SLU news

Malnutrition widespread in drylands

Published: 19 April 2023
A young child in Kenya is being measured

The group of researchers in the Drylands Transform project that have gathered data through a household survey are now getting their first results. For example, out of 944 households interviewed, 25-50% had children that were malnourished or at risk in the different areas. But for women, the rate of malnutrition was even higher. Preliminary results also show that families face many crises and conflicts in the drylands.

So far, two population-based surveys have been conducted: the first one in June 2022, and a follow-up survey in February 2023. The sampling area was planned to include the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) sites and the livestock cafés (yellow marking in the map below). However, sometimes people had migrated and had to be traced in other areas.

Our research group is interested in livelihoods and wellbeing, and in factors that are related to resilience to seasonality, climate change and other challenges of the Karamoja region. With both quantitative and qualitative studies, the perspective of residents in this vulnerable setting shall be captured, says Barbara Schumann, Public health researcher and one of the leaders of the survey team in Drylands Transform.

Interviews were conducted with both male and female respondents, covering topics about household composition, livelihoods, economy, migration, shocks and conflicts, nutrition and health. Before the follow-up started, feedback from the baseline survey was given the communities. 

Preliminary results from the baseline survey showed overall poor wellbeing and households facing a number of internal and external challenges. However, this overall picture hides large differences between sites for many household characteristics and livelihoods, especially the West Pokot part of the sample is different from the other three locations.

Livelihoods varied substantially between study sites. Only Turkana households relied mainly on livestock, West Pokot households predominantly on both livestock and crop prodcution, while in Moroto, many had income from other activities such as selling products or working in mines.

Many households reported having faced various crises in the last six months, such as deaths or diseases of livestock (70 and 73%, respectively), drop in sales prices (42%) or productivity loss (41%). Reports of livestock raids were very common in Moroto (93%) and insecurity due to violent conflicts (82%), but less prevalent or absent in the other locations. Furthermore, harvest reductions (70%), lack of food (58%) and water shortage (31%) were named as challenges, partly with large differences between locations.

Furthermore, conflicts within and between communities were more often named in Moroto than in the other locations. Less than half of men and women reported intrafamily conflicts, but here, too, reports differed between locations and partly also between male and female respondents of the same household.

During the interviews, in each household one child aged 6-59 months and the caretaking female were measured (height, weight, upper arm circumference) to determine their level of malnutrition.

We found malnutrition of young children being widespread, highest in the pastoral locations (Moroto and Turkana) where about 40% of measured children were undernurished or at risk, and lowest in the agro-pastoral locations (27% in Napak and 21% in West Pokot).

Malnutrition among women was even higher in all locations, especially in Turkana, where 76% were malnourished.


Logotype for the project Drylands Transform

Drylands Transform

Drylands Transform is a 4-year research project funded by Formas that started up during the Covid-19 pandemic in October 2020. It includes an interdisciplinary research team representing SLU and seven other universities and international organisations from Sweden, Kenya and Uganda. 

Visit the website for Drylands Transform.


Alice Turinawe, Dr., Lecturer
Department of Agribusiness and Natural Resource Economics, Makerere University, Uganda, +256 782 324841

Agneta Hörnell, Professor
Department of Food, Nutrition and Culinary Science, Umeå University, +46907869568

Barbara Schumann, Senior Lecturer
Department of Health and Caring Sciences, Linnaeus University, +46480446279

Kristina Lindvall, Researcher
Department of Epidemiology and Global Health, Umeå University, +46907865906

Ingrid Öborn, Professor
Department of Crop Production Ecology, SLU, +4618671274, +46703703705