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Near-average Primera harvests, with damage in localized areas

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Guatemala
  • August 2016
Near-average Primera harvests, with damage in localized areas

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  • Key Messages
  • Current situation
  • Updated assumptions
  • Projected outlook through January 2017
  • Key Messages
    • There are currently negative anomalies in sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the eastern equatorial Pacific. Forecasts indicate a high probability of La Niña conditions in the coming months, beginning in September/October and extending at least through the first quarter of 2017. These conditions are expected to drive an improvement in rainfall, resulting in near-average national harvests for the Primera and Postrera seasons.

    • There are reports of localized damages to staple crops in low-lying areas of the Dry Corridor, in both the East and the West, due to the erratic distribution of rainfall and cumulative rainfall deficits for the season. However, the damage is less severe than last year. 

    • The poorest households in the Western Temperate Highlands are expected to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until October, when income-generating opportunities will improve seasonally. These households will then improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until at least January 2017, when they will have food reserves from their December harvests.

    • Food security outcomes for the poorest households in the East will improve from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in October with the harvest of Primera crops, following a month-long delay in planting at the beginning of the season. These households will remained Stressed (IPC Phase 2) at least through January, given the improvement in their purchasing power as of October due to increased job opportunities and the Postrera harvest in November/December, providing them with a supply of beans for household consumption and sale. 

    Current situation
    • Primera harvests begin in August/September in areas with two growing seasons a year, particularly in southern areas of the country. From this time, the availability of food from own production among poor households will begin to improve, except in Dry Corridor areas of the East, where a 15 to 30 day delay in the start of the rainy season delayed sowing. As a result, Primera harvests in these areas are not expected until October.
    • In eastern Dry Corridor areas, there are reports of localized damage to Primera staple crops as high as 50 percent. However, the damage is less severe than last year, when many farmers in these areas lost between 75 and 100 percent of their Primera crops. Most of the current damage is limited to fields in lower-altitude areas of the region. In general, harvests for the Primera growing season in eastern, southern, and northern areas of the country are expected to be near average or slightly below average.
    • In the Western Highlands, where the growing cycle is longer, harvests are expected to take place in December/January. There are reports of localized crop damage due to rainfall anomalies in certain municipalities of Quetzaltenango, Totonicapán, and Quiché.
    • Households in the eastern and western parts of the country are currently completely dependent on market purchases for their maize and bean supplies, as well as for other foodstuffs. Labor demand will remain seasonally low until October, with low daily wage rates in activities including staple production, and livestock-related labor.
    • In general, prices for white maize were up by five to eight percent in July as compared to the previous month in markets monitored. This represents a seasonal increase, as markets are supplied by staples from stored inventories from the last harvest in the northern part of the country, and by imports from Mexico. These imports are offsetting the growing demand in the West, stabilizing prices. Black bean prices are stable, which is unusual at this time of year when there are no bean harvests. This price stability is attributable to the bean imports from Mexico, China, and other countries by private traders looking to build up their dwindling inventories after the losses of 2015 Postrera crops.
    • The WFP is continuing to provide food and/or cash assistance to 23,600 households in selected municipalities of Chiquimula, Baja Verapaz, and Jutiapa Departments, in the eastern region, through September 2016. There are also scheduled deliveries of assistance in the form of food and cash to households in selected municipalities of Huehuetenango and Quiché Departments through September 2016. CRS is providing 1,500 households in five municipalities in Jalapa with food assistance in the form of food vouchers through October. There are no plans for any large-scale deliveries of emergency food assistance to households in other parts of the country during the outlook period.
    • There are continuing limitations on the delivery of basic health services by the national health care system due to poor service coverage and shortages of drugs and medical supplies. The suspension of the Ministry of Health’s coverage expansion program (PEC) in 2015 left a void in rural health care services. So far, the government has not fully succeeded in making the transition to direct care, which is affecting the reporting, follow-up, and treatment of cases of malnutrition and the general public health. 

    Updated assumptions

    The assumptions used by FEWS NET in establishing the most likely food security scenario for June 2016 through January 2017 have been updated as follows:

    • Climate and El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO): Forecasts by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) indicate an elevated likelihood for the development of La Niña conditions during August-October, with a 53 to 58 percent likelihood that La Niña conditions will continue into the first quarter of 2017. Forecasts indicate an increase in cumulative rainfall compared with the first part of the season, with temperatures expected to remain above average.
    • Based on current forecasts for the second part of the rainy season ending in November, Postrera harvests in the country’s eastern region are expected to be near average. However, large amounts of cumulative rainfall within a short span of time could affect yields for this growing season, reducing the size of the harvest.
    • White maize prices are expected to follow normal seasonal trends, except for the delay in the expected drop in prices until September, after the late harvest of Primera crops. For the upcoming quarter, black bean prices will continue to be driven by previous imports and the harvest of Primera crops in the east. 

    Projected outlook through January 2017


    The annual lean season is reaching its peak, with households in the Dry Corridor particularly affected by below-normal harvests of staple crops and erratic income-generating opportunities during the last three years. Households have limited income-generating opportunities at this time of year, while maize prices continue to move upwards until the beginning of the harvest in October, a month later than usual. As a result, household purchasing power is at a seasonal low. The upcoming Primera harvests will improve food availability on domestic markets and for the poorest households through the end of the year. Food security outcomes will also improve with the beginning of the high-demand period for labor in October, strengthening food access by raising household income. In addition, the Postrera season, with harvests in November/December, will further improve the supply of staples on markets and within producing households, particularly for beans. Yields for the Postrera season will likely be near average. Households in much of the country will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity through at least January 2017.

    However, very poor households in certain parts of the Dry Corridor have never emerged from the 2015 lean season. The reported losses of over 75 percent of maize crops for the 2015 Primera season and heavy losses of Postrera bean production attributable, in both cases, to rainfall anomalies and deficits have prevented them from replenishing their food reserves. Food access has also been affected by the reduced incomes of households dependent on the coffee sector due to the coffee rust outbreak and low selling prices of coffee. However, in spite of the erratic start of the rainy season in April/May, Primera production is expected to be better than last year, and a near-normal harvest of Postrera crops at the end of the year in the eastern part of the Dry Corridor is the most likely scenario. This will help replenish household food reserves in this part of the country through January. Trade in both of these staples will also have an effect on market prices, which will further improve food access.

    A number of municipalities within the Dry Corridor, which forms a narrow belt through the middle of the country from the Mexican border to the eastern region bordering Honduras and El Salvador, will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until the Primera harvest. In the east, this harvest is expected to take place in October, after which affected areas will improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through at least January. This improvement will come after the improvement in food availability from Primera and Postrera staple production and due to the seasonal increase in demand for casual labor beginning in October and the corresponding improvement in purchasing power. This improvement will take place in spite of the continuing damage to coffee crops from the rust fungus.

    In the Temperate Western Highlands, on the other hand, there is a single growing season for staple crops, which normally ends in November/December. However, this year’s harvest will not take place until December/January, which means an atypical dependence on market purchases for a full month longer than usual for the area’s poorest households. As usual, the period of increased employment opportunities is expected to begin in October, which should improve household incomes and purchasing power and improve outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until at least January.

    External assistance from the World Food Program (WFP), CRS, and other organizations will ease the severity of food insecurity for recipient households for as long as it lasts which, in many cases, is until September/October. Thus, these households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) until that time, whereupon they will be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) with the seasonal improvement in food access and availability.

    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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