Severe dryness keeps very poor households in certain areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3)
The month of July coincides with the harvesting period for most crops planted between March and April in areas across the country. The main food crops harvested during this time are maize, beans, cowpeas, and tubers. It is one of the months of the year when very poor and poor households are able to feed themselves from household production, with the possibility of selling part of their crops. However, this year’s harvests are below-average as a result of the severe dryness in many parts of the country since April.
Rainfall. The rainy season, which generally runs from March/April to June, was extremely erratic during that entire period. The start-of-season was delayed by more than 40 days in Nord-Est, upper Artibonite, and parts of Sud-Est Department. The month of May, which is typically one of the rainiest months, was marked by rainfall deficits of between 100 and 200 mm in practically all parts of the country. The average rainfall deficit in parts of Grand’Anse and the Sud Departments was 300 mm, which normally get over 500 mm of rain between May and July. According to
This general decline in rainfall may be associated with the developing El Niño conditions since March, translating into below-average seasonal rainfall not only in Haiti, but in many parts of the Caribbean. The areas of the country hardest hit by severe dryness are Nord-Ouest, Sud-Est, and Nord-Est Departments, along with parts of the southern peninsula, Ouest, and Nord Departments.
Effects of severe dryness on crop production. While rainfall began on time and facilitated crop planting activities in certain parts of Sud-Est Department, particularly in Thiotte and Mapou, significant delays in other areas prevented the timely planting of crops. This was also the case in many areas on the Central Plateau. The water deficits created by the low rainfall delayed the growth of crops such as maize and beans in practically all parts of the country.
A mission conducted in May by CNSA (the National Food Security Agency) and its partners in Sud-Est Department, where crops had been planted a little earlier in March, reported the wilting of crops in nearly all communes. Reported losses of maize and bean crops in the communes of Anse-à-Pitres, Grand-Gosier, Belle-Anse, and Jacmel, in particular, are close to 100 percent. The situation in non-irrigated areas of Sud Department is nearly the same. Catholic Relief Services (
There are equally large crop losses in Nippes, the upper Artibonite, Nord-Ouest, and the eastern areas of Ouest Department. With the erratic rainfall activity in other areas of the country such as the Plateau Central, Nord, the lower Artibonite, and parts of Ouest Department, production levels in these areas will be under or near those of the 2014 spring season as assessed in July 2014 by CNSA and its partners. Fields of crops on the Central Plateau planted between the end of May and the beginning of June are currently suffering from water stress, which is causing maize crops in areas with shallow soils to wilt. However, there are ongoing harvests of short-cycle, more or less drought-tolerant crops such as the cowpea crops grown in Thomassique and certain villages in Hinche and Maïssade, as well as in the North. There are also harvests of off-season mango crops underway in the North, on the Central Plateau, and in many other parts of the country such as Tiburon.
Impact of severe dryness on livestock-raising activities. With the exception of the deaths of livestock reported by pastoralists in the Nord-Ouest and Sud-Est, so far, the severe dryness does not appear to have seriously affected animal production. The severity of dryness in these two departments and the scarcity of surface water sources in affected areas have been largely responsible for reducing the supply of water for livestock. So far, there has been no shortage of pasture in most parts of the country, where livestock are getting enough to eat by feeding on the tops of crops. On the other hand, with severe dryness preventing most farmers from planting any crops, according to reports by Concern Worldwide, an NGO active in that area, pastoralists in Gonâve are resorting to free-range grazing to access sufficient fodder for animals.
Effect on domestic water supplies. Households in Sud-Est Department between Belle-Anse and Anse-à-Pitres are facing serious water supply issues. According to school leaders, classrooms were without teachers in May and June due to a lack of water for washing. A number of school meal programs were suspended periodically due to a lack of water for cooking. The drying up of households’ usual water sources has forced them to travel longer distances in search of water and has periodically prevented households from preparing meals. There has also been a shortage of domestic water supplies in Chardonnières in Sud Department since June. Many rivers have been dry or at their low water mark since June, which normally only occurs between December and February, during the dry season. According to a report by Concern Worldwide, many surface water sources used by the local population in Gonâve have run completely dry. The atypical and extremely low water levels in rivers on the Central Plateau could reduce rice production in the lower Artibonite.
Effect on livelihoods. Depending on the area, proceeds from crop sales account for anywhere from five to 70 percent of the income of poor households and crop production provides 20 to 25 percent of food supplies for some households’ consumption. With crop losses in some areas reaching up to 80 percent of average, poor households will have a hard time filling this gap. In general, wage labor is an extremely important source of income for very poor households, accounting for over 35 percent of their income in most parts of the country. By limiting farming activities, the severe dryness is hurting demand for labor.
In addition, the country’s small-scale fishing activities are vulnerable to climatic hazards. In fact, the rough seas throughout the entire period between May and July have reduced fishing activities since the month of May, whose rudimentary equipment precludes their engaging in high-seas fishing, which is reducing the incomes of households dependent on fishing activities.
With the crop losses in many parts of the country, markets are playing an increasingly important role as a source of food. More and more poor households are engaging in petty trade with the help of loans from micro-credit institutions. However, the amount of income earned from these activities is negligible, since most tradespeople sell more or less the same items and, thus, take longer to turn over their inventories, which cuts further into their income, thereby weakening their purchasing power.
Trends in food prices. There are normally sharp declines in the prices of staple foods such as beans and ground maize in the months of June and July, driven by harvests of spring crops. However, this season, the trend is reversed. Staple food prices are rising, in some cases increasing above the five-year average and 2014 prices for the same time of year by wide margins. This is a reflection of the poor crop performance for the spring season, which is considered Haiti’s most important growing season. Prices for maize meal on the Port-au-Prince and Jérémie markets are up from May 2015 by 11 percent and 20 percent, respectively. Compared with figures for last year, prices for maize are up by anywhere from five percent on the Cap-Haitien market to as much as 108 percent on the Jérémie market.
Black bean prices on nearly all markets have risen by anywhere from eight percent to 30 percent since May, except on the Gonaïves and Cap-Haitien markets, where they are more or less stable. There are extremely large price hikes of anywhere from 43 percent to 108 percent on all markets since last year.
In general, prices for imported foods such as rice, wheat flour, sugar, and vegetable oils on most markets are stable in spite of the steady appreciation in the value of the U.S. Dollar against the Haitian Gourde. However, according to the FAO price index, prices for certain foods such as cereals and vegetable oils edged upwards in June and July 2015, but are down by 17 percent from June 2014.
In addition, Hoy, a daily paper in the Dominican Republic, is reporting hikes in the prices of certain crops in the month of June, which it attributes to severe dryness and the organization of farmers into cooperatives. In fact, there were rather steep rises in the prices of market garden crops such as peppers, tomatoes, and potatoes, for example, during the course of June. Moreover, the price of broken rice, which is widely consumed by poor households, jumped from 85 gourdes per bag in June to 105 gourdes in July in border areas on the Central Plateau, for example, most likely, due to a severe dryness-induced drops in local rice production.
Deportation of undocumented immigrants to Haiti. According to the UNOCHA, the Dominican Republic’s Civil Defense Administration reported an influx of 20,205 people through official and unofficial border crossings between Haiti and the Dominican Republic between June 21 and July 18, 2015. However, the recent measures taken by the Dominican authorities against undocumented immigrants are forcing them to flee the country. The International Organization for Migration (
Humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian assistance projects such as the USAID-funded Kore Lavi project continue to provide services to poor households. Donors such as
While officials at the central government level are slow in reacting to the severe dryness, there is a clear awareness of the problems created by this phenomenon at the local level. Thus, at the urging of departmental delegates (government representatives) in Sud-Est, Sud, Artibonite, and Nord-Ouest Departments, operatives in NGOs, civil society organizations, and government agencies have met to discuss the situation and propose response plans. However, the needed funding for these response plans has not yet been raised.
Development projects. There are ongoing agricultural development projects in certain areas of the country providing recipients with high-quality inputs such as seeds and fertilizer, as well as needed cash for the performance of certain types of farm work, particularly plowing. There are projects of this sort being conducted in the Les Cayes Plain and Cul-de-Sac Plain areas, and Nord and Nord-Est Departments.
ODVA (the Artibonite Valley Development Agency), the government agency in charge of providing supporting services to rice farmers in the lower Artibonite, has been furnishing less and less assistance. It has not completed the clearing of irrigation and drainage canals and ditches or raised the level of embankments. Necessary provisions have been made for the clearing of a mere 40 of the 200 kilometers of canals comprising the irrigation and drainage system and only 1.2 million of the 100 million Gourdes needed to complete this work have been disbursed. In light of this situation, production of rice in this region is likely to be below average.
The following general assumptions are based on the findings outlined above:
- The severe, country-wide dryness since April has sharply reduced crop production. Approximately 50 percent of food needs are met by domestic production, with the remainder covered by imports and food assistance. Thus, it is highly likely that Haitian households in some areas will face resort to unsustainable coping strategies or face food consumption gaps for the entire outlook period.
- There is a 95 percent probability of the continuation of El Nino conditions between July and December 2015. An El Nino event is generally associated with well-below-average levels of rainfall. Thus, according to seasonal forecasts, there will be below-average rainfall activity through the end of the outlook period.
- This year’s hurricane season from June through November promises to be rather quiet. There are likely to be three hurricanes, including one major hurricane. There is relatively little chance of the country being struck by a tropical storm or hurricane during this season. However, given the high vulnerability of at-risk areas, a strike by even the smallest storm will cause heavy losses, including losses of human lives.
- Outlook for a poor second growing season. The second growing season runs from August/September through November/December. Farmers generally get their seeds from previous harvests or local markets. With the poor performance of the last growing season and both 2014 seasons, household reserves and market inventories are virtually depleted, fueling rises in prices. Bean prices, for example are up by over 100 percent in certain areas. Prices for chemical fertilizer have increased by 40 percent. The combined effects of the high cost of inputs and the reduced purchasing power of farming households could significantly scale back summer planting activities. The result will be a sizeable shortfall in crop production for the summer growing season, which will keep food prices high.
- Crop production in the Dominican Republic. Poor conditions for crop growth are also affecting harvests in the Dominican Republic, which is the source of many of the food crops consumed by Haitian households. There are reports of severe dryness-induced crop losses in a number of communes in the neighboring Dominican Republic, which could drive up prices for imports from that country during the outlook period.
- Volatility of the Haitian gourde. There has been a sharp depreciation in the value of the Haitian gourde, which lost more than 10 points in the span of a month, between June and July. This brought the exchange rate against the U.S. dollar down by 22 percent, from 46 to 56 gourdes. With the country relying on imports to meet close to 50 percent of its food needs, the depreciation of the gourde could mean rises of as much as 10 to 20 percent in prices for imported commodities. Even the injection of several million dollars by the Central Bank onto the foreign exchange market has done little to slow the depreciation of the gourde since the beginning of August. However, it will take some time for the already high prices of imports to follow this new trend, with importers slow to react to new market information.
- Higher food prices. The month of July generally marks the beginning of the downward trend in prices following the lean season and moderate rises in prices between April and June. However, instead of falling, July 2015 prices shot up. This trend could continue through December 2015 and beyond, driving up prices for cereals and pulses by 10 to 20 percent compared with price levels in June 2015.
- Livestock in certain areas will probably not have enough pasture to graze on between August and December due to the persistent severe dryness, which will also create a shortage of animal watering holes.
- Demand for farm labor. Faced with the rising price of farm inputs, middle-income and better-off farmers will use less outside labor for the summer growing season. Very poor households reliant on this demand for labor for over a third of their income could be facing a sizeable reduction in their wage income during this period.
- Private remittances from abroad are steadily increasing. The volume of remittances for the period from July through December is likely to be approximately 10 to 20 percent larger than for the same period in 2014. According to data from the Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BRH), the value of remittances has grown by 18 percent over the past year, from US$112.5 million in June 2014 to US$136.86 million in June 2015.
- The start of the new school year in September/October creates large expenses for parents whose children attend mainly private schools. There is a high likelihood that their reduced incomes and weakened purchasing power will force large numbers of poor parents in areas especially hard hit by the severe dryness to take their children out of school. The dilemma faced by these families forced to choose between keeping their children in school and ensuring their food security merits attention. Studies have shown that parents who need to send their children to school are forced to cut back on the quantity and quality of their food intake (2011/2013 National Food Security Assessment by the CNSA).
- 2015 presidential and legislative elections. Haitian elections generally spark violent protests, which have already erupted in a number of communes (such as Petit-Goâve for example). As election fever rises with the approaching elections, these protests could become much more violent and longer lasting, disrupting the movement of goods and services. Very poor households dependent on day labor or petty trade in affected areas could face cuts in their income. The protests will reach their height the week before or the week after the elections are held, preventing poor households from pursuing their normal occupations.
Most likely food security outcomes
The mediocre performance of spring crops will seriously affect the incomes of rural populations throughout the entire outlook period, particularly those of very poor and poor households. In fact, as a source of both food and income, this crop production normally allows households to sell much more than they buy on the market in July and August. Moreover, it is from the fruits of this growing season that middle-income and better-off households make enough money to prepare for the autumn growing season. The lack of seeds for this growing season and the outlook for continued below-average rainfall point to an even lower than usual demand for labor.
The market will play a much more important role than usual as a source of food during this period. However, with staple food prices on the rise, poor households will have increasingly limited market access. Prices for imports, which have been more or less stable thus far, could rise as a result of the depreciation in the value of the gourde and upward trend in world market prices for cereals. Without a boost in their income, households living in poverty may not have the means with which to meet their food needs.
These households will employ various coping strategies to deal with this situation. Many will try and engage in new occupations and ramp up existing activities. In certain areas such as Grand-Anse, Nord-Ouest, and Sud-Est Departments, many more trees will be cut down for construction or charcoal production. Many more women across the country will engage in petty trade. One or more household members will migrate to large cities or abroad as migrants and perhaps as refugees. However, the income generated by these strategies will not suffice to bridge food consumption gaps. Many households on the Southern Peninsula and in Nord-Ouest, the upper Artibonite, and Nord-Est Departments will be forced to sell productive assets such as their last productive animals in order to eat. Many households in these areas currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security conditions will deteriorate into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the month of August. Others are already in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), where they will remain through the end of the outlook period.
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About Scenario Development
To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.
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