Skip to main content

Adverse conditions put pressure on food security as lean season continues

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Guatemala
  • April 2021
Adverse conditions put pressure on food security as lean season continues

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Amidst of the third outbreak of COVID-19 infections, national economic activity is slowly recovering, despite recent capacity restrictions. Nationally, households continue to face shortages and high transportation costs, which affect their mobility and reduces their ability to buy food.

    • The rural population is currently experiencing the lean season. While grains have already been sown in the western highlands, in the rest of the country, farmers prepare land to start planting Primera basic grains as of this month. Even though low-income households tend to take advantage of this season to generate sporadic wages, this year reduced demand for labor by middle- and high-income households, higher costs and transportation restrictions mean they have less mobility than usual when looking for work.

    • Nationally, reduced income and high food and transportation costs have led households to use coping strategies such as resorting to loans or food on credit, using up their savings and adjusting their diet in terms of quantity and quality. Therefore, they experience Stressed food insecurity (IPC Phase 2). Households in the Dry Corridor and areas affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota, also affected by the negative effects of COVID-19 restrictions, are resorting to increasingly intense coping strategies, including the sale of their productive assets to cover basic food needs. Therefore, they will experience food insecurity in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until the next harvest and the start of the high-demand labor season.


    COVID-19 development and restrictions. After just over a year of the pandemic, the country reports a rise in daily cases, considered to be the third outbreak of infections. As a result, the government imposed new capacity restrictions and a ban on gatherings. According to alert levels, during the first half of February, the number of municipalities on red alert reached its lowest point, but this number has since been rising. To date, slightly over one percent of the population over the age of 18 has been immunized with their first dose and less than 0.02 percent has received the full vaccination schedule.  The government plans to purchase 16 million doses of the Sputnik vaccine. But, for the time being, there is no certainty as to when they will be receiving these vaccines or those acquired through the COVAX mechanism.

    Primera sowing and weather. In the western highlands, grains have already been sown. In the rest of the country farmers are preparing land and, in some places, they have even started planting, taking advantage of early rainfall and residual humidity. According to INSIVUMEH, it rained in the Boca Costa and southwest region between April 15 and 25, while in the central plateau, rainfall is expected between May 10 and 20, in the Pacific coast, northeast and Caribbean from May 20 to 30 and, lastly, in the northern region (Petén) from May 25 to June 5. Crops are expected to grow adequately considering the prospects for average rainfall, as well as a first period of normal drought between July 10 and 20. 

    Food availability and market access. Food products are being exchanged as usual both nationwide and with other nations. The demand for corn and beans is covered by stored grain from national crops and formal and informal imports from Mexico. Transportation costs continue to affect market access, both for the population in general and for producers and traders. The steady increase in this sector is reflected in the consumer price index (CPI) since last year. In March 2021, there was monthly inflation of 2.45 percent in the transportation spending division and an inflationary rate of 18.64 percent: the extra-urban bus service recorded the highest interannual increase equivalent to 59.26 percent and the urban bus service 45.39. This high cost impacts household economy by limiting people’s mobility to get to their workplaces and to markets, particularly affecting the population that lives far from the municipal capitals, who suffer restricted access to markets and resort to buying in local stores, with the possibility of purchasing food at a higher cost.

    Prices of basic grains. The prices of basic grains, white corn and black beans in particular, continue to rise in accordance with the seasonal trend, but remain above the five-year average. In March, white corn in the Guatemala City bus terminal market recorded an average price of 147.16 GTQ/100 kg and black beans 447.50 GTQ/100 kg. High prices are the result of higher transportation costs linked to the rise in fuel prices; and, as for corn, due to greater demand from the industry for national products due to the increase in the international price of yellow corn in recent months. Regular gasoline and diesel prices have steadily increased since November, up 10 percent when compared to the previous month and roughly 20 percent when compared to the past five-year average.

    Income. Already immersed in a new normal with basic restrictions, the economy has reactivated and some sectors are recovering gradually. Urban households continue to regain their sources of employment. However, for many, their incomes have not yet returned to normal and they are facing hardships due to the loss of one or more of the jobs on which they depended. High public transportation costs also have a direct impact on expenses, which reduces household purchasing power. During these months, rural households usually find a few days of work to prepare land or plant; but this hiring will be affected by a drop in middle- and/or high-income households that, because of the restrictions imposed to stop COVID-19 infections, suffered loss of employment or reduced working hours, or had to close their own businesses.

    Remittances and immigration. Since June 2020, national income from remittances has been higher than the previous year and, during the first three months of 2021, the trend was clearly upward. March set a historical record of income from family remittances, 72 percent higher than March 2020, which was the first month that the impact of COVID-19 was truly felt, said amount being 36 percent higher than February 2021 and 74 percent higher than the past five-year average. Internal migration continues, although to a lesser extent considering high transportation costs. On the other hand, emigration to the United States appeared to increase in the first quarter of 2021 according to the records held by the United States U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office, who have found a greater number of people are trying to cross the border now than in 2020, which was a year characterized by pandemic-related restrictions and controls. The figures for the first quarter of 2021 are approaching those of 2019, with a rising trend.

    Food Assistance. The main source of food assistance during the period analyzed is from international cooperation. In the departments of Chiquimula, Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango and Quiché, the organizations Catholic Relieve Services (CRS), Save the Children and Project Concern International (PCI) are implementing cash transfer projects with funds from USAID in 16 municipalities, covering at least 20,000 households until May, dropping to 6,000 in June and 3,000 in June.  In April, support ended from the Humanitarian Aid Consortium - Action Against Hunger (AAH), Italian cooperation (COOPI), OXFAM, TROCAIRE, Doctors of the World and WeWorld-GVC-, in Alta Verapaz, Izabal, Huehuetenango, Quiché, and Chiquimula, and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), in the departments of Izabal and Alta Verapaz, implemented by the Humanitarian Country Team. The school nutrition program that grants Q4/child/day to students in public establishments has already been implemented for the 2021 school year, with the food delivery modality, providing 20 to 40 days per delivery.


    The assumptions used by FEWS NET to develop the most likely food security scenario for February 2021 to September 2021 have not been modified.


    With the third outbreak of COVID-19 cases following Easter break, the healthcare system is still under pressure and reaching maximum capacity with moderate and severe cases that require hospitalization. Vaccination is slow, both in terms of acquiring and administering the vaccine. In mid-April, the government increased restrictive measures on capacity and business hours. Although this has affected businesses and restaurants that have started to report layoffs, economic activity is expected to continue to recover. The exception continues to be tourism-related activities, which are still far from reaching the pre-pandemic level. The most affected prices since last year have been food and transportation, both for the urban and extra-urban bus service, which means less resource availability to buy food. Fuel prices have also been steady rising since November 2020, consequently putting pressure on food and agricultural inputs. With respect to basic grains, prices will continue to be above the past five-year average. At the rural level, households are already in the lean season and access to labor — usually sporadic and temporary — will be even less given an expected drop in hiring by middle-class households that suffered a drop in income and because of high transportation costs that affect getting to and from jobs.  On the other hand, urban households that lost one or more sources of income continue to face an income deficit to cover their basic food and other basic needs that, together with high transportation costs, which is a daily expense for urban areas, put pressure on other necessary household expenses.

    Nationally, low-income households are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity due to fewer opportunities to generate income, high food and transportation costs, and having to resort to coping strategies such as using up their savings and taking out loans and credits, which continue to cause basic diet adjustments. The diet of the lowest income households in the Dry Corridor, which already for years now have had trouble securing their basic food needs, as well as the households that were affected by the storms, has been increasingly more restricted, both in terms of quality and quantity, which is why they will continue using crisis coping strategies such as atypical immigration and the sale of assets. In addition to this, the sowing season begins with the consequent need for agricultural inputs that are more costly. Without anticipated food assistance and as the lean season continues, these households will continue to put their financial means at risk and further restrict their diet, so they will experience food insecurity in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until the next harvest and the start of the high-demand labor season.

    Figures Se prevén precipitaciones normales o arriva de lo normal en todo el país entre mayo y julio 2021

    Figure 1

    Figura 1

    Source: LXIV Foro del Clima de América Central, INSIVUMEH según años análogos y pronóst…

    Las remesas en 2021 son mayores a los otros años

    Figure 2

    Figura 2

    Source: Banco de Guatemala

    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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top