Icon Our WorkSituational Analysis of Food, Nutrition and Income Security in Karamoja: “A normalising view of Karamoja”

The Karamoja sub-region of north-eastern Uganda has had a long history of being left behind. This can be traced back to the colonial period, when it was treated as a region of “exception” within the overall rule of the Ugandan state. Over years, such treatment has relegated Karamoja to the margins of the state formation process, preventing its inhabitants from establishing proper legal frameworks, accessing legitimate political representation and benefitting from public goods and infrastructure.  

Development interventions have thus far set out to treat the symptoms of chronic food, nutrition and income insecurity in the sub-region – largely prioritising agricultural development. Over the past three decades, humanitarian aid, targeted poor relief and workfare schemes have proven to be the most popular methods adopted by the Ugandan government and its development partners – having little impact on its communities. While these may have somewhat contributed to the avoidance of famine episodes in Karamoja, they have never succeeded in promoting its inclusion in the country’s development, nor in advancing the Karamojong’s overall wellbeing.  

Development Pathways has supported the World Food Programme in undertaking a situation analysis in Karamoja to uncover the underlying causes of food, nutrition and income insecurity in the sub-region. The research (carried out in 2017) was undertaken from a lifecycle and multisectoral perspective and in reference to the livelihoods framework, to effectively analyse the impact of specific risks and shocks on the livelihood vulnerability of the Karamojong. The purpose of this report is to generate ideas for innovative social policy solutions and provide recommendations for addressing the structural causes of chronic food, nutrition and income insecurity in the sub-region, and promoting its inclusion in countrywide development.  

The report finds that the roots of failed development in the sub-region cannot be traced to the Karamojong’s own failings. Rather, the overused narrow, sectoral approach to development – while neglecting important issues relating to labour market dynamics, land tenure and power relations – has resulted in the production of an exogenous narrative in which the Karamojong are characterised as “lazy”, “idle” and “aid-dependent”. The stigmatising narrative has been internalised by communities, heavily impacting notions of identity and self-worth. The report also finds that agriculture is proving to be untenable as a major livelihood strategy in the sub-region and if the Karamojong are to produce enough food for their own subsistence, there must be significant investment in irrigation.  

This report offers a different approach to analysing the failed development in Karamoja – it takes a “normalising view” in order to illustrate that the long withstanding “exceptionalism” prism cast over the sub-region has been responsible for the reproduction of negative development indicators. The analysis, therefore, provides a different interpretation whereby Karamoja’s problems are found to be similar to those faced by other rural areas of northern Uganda. As such, if the government and its development partners do not acknowledge the livelihood transition that has occurred in the sub-region over the past fifty years – which has increased impoverishment and intersectional inequality – their interventions may be the cause of further destitution.  

Read the report here.

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  • Very impressive report/findings/recommendations. As some one who participated in the research and comes from Karamoja, I think this report needs to be shared and discussed widely with key government, non government and community leaders. I am very confident the recommendations can create positive change in the Karamoja sub region if implemented.


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