some vegetables, slightly increasing food access and income access from sales. However, given the relatively constrained access to staples, households reportedly rely on coping strategies such as borrowing money, selling household items, or spending savings to meet food needs. 

    In Karamoja, in October, with the harvesting period recently concluded, households have slightly improved access to own-produced food and some seasonal income from crop sales. However, the poor maturation of the late-planted sorghum and overall below-average sorghum production was insufficient to restore household food stocks to typical levels for the post-harvest period. Additionally, the below-average rainfall, limited access to wild vegetables, and below-average pasture conditions for livestock are also limiting seasonal improvements in food access. Food consumption gaps persist for most poor and very poor households who have already depleted their meager harvests or had no harvests and depend on market purchases for most of their food. Although staple prices are lower than last year, they remain above the five-year average, constraining purchasing power amid below-average income-earning opportunities now that the harvest has finished. Area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist, with atypical food consumption gaps and high acute malnutrition levels among children during the post-harvest period. Very poor households continue to engage in coping strategies such as begging, consuming one meal a day, and mainly eating starchy foods with little dietary diversity. An in-depth analysis of the Karamoja area of concern is provided on page 11 of this report.

    The compounding impacts of significantly below-average first season harvests amongst refugees living in settlements and increasingly high competition for scarce labor opportunities have limited food access and availability for households amid reductions in humanitarian food assistance with WFP and UNHCR’s reprioritization of resources. A FEWS NET rapid field assessment in northern refugee settlements in September found that refugees are traveling increasingly far from their settlements to find work or are resorting to engaging in physically intensive positions in very poor conditions for low wages. Due to the lack of access to food and income, households have reduced expenditure on education and healthcare and increased their reliance on coping strategies, such as borrowing money, begging, selling assets, and early child marriage. Additionally, most households eat less preferred foods, have reduced meal frequency for children and adults, and are likely experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. An in-depth analysis of refugees in settlements is provided on page 8 of this report.


    The most likely scenario from October 2023 to May 2024 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • International and regional forecasts suggest increasing confidence in a strong El Niño by late 2023, coinciding with the September to November 2023 second rainy season in bimodal Uganda. Overall, cumulative rainfall during the second season will most likely be above average. 

    • Based on the NMME forecast, the March to May 2024 first season rains in bimodal Uganda are likely to be average, with a tilt toward below average. Crop performance and production outcomes will likely be near average by the end of May. 

    • Compared with first-season levels, agricultural labor opportunities associated with land preparation, planting, weeding, and harvesting activities are expected to be at typical levels through the remainder of the 2023 second season and again from March to May during the 2024 first season. Agricultural labor wage rates will likely be near average throughout the projection period. Given the impacts of the above-average rainfall associated with El Niño, second-season cereal and legume crop production is expected to be average across bimodal areas, with isolated cases of below-average legume production in areas that may be affected by floods and waterlogging in the east and northern Uganda lowlands. 

    • Pasture and water resources in the cattle corridor districts, including Karamoja, are expected to improve seasonally in November and December due to forecasted enhanced rainfall. Accordingly, livestock body conditions and productivity are expected to be near average in localized areas, although enhanced rainfall is likely to increase the risk of disease prevalence.

    • Staple food prices are likely to follow seasonal trends, declining in November and December, then increasing through April before declining again during the 2024 first-season harvest. Prices are expected to generally remain marginally below 2022 but above the five-year average throughout the projection period. Despite the below-normal first-season 2023 harvests in Uganda, prices will remain below last year's levels due to the atypically low regional demand and improved harvest prospects in typical deficit-producing countries. Based on FEWS NET price projections, the retail price of beans in Arua is expected to trend marginally above 2022 prices and 35 to 41 percent above the five-year average. Maize grain in Masindi is likely to remain below 2022 prices but 24 to 29 percent above the five-year average. In Karamoja, sorghum prices are expected to trend between 16 percent below and 8 percent above 2022 levels but 39 to 51 percent above the five-year average. 

    • Given the increase in global fuel price trends since August, domestic fuel prices are expected to remain elevated throughout the projection period. Prices will likely remain above the five-year average and higher than the levels before the Ukraine-Russia war but lower than in 2022.

    • Exports of maize from Uganda to the structurally deficit-producing countries of Kenya, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi are expected to remain atypically lower than last year based on improved harvests in Kenya and Tanzania and South Sudan’s export restrictions on maize grain from Uganda. However, demand from structurally deficit-producing countries will likely increase from February to May as stocks from local supplies decline. 

    • According to the Bank of Uganda, economic growth is expected to recover gradually from 5 to 6 percent in 2023/2024, supported by improved exports and stronger investment in extractive industries. However, weak domestic demand is likely to slow economic growth below the 5.3 percent expected in 2022/2023, driven by rising energy prices and local currency depreciation.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for a typical year in Uganda.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes

    In bimodal areas, average second season harvests in November/December will likely improve household food stocks and market supply levels and sustain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in western and central areas through May 2024. In greater northern Uganda, including parts of the Teso sub-region, increased access to own-produced food and income from some crop sales is expected to improve acute food insecurity outcomes from area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) by December and through May 2024. Seasonally declining staple prices following the harvest – amid decreased regional demand for maize grain, beans, and sorghum – will also likely improve financial access to food for urban and purchase-reliant households through February. Poor households that were unable to cultivate will likely see improved purchasing power as the value of their labor increases relative to the price of staple foods during this period. The 2023 second season food stocks are anticipated to diminish for poor households by the end of February. From March to May, poor households will likely increasingly rely on market purchases aided by agricultural labor incomes to access food prior to the start of the 2024 first season harvest in May.

    In Karamoja, the significantly below-average 2023 harvest in October will likely exhaust by December, resulting in an early onset of the lean season. Households that were unable to harvest any crops will be atypically purchase-reliant for food through the post-harvest period, while households that cultivated will likely be purchase-reliant from December through May 2024. The availability of the bimodal harvest in December is expected to seasonally reduce staple prices in Karamoja and slightly increase financial access to food through March. However, income from typical livelihood activities, like firewood collection, casual labor activities, and on-farm labor in bimodal areas will likely be insufficient to meet households’ minimum consumption needs, and low household purchasing power will remain a key barrier to accessing food. Very poor and vulnerable households will likely rely on begging and migration to urban areas to access income through the projection period. The number of households experiencing food consumption gaps is expected to steadily increase as the lean season progresses throughout the scenario period. The prevalence of global acute malnutrition among children under five is likely to remain seasonally high compared to a year with a normal harvest, but nutrition based interventions and continuous surveillance are expected to keep the number of children with severe acute malnutrition lower compared to 2022 and 2023. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist as many very poor households limit meal sizes, substitute less preferred foods, and reduce expenditure on essential non-food items. Worst affected households are likely to experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes through May 2024. Please find a detailed analysis of the food security outcomes in Karamoja in the Area of Concern section below.

    In refugee settlements, the anticipated average harvests in December are expected to increase food availability and financial access to food for the estimated 40 percent of the refugee households that cultivated during the second season. However, the poor access to seeds and small plot sizes will limit seasonal improvements in food consumption, and own production is unlikely to meet households’ minimum food needs in the post-harvest period. High competition for limited alternative income-generating activities, such as casual labor or petty trade, is further limiting households’ financial access to food, even amid the seasonally reduced market prices. Very poor refugee households will increase their reliance on negative coping strategies, such as selling productive assets, consuming seeds, prostitution, and begging to access food. With roughly 80 percent of the refugee households only receiving rations equivalent to 30 percent of their minimum daily requirement since July, humanitarian food assistance will not be sufficient to fill consumption gaps. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to persist through May 2024, with a subset of households facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Please find a detailed analysis of the food security outcomes in refugee settlements in the Area of Concern section below.

    Table 1
    Table 1. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationalExtremely delayed, below-average, or poorly distributed first season 2024 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.

    Refugee settlementsFlooding due to enhanced rainfall during the 2023 second season rainfallIf enhanced rainfall during the second season results in severe flooding and water-logging for long periods during the cropping season, this would likely damage crops, reducing the harvest. This would limit access to income and increase the population experiencing food gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during the scenario period.
    Karamoja sub-regionExtremely delayed, below-average, or poorly distributed rainfall in April-May 2024Poor 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. More poor households would quickly deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and worst affected to worse within the projection period.

    Areas of Concern: Refugee settlements hosting refugees from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

    Current Situation

    According to the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR, Uganda hosted 1,583,009 refugees and asylum seekers as of October 31, 2023 (Figure 1), with 79,964 individuals arriving in Uganda since the start of 2023 (as of October 26). South Sudanese refugees account for 57 percent of Uganda’s refugee population and primarily reside in northwestern settlements, while refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) account for 32 percent of the refugee population and mainly live in southwestern settlements. The rest of the refugees are from Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. Most settlements have already surpassed their holding capacity, and the sustained influx of refugees continues to exert pressure on the resources available to humanitarian agencies to meet refugee food and nonfood needs. In September, FEWS NET conducted a rapid food security assessment in Adjumani and Palabek settlements in northwest Uganda to inform this Area of Concern.

    Figure 7

    Location and population of refugee settlements in Uganda as of October 31, 2023
    Map showing the location and population of refugees in Uganda as of October 31, 2023

    Source: UNHCR/OPM

    Across northern settlements, first season cultivation was reportedly poor, owing to below-average rainfall and excess dryness, small plot sizes, and limited access to seeds and fertilizer, resulting in less than one month of food for many of the households who were able to harvest. Many refugees reported first season harvests lasted less than one month, with many reporting failed harvests. Second season cultivation is underway in all settlements and is assessed to be more productive than the first season. Refugees reported that early rains in August prompted early second-season planting in northern settlements. However, a long dry spell followed, resulting in many households replanting in September. Seed access was a commonly reported limiting factor for cultivation across settlements. While most women who were members of coordinated community farming groups run by NGOs within the settlements were given seeds and tools, the households who did not receive these livelihood items faced difficulty affording seeds for planting. Plot sizes – which encompassed dwellings and crop cultivation – were generally 30 x 30 meters (m), limiting the cultivated area to just 10 x 15 m gardens. There was a wide range of observed field productivity and crop progress in each settlement linked to differences in soil quality and drainage within each settlement, which made it difficult to assess second-season household crop production prospects at the settlement level. 

    Following the reduction in humanitarian food assistance in July, better-off refugees have increasingly engaged in renting land for additional food production. However, the price of renting land has doubled and, in some places, tripled in the last year with the heightened demand, increasing from 50,000 UGX/acre/season last year to 100,000 to 150,000 UGX/acre/season for one crop during the second season. Given the high prices, most households, particularly the poor, are not able to rent land to expand crop cultivation for food. Additionally, refugees reported soil quality on the plots was often poor, limiting the productivity of the land. 

    Refugees reported that income-generating activities primarily included agricultural labor (wages roughly 5,000 UGX/day), casual labor (roughly 3,000 UGX/day), petty trading, and small businesses. Many refugees reported relying on the collection and sale of natural resources, including grass for roofing/brooms, sand mining, charcoal burning, and firewood collection. Refugees reported increasingly high levels of engagement in labor activities that are far from the settlements (5–10 km walking) or activities with very poor working conditions for incredibly low wages. For example, sand collection and rock mining—a relatively new source of income generation for refugees in the last year—earned refugees only 100 UGX per basin of sand or rocks collected from deep excavation. With more refugees seeking labor to earn income to access food, there is high competition for few opportunities. Additionally, an increasing number of households are reportedly returning to South Sudan from the northern/West Nile settlements in order to seek labor opportunities. However, the children are often reportedly left behind unaccompanied, unable to collect food distributions or access food. 

    Between August and September, staple prices were generally stable, driven by the availability of the July/August harvests and low domestic and regional demand, but remained above average. Even though markets are generally functional and are physically accessible in both the northern and southwestern refugee settlements, current staple prices are a major limiting factor for food access due to poor income generation amid reductions in cash-based transfers. In Palabek refugee settlement, maize and sorghum generally cost 2,000 UGX/kilogram (kg), beans cost 3,000 UGX/kg, and three small cassava tubers cost roughly 2,000 UGX. As such, one day of casual labor earning 5,000UGX can purchase one kg of maize (3,400 kcal) and one kg of beans (3,390 kcal), amounting to roughly 7,000 kcal total, which can only support three individuals in meeting their minimum daily kcal requirement for one day.

    In July 2023, WFP and UNHCR jointly implemented the needs-based re-prioritization of humanitarian food assistance in the 13 settlements. [1] Following this transition, 80 percent of the refugee population receives only 30 percent rations, amounting to 14,000 UGX in North/West Nile and 12,000 UGX in southwest per person per day in cash transfers, or 3.78 kg of cereal, 0.9 kg of pulses, 0.27 liters of vegetable cooking oil, and 100 grams of salt, both in northern/West Nile and southwestern refugee settlements. The cash-based and in-kind food assistance received by refugee households is reportedly not enough to purchase even one-third of the minimum expenditure food basket. Most refugees reported that in-kind rations lasted only three to five days, given that many were sharing their rations with other refugees who were unregistered or with unaccompanied minors not receiving rations. Refugees reported that, since July, distributions have been on time, and no distributions have been missed or skipped. However, in multiple settlements, refugees reported that many local host community members (Ugandan nationals) are registered for and receiving food assistance in the refugee settlements, particularly in Adjumani, raising concerns about a perceived lack of transparency around ration distributions. 

    According to findings during the FEWS NET field assessment, refugees in Adjumani and Palabek settlements reported increasing their reliance on livelihood coping strategies to both increase access to income and reduce other expenditures to mitigate consumption gaps. Community leaders reported increased theft of host community crops, or of food stocks from refugee traders, or households receiving 60 percent rations, early marriages for dowry, selling household items, consuming seeds provided by NGOs, prostitution among youth, and increased begging. Households in Adjumani settlements reported engaging in activities to reduce expenditure in order to access food. These included removing children from schools, not seeking paid medical services and relying on the free malaria treatment available in settlements. Despite recent ration reductions, households in both Adjumani and Palabek settlements reported that some households receiving in-kind food assistance are selling portions of their rations to purchase other essential or cheaper food items or use their rations to barter for other essential in-kind items. They reported this was not common practice for all refugees, but rather a source of income for households to purchase essential items when they have no other way to access income. 

    Current food security outcomes: Data from the recent Food Security and Nutrition Assessment (FSNA) collected in late July/early August indicates a deterioration in food consumption trends among refugees in settlements, with more than 60 percent of households facing poor or borderline food consumption and most households eating food from only three to four food groups. Poor first season harvests in 2023, high competition for scarce labor opportunities, limited income generation, and above-average prices in refugee markets are limiting food availability and financial access to food amid reduced food assistance rations. Poor households have low purchasing power but remain heavily purchase-reliant for food ahead of the second-season harvest. Most poor refugees are reportedly employing negative food-based coping strategies, including eating less preferred and less nutritious meals and reducing meal frequency and portions in some cases. Meanwhile, many households lack assets to sell, and are borrowing money, borrowing food, and reducing essential non-food expenditures. According to the FSNA, over 30 percent of households reported engaging in livelihood coping strategies associated with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes, and many are still unable meet their essential food and non-food needs. Poor households are facing food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are ongoing. For a subset of most vulnerable households, the limited humanitarian food assistance is preventing a further deterioration in outcomes. 

    According to the FSNA findings, the prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) among children aged 6 to 59 months based on weight-for-height z-scores ranges from Alert to Serious levels (8–13.9 percent) across refugee settlements in the north and West Nile, compared to Acceptable levels (0.8–3 percent) in settlements hosting Congolese refugees. This is likely due to the low dietary diversity, decreased meal frequency, lack of adequate nutrients, and the prevalence and communicability of diseases in the settlements.


    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Agricultural production in refugee settlements is anticipated to be average overall during the second season and vary widely between households depending on financial access to land and inputs and enrollment in agricultural groups. Increased engagement in cultivation following the reduction in food assistance, in conjunction with the forecasted above-average rainfall in the September to December 2023 second season, is expected to improve agricultural production in refugee settlements overall. 
    • Humanitarian food assistance is expected to continue at current levels. However, with current funding, pipeline disruptions are anticipated to begin in November for cash-based transfers and in January 2024 for in-kind food assistance. Households receiving assistance are anticipated to continue sharing with the unregistered members of their household as well as households that are no longer receiving assistance but remain vulnerable. 
    • While some refugees are expected to rent external plots from the host community for 2023 second-season and 2024 first-season cultivation, poor and single-headed households will likely be unable to access land, given the high cost and their limited purchasing power. More households are expected to engage in on-farm and off-farm casual labor activities than in previous years.
    • Armed conflict and intercommunal violence in South Sudan and North Kivu and Ituri provinces of DRC will continue to drive refugees into Uganda through the scenario period. This is anticipated to further strain already limited funding for humanitarian assistance and services, which will be inadequate to meet the level of need.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    October to January: The second season harvest in November and December will increase food availability and access and improve food consumption for refugees who cultivated. Due to limited access to productive land or seeds, poor households are not likely to harvest adequate stocks to last for more than six weeks after harvest. The high competition for limited labor opportunities and disproportionately lower wages often paid to refugee households compared to host community households will continue to limit financial access to food and result in low household purchasing power through January 2024. Households will likely be purchase-reliant for food and the percentage of a household's monthly kilocalories sourced from food purchases is expected to increase but will not be adequate to meet minimum food requirements. Amid overstretched humanitarian services and an increasing malnutrition caseload, second-season rainfall will likely result in atypically high disease prevalence through December. Given that many poor households are unable to afford health services, cases of illness and acute malnutrition are likely to increase, negatively impacting food utilization. Given the limited access to adequate own-produced food, most poor households will continue engaging in negative livelihood and consumption based coping strategies to meet minimum food needs, and many households will face consumption gaps. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) will be sustained through January. 

    February to May: As households deplete their remaining food stocks from the second season harvest in early February, most households will increasingly rely on market purchases for food, supplemented by limited humanitarian food assistance. Due to average anticipated second season harvests, staple food prices will likely remain stable, and income from wages will likely support access to market purchases through at least March, decreasing the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and worse food security outcomes. However, in April and May, before first-season harvests become available to improve food availability, more refugee households are expected to resort to consumption coping strategies like those used between October and January, namely reducing the meal size and frequency to once a day. Some households are likely to engage in negative coping strategies that may include stealing food from other refugees and selling productive assets like land, while others may choose to voluntary repatriation to their original countries despite persisting insecurity. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to continue at the area level through May 2024.

    [1] WFP and UNHCR disaggregated refugees into three vulnerability groups: Group 1 (roughly 15 percent of refugee population) comprises refugees deemed highly vulnerable who now receive 60 percent rations; Group 2 (roughly 80 percent of refugee population) is comprised of “moderately vulnerable” refugees, who receive 30 percent rations; and Group 3 (roughly 5 percent of population) are the refugees determined to be self-sufficient for food no longer receive food assistance.


    Area of Concern: Central Sorghum and Livestock livelihood zone, Karamoja region

    The Karamoja sub-region (Figure 8) has an estimated population of 1,285,000. This analysis focuses on households in the “very poor” and “poor” wealth groups, estimated at 402,895 people (about 62 percent of the population in the Central Sorghum and Livestock livelihood zone) based on the district population projections by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. According to the Karamoja Food Security and Nutrition Assessment (FSNA) conducted by WFP in March 2023, the districts with the highest proportion of households in the lowest two wealth quintiles are Kaabong (68.6 percent), Nabilatuk (67.6 percent), Kotido (49.2 percent), Napak (48.6 percent), and Moroto (41.6 percent).

    Figure 8

    Area of concern reference map: Central Sorghum and Livestock (CSL) livelihood zone in Karamoja
    Map of Karamoja Region, Uganda

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current Situation

    Cumulative rainfall in the Karamoja region was erratic, below-average, and characterized by multiple dry spells through most of the growing season and into October. Erratic rainfall in early September and early October, separated by a long dry spell, helped alleviate seasonal deficits but the 2023 rainfall season was characterized by very dry weather, most severe in eastern and northern Karamoja, stretching from Kaabong to Amudat. Overall, the April to September unimodal rainfall season was significantly below average and worse than in 2022.

    Stunted crop growth, delayed maturation, and wilting occurred in many areas, although the severity of impact varied depending on the time of planting. While the rainfall in early September partially rejuvenated wild vegetables and short-term vegetable growth, rainfall deficits at the end of October negatively impacted crop vigor and total yields. Overall, the Karamoja sub-region saw below-average crop production, with crop failure in the worst-affected areas. Additionally, limited access to land or quality agricultural inputs further limited the amount of sorghum harvested, especially in the districts of Moroto, Kotido, and Nabilatuk, where a higher proportion of poor and very poor households had limited to no access to land. 

    The cumulative below-average rainfall in 2023 also resulted in below-average vegetation and pasture conditions between June and September, which were below the long-term average and last year’s levels. Water resources have been seasonally average and were somewhat boosted by early September and October rainfall. Despite the dry conditions, the available pasture and grazing resources facilitated near-average livestock body conditions. However, endemic livestock diseases, such as foot and mouth, tick-borne diseases, and respiratory diseases in small ruminants, and insecurity continue to be the key limiting factors in livestock productivity. As such, milk production was generally reported to be below average. Additionally, the fear of livestock raids or loss of life while defending livestock limits the ability of herders to access areas with better pastures, a situation that has led to the loss of herding opportunities and decreased access to milk for poor households. According to the March 2023 FSNA, only roughly 38 percent of households reported owning livestock, which was formerly a predominant livelihood activity in this area.

    While households would typically be primarily reliant on own-produced food stocks in October, following the below-average 2023 production, access to food through market purchases has been constrained by below-average seasonal incomes, poor terms of trade compared to recent years, and above-average staple prices. Although prices have been declining since August,  households are atypically reliant on income-generating activities such as gathering and selling firewood and charcoal to access food. Some households are engaged in sand mining, small-scale fishing, or rudimentary gold mining. Others are relying on consuming wild vegetables to supplement other food sources. In semi-urban areas, labor supply far exceeds labor opportunities for domestic and non-agricultural activities.

    Karamoja markets have generally been well supplied with food stocks from neighboring districts. In September, while the retail prices of sorghum and maize remain above the five-year average, they have been seasonally declining in most Karamoja markets, and staple food prices are trending below last year at the same time (Figure 9). Meanwhile, the retail price of beans has remained significantly above the five-year average and above last year’s levels in most markets, following very poor production in Karamoja and nationwide in 2023 (Figure 10). Overall, firewood and charcoal prices are below the five-year average, but considerably higher than last year’s prices, resulting in favorable terms of trade for households relying on resource collection as an income relative to last year (Figure 11). However, firewood and charcoal sales remain constrained due to overexploitation of the tree resources near homesteads and an executive order by the president banning charcoal production to reduce environmental degradation. 

    Figure 9

    Retail price of sorghum in 2022, 2023, and the five-year average, in Moroto, Kotido, and Napak districts
    Graphs showing the retail price of sorghum in 2022, 2023, and the five-year average

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Figure 10

    Retail price of beans in 2022, 2023, and the five-year average, in Moroto, Kotido, and Napak districts
    Retail price of beans in 2022, 2023, and the five-year average, in Moroto, Kotido, and Napak districts

    Source: Farmgain/WFP

    Figure 11

    Percent change in the terms of trade for sorghum against firewood and charcoal in September 2023 compared to August 2023, September 2022 and the five-year average in key reference markets
    Percent change in the terms of trade for sorghum against firewood and charcoal in September 2023 compared to August 2023, September 2022 and the five-year average in key reference markets in Karamoja

    Source: FEWS NET using Farmgain/WFP

    In September, the severe acute malnutrition (SAM) admissions rates were 65 percent lower than in September 2022. The poor and very poor wealth groups have the highest SAM prevalence, given their poor food consumption and inability to access minimally adequate food. Ongoing nutrition assistance and increased surveillance have contributed to reducing acute malnutrition levels. WFP continues to support nutrition programming among vulnerable groups through supplemental feeding for children under the age of five. In the October to December school term, WFP is implementing a 20 percent ration reduction (from 100 percent to 80 percent rations) for 216,813 school-going children in all the 315 schools enrolled in the school meals program in Karamoja subregion. WFP also delivers integrated health services in the nine districts of Karamoja, which includes the screening and managing of acute malnutrition cases. According to WFP, in September, a total of 116,213 children aged 6 to 59 months were screened, and 11,385 were moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) cases and were enrolled in targeted supplementary feeding programs (TSFP) under the Maternal Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) program. This indicates a 22 percent month-on-month increased caseload compared to August 2023.

    Figure 12

    Monthly trends in SAM admissions in Karamoja in 2022 and 2023
    Graph showing monthly trends in SAM admissions in Karamoja from Jan-Dec 2022 and Jan-Sept 2023

    Source: FSNWG ECA

    Current food security outcomes: Below-average harvests have provided slight seasonal increases in food access; however, due to the poor and erratic April to September rainfall, seasonal improvement has been below average. Access to food through market purchases has been constrained by below-average household income, below-average terms of trade for key sources of labor, and above-average staple prices.

    Despite being a post-harvest period, the category of households accessing a single meal of poor dietary diversity is atypically high. Meal portions are inadequate and of less preferred quality, consisting primarily of carbohydrates (sorghum bread and some vegetables; rarely beans), while protein, fat, and vitamins are rarely consumed. This situation in Karamoja generally points to a persistent and recurring trend of declining household food security among households exacerbated by consecutive seasons of below-average production, insecurity, limited livelihood options, and atypically high food prices. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are prevalent in the sub-region. 


    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Despite slightly improved pasture availability with the forecasted El Niño-enhanced rainfall through early 2024, access to traditional migratory livestock grazing areas in many parts of Karamoja, especially in Moroto, Kotido, Napak, and Kaabong, is expected to remain constrained due to insecurity and the threat of livestock theft between the Karamojong ethnic tribes and pastoralists from Turkana and South Sudan. It is expected that the prevalence of insecurity involving cattle thefts, armed confrontations with security forces, and loss of life will persist, albeit at lower levels compared to recent years.

    • The long-cycle sorghum harvest in December and January will likely be below average due to the below-average mid-season rainfall and below-average areas planted due to a lack of financial access to inputs. 

    • Off-season agricultural labor opportunities will likely be more limited than normal through March 2024 due to the below-normal area cultivated. Herding labor opportunities are also expected to be below-average given reduced livestock numbers—only roughly 38 percent of households reported livestock ownership in March 2023—due to prolonged insecurity and depleted assets sold to access food and other non-food items.

    • Food assistance and school feeding programs are expected to continue through the scenario period. WFP’s Mother and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) program in Karamoja is expected to be sustained at levels comparable to last year. The school feeding program will reduced from 100 to 80 percent rations from October to December 2023. Funding for the February to May April 2024 school term is not yet confirmed. 

    • The prevalence of acute malnutrition is expected to remain atypically elevated between September and December due to the below-average harvests. However, acute malnutrition is expected to remain “Serious” (10–15 percent), according to the WHO threshold, as is typical in Karamoja. The malnutrition caseload will likely increase from January through May with the onset of the lean season due to decreased food intake, widening food consumption gaps, and increased morbidity. 

    • Based on FEWS NET’s price projections for sorghum in Moroto market, prices are expected to decline slightly or stabilize but remain above the five-year average through December. However, prices will seasonally increase from January through May due to below-average sorghum production in 2023, increased market dependence starting in December, and isolated cases of insecurity. Meanwhile,  beans are expected to slightly increase in price and remain above both 2022 levels and the five-year average, given that this is the fourth consecutive season of below-normal bean production nationally. The atypically high prices are likely to persist even after second-season production due to the likely poor output resulting from erratic rainfall in bimodal areas. Prices are expected to remain above seasonal trends and the long-term average for a more extended period than usual.

    • The charcoal/firewood-to-sorghum terms of trade and labor-to-sorghum terms of trade are expected to be below average throughout the projection period, primarily due to above-average staple food prices. Overall, terms of trade from typical sources of income generation will remain unfavorable, limiting purchasing power and food access.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    October 2023 to January 2024: In Karamoja, 2023 harvests are not likely to replenish the typical food levels or provide the usual income from crop sales in the post-harvest period from October to December. Households are expected to increasingly source the largest proportion of their food through market purchases. Given significantly below-average incomes from crop sales, charcoal production, livestock sales, and other typical livelihood activities during this period, purchasing power is expected to remain low, constraining food access. Food consumption gaps in the postharvest period are expected to widen as the early onset of the lean season sets in by December. The number of households experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes is expected to increase between October and December.  Some very poor households with wide food gaps, limited social or familial networks, depleted assets, and insufficient incomes will likely face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. Many adults and children will consume only one meal per day, and an increasing number of households are expected to continue employing negative coping strategies, including begging, removing children from school, early marriages for young girls, and reducing health expenditure, among others. As such, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected through January 2024. 

    February to May 2024: Food security outcomes are expected to continue deteriorating from February to May, given the early start of the lean season. However, overall, levels of acute food insecurity are expected to be higher than levels observed in 2022 and early 2023. Overall, access to food through food purchases is expected to remain constrained, given limited income-generating activities and unfavorable terms of trade as the lean season progresses. Many households will continue to rely on less-preferred foods, inadequate meal sizes, and limited health expenditures. Average rainfall from April to May is expected to provide near-normal labor opportunities and harvests for 2024, likely slightly improving access to food. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to be prevalent. At the same time, the worst-affected households will likely experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes given the high levels of acute malnutrition expected. 

    Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance

    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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