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Issue 07 | March 2023
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Local governments' response to food security: a case of Karamoja region

walter By Walter Akena, Research Officer, ACODE

Several emerging challenges such as climate change, rising food prices, and the growing population are increasingly aggravating food security as an urgent priority for local governments in Uganda. Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The four pillars of food security are availability, access, utilization and stability.1 This article explores strategies for response to food security issues by local governments using the case of the Karamoja region.


The world is facing a food security crisis of historic proportions. Countries are already reeling from increased poverty, hunger, and malnutrition as a result of COVID-19, climate shocks, and protracted conflict such as the Russia-Ukraine war.2 The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) estimates that as many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night and that the number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared from 135 million to 345 million since 2019. Meanwhile, a total of 50 million people in 45 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.3 According to the Global Report on Food Security by Food Security Information Network (FSIN), between 1.5 million and 2 million Uganda faced a food crisis in February-May 2022.4 Over the last three years, food insecurity has increased in the Karamoja region (Abim, Amudat, Karenga, Kotido, Moroto, Nabilatuk, Nakapiripirit, and Napak), from 29 per cent in 2020 to 55 per cent in 2022. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Fewsnet) estimated that about 518,000 people from Karamoja’s poorest families face critical food insecurity resulting from two seasons of crop failure. Of the 518,000 people with high levels of food insecurity, 428,000 are experiencing phase three (crisis levels of food insecurity), and 90,000 are at phase four (emergency levels of food insecurity)5.

Karamoja is an arid region in the northeast of Uganda. Annual rainfall varies, but averages roughly 800mm/year, falling unimodally (i.e., rainfall in a single, continuous season traditionally from roughly April to October). Therefore, those living in Karamoja have historically relied on pastoralism and agropastoralism as their primary sources of livelihood. Mobility serves as a hedge to the region’s natural rainfall variability and long dry seasons.6

Further, Karamoja has been plagued by decades of intense violent conflicts. This violence manifested most commonly as large-scale cattle raids between pastoralist groups of different ethnicities. There was a multitude of factors that drove this violence7, including a proliferation of small arms which escalated following the fall of Idi Amin’s government in 1979, the commercialization of cattle raiding, and environmental shocks leading to high rates of cattle loss. Collectively, these led to the breakdown of traditional governance systems that had historically governed the raids. As a result, retaliations and counter-retaliations have grown increasingly violent. At the peak of this violence, Karamoja was one of the most violent places on the planet.8

The lasting vulnerabilities brought about by its violent past and rapidly changing socioeconomic structures have made Karamoja particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. The literature describing climate change in Karamoja and the interviews with reposndents in Karamoja for this write-up detailed increasing rainfall variability, a shorter rainy season, and a longer, more intense dry season. Those impacts have, in turn, compromised livelihoods and put new pressures on socioeconomic systems. All this has culminated in high poverty levels where 65.7% of the people in Karamoja are living under the poverty line.9

Structural causes of hunger and how local governments in Karamoja can respond

Food insecurity is one of the development challenges that Uganda faces, which calls for strategic interventions at all levels to enable the country to meet its obligations towards many of its hungry citizens. While issues of food security are often addressed at all levels of government, local governments play an important role in dealing with food concerns on the ground. To identify and prioritise actions aimed at promoting food security, local governments in the Karamoja region must have a clear understanding and appreciation of the structural and underlying causes of food insecurity. The main drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition in the Karamoja region can be broadly categorised into; i) Governance (localised conflict and insecurity); ii) Environment and Climate (climate shocks and hazards); and iii) Economic and production issues (food shortage, structural poverty and increasing food prices).10


Weak governance structures characterised by war, conflict and lack of security play a major role in deepening hunger and food insecurity.11 The majority (60 per cent) of the 690 million people faced with chronic hunger live in countries that are experiencing violence and conflict. Karamoja region remains a centre of protracted conflict in the form of cattle thefts and raids. This volatile security situation has had a disruptive effect on livelihood activities in the region. Livestock marketing was disrupted because people moving animals to town for sale were a major target. People could not safely travel to distant gardens to farm or access the bush to collect wild fruits, burn charcoal, or collect firewood for fear of being attacked. Social exclusion along economic (the rich vs the poor) and ethnic lines (ethnic minority who are the Ik and Tepeth versus the ethnic majority) have left the poor and the ethnic minority with a deep sense of marginalisation and deprivation of opportunities for participation in economic, social and civic processes. Considering that there are close links between social exclusion, violent conflict and insecurity both of which have causes and consequences; local government leaders in the Karamoja region have the opportunity of promoting values, relations and institutions that enable all people to participate in social, economic and political life based on equality of rights, equity and dignity as a long term strategy of addressing the entrench insecurity and its attendant impacts on food security.

Environment and climate

Karamoja’s population is highly dependent on subsistence agriculture, which is sensitive to climate conditions. As a result, the region suffers chronic food insecurity due to the combined impacts of high levels of poverty, low human development and unfavourable climatic and weather conditions. Management of the environment and natural resources was devolved and has been the responsibility of local governments since the adoption of the decentralisation policy in the 1990s.16 The vulnerability of the region to the adverse impact of climate change is exacerbated by the limited capacities of local governments in Karamoja to adequately prepare for, respond to and manage disasters which is attributed to the under-resourcing of the District Disaster Management Committees (DDMC) of local governments within the region.17

Economic and production issues

Poverty and inadequate access to food, often resulting from high unemployment and not enough decent work; inadequate social protection systems; unequal distribution of productive resources such as land, water, credit and knowledge; insufficient purchasing power for low-wage workers and the rural and urban poor; and low productivity of resources; and inadequate growth in agricultural production are some of the key economic drivers of hunger. Karamoja region is largely considered poor and a disproportionate number (61 per cent) of its 1.4 million people live in absolute poverty.18 Despite several development initiatives by the government and partners, poverty in the Karamoja region has remained pervasive. Karamoja’s collective GDP accounts for less than 1 per cent of Uganda’s total GDP19


Karamoja region continues to have the highest food insecurity and malnutrition levels in Uganda due to factors related to inadequate food access, and poor dietary diversity caused by; structural poverty, insecurity and the adverse impact of climate change. Several efforts have been made by national-level actors including emergency food relief yet the situation has persisted. This article has demonstrated that local governments are critical in transforming this trajectory and have a role to play in response to food security issues through; mindset change for transformed security, increased food production, and reducing the unsustainable human activities on the environment.

Key recommendations

Address insecurity in Karamoja: There is a need for continuous disarmament in Karamoja, proving security against animal theft within and neighbouring communities and addressing cross-border cattle rustling. Further, there is a need to respond to problems where conflict or tensions limit mobility, such as the Acholi-Jie border. This would require facilitating peace meetings and resource agreements in these locations between male elders, herders and farmers, LCIs, and sub-county and district officials.

Mindset Change: there is a need to emphasize a transition from pastoralism and agropastoralism to other sedentary forms of livelihoods. This is mainly because there have been extensive programs aiming at increasing crop production primarily through area expansion but no real quantifiable positive outcomes such as increased production or food security have been realized. The local government leaders, therefore, need to intensely sensitise citizens about the need to transition to sedentary forms of livelihoods.

Address the adverse impact of climate change as a cause of food insecurity: To address the adverse impact of climate change, local government leaders should; As a policy action to avert the adverse impact of climate change, particularly drought, local governments have the responsibilities of; enforcing implementation and compliance with environmental regulations and laws; and increasing the level of community awareness on sustainable management of the environment and natural resources to increase the level of community awareness on the importance of water and the need to conserve it, particularly concerning hygiene and drought.20 Furthermore, as a mechanism to prepare for worst-case scenarios, is within the confines of local governments to establish measures for household and community food reserves by, for instance, establishing and maintaining adequate grain stores for famine-prone communities. Suffice it to note that Kotido district banned the sale of food crops as a way of creating a food reserve.21 Other districts within the region could adopt the same measure to address the future crisis.

Increase food production in Karamoja for improved food security: local government leaders in the region should mobilise farmers for increased production and productivity for food security using improved production technologies. The production departments should recruit and deploy appropriately skilled agricultural extension workers to support farmers throughout the process of planting, weeding and post-harvest handling. This should be coupled with the necessary tools and infrastructure especially water for production; infrastructure for animal health; improve input supply and extension services for those practising cultivation; and establishment of markets.

Strengthen disaster response to address the food crisis in Karamoja: there is a need to strengthen the capacities of local governments in the region to manage the disasters. Local governments across the region should work on reviving the District Disaster Management Committees, and the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development should provide the required funding to make the revival of the DDMCs possible. The relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies should build the capacities of local government leaders in disaster response and management, and the local government leaders in the region should mainstream disaster response and management in their development planning.

Address economic and production issues: Local governments are pivots for all social and economic development initiatives and must influence the structures and direction of their local economies.22 There is an opportunity for local governments in Karamoja to transform the economic trajectory of the region through the adoption and implementation of the National Local Economic Development Policy of 2014. The LED policy focuses on enhancing and stimulating investments and opportunities that promote sustainable economic growth within the territorial Local Governments as well as increasing household incomes.23 Through strategies such as the Parish Development Model (PDM), local governments in the region have an opportunity to organise and coordinate farmers at village and Parish levels and other value chain actors through area-based commodity clusters to increase production and address scarcity.24 This would also require prioritising investment in infrastructure to improve the economic development of the region, including secondary roads, electricity, infrastructure improvements for livestock markets, and telecommunications.

  1. Committee on World Food Security (CFS) (2014): Global Strategic Framework for Food Security & Nutrition (GSF) Third Version
  2. USAID (2022). USAID Response To Global Food Security Crisis.
  3. World Food Program (2022): Annual Review 2021
  4. Map
  5. The East African (August 24, 2022): Irony of hunger deaths in Karamoja amid plenty of climate adaptation technologies
  6. Blog Article
  7. Kennedy Mkutu Agade (2010).Complexities of Livestock Raiding In Karamoja. Vol. 14, No. 2, Special Issue: Disarmament as Development for Karamoja: A New Chapter in Dismantling Pastoral Production in Uganda (2010), pp. 87-105.
  8. James Bevan (2008).Crisis in Karamoja Armed Violence and the Failure of Disarmament in Uganda’s Most Deprived Region
  9. MoFPED (2022). Poverty Status Report
  10. ECHO (June, 2022): Uganda, Karamoja sub region - Acute food insecurity and malnutrition
  11. Committee on World Food Security (CFS) (2014): Global Strategic Framework for Food Security & Nutrition (GSF) Third Version
  12. World Food Program (2020): Winning the Peace in Humanitarian Emergencies
  13. Karamoja Resilience Support Unit (2022): Food Security, Nutrition, And Conflict Assessment In Karamoja, Uganda: Key Trends One Year After The End Of Covid-19 Restrictions
  14. Sandra Ayoo, Robert Opio, Oliver T. Kakisa(2012): Karamoja Situational Analysis, December 2012 – January 2013. CARE International in Uganda.
  15. C-ADAPT (2017): The Impacts of Climate Change on Food Security and Livelihoods in Karamoja
  16. See Part II of the Second Schedule of the Local Governments Act, Cap. 243 as amended.
  17. USAID (July 2021): Drought Risk Management In Karamoja: A Review of Functionality and Capacity
  18. Uganda Bureau of Statistics (2021). 2021 Statistical Abstract.
  19. Estimating District GDP in Uganda (2017) Prepared for USAID Uganda by: Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures, Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver Authors: Mickey Rafa, Jonathan D. Moyer, Xuantong Wang, and Paul Sutton.
  20. OPM (October, 2010). The National Policy for Disaster Preparedness and Management
  21. See article
  22. Ministry of Local Government (May 2022): National Strategy For Local Economic Development, Re-igniting Local Resources and Self Help 2021/22 - 2024/25.
  23. Ministry of Local Government (February, 2014): Local Economic Development Policy.
  24. Ministry of Local Government (June, 2021) Implementation Guidelines for Parish Development Model

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