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Temporary improvement in food stocks as the maize harvest begins

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Guatemala
  • December 2019
Temporary improvement in food stocks as the maize harvest begins

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Basic grain harvests in the east and west of the country will improve availability of food for self-consumption by poor households. The season of peak labor demand will also contribute to food access. However, households that suffered consecutive crop losses over the past two years and have had to rely on the market will see their incomes rapidly erode, as a result of low food reserves and savings levels.

    • At the national level, there is an increase in the number of acute malnutrition cases recorded in children under five years of age. The accumulation of recent crop losses in some areas of the country could see this trend continue from February 2020, following seasonal stagnation in line with the peak season for employment.

    • The temporary improvement of food stocks and income will allow most of the country to reach Minimal classification (IPC Phase 1). Other areas affected by poor harvests and recurrent market dependence will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2), while some areas in the dry corridor, where households have used crisis coping strategies, will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • The forecast of neutral El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions for the start of the rainy season indicates that the first rainy season will begin as normal between April and May.


    In the east of the country, households’ Postrera bean harvests are in line with the average. In the Western Highlands, the only maize production cycle is expected to yield mixed harvests: normal production is reported in the higher, wetter areas while irregular weather has caused localized damage in the more arid areas of Huehuetenango, Quiché, San Marcos and Totonicapán, which will mean below-average yields. In some areas, households have already started harvesting dry maize (tapisca), which will be left to dry on household patios and roofs, before the corn will be stored as reserves, which will be below average. These crops generally improve food availability for households.

    The arrival of recent crop harvests from the surplus-producing areas of the southern coast, the Northern Transversal Strip and southern Petén on the market have affected prices, which are starting to fall in line with season trends. Reference wholesale white maize prices at La Terminal market in October fell by 11 percent from Q138.38 in September to Q123.18 in October, reaching Q120.00 in November. Black beans prices remain below average. Despite slight increases in recent months, fresh coffee bean prices are expected to remain stable around the figure of Q365.18/QQ recorded in November, which is below the five-year average.

    The coffee harvest is reaching peak labor demand, prompting members of poor households to migrate to different production areas, both in the national coffee zones in the Highlands, South Coast, East and Center of the country, as well as those outside the country in Chiapas (Mexico) and Honduras, where demand for Guatemalan labor has increased in recent years. Income has also risen in households that depend on other labor-intensive crops such as sugarcane, cardamom, melon, tobacco and vegetables. Demand for labor for these agricultural activities and other non-agricultural activities, such as masonry, small-scale commerce and domestic work, remains stable.

    Household income is mainly used to buy food, as shown by the preliminary results of the Food Security Assessment conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) in November: rural households in eight departments report spending more than 35 percent on food, while a further ten report spending more than 25 percent. More than 80 percent of rural households in these departments have no savings.

    The Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare epidemiology department information system shows an increase in the national recording of acute malnutrition cases among children under five years of age. Malnutrition figures in 17 departments are higher than the previous year, with the largest increases in Petén, Izabal, Quiché, Sacatepéquez and Totonicapán. The most recent Emergency Food Security Assessment (EFSA) in December 2019 revealed a negative impact on the diets of households affected by climate-related and economic events. In addition to recent observations in the field, this suggests that food insecurity is a contributing factor in the observed deterioration in nutrition.


    The assumptions that FEWS NET used to develop the most likely food security scenario for the period October 2019 to May 2020 have not been modified.


    There were localized losses of basic grain harvests, particularly affecting Primera maize in the east and the only crop cycle in the west, in the dry corridor, meaning reserves will last for less time than usual. The season of peak labor demand has been normal since October, particularly in the coffee sector for both national plantations and those in Mexico and Honduras. Cardamom prices have also recovered, resulting in higher production and increased demand for labor for maintenance and harvesting. In general, wages will remain unchanged from previous years but will improve with respect to recent months, when demand for agricultural activities is minimal.

    Markets are being supplied by average harvests of basic grains in surplus-producing areas. In addition to imports from Mexico, this means prices are stable, which are falling in line with seasonal trends in these months. This improved food availability on the domestic market and increased income due to high demand for unskilled labor will mean that much of the country will experience Minimum acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) until the end of the period in May 2020.

    However, the reduction in Primera harvests and those from the only production cycle in the Highlands in localized areas of the dry corridor will impact grain reserves stored by poor households, which will last for less time than usual (until February). Access to food will be better than in previous months as a result of the seasonal increase in employment from sugarcane, coffee, melon, basic grains, tobacco and other labor-intensive crops. However, sustained dependence on the market following a prolonged lean season caused by crop losses for almost two years means households will quickly spend income on repaying debt and buying food for immediate consumption, preventing them from saving. These households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2), with pockets in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), until January. The food situation will continue to worsen, with the early onset of the lean season in February, due to the early depletion of reserves and recent income. To cover the food gap, households will need to resort to negative coping strategies, which will increasingly compromise their assets and resilience. This will result in more people in the dry corridor being classified as in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and an increase in the population classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2), following a period of slight recovery.

    Figures El mapa indica condiciones cercanas al promedio en Guatemala.

    Figure 1

    Figura 1

    Source: NMME

    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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