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Food Availability and Access Becomes Difficult after Storms

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Guatemala
  • December 2020
Food Availability and Access Becomes Difficult after Storms

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • In November, hurricanes Eta and Iota brought heavy rains for several days, causing water saturation in the soil, river overflow, floods, and landslides, which damaged homes, road infrastructure, and crops mainly in Petén, Izabal, and Alta Verapaz, north of Huehuetenango and Quiché, Chiquimula, and areas of Zacapa. Some

    • These households, already struggling with food access due to the restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, suffered the loss of basic grain reserves, damage to the postrera harvest, a reduction in wages due to the impact on various plantations, a lack of transportation, and increased food prices. Thousands of people are staying in official and unofficial shelters, dependent on aid. These households will experience an early start to the lean season and will be in a state of food insecurity Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the period covered by this outlook.

    • Countrywide, the restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a drop in income for a large portion of rural and urban households, resulting in the reduction of non-essential expenses, the use of savings and credits, and the adaptation of their traditional diet, classified as a food situation that is Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Poor households located in the Dry Corridor will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to the prolonged use of coping strategies to meet their minimum basic diet needs, such as the atypical sale of animals or work tools or the reduction in food quantity and quality.


    October to February is the season with the highest demand for informal labor to harvest various commercial crops. The harvests of coffee, sugar cane, cardamom, fruits, and vegetables are the constant sources of local and migrant employment for the poorest households. The restrictions imposed to stop the contagion of COVID-19 (distancing, biosafety, capacity) remain in force, although they are more permissive.

    The postrera sowing began on time with a positive outlook. However, the second rainy season of 2020 was characterized by above-average rainfall and a hurricane season that was more active than usual in the Caribbean Basin. According to USGS (CHIRPS) data, in October there was already accumulated rainfall of up to 50 percent above average. This led to soil saturation and increased river volume. At the beginning of November, the influence of hurricane Eta in the Central American region caused heavy rains for several days, with accumulated rainfall that surpassed 400 mm in the course of just three days (exceeding 400 percent of the total season average), and worsened soil humidity and river levels, causing floods, landslides, mudslides, and damage to infrastructure, particularly in the northeast part of the country. In addition to this situation, less than two weeks later, from November 17 to November 19, 2020, tropical storm Iota brought heavy rains in the same areas affected by Eta, with accumulated rainfall surpassing 500 mm (USGS/CHIRPS). This prolonged floods and exacerbated soil saturation, and led to increased damage to road infrastructure, homes, and crops. According to the National Coordination for Disaster Reduction of Guatemala (CONRED), by December 17, 2020, there were 4,313 houses with severe damage and 58,079 with moderate damage. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (MAGA), 136,761 hectares of damaged crops were recorded, and in flooded urban areas, many businesses were affected and lost all their merchandise.

    Table 1. Number of people affected and sheltered in Guatemala as of December 17, 2020


    People affected

    People sheltered


    Alta Verapaz








    El Progreso
























    Santa Rosa












    Source: CONRED



























    Primera reserves and postrera sowing. Damages have been reported on the crops of basic grains, bananas, African palm, vegetables, coffee, cardamom, and cocoa, among others. However, 81 percent of the 136,762 hectares of damaged crops reported by MAGA are corn and beans. Izabal, Chiquimula, and Alta Verapaz reported the highest losses of these crops. Many households lost their basic grain reserves, either harvested in the primera cycle and kept in storage or still in the plots yet to be harvested. The postrera cycle in the East is dedicated to bean sowing, representing a significant contribution to the national market, so the damage and consequent losses will have an impact on prices.

    Markets. Damage to highways and side roads has affected the transport of agricultural products. Transportation from the northern and eastern regions to the capital has been affected, causing difficulties for the usual supply of basic grains to the Terminal market. This, together with these losses, has caused corn and bean prices to rise. The price of black beans in the Terminal market was 437.50 GTQ at the beginning of November. After hurricane Eta, it reached 505 GTQ (+15 percent) in the middle of the month, 446 GTQ at the end of November, and 416 GTQ by the second week of December. As for white corn, it started at 110 GTQ in November and reached 132 GTQ (+20 percent) after hurricane Eta. It then dropped to 116 GTQ a few days later to finally reach 130 GTQ by the end of early December. Vegetable farmers in the affected areas have had difficulties transporting their produce due to mudslides and damaged roads, and have faced considerable losses due to the perishability of their produce. To this day, there are still locations isolated due to flooding, landslides, and roadblocks. Some municipal markets, such as the Chajul municipal market, were closed for several days because of persistent flooding.

    Table 2. Extent of agricultural damage due to hurricanes Eta and Iota in Guatemala, November 2020


    Municipalities with crop damage

    Households with crop damage

    Crops damaged

    Area affected (Ha)

    Economic loss (GTQ)


    Alta Verapaz

    17 of 17


    Cocoa, corn, green beans, cardamom, and beans





    11 of 11


    Corn and beans




    El Progreso

    7 of 8


    Corn, beans, lemons, and fruit trees





    15 of 33


    Corn, vegetables, and fruit trees





    5 of 5







    17 of 17


    Corn, beans, Roselle





    11 of 14


    Corn, sesame, and vegetables





    11 of 21


    Corn, beans, vegetables




    Santa Rosa

    13 of 14


    Corn and beans





    10 of 11


    Corn, beans, and melons











    Source: MAGA


    Income and livelihoods. The reopening of economic activities after lockdown measures imposed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, even with social distancing restrictions, has allowed a partial or total recovery of a large part of the sources of income. However, there is still a long road to recovery for tourism-related activities. In October, the season of high labor demand began to generate income for rural households. Harvesting sugar cane, coffee, and cardamom, as well as fruit and vegetable farming jobs, constitute the typical sources of employment during these times. The sugar cane harvest foresees average production similar to last year, and stable hiring of labor. Meanwhile, coffee harvesting may be affected by the restrictive measures imposed as a result of COVID-19, such as irregular and expensive transportation, which would particularly affect migrant households, such as those in the Dry Corridor that travel to other areas or travel outside the country towards Mexico or Honduras.

    The storms affected nine livelihood zones with an economy that is based either on the production of basic grains or on export crops and fishing or tourism. Employment is currently concentrated in bean harvesting and sowing the next cycle of corn, cardamom, coffee, and fruits and vegetables. These commercial crops were negatively affected by the hurricanes, thereby affecting household access to income. Additionally, there is also the loss of productive assets, such as farm tools and agricultural inputs, loss of fishing equipment, particularly for the coastal zone of Izabal, and backyard animals destined for sale and consumption. According to MAGA reports, the areas of Quiché, Huehuetenango, and Alta Verapaz suffered the loss of thousands of animals. Damage to road infrastructure in the east affected seasonal migration to the coffee harvest, causing a one or two month delay in moving to that regular source of income. Some cooperatives in Quiché, Alta Verapaz, and Huehuetenango have reported damage to coffee plots. Access to farms to transport freshly harvested coffee has also been affected. The humidity that was maintained for several days will have an impact on the harvest and the risk of diseases.

    Humanitarian aid in response to Eta/Iota. On November 9, 2020, after hurricane Eta and prior to hurricane Iota, the government of Guatemala made a plea requesting priority food assistance amounting to more than 40 million USD. Relief efforts are currently focused on the more than 133,275 people in shelters (as of December 17, 2020), with 5,330 in official shelters and 127,945 in unofficial shelters. The total number of people sheltered began to drop as of the second week of December. Alta Verapaz and Izabal have the largest number of people in official shelters, which is also where most of the humanitarian relief efforts are concentrated. As reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on December 15, 2020, there were 30 organizations working in 11 departments in response to this plea. The support provided includes food and non-food items, supplying hygiene and health kits, water, medical supplies, and transportation.

    Evolution of COVID-19 and other diseases in shelters. Countrywide, COVID-19 cases have been declining until the end of November, showing an improvement in the alert level with more municipalities on yellow alert and fewer on red alert. However, hospitals report an increase in the occupancy of beds assigned to treat patients infected with COVID-19. One of the great concerns in areas affected by the storms is COVID-19 infection in shelters, given the housing situation and poor hygiene conditions, and the lack of water and supplies to prevent the disease from spreading (masks, alcohol gel, site cleaning).

    Nutritional Status. The table published by SESAN regarding the active search process for children with acute malnutrition 2020, which began recently in the second semester of this year by the Ministry of Health, reports a total of 205,511 children under the age of five evaluated with mid-upper arm circumference on December 4, 2020. With this measurement, 0.41 percent of children were identified with moderate or severe acute malnutrition and, considering clinical signs, this percentage rises to 0.55 percent. The highest prevalence rates are in Izabal with 2.84 percent, Santa Rosa with 2.06 percent, Retalhuleu with 1.31 percent, San Marcos with 1.08 percent, and Huehuetenango with 1.03 percent. The rest of the departments are below 1 percent. Sacatepéquez is the only department without any data available. This active search indicates that the nutritional status of children does not show atypical figures. These data could indicate that families have known how to protect minors, despite their difficulties in accessing food due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Most affected zones

    In addition to the areas of concern that are part of the Dry Corridor, GT06 and GT10, there are also other livelihood zones damaged by the two storms.

    The areas most affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota are GT03, which covers Ixcán, Quiché, Fray, Chisec, Alta Verapaz, southern Petén, and Izabal; GT04, which is the coastal fishing and tourist area of Izabal; GT05, which corresponds to almost all of southern Alta Verapaz, as well as Barillas in Huehuetenango and Uspantán and Chicamán in the department of Quiché; GT10, which encompasses the entire departments of Chiquimula, Jutiapa, Jalapa, southern Zacapa; and part of GT06, the municipalities corresponding to the Ixil area; and the municipalities of Zacapa that are part of GT08. In many areas, the local population is dedicated to the production of basic grains, corn, and beans, either for their own consumption, the sale of surplus or, in the case of GT03, solely and exclusively for trade. Poor and very poor households usually have little to no land and live off of the local sale of farm labor on neighboring plots. In some cases, the impact of the storms is threefold since production is intended for consumption, sale, or is a source of employment. With respect to GT04, most of the fishing is destined for sale, and the main source of income for households is the sale of their labor in fishing and agricultural activities. Fishing constitutes their main source of food, followed by purchases and the basic grains harvest that constitutes their reserves for a few months. The storms caused serious damage to the livelihoods of these households, due to the loss of their reserves of primera basic grains, destroyed by the floods, as well as the loss of postrera crops and the very few productive assets they possess.

    Current food security outcomes: Countrywide, the reactivation of various productive sectors has partially improved household income. However, people continue to resort to various activities and strategies to ensure access to food, which is why their food security situation is classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Despite being in the middle of the season of high labor demand, poor and very poor households located in the Dry Corridor, particularly those in rural areas, continue to face a food insecurity Crisis (IPC Phase 3). This is a result of higher transportation costs, increased food prices, reduced wages accrued given the late start to the harvest season, and the continuous use of negative coping strategies to cover their basic diet consisting of corn and beans owing to several consecutive years of poor harvests.Hurricanes Eta and Iota impacted areas in the north and east of the country that offer different opportunities at the local level for income generation and land ownership for home consumption crops. During this time of high demand for labor, these areas harvest various crops that offer employment to very poor households whose only source of food is purchasing. These two storms have had an impact on the livelihoods of these populations, causing damage to homes, crops, and road and production infrastructure, and resulting in the loss of basic grain reserves and reduced wages. Additionally, many homes are still isolated or flooded and entire communities are waterlogged. Almost one month since hurricanes Eta and Iota hit, there are still thousands of people in official and unofficial shelters who depend on aid. The needs exceeded the response capacity of the government, which made a plea for international aid. This allowed for immediate actions to serve the sheltered population in particular. These areas located in the north, east and northwest of the country are classified as being in a food insecurity Crisis (IPC Phase 3).



    The assumptions used by FEWS NET to develop the most likely food security scenario for October 2020 to May 2021 have been modified as follows:

    Evolution of COVID-19. COVID-19 cases are expected to rise after the end-of-year festivities, mainly in urban areas. In addition, due to the lack of hygiene products, the rise in cases is most likely going to take place in the shelters and communities most affected by the storms, in both urban and rural areas. Poor sanitary conditions could also lead to a significant outbreak of infectious diseases, exacerbating family health conditions.

    Production of basic grains. Corn and beans postrera harvest losses would reduce the supply of national grain on the markets and the availability for producer households.

    Markets, food prices, and transportation. Given crop losses and road damage complicating transportation, basic grain prices are expected to remain above the five-year average and similar to the figures recorded in 2020. Prices would behave according to seasonality, but high, until the next primera harvests in 2021.

    Income from wages and the sale of surplus crops. The loss of annual crops, the recovery times of severely damaged plantations, and the loss of productive infrastructure would mean a reduction in working days, either due to less hired time or production volumes that are lower than usual, in addition to COVID-19 restrictions. This is without mentioning the costs and lost business opportunities that road infrastructure damage would mean for small commercial crop producers, who would find it difficult to transport their product to sale areas.

    Assistance programs in response to Eta/Iota. The government of Guatemala has currently made an international plea for food aid and assistance, amounting to a total of 186.8 USD. Even though several aid agencies or countries have responded to the plea, there is no detail yet on the location, number of families, or type of aid. The government has created a specific division for reconstruction, but the amounts to be allocated remain unknown.

    Health and nutrition. Zones with floods and collapsed water and sanitation systems could have a rise in infectious diseases due to the lack of safe water for consumption and increasing risk of acute malnutrition.

    Cold and frost season:  According to INSIVUMEH, the cold season started in December. In all, around 12 to 14 cold fronts are expected, with low temperatures occurring especially in the western highlands, potentially affecting crops in the area due to frost.

    Early start to lean season in February for affected areas. For poor rural households, especially those located in the Dry Corridor, the lean season was projected to start earlier than usual in March, due to irregularities in the hiring of labor that could entail lower income. Now, in the areas affected by the two storms, the loss of basic grain reserves and of the postrera season would cause a dependence on corn and bean purchases in the market at above-average prices. Added to this is the possible reduction in income from wages earned in surplus and private commercial productions.


    Countrywide, the gradual recovery of sources of employment continues. The sectors that record the highest number of jobs, including shops, food and personal services, entertainment activities, and tourism are still limited. The informal sector also remains limited, facing lower demand for products and services sold, and a greater number of people that have turned to the informal sector after losing formal employment. In addition to reduced, irregular, and expensive transportation, a large part of the population is earning a lower income than usual, causing a drop in non-essential expenses, the use of savings and credits, and the adaptation of their traditional diet for less preferred or cheaper foods; their food situation is classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Households in the Dry Corridor have experienced at least five years of impacts on their livelihoods linked to agricultural activity, both for the production of basic grains for home consumption and for the generation of income by selling their labor. The COVID-19 pandemic, which brought transportation and employment issues and a rise in basic grain prices, immediately impacted the poorest households, who had to resort to the use of negative strategies to meet their diet needs. These include atypical migration, the atypical sale of animals, work tools, and both seed and grain reserves, and the reduction in food quantity and quality included in their diets. Added to this is the impact of storms, which exacerbate the situation and leave them in a state of food security Crisis (IPC Phase 3) for the coming months.

    The populations of the northern and eastern areas of the country affected by the two hurricanes suffered a drop in income from the sale of labor, in addition to transportation difficulties that would entail spending more to commute to work and markets. They will also face above-average corn and bean prices throughout the period, which will reduce their purchasing power and cause an early start to the lean season, characterized by the recurring implementation of negative coping strategies to buy basic diet foods, e.g., corn and beans, at above-average prices. This population will remain in a food insecurity Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the period covered by this report, since these families do not have assets to mitigate the shortage as they have lost their animals and work tools and their soils were damaged. There are also precarious sanitary and hygiene conditions in various areas, which will further complicate the health and nutrition status of the population, and livelihoods that will recover slowly as access roads are rebuilt.

    Events that may change the national outlook

    Table 3. Possible events in the next six months that may change the most likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Hoarding of corn or beans

    A rise in the price of basic grains that will impact the food access of the poor and very poor, limiting consumption and provoking dietary adjustments, which could lead to an increase in the population that is Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).


    Reinstatement of restrictive measures due to COVID-19

    Impact on the slow recovery of household income sources and access to food, complicating the generation of income and food access, causing more households to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).


    Lower production of coffee and a considerable decrease in the sale price

    Less hiring of temporary workers, which would affect income and cause the lean season to begin even sooner than expected.


    New government food assistance programs

    Access would improve for a few months and, if aid is sufficient, the food insecurity classification phase could improve.

    Area affected

    Resowing of basic grains in affected areas

    Increase in the availability of basic grains for consumption and sale could mean an improvement in the food situation of some households in areas located in the north and east that have access to land.


    Figures El este del país recibió precipitaciones superiores a 500mm y el resto del país con precipitaciones entre100 y 500 mm, con al

    Figure 1

    Figura 1


    Mapa de las zonas de medios de vida afectadas por los huracanes

    Figure 2

    Figura 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    El precio del frijol se mantendrá por arriba del promedio

    Figure 3

    Figura 3


    El precio del maíz se mantendrá levemente por arriba del promedio

    Figure 4

    Figura 4


    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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