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03.02.2016

Food security situation, Karamoja, Uganda

AgriSense STARS is supporting food security monitoring and reporting for the remote region of Karamoja Uganda. Catherine Nakalembe, a STARS-AgriSense team member from the University of Maryland, visited four districts in Karamoja of Northeastern Uganda in January 2016 to collect ground data on the food security situation in support of the Department of Disaster Preparedness, Management and Relief in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). As early as June 2015 GLAM East Africa developed by the AgriSense project already indicated below average vegetation and crop conditions. August 2015 marked the 2nd year of widespread extreme crop failure and poor harvests. 2015 also marks the 5th year of below average harvest and extended lean seasons in the sub-region. See also our earlier item on the Uganda crop failure.

Figure 1. A Lady in Rupa shows us what she has stored in her granary

Satellite and field based near real-time monitoring of weather patterns using the GLAM East Africa portal indicate continued deterioration of living conditions in December 2015. Complete crop failure was verified majorly in Moroto, Kaboong, and Napak where most of the villages have nothing available from own harvest. Currently there is very little effort towards addressing the current famine situation which adds to the risks faced by households in the region.

Figure 2. Empty granary in Kadilakeny Village, Moroto


The region is currently experiencing the second worst agricultural drought since 2009 (see figure 3 and 4). By September 2015, an estimated 700,000 people (more than 50% of households) were in stress phase due to complete failure. According to the The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report of January 2015 about 50% are now at Crisis level and at least 8% at emergency level food insecurity.

  • Figure 3. The development of NDVI in Karamoja over time. Satellite information indicates that 2015 vegetation conditions (red line) ranked in the bottom three in the past 15 years (after 2009, dark blue, and 2002, not depicted) and that by September 30th had reached the poorest on record, similar to 2009 conditions. However vegetation conditions improved beginning mid-November due to El Nino rains. Hence, current pasture conditions are good and animal body health is better. Figure 3. The development of NDVI in Karamoja over time. Satellite information indicates that 2015 vegetation conditions (red line) ranked in the bottom three in the past 15 years (after 2009, dark blue, and 2002, not depicted) and that by September 30th had reached the poorest on record, similar to 2009 conditions. However vegetation conditions improved beginning mid-November due to El Nino rains. Hence, current pasture conditions are good and animal body health is better.

Figure 4. Evidence of increased deterioration of crop and pasture conditions from June (green=good) to September (Brown=failure). The November and December images show the improved situation (green colors).

The impacts of the 2015 failed crop due to drought are likely to be the worst in the past 30 years. Failed crop and livestock disease outbreak in 2014, followed by completely failure in 2005 and the likely extension of the lean season in 2016 due to La Nina, cause a very critical situation. Complete crop failure has been reported in the region and households across the region are expected to suffer except for the few that rely on livestock.

The January 2016 food security assessment was carried out in the districts of Moroto, Napak, Kotido, and Kaabong and overall the situation has further deteriorated. There is increased out-migration of people in Napak and Moroto to neighboring regions in search of water, food, and pasture for cattle.  Left behind are the vulnerable groups constituting; the elderly, young and the sick who are not able to take care of themselves. By September 2015 the food security situation had reached famine levels however, ensuing from El Nino rains, pasture condition begun to improve in November and by mid-December livestock body health begun to improve. The green colors in the November and December images of figure 4 show the improved situation. Currently some parts of the region are still experiencing some rains and some areas have water and pasture but farmers are hesitant to plant due to weather uncertainty.

Current Food Situation (February 2016)

Karamoja currently has an estimated 500,000 people (about 50% of the total population) who are severely food insecure. The current food security crisis represents the worst crisis in history particularly if current El Nino turns into the opposite phenomenon La Nina which brings dry, hot weather in the region. The Government of Uganda and its development partners are involved in several programs which are aimed at averting the current situation in the region. Agricultural development though heavily invested in has been negatively impacted by the erratic and unreliable rainfall.

Agrisense-STARS is continuing to support the OPM and is currently working with the department to train staff members to use the GLAM Portal and in developing electronic field data collection tools.