Livestock ownership and human nutrition in Karamoja

Karamoja is a predominantly pastoralist region in the northeast of Uganda characterised by a semi-arid savanna and a highly variable climate. Pastoralism has been the main source of livelihood for centuries but is not recognised as a viable production system by the Ugandan Government and many development actors. On the contrary, pastoralism has been called “evil” and “backwards”, and continuous efforts have been made to settle the Karamojong and make them grow crops, claiming that Karamoja would then become the country’s food basket.

After decades of insecurity and a disruptive disarmament exercise, many Karamojong have lost their livestock. Current estimates of the proportion of households owning livestock vary from 40 to 70%, leaving a large segment of society dependent on rainfed crop farming. In view of the variable climatic conditions, it is not a surprise to hear – year after year – grim messages about famine in Karamoja and calls for food aid. In 2015 in particular, the region experienced a long dry spell with almost no harvest recorded.

More and more studies are indicating that pastoralism is the most viable production system for Karamoja, leaving aside the green belt in the west. For example, the latest version of the Food security and nutrition assessment in Karamoja Region (Jan 2016, 60pp), an extensive biannual study of UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) in collaboration with Makerere University, emphasises the positive impact of livestock on household nutritional status and provides statistical evidence: “Household livestock ownership had a significant association with malnutrition. The more the number of TLUs [tropical livestock units] a household had, the less was the risk of having a malnourished child.

Posted on 23 June 2016 in News