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Food insecurity rises amid early lean season in Central America and socio-political crisis in Haiti

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • March - September 2021
Food insecurity rises amid early lean season in Central America and socio-political crisis in Haiti

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are most likely to persist across the region through September, primarily driven by the impacts of hurricanes Eta and Iota in Central America, the macroeconomic and socio-political crises in Haiti, the COVID-19 pandemic, and prior years of drought. Food assistance needs are expected to rise until the start of the spring harvest in Haiti in June/July and the primera harvest in Central America in August/September.

    • In Central America, areas of concern include hurricane-affected areas, the Dry Corridor, coffee-producing areas in El Salvador, and urban centers. In Haiti, areas of concern include rural areas affected by below-average crop production and rural and urban areas with chronically high poverty rates and poor market access.

    • The economic impacts of COVID-19 continue to constrain food access for poor households across the region. Despite a second wave of COVID-19 cases that peaked in January, there are few restrictions in place. In the absence of restrictions, employment rates and household income are gradually recovering, especially in urban areas, but remain below normal levels. Based on limited access to vaccines at the country level, vaccinations are unlikely to be available to the general public during the projection period.

    • In Central America, below-average food availability from the postrera and apante harvests, below-normal income, and high food prices have led to an early start of the lean season. Although market access is normal, maize and bean prices are projected to be above the five-year average in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua through September. Below-normal income and high food prices will limit purchasing power and food access, especially among the poorest households.

    • In Haiti, food availability and access are constrained by macroeconomic and socio-political challenges as well as below-average harvests. Although market supply is stable, food prices are near- to above the five-year average due to below-average fall and winter harvests and an upward trend in imported food products, despite marginal appreciation of the HTG against the USD. Winter crops, including beans and corn, were unable to recover from poor rainfall in late 2020 despite above-average rainfall amounts in January. Meanwhile, the socio-political crisis has led to a reduction in employment opportunities, translating to reduced income for poor urban households. Consequently, household purchasing power is below normal levels.

    • Across the region, poor rural households are expected to increasingly rely on purchasing food during the lean season. At the same time, above-average food prices, a seasonal decline in rural employment, and slow recovery in urban employment will drive low purchasing power. Many rural and urban poor households will likely turn to loans and credit or sales of productive assets in order to buy food, resort to atypical migration strategies, or have food consumption gaps.



    • Deemed stabilized from October to November 2020 at around 63 gourdes per US dollar, the exchange rate has appreciated since December, reaching approximately 75 gourdes on February 26, 2021, on the formal market and up to 95 gourdes on the informal market, despite the injection of 12 million USD into the banking system on January 28, 2021. Since December, imported and local food prices have moderately increased. Food prices also remain above the five-year average, in amounts exceeding 40 percent.
    • By and large, the rainfall for the month of January has been above average, although unevenly distributed in time and space. However, the winter crops — beans and maize — already impacted by water shortages in November and December, could not really benefit from it. Consequently, below-normal winter harvests are anticipated at the national level. Nevertheless, the situation is proving to be relatively good in the south (apart from the coastal areas) and Grand'Anse departments.
    • High food prices and below-average agricultural incomes continue to adversely affect the purchasing power of poor households, which are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity in most parts of the country. In urban centers, the socio-political crisis has curtailed employment opportunities and, negatively impacted incomes of a larger number of poor and very poor households. 

    For more information, see the Haiti Food Security Outlook for February to May 2021.


    • Job recovery continues in urban areas, especially for jobs linked to commerce, services and education, as the number of municipalities placed on “orange” and “yellow” alert status rises. On the other hand, in rural areas, the season when demand for agricultural labor is high has ended. Overall, incomes continue to be lower than usual as a result of continued capacity restrictions, social distancing measures and transportation issues.
    • Markets are stocked up on stored maize and beans and formal and informal imports from Mexico. In February, basic grain crops harvested in the postrera tardía season in the north of the country usually start to flow. But due to the impact of the storms, sowing was delayed or resowing was required, so new grains are expected to reach markets later than usual and in slightly smaller quantities. Although supplies will remain stable, prices will continue to be above the five-year average.
    • Nationwide, poor and very poor urban and rural households will continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity, given that, since the very beginning of the pandemic, they have experienced a reduction in income, coupled with high food and transportation costs, which together have had an impact on the quality and quantity of food included in their traditional diet. They have not managed to overcome this situation despite using up all their savings, reducing non-essential spending, and resorting to loans and credits.
    • Despite the season of high demand for agricultural labor having recently ended, the poorest households in the Dry Corridor and those located in the areas affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota have made immediate use of their income to pay off debts and buy food, thereby reducing their ability to save. To cover their increasingly less varied and reduced diet, they will resort to loans and credits, atypical migration, and the sale of their productive assets, moving up the start of the lean season and classifying them as in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity.

    For more information, see the Guatemala Food Security Outlook for February to May 2021.

    Remote Monitoring Countries[1]

    El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua

    • Despite the rise in COVID-19 cases in January, countries are not expected to implement containment measures to combat the virus. This will allow both employment statistics and income to gradually recover. Vaccination coverage will not be high enough during the period analyzed to have an impact on this scenario.
    • Basic grain prices will remain above average throughout the period, particularly in Honduras and Nicaragua, thus limiting the purchasing power of the poorest households in the region.
    • From February to September 2021, higher dependence on purchasing as a source of food, together with above-average prices, a seasonal decline in rural employment options, and the slow recovery of urban jobs, will cause the poorest households to see a progressive deterioration in food security until the primera harvest, in August/September. The most affected will be those impacted by hurricanes Eta and Iota and those located in the Honduran Dry Corridor and the Salvadoran coffee-growing zone, who will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until the end of the harvest, at which point they will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2). The rest of the poor urban and rural households will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the entire period analyzed.

    For more information, see the El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua Remote Monitoring Report for February to May 2021.


    [1] With remote monitoring, an analyst typically works from a nearby regional office, relying on a network of partners for data. Compared to previous series of countries in which FEWS NET has a local office, reports on remote monitoring countries may offer less detail.


    Table 1. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Increased socio-political unrest

    Increased violence would disrupt current economic and market operations This would lead to reduced food availability and access, leading more households to implement negative strategies. Faced with the depletion of certain strategies, consumption deficits could be seen. More areas and more households could be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).


    Reinstatement of COVID-19 restrictions

    The reinstatement of COVID-19 restrictions to limit the spread of cases would likely further slow down the recovery of key income sources for many households, affecting their ability to purchase food. An increase in the populations facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes would be likely.


    A more active-than-normal hurricane season

    Floods and landslides would lead to significant losses of staple food or cash crops, with repercussions for labor from agricultural income. Other food and income sources, such as livestock production, fishing, and market access, would also be affected. In affected areas, an increase in the populations experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes would be most likely.

    Figures Primera and Spring planting begins in April, and the harvest begins in July. Postrera planting begins in September, followed

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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