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Karamoja faces an early and prolonged lean season due to poor harvest and insecurity

  • Key Message Update
  • Uganda
  • January 2023
Karamoja faces an early and prolonged lean season due to poor harvest and insecurity

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In Karamoja, the lean season began two months earlier than usual in January. Based on key informant interviews and FEWS NET’s field assessment observations, FEWS NET estimates the late 2022 harvest was 50-80 percent below normal and around 40 percent of households harvested little to no own-produced stocks. A majority of households – estimated to be similar to higher than January of last year – have already exhausted their food stocks from the harvest and are now primarily purchasing their food. At the same time, households face a steep decline in purchasing power. Sorghum prices ranged from 40 to 130 percent above the five-year average in December, and there are few income-earning opportunities due to protracted insecurity, three consecutive years of poor harvests, and structurally low economic activity. Many households are currently only eating one meal per day, supplemented by alcohol dregs and wild vegetables. At least 20 percent of households in Karamoja, at a minimum, are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes characterized by food consumption gaps and/or negative livelihood coping strategies, such as selling off livestock and productive assets to purchase food.

    • Insecurity in Karamoja continues to disrupt normal livelihood activities, hindering households’ access to crop fields, livestock grazing areas, and markets. Recurrent livestock raids and thefts are of particular concern. According to WFP’s February/March 2022 food security and nutrition assessment (FSNA), 53 percent of households reported they no longer own livestock; this percentage has likely increased since then due to both frequent livestock thefts and unsustainable levels of distressed livestock sales. Declining livestock ownership leaves households with low coping capacity during poor crop production years, eliminating a source of income to purchase food, limiting access to nutritious milk and blood, and reducing their ability to plow fields for crop cultivation and offer herding labor opportunities to other households.

    • As the lean season progresses through August in Karamoja, an increasing number of households are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes and some households will likely deteriorate to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) as the size of their food consumption gaps widens. Typical food and income sources will become increasingly scarce, moderated only by the start of the rainy season in April, which brings seasonal improvements in agricultural labor opportunities, wild food availability, and livestock health. Sorghum prices are also projected to rise by up to 30 percent through May, peaking near 1,500 USH/kg due to limited local supply. Many households who have stocked seeds for next season’s planting are likely to consume them during the lean season due to a lack of food. Ultimately, while the total population in need in Uganda in 2023 is expected to be similar to that in 2022, the food insecure population in Karamoja, specifically, is expected to be higher at the peak of the 2023 lean season than the same period of 2022. Sustained, inadequate food intake is also likely to lead to elevated malnutrition levels within the Serious to Critical range during the lean season in the absence of assistance.

    • Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to persist through at least May in greater northern and eastern Uganda, where crop production has been below average for several consecutive seasons. According to international forecasts, the March to May 2023 first rainy season in bimodal areas is most likely to be below average. While it is too early to predict the precise timing and distribution of rainfall, past below-average rainfall seasons have been characterized by a late onset of rainfall and/or poorly distributed rainfall – including dry spells – during the early vegetative and flowering crop stages. These anomalies have impeded cultivation activities and delayed the availability of early-maturing crop varieties. Consequently, it is highly likely that household access to food and income from seasonal labor opportunities and green harvests will be delayed and/or below average. At the same time, households will also face above-average staple food prices due to tight national and regional supplies.

    • Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected across refugee settlements, with a sub-set of the population (amounting to less than 20 percent of each settlement’s population) in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). West Nile settlements – where approximately 40 percent of refugee households cultivate their own crops, based on WFP’s 2022 FSNA – are of highest concern, given their vulnerability to another consecutive below-average harvest due to the anticipated, below-average March to May rainfall season. Humanitarian food assistance will remain the key factor preventing worse levels of acute food insecurity; however, the underfunding of planned humanitarian food and non-food assistance is expected to increase the population’s vulnerability to negative health outcomes and reduce their ability to cope with future shocks. In addition to regular emergency food assistance – which is the most important food source for most refugees – humanitarian interventions provide essential water and sanitation services, health and nutrition services, and livelihoods support. With the continued re-prioritization of funds to ensure food assistance distributions can be sustained, reductions to these other essential services are likely to occur.

    • In monitored markets across bimodal Uganda, retail prices for beans, maize grain, and sorghum declined by approximately 10-35 percent from November to December, driven by increased supply and reduced demand after the second season harvest boosted both household and market stocks. Nevertheless, prices remained 10 to 55 percent higher in December compared to the previous year and the five-year average, and a rising trend is expected to resume due to a seasonal increase in institutional demand after schools re-open in early February. High prices are driven by below-average domestic stocks, linked not only to below-average domestic legume and cereal production in 2022, but also tight regional supplies and above-average regional demand. For example, maize and sorghum exports to Kenya in the last quarter of 2022 were 115 percent and 231 percent higher, respectively, than the five-year average.

    This Key Message Update provides a high-level analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography. Learn more here.

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