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The impact of rainfall on food security will become apparent in March 2012

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Guatemala
  • November 2011
The impact of rainfall on food security will become apparent in March 2012

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  • Key Messages
  • Update of the food security outlook through December 2011
  • Key Messages
    • Field evaluations conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture, and by the World Food Program (WFP) in conjunction with MFEWS, determined that the magnitude of the losses and damages to basic cereal grain production following the heavy October rainfall did not significantly affect supply to the national market, as losses to maize totaled only 2% and losses to beans only 1.5%.

    • However, subsistence households that were affected by the rain will see a deterioration in their food security status, particularly in the altiplano, where losses were not as extensive but where subsistence households do not have the options of a second production cycle or of replanting. The areas most affected in terms of total acreage are the southern coast, Alta Verapaz and Petén.

    • The impact of this heavy rainfall on food security is projected to be most severe beginning in March, when employment opportunities will decrease considerably and affected households will no longer have reserve stocks of food.

    • Projections indicate that postrera crops will be normal, either because the harvest began following the heavy rains or because replanting was possible using irrigation or residual moisture. A loss any smaller than that forecasted will have the effect of regulating market prices, which will exhibit a downward trend through December, but may still be high when compared to the average for the past five years. A slight seasonal increase is projected for January-March.

    Update of the food security outlook through December 2011

    The principal highways damaged by the severe October rains have been repaired, thereby facilitating communications. Problems with access continue to exist, nevertheless, owing to the poor conditions of secondary roads and smaller bridges, which the government has not yet been able to address.  However, the situation is not as critical now as it was immediately following the period of rainfall.

    The rainy season concluded in early November, marking the onset of cold and frost, a period which extends through February-March. The outlook for the period from December 2011 through March 2012 calls for normal weather patterns in some northern areas of the country, the Northern Transverse Strip, and the area bordering the Caribbean, where normal patterns do not indicate a complete end to rainfall, as the arrival of cold fronts contribute to precipitation. Normal weather behavior is also expected for the rest of the country, including some rainfall that is typical during this period.  However, isolated events of heavy precipitation cannot be ruled out. A normal cold front season is projected with the potential for 13-15 such events, which could contribute to the occurrence of frost in the altiplano.

    The La Niña phenomenon will still be present during the period covered by this outlook, with projections calling for a return to neutral conditions by approximately May 2012. It should also be noted that the hurricane season does not officially end until late November.  As a result, the effects of a potential tropical storm event this month should not be discounted. If such an event were to occur, it would significantly alter the country’s current conditions, which is currently extremely vulnerable following the constant torrential rainfall that occurred during October.

    It is now several weeks following the end of the heavy rainfall caused by tropical depression 12-E and the subsequent strong low pressure system, and field reports prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture, along with a field visit conducted jointly by MFEWS and WFP, have begun to offer a description of the actual agricultural situation in the country. The results indicate that the losses reported are not significant in terms of supplies available to the national market, as only 2% of the total maize production and only 1.5% of the total bean production were lost. Production damages and losses for subsistence farmers, however, are significant for the households affected.

    The conclusion drawn from these evaluations is that most farmers had already harvested their primera season maize in all regions of the country except for the altiplano, where the harvest does not take place until November-December. Damages and losses have been reported for crops still in the fields.  Planting was staggered early in the year, and as such, some crops did not reach maturity until late October. In addition, farmers who prefer to leave their maize to dry in the field instead of storing it in their homes also incurred damages, as a result of the excessive humidity affecting ears. As a result, households in these regions currently have reserves for at least one month, and are now waiting for the harvest of postrera crops, which were less affected.

    An exception to the above situation is the altiplano, where only one harvest per year is possible. In the areas where the harvest was affected, it will mean a significant reduction in household food reserves. Affected households are expected to resort to purchases for their supply of cereal grains over the next few months, although toward the end of the first quarter of 2012, access to food is expected to be constrained.  These households will be purchasing food in months in which cereal grains are normally available from their own crops. As a result, the annual food shortage season is expected to begin one or two months early (in February) for these households.

    Most of the postrera production, including both maize and beans, was planted subsequent to the heavy October rains, with the result that damages and losses were minimal. In addition, in areas where losses did occur, particularly in the southern region of the country, farmers used irrigation to replant in order to obtain a second harvest between March and April. This replanting, in combination with reports of normal supply levels from Mexico and areas of excess production within Guatemala, will enable market prices to self-regulate and begin a downward trend.  However, prices will remain high compared to the most recent five-year average.

    It is important to note that other countries of the region were also seriously affected by the heavy October rains, including El Salvador, which has reported losses of between 40 and 50 percent of its total maize production. As a result, the region’s trade dynamic, especially as regards El Salvador, could generate a flow of Guatemalan maize to El Salvador.  This could in turn increase prices slightly in the national market. The trade dynamic for beans will not be affected, as demand in neighboring countries is for red bens and not for black beans, which are typically consumed in Guatemala.

    The annual peak season for unskilled labor has commenced. Although there are reports of damages to crops which normally require a large number of day laborers, these damages do not account for a significant percentage of the total.  The poorest population groups will therefore have opportunities for employment related to these crops.  This employment will enable them to obtain significant cash income, which will be used to purchase food and to meet other basic needs, as well as to make appropriate investments for the upcoming harvest of primera crops in 2012.

    In addition to the precarious status of food access and availability, a significant increase is expected in the number of cases of acute respiratory infections, gastrointestinal diseases, and vector-borne diseases.  This increase is a result of the drop in temperatures and the excess humidity in the environment, and is compounded by significant damages to essential water and sanitation infrastructure. This situation is expected to reach particularly critical levels on the south coast, especially in the department of Escuintla, as well as in the eastern region of the country.  It is in these areas that the greatest incidences of these diseases are being recorded, which indicates an increased risk of acute malnutrition in children under age five. In the departments of Escuintla, Santa Rosa and San Marcos, 96% of water systems have suffered damage, increasing susceptibility to gastrointestinal diseases. These conditions will lead to a deterioration in the nutritional status of the resident population over the entire period covered by this outlook report, particularly in children under the age of five years, who are more susceptible to acute malnutrition as a consequence of poor health.

    To summarize, the strong rains that fell in October affected a small percentage of the basic grain crops from the primera crop cycle, and an even smaller percentage of crops from the postrera crop cycle. In addition, impact on the demand for unskilled labor will not be felt until February, and prices through December will exhibit a downward trend, with a slight increase projected for the first quarter of 2012. Such factors indicate that food access and availability for most of the population will not be a concern until February, although households directly impacted in affected areas will experience reduced grain supplies beginning immediately. However, an increase in morbidity may lead to a deterioration in nutritional status, particularly in children under age five. Beginning in February, the food security situation could reach crisis levels in some areas of the altiplano and the southern coast.  Food security for most of the January-March period will generally be at Stressed levels.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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