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Insecurity in Haiti, weather shocks in Central America, and economic constraints in Venezuela are driving acute food insecurity across the region

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • October 2023 - May 2024
Insecurity in Haiti, weather shocks in Central America, and economic constraints in Venezuela are driving acute food insecurity across the region

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  • Key Messages
  • Outlook by Country
  • Events that might change the outlook
  • Key Messages
    • In Haiti, gang violence and poor economic conditions continue to disrupt income-earning activities and drive high food prices. Poor households in gang-controlled metropolitan areas of Port-au-Prince are worst affected, experiencing large food consumption gaps or resorting to liquidating their assets that are indicative of Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. High year-on-year inflation and erratic rainfall due to El Niño conditions are also increasing agricultural production costs and reducing crop yields, contributing to suppressed agricultural labor demand through the spring. As many rural households have shrinking livelihood opportunities and limited household purchasing power due to these shocks, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to be widespread. However, poor households in areas of Grand Sud, Ouest, Nord, and Bas Plateau have larger food reserves from recent and ongoing harvests that are expected to prevent food consumption gaps, resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. 
    • In Central America, from October to January, pockets of poor households in rural areas of the Dry Corridor who suffered significant agricultural losses due to El Niño-related rainfall deficits will rely on food purchases at high prices for a longer period, resulting in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected across most of the region due to the availability of several months of food stocks from recent harvests and seasonally normal increases in cash crop labor demand on commercial farms. From February to May, however, more widespread deterioration to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes is expected. Poor households are expected to deplete their stocks from the below-average harvests and will be unable to purchase sufficient food given persistently high food prices, lower incomes, and lingering debts. An early onset of the annual lean season is anticipated by early March.
    • In Venezuela, poor macroeconomic conditions are expected to remain the key driver of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes – the highest area-level IPC Phase – through at least May. However, seasonal improvements in salaries, social protection benefits, remittances, and economic activity through January are expected to relatively improve household access to food, temporarily reducing the number of poorer households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in peri-urban and rural areas of the Capital District and along the border with Colombia. By February, however, inflation is expected to again outpace available government benefits and income for laborers paid in local currency (VED), and the number of poor households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) is expected to rebound. Furthermore, populations of rural smallholder farmers in Guárico and Apure – where crop yields declined due to El Niño-related weather and insufficient access to irrigation — are also expected to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes throughout the October to May outlook period. 
    • In 2023, severe drought in Panama has led to reduced cargo allowances and vessel transit through the Panama Canal. However, these measures are expected to have a limited impact on the regional staple grain supply in Central America, Haiti, and Venezuela, where food availability is mainly supported by local production and intraregional trade and imports from North America (Mexico and the USA) that do not rely on the canal. However, if the disruption to Canal operations persists, this could press freight costs upwards through February 2024, responding to increased demand and shipment rerouting associated with trade constraints. This would, in turn, put upward pressure on regional market prices for goods passing through the Panama Canal.

    Outlook by Country

    Haiti

    • Recurrent armed clashes between rival gangs in downtown Port-au-Prince, particularly in Cité Soleil, are disrupting markets and income-generating activities for the most vulnerable households. The impact of violence on their access to food and income leads to significant deficits in food consumption and livelihood protection. This forces them to resort to Emergency coping strategies, such as begging, sending household members elsewhere to eat, and juvenile delinquency. Emergency acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 4) persists in this commune.
    • In addition to gang violence disrupting sources of income, high year-on-year inflation, although trending downwards since February 2023 (Central Bank of Haiti, 2023), and poor employment opportunities due to the sluggish Haitian economy, continue to strain the purchasing power of poor and very poor households. Additionally, the USDA anticipates that the irregular rainfall and above-average temperatures experienced during the spring, summer, and autumn crop production seasons of 2023 will lead to a 4 to 5 percent decline in maize and rice production compared to the five-year average. Small farmers generally reserve seeds from their own harvest for the next planting season, but the drop in production is expected to reduce these reserves. Buying seeds tends to be prohibitively expensive for this population. 
    • Thus, reduced access to inputs, combined with growing insecurity, should reduce the area sown for the 2024 spring season from March to May. This will lead to lower-than-normal demand for labor, resulting in below-average incomes, already impacted by inflation. The resulting food consumption deficits will lead poor and very poor households to resort to crisis strategies such as intensifying the sale of charcoal and animals, consuming seeds and food with low nutritional value, and buying food on credit, among others. Except for a few communes in Grand Sud, Ouest, Nord, and Bas Plateau, Crisis food insecurity (IPC Phase 3) remains widespread across the country.
    • The worsening food security situation over the outlook period is expected to increase the number of people in need of food aid in areas classified as being in Crisis, in addition to Cité Soleil which is classified as being in the Emergency phase. However, emergency food aid from January to September 2023, in kind and in the form of cash transfers, could only cover less than 2 percent of the country's total population, monthly. This emergency food aid coverage is less than 10 percent of the number of people in need. 

    For more information, please see the October 2023 Haiti Food Security Outlook

    Guatemala

    • Several climatic and economic shocks in recent years are still impacting poor rural households in the Dry Corridor and Alta Verapaz regions. In addition to these conditions, this year's El Niño climate phenomenon has reduced rainfall and increased temperatures, causing partial and even total losses of staple grain crops. As a result, households will rely more heavily on the market to purchase food earlier in the season than usual. The need for immediate purchase of staple foods and debt repayment will minimize the benefits from increased income generated during the high agricultural labor demand season (from October to February). Due to the lack of staple grain reserves, limited capacity to save money, the prolonged need to purchase food at the market, and higher-than-normal food prices, households will enter the lean season earlier than usual. To secure staple foods, households will be forced to adjust the amount of food consumed and use unsustainable negative coping strategies, classifying them in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until May 2024.   
    • For poor rural households in the rest of the country, income and food availability will increase from October 2023 to January 2024 due to a seasonal increase in employment during the harvest of various cash crops and household production of staple grains. This year, high food prices and weather irregularities that affected staple grain yields will limit these improvements, so most of the country will experience heightened food insecurity and be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2). While most households remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) results from February to May, poorer households in the Altiplano and eastern areas of the country with lower staple grain harvests will have to buy food earlier than expected at higher prices than usual. To guarantee their minimum food intake, households will be forced to adjust food portions and use negative coping strategies, causing them to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.  
    • This year, the El Niño phenomenon caused a delay to the start of the rainy season, reduced rainfall, and high temperatures. These climatic irregularities delayed plantings and affected Primera and Postrera staple grain crops, causing partial to total losses for subsistence farmers.  Despite this, commercial maize production that utilizes irrigation is expected to be in average ranges. The forecast of continued El Niño conditions through May 2024 will possibly delay the new crop cycle planting. 
    • Irregularity in the harvest of staple grains has caused prices of staple grains to remain above the five-year average. Seasonally, prices begin to fall in October, but the irregularity and delay in crop arrival at the market will cause prices to remain high, especially for beans, which have already shown record-high prices. The persistently high cost of food will continue to restrict household purchasing power. 

    For more information, please see the October 2023 Guatemala Food Security Outlook 

    Remote Monitoring Countries

    El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua

    • Most households in the region will be classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to seasonal improvement in food access after staple grain harvests, the ensuing seasonal decline in prices, and the seasonal increase in labor demand from cash crop harvesting through January 2024. This is despite weather conditions that will cause a slight reduction in yields and wage income. Areas of households that suffered total agricultural losses continue to be classified in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).
    • From March to May 2024, a seasonal deterioration in household food status will be exacerbated by the impacts of the drought on the agricultural sector. An early onset of the annual lean season and persistently high food prices will classify the poorest households located in the north of Honduras and in areas the Dry Corridor in Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The rest of the region's urban and rural poor households will remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2).
    • Due to the continuation of dry conditions, accompanied by atypically high temperatures, a one-month delay in the Postrera harvest is expected at the end of the year resulting in a decrease of at least 25 percent in subsistence household yields and a slight decrease in commercial production. Due to the evolution of the El Niño phenomenon, these conditions will persist until May 2024, negatively impacting the development of Postrera Tardía/Apante crops in Honduras and Nicaragua. Eventually, causing a delay in the start of Primera 2024 season. 
    • The purchasing power of poor households in the region will be varied, as those employed in the manufacturing, agriculture and construction sectors will not see an increase over the previous year due to a depression in their activity and the impact of El Niño. In contrast, households in the tourism sector will see an improvement thanks to a recovery in the flow of tourists, especially during the year-end and Easter celebrations. However, the prices of food and services such as water and energy will remain above those reported in 2022 and above the five-year average, as a result of the existing climatic difficulties.

    For more information, please see the October 2023 Central America Remote Monitoring Report 

    Venezuela

    • Dollarization of the Venezuelan economy has continued to strengthen the livelihoods and purchasing power of poor households, improving their access to food which is the most important component of food security in the country. Based on FEWS NET's analysis of average income versus the price of a basic cereal diet, households whose income sources are paid in USD can cover their minimum food needs albeit in a limited way and with little dietary diversity, reflecting Stressed (Phase 2, IPC) food security outcomes. These households are in urban and rural areas throughout the country, especially in Guárico, the Capital District, and states bordering Colombia, including Apure, Zulia and Táchira. 
    • While the highest area-level classification is Stressed (IPC Phase 2), millions of households are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Peri-urban and rural locations of the Capital District and areas bordering Colombia are of greatest concern. Two food insecurity trends are expected for the poorest households who are most affected by market shocks given that their income is paid in local currency (VED), they have sporadic access to social protection programs, and they do not receive international remittances. First, from October to January there will be a temporary reduction in the number of households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), due to doubled wages, more regular and nutritious public assistance, and economic stimulation during the year-end holiday season. Second, from February, the number of households using Crisis-indicative coping strategies to cover their basic food requirements will increase again. 
    • Food availability in Venezuela is unlikely to be affected by the El Niño-related erratic rains and high temperatures. Food availability is more than 60 percent dependent on imports according to USDA. In addition, medium and large agriculture producers do not expect El Niño conditions to significantly impact domestic crop production, except for rice. However, smallholder farmers will continue to be the most affected. Lower crop yields will reduce the purchasing power of smallholder farmers. As a result, during the forecast period, new populations of rural smallholder farmers in Guárico and Apure are expected to experience food insecurity outcomes indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 
    • Venezuela is expected to experience economic growth of at least five percent in 2024 based on favorable international oil prices and the prospect of U.S. sanctions relief. However, there is uncertainty about whether the Venezuelan government will maintain the conditions for continued sanctions relief. If the Venezuelan government meets these conditions and the U.S. government further lifts sanctions or extends the relief period, then oil revenues, spending on social programs, and economic growth will be greater than currently anticipated. If this best-case scenario of sanctions relief occurs, there would be an additional improvement in food security conditions over the next six months. 

    For more information, please see the October 2023 Venezuela Remote Monitoring Report


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

    Zone

    Events

    Impact

    RegionalHurricanes or tropical stormsHeavy rains, particularly in Central America, could cause damage to staple grain crops in Postrera and Postrera Tardía, potentially destroying smallholder farmer crops; damaging commercial plantations resulting in lower labor demands and income for temporary workers; and damaging access roads critical for the transit of goods and people to their workplaces. This would tend to increase food prices and reduce earned income, in turn affecting food availability and access, expanding the populations in Stress (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 
    RegionalAverage and regular rainfall during Postrera and Postrera Tardía Average and regular rainfall across Central America would result in staple grain harvests in average ranges for Postrera and Postrera Tardía, improving the availability of food for subsistence farmers, and reducing the number of households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between October and January. 
    HaitiThe Haitian-Dominican border is re-opened during the first period of the scenario The reopening of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic could lead to an improvement in the availability of food products, such as eggs, wheat flour, and cooking oil, which could lead to a decrease in the prices of these products. In addition, households that rely on cross-border activities, including small traders and motorcyclists, will have increased income. Therefore, this would likely result in a relatively small decrease in the number of households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), especially in border areas. 
    VenezuelaCompliance with electoral conditions allows continued lifting of sanctionsIf the Venezuelan government continues to comply with electoral conditions, the U.S. government may extend sanctions relief for the oil, gold and gas sectors beyond the current six-month provisions. This would provide the Venezuelan government with new resources for the electoral campaign and the expansion of social protection programs. This would tend to improve poor households’ access to food and income, as well as resulting food security outcomes, beyond what is currently projected.
    VenezuelaOil exports increase If oil exports increase at the rate forecasted by government – reflecting their campaign to seek new sale markets and expansion during sanctions relief –the Venezuelan GDP could grow by eight percent. This best-case scenario would boost the Venezuelan economy, expanding available formal and informal employment as well as corresponding purchasing power for some of the poorest households, beyond what is currently projected.

    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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