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High food prices and poor rainfall mark the onset of the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Guatemala
  • April 2023
High food prices and poor rainfall mark the onset of the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated assumptions
  • Projected outlook through September 2023
  • Key Messages
    • Between April and May, most poor rural households with below-average own-produced stocks from last year’s harvests will be forced to limit the quality and diversity of their diets due to above-average prices for food, transportation, and other non-food commodities. At the peak of the lean season, some households will begin to employ varied negative coping strategies to deal with sustained high prices for staple grains amid declining, below-average incomes. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will become more widespread through September.

    • The poorest households in localized areas of the Dry Corridor, Western Altiplano, and Alta Verapaz began to rely on markets atypically early to access food due to low or absent production of staple grains. Income earned during the peak period for agricultural labor demand was quickly used to pay debts and purchase staple foods. With the premature onset of the lean season, scarce, sporadic employment opportunities and high food prices are forcing households to resort to coping strategies that put their livelihoods at risk. Therefore, these households will be classified as Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the analysis period.

    • The recent staple grain harvests stabilized prices for only two months and did not translate into the typical seasonal price declines. Maize and bean prices continue to be well above last year’s prices and the five-year average. In the coming months, prices are expected to continue to rise in line with typical seasonal trends. As a result, household purchasing power will continue to be below normal, limiting access to the basic food basket.

    • Farmers are waiting for the start of the rainy season to plant their crops. However, continued high fertilizer prices, coupled with below-average rainfall and above average temperature forecasts, will affect crop establishment and development. In addition, high production costs and impacts from weather conditions will further limit the demand for seasonal agricultural labor and decrease incomes.


    Current Situation

    During April, a variety of activities are carried out to mark the beginning of the staple grain growing season. In the west, farmers start planting for the sole production cycle that includes maize and beans. In contrast, in areas in the east, where there are two crop cycles, farmers are preparing the land for planting for the primera cycle in May, which is the most important time for maize cultivation yet also used to grow beans. Subsistence farmers in both areas generally use local or criollo seeds that they selected and saved from their previous harvest. Even with below-normal yields, these farmers saved their seeds for use in this production cycle.

    According to the National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH), rains are expected to begin in the second half of April on the southern coast. In central and eastern Guatemala and in the Northern Transversal Strip, rains are expected in early May. In the northern Caribbean, rainfall should begin in late May and early June. However, the onset and development of the rains will have an erratic spatial and temporal distribution.

    Although planting intentions are similar to last year, farmers are facing a second consecutive year of high fertilizer prices that will force them to reduce fertilizer usage, lowering yields. Since the end of 2022, international nitrogen fertilizer prices have shown a significant downward trend, but this trend has not yet been transferred to domestic prices, mainly due to the existence of inventories acquired during 2022 at high prices. For example, the average price of urea is 407 GTQ/quintal (equivalent to 100 pounds), which is slightly more than double the five-year average. For the agricultural cycle that has just begun, farmers will have to purchase these inputs at high prices, similar to those of 2022.

    Even with these high costs, small farmers are interested in planting maize because it could alleviate their dependence on maize market purchases for one or two months. Market prices for maize remain well above normal. In March, the average price per quintal of maize was 23 percent higher than last year and 62 percent higher than the five-year average. Bean prices are similarly high, registering an increase of 17 percent compared to 2022 and 46 percent compared to the five-year average. In March, inflation slowed the pace of growth to 8.71 percent—a significant drop compared to February but still above average. However, inflation did not show a decline in the food and non-alcoholic beverages sector, as in past months. For example, beef, pork, cheese, and coffee show the highest percentage increases. Inflation is highest outside of the capital city. Region II, which includes the departments of Alta and Baja Verapaz, has the highest inflation rate at 13.88 percent, more than 5 percentage points higher than the national rate, followed by Region VII (Huehuetenango and Quiché) with 11.81 percent. Compared to last year, gasoline and diesel prices decreased by 12 and 14 percent, respectively, although they remain above the five-year average. Despite the lower price of diesel, this decrease has not been reflected in the price of food in general, as the cost of transporting goods remains high. It is also important to note that passenger transportation prices continue at the levels recorded during the pandemic when public services were scarce, and fuel prices rose. Therefore, transportation prices continue to limit trips to markets for poor and very poor households.

    With the end of the cash crop harvests, the peak season for labor demand has ended, leaving limited agricultural labor opportunities for the poorest rural households. Activities related to the cultivation of staple grains, such as land clearing and planting, are the main source of employment during this period. At the local level, poor rural households tend to find sporadic daily day work during this season, with daily wages ranging from 35 to 60 GTQ per day. However, due to high fertilizer prices and unfavorable rainfall forecasts, farmers have been forced to lower production costs and reduce labor employment.

    From January to March of this year, an increase in cases of global acute malnutrition in children under five years of age has been observed compared to the same period in 2022. Ministry of Health data for March 26 to April 1, 2023 (week 13) showed a year-on-year increase of 1,776 accumulated cases, representing an additional 37.5 percent in cases (from 4,731 to 6,507 cases) and a 9.5 percent national increase compared to last year. The 39 percent increase in severe acute malnutrition cases, including the most severe forms (kwashiorkor and marasmus), is an indicator of additional nutritional deterioration above the typical increase in the child population during the lean season.


    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for Guatemala

    Source: FEWS NET


    Updated assumptions

    The assumptions used by FEWS NET to develop the most likely scenario for the Guatemala Food Security Outlook for February to September 2023 have been modified as follows:

    • It is expected that the canicula dry spell will be prolonged and more intense than normal due to El Niño (Figure 1).

    Figure 1

    Rainfall probability for June through August 2023
    En el mapa, se observan probabilidades de lluvia por debajo de normal entre junio y agosto

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET


    Projected outlook through September 2023

    As of April, most poor rural households still have maize stocks from their own harvests as well as income earned during the peak demand season for agricultural labor. However, due to the repayment of debts incurred last year to purchase food and agricultural inputs, as well as rising food and transportation prices, households will be forced to intensify their use of coping strategies to meet their needs, including migrating at unusual times or further afield in search of daily labor, reducing health expenditures, or selling yard animals to cover other essential non-food expenses. Most poor households will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until May. Cutbacks in production due to high costs and the poor rainfall forecast will result in less hiring of agricultural laborers. As a result, this income source will be reduced, affecting these households’ ability to cover their basic food needs. Continued high food prices will further limit food supply, requiring many households in rural areas to reduce the quantity and quality of their food and to resort to more severe coping strategies, placing them in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until September.

    In areas of the Dry Corridor, Western Altiplano, and Alta Verapaz, the poorest households that began this year with atypical debts and no stocks of staple grains for consumption entered the lean season prematurely and have been reliant on market purchases to ensure their basic food needs since April. Consecutive shocks from past years have forced these households to continuously incur debts. For this reason, they have devoted much of the income earned during the peak period of labor demand to repaying debts, which has limited their ability to save for the lean season and buy food for extended periods of time. In addition, prices of staple grains, agricultural inputs, and transportation are much higher than normal, restricting their purchasing power. Since February or March, households in these areas have begun to reduce their food intake and resort to negative coping strategies, including the sale of productive assets. Due to high food and transportation prices and the limited employment opportunities typical of the season, exacerbated by the anticipated decrease in rainfall and the prolonged seasonal dry period, households will be forced to intensify their use of unsustainable coping strategies and are expected to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes from April through September.

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. Guatemala Food Security Outlook Update, April 2023: High food prices and deficit rainfall mark the onset of the lean season, 2023.

    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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