“This can’t be Karamoja,” I thought, looking around me. I had read the reports, which focus on the vulnerability and poverty of this region in northern Uganda, home to the Karamojong, a nomadic people with their own language, traditions, and customs. But it’s one thing to read about a place, and quite another to visit it. Karamoja was stunningly beautiful: there were boulders the size of mountains scattered across the horizon, vibrant green bushes and pasture atop red clay earth, and uninterrupted blue skies.
Recently, I had traveled to Karamoja on a field trip to review the implementation of a government safety net, the Third Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF III), which had scaled up in response to the recent drought.
Uganda’s population is predominantly rural and is limited in its ability to cope with production shocks. The country’s smallholder farmers, and especially the poorest 40% of households, are extremely vulnerable to drought [Uganda poverty study, WB 2016]. Drought response in Uganda has primarily been financed by international donors and delivered through humanitarians and NGOs, with the government playing a coordination role. This ad hoc, reactive approach presents drawbacks, including delayed response.