Pastoralists move to north Uganda in search of food

Monday February 20 2017

A herder drives cattle to a new location in search of water and pasture. As Uganda grapples with food insecurity, which is termed as a near crisis, it is also dealing with an influx of internal and external pastoralists searching for water and pasture for their livestock in northern part of the country. PHOTO | FILE

As Uganda grapples with food insecurity, which is termed as a near crisis, it is also dealing with an influx of internal and external pastoralists searching for water and pasture for their livestock in northern Uganda.

Internally, pastoralists from the cattle corridor, spanning western Uganda and Karamoja sub-regions, have crossed into several districts in northern Uganda since last year. An estimated 5,000 pastoralists entered the north with over 10,000 livestock from Karamoja alone.

Externally, northern Uganda has experienced an influx of pastoral communities from South Sudan and Kenya, through the West Nile and Karamoja borders.

Estimates put South Sudanese livestock numbers through West Nile at over 10,000, while those that have entered through Karamoja are yet to be established.

“The water and pasture stress is compounded by the Turkana from Kenya. They have crossed with over 60,000 animals to Kobebe dam in Karamoja. The Topath of South Sudan have also crossed to dams in Kaabong,” said Uganda’s Agriculture Minister Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja.

According to the National Meteorology Department, the dry season that started in November 2016 is expected to last until March 2017. The prolonged drought led to scorched crops and pasture, and dry water sources.



There is the potential for conflict not just between the Karimojong and South Sudanese pastoralists, who have a past of raiding each other, but also over the scarce resources. Already, conflicts between outsiders and locals have been reported.

Traditionally, the Karimojong, Turkana and South Sudanese pastoralists would raid each other for cattle, rape women and attack locals wherever they moved to in search of water and pasture.

While such behaviour was discouraged in Uganda through the disarmament process, latest developments indicate that the harsh climatic conditions have reignited the hostility: Communities in northern Uganda have reported damage to crops, violence and rape.

“The movement has resulted in displacement of people and destruction of crops. The local communities are living in fear of the herdsmen, but we assure them that the government is addressing the matter to have systematic and orderly movement of the herdsmen,” said John Byabagambi, the Minister for Karamoja Affairs.

The influx of pastoralists has placed an additional burden on social services like health, water and food.

Last week, Mr Ssempijja told parliament that the food insecurity situation was getting worse — the number of people in need of food relief rose from 1.3 million in November 2016, to 1.6 million in January 2017. 

The worsening food security is a result of La Nina, a dry spell following the El Nino climate cycle. A Food Security Analysis, carried out by the Agriculture Ministry last July, shows that about 40 per cent of pulses and 80 per cent of cereals from the first crop season in 2016 were lost. In addition, there was a 20 per cent decrease in livestock holdings.

Food insecurity

While 69 per cent of the population is not food insecure, increased regional demand has caused the price of food to rise, with farmers selling to local and regional traders from Kenya, the DRC, South Sudan and Tanzania. This could result in a shortage of seeds for planting if the farmers sell everything.

Uganda has not openly announced a ban on trade on food commodities beyond its borders, but it is warning citizens to use the remaining stock sparingly.

“There is a fear that if the available food stocks are not managed well, the situation can quickly deteriorate to the emergency and famine stages within the next two months,” said Mr Ssempijja.

The food situation has stabilised in Tanzania. Out of 26 regions, 11 had excess food, 12 had adequate food supply, and three had a shortage.

Prices of food, especially maize, have risen in some regions since late last year due to increased demand. The government relaxed its ban on food exports, and allowed export of 1.5 million tonnes of grain to the DRC, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Tanzania is upbeat about the outcome of an agricultural initiative expected to boost revenues to $1.2 billion and transform the southern corridor of the country into one of East Africa’s bread baskets.

Implemented under the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania, the scheme expects to triple the area’s agricultural output by bringing approximately 350,000 hectares into profitable production.

The initiative is part of the government’s efforts to transform agriculture, which remains Tanzania’s economic mainstay, contributing nearly 30 per cent to its GDP and about 70 per cent to total employment. Government statistics indicate that the sector grew at a rate of 3.2 per cent in the second quarter of last year.

Additional reporting by Beatrice Materu and Chabi Barasa