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Late arrival and irregularity of rains could affect the Primera

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Guatemala
  • April 2016
Late arrival and irregularity of rains could affect the Primera

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The current El Niño conditions are weakening rapidly. As such, neutral conditions are expected around the May–July quarter, which will favor a gradual decline in the dry conditions that have prevailed since 2014. However, this transition will affect the beginning of the rainy season – resulting in high temperatures and delayed and irregular rainfall. These conditions will also mean a less intense and prolonged canícula [hottest, driest period] than that experienced during the last two years. A possible transition to the La Niña phenomenon during the second part of the rainy season would make an increase in rainfall from August onward more likely.

    • The poorest households in the temperate western highlands continue to be the part of the population for whom acute food insecurity is the greatest concern. During 2015, households living at the lowest altitudes in this region were affected by a combination of factors: drought, scarce employment opportunities and below average coffee-related incomes. It is estimated that households will spend more than a year in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), up until November/December, in the absence of greater coverage of emergency assistance.

    • Following the end of the season for high labor demand, the poorest households in the east of the country will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), given their limited access to the markets and jobs. The municipalities of the departments of Chiquimula, Baja Verapaz and Jutiapa, which will receive assistance in the form of cash transfers and food from the World Food Programme (WFP), will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) as they will be able to partially mitigate the impact of the 2015 shocks. 

    • The poorest households have virtually no food reserves from their own harvests, as a result of the severe drought that occurred during the Primera season and irregular rainfall during the Postrera, both in 2015, as well as the subsequent significant losses in production of basic grains for the most affected households (75–100 percent). These households, located mainly in the western and eastern Dry Corridor, currently depend entirely on the markets for purchasing maize and beans, in addition to other foods. Households across the rest of the country reaped better harvests. As such, their reserves lasted until April, at which point the lean season begins and they also become entirely dependent on the markets until the arrival of the Primera harvest in August/September.
    • Maize and bean crops in South Petén and the Northern Transversal Strip are at their peak, thus produce is flowing into the markets. The flow of produce is within normal volumes despite a rainfall deficit in January, which is facilitating a slight seasonal drop in prices due to the increased supply on the domestic market. In the rest of the country, the Primera season usually begins between April and May. However, as the rainy season has not yet begun, sowing will be delayed until May.
    • The period of high labor demand has finished, with the end of the coffee and sugar cane harvests, and those of other products such as tobacco and melon. From now until around October, employment opportunities will be seasonally low, with lower daily wages than those reported in the previous months, and the work available will be related to the production of basic grains and, to a much lesser extent, livestock maintenance.
    • Compared with the previous month and year, white maize prices were stable in March, owing to sufficient supply on the domestic market coming from the recently harvested grain stored in Petén and the flows from the current harvest in the Northern Transversal Strip, the Polochic Valley and Izabal. Mexican produce is also adding to this supply. In the same month, black bean prices dropped compared with February 2016 and the five-year average, but saw mixed patterns in various regions compared with March 2015.  Similar to maize, this decrease in prices is due to the sufficient supply of beans on the domestic market owing to the Petén harvest, among other sources. However, reports from Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (MAGA) representatives indicate that private traders are stockpiling grain, in anticipation of an increase in demand resulting from crop losses in the Apante harvest in Nicaragua. 
    • The low provision of basic services in the country’s health system continues, owing to inadequate coverage and a shortfall in supplies and medicines.


    The assumptions used by FEWS NET for the most likely food security scenario for February to September 2016 have changed as follows:

    • Climate and the El Niño phenomenon: According to the forecasts of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), the El Niño phenomenon is clearly weakening. From May to July, the probability of neutral conditions (56 percent) exceeds that of El Niño conditions (23 percent), which would bring an end to the latter phenomenon. This time period coincides with the early stages of the Primera season. However, this same forecast indicates that from July to September, the probability of a La Niña phenomenon is 58 percent, increasing as the year goes by. 
    • Rainy season and canícula: According to the National Institute for Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH), high temperatures will continue in May, which could cause localized rainfall during the first half of the month. Farmers might, however, mistake these rains for the beginning of the rainy season, which is expected to be delayed by one or two weeks and to be characterized by irregular rainfall. It is expected to begin toward the end of May/ beginning of June. The canícula is expected to manifest from approximately 8 to 15 July, although it will be less intense than that of the last two years. Rainfall accumulations during the May to July period are expected to be lower than normal in the Dry Corridor, including the strip located in the west of the country, and higher than normal in the volcanic chain, Boca Costa region and the southwestern part of the country.
    • In addition, INSIVUMEH indicates that the hurricane season could be stronger than normal in the Pacific, while in the Atlantic and Caribbean, it should follow the usual patterns. During the first part of the rainy season, there is a chance that the country could be directly or indirectly affected by a cyclone event.


    By now (April), the lean season has already begun in poor households across most of the country, with food reserves from the last harvests having been exhausted and fewer income-generating activities available as the season progresses. In addition, prices of basic grains will increase during this period as the supply diminishes when flows from the production areas come to an end. This will continue until the Primera harvest in August/September. Despite an average harvest in the areas unaffected by the 2015 drought, yield from subsistence farming will not provide reserves for longer than four months. This will mean that all poor households will henceforth depend on the markets as their food source, at a time when prices are seeing a seasonal increase and employment options are reduced.  This will result in more limited access to food, but by implementing the usual coping strategies, households will be able to overcome this. Households in the Northern Transversal Strip and Petén are the exception, for whom harvests have just come to an end (March/April); as such, they will still have reserves for two to three months. Households across much of the country that were not affected by the rainfall deficit in 2015 will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity until at least September 2016. 

     However, there are areas in the country that never saw an end to the 2015 lean season, which usually occurs between August and February/March. This was due to the effects of the unusually intense drought during the 2015 Primera season, which caused losses of up to 75 percent in maize production, in particular, and significant losses in Postrera bean production, due to irregular rainfall. The combination of these factors, resulting from the influence of the El Niño phenomenon, did not enable them to replenish their household food reserves. To compound this, the effects of leaf rust on the coffee crop and thus on income since 2012 have reduced households’ purchasing power, meaning their options for obtaining food are limited. Therefore, these households will continue to depend on the markets for their food for at least another five months, until the next Primera harvest in September 2016, or until November in the western part of the country. This makes them vulnerable to potential price increases. Despite the markets being supplied with produce, food access is limited. 

    Given that these two shocks have been ongoing, to a greater or lesser extent, for four consecutive years, these households have significantly reduced their resilience capacity by resorting to negative coping strategies (debt accumulation for several consecutive years, atypical migration in terms of duration and destination, change in livelihoods, seed consumption and sale of productive assets), without being able to reduce the food consumption gap resulting from access difficulties. In doing so, they are also further weakening their ability to cope with problems in the near future. 

    Various municipalities located in the Dry Corridor – a strip that runs through the middle of the country from the border with Mexico to the eastern region, bordering Honduras and El Salvador – will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), at least until August. Within this area, the temperate western highlands are of particular concern, having been classified as such since April 2015. With such a long period in Crisis and no planned increase in the coverage of emergency assistance in the short term, this region represents the area of greatest concern in the country, requiring immediate attention. 

    Households located in the eastern region will not manage to meet their energy and nutritional requirements, putting them in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). The exceptions to this are households receiving external assistance from WFP, who will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) for as long as this assistance continues.

    From June to September, the situation will deteriorate further, beyond that witnessed during the February–May period, due to the duration of the lean season, which usually reaches its peak during August, just before the Primera harvest. Despite this, the poorest households located in this area will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until August, when they will be seasonally downgraded to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). In the temperate western highlands, the harvest of basic grains may happen as late as November/December, hence the most affected households could remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until the end of the year. The municipalities receiving WFP assistance will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) until August, and will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1!) food insecurity in September, as they will have food from the Primera harvest and from their last food parcel.

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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