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Early onset of lean season projected for 2015, despite above-average Postrera harvests

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Guatemala
  • November 2014
Early onset of lean season projected for 2015, despite above-average Postrera harvests

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through March 2015
  • Key Messages
    • Postrera harvests and the annual season of peak labor demand are improving the food security of the poorest households, increasing food availability and access. The exceptions to this general improvement are households in the Western Highlands and Eastern regions, who experienced losses stemming from the prolonged canícula (dry period).

    • Government food assistance and increased income from wage labor employment opportunities will maintain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes through December for municipalities in the temperate Highlands affected by drought conditions. In the absence of assistance from external sources, the situation will deteriorate between January and March, leading to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) at the conclusion of the season of peak labor demand.

    • In the Eastern region, the Postrera harvest, increased earnings from day labor, and the distribution of food assistance will lead to Minimal (IPC Phase 1!) food insecurity through December. With the early depletion of reserves, lower levels of income, and the absence of food assistance, the poorest households will become Stressed (IPC Phase 2) between January and March.

    Current Situation

    The harvest of Postrera bean crops has begun in the bean-producing areas of the Northern and Eastern regions and, as a result of favorable weather conditions, an above-average harvest is expected. In September, the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA) predicted that total bean production for the 2014/2015 agricultural cycle (August 2014 – March 2015) would increase by 3.1 percent compared to 2013/2014, despite losses reported for the Primera crop harvest resulting from the prolonged canícula.

    The crop most affected by the losses recorded during the Primera crop cycle was white maize, with losses representing 5 percent of national production. Despite these losses, MAGA reports that national production of maize for the current year increased by 3.1 percent over the preceding year, attributable to a 1.2 percent increase in land area harvested and a 1.8 percent increase in yields, particularly in the Northern region. Those most affected by the canícula were subsistence farmers in the dry corridor, whose production is earmarked primarily for household consumption, with only a marginal amount set aside for sale. These households absorbed losses of between 80 and 100 percent of their maize and bean crops, whereas losses in a normal year due to the vulnerable conditions of subsistence farmers do not exceed 50 percent. The harvest in the Highlands will begin this month. Average results are expected, with the exception of areas affected by the canícula.

    According to an October 31 FAO report, all regions of the country report an increase in the reserves of basic grains in the poorest households, following the conclusion of the Primera harvest and the annual harvest taking place in the Highlands in November and December. These reserves will last for a shorter-than-average period of time in areas affected by the prolonged canícula. The poorest households in regions experiencing the lowest levels of cumulative rainfall report losses in excess of 80 percent. The reserves most affected are those for maize, while the harvesting of Postrera crops will increase reserves of beans, a portion of which households will set aside for sale in order to generate a source of income to be used to purchase maize – a strategy adopted to partially offset losses incurred during the Primera crop cycle.

    After a September decrease, maize prices remained seasonally stable during October and near the five-year average, following an increase in market supplies resulting from Primera crop harvests in Petén and the Northern Transversal Strip. When compared to last year, however, prices reflect significant increases due to an exceptionally good Primera harvest in 2013, whereas harvests for the current year did not meet last year’s production levels, despite being above-average. Black bean prices also reflect stability when compared to both last month and last year, although they did not decrease in recent months. The decrease in the supply of beans produced nationally was offset by beans imported from Mexico.

    As is typical, the commencement of harvesting in the coffee and sugar sectors increased the demand for unskilled labor. Although a seven percent increase in the coffee harvest for the current agricultural cycle as compared to last year is expected, it will remain below the production levels prior to the coffee rust outbreak. No change is anticipated in demand for unskilled labor in the sugar sector.

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used by FEWS NET to develop the most likely food security scenario for the period from October 2014 to March 2015 have been modified as follows:

    • Forecasts published by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in its mid-November report establish a 74 percent probability of an occurrence of the El Niño phenomenon during the December-February quarter. The Regional Climate Forum does not expect this will have major implications in terms of rainfall accumulation during the period from December through March, should an El Niño event materialize. This forum expects near-normal rainfall throughout the country, although isolated events of above-average rainfall could occur in Central and Southern areas.

    Projected Outlook through March 2015

    The food security situation of the poorest households has improved in most areas of the country, as a result of the harvesting of Postrera crops, the beginning of the annual harvest in the Highlands, and the start of the season of high demand for unskilled labor. The harvests help households establish some reserves, enabling them to reduce their dependence on market purchases. At the same time, they contribute to the stabilization of prices, helping improve household purchasing capacity along with increased household income from wages. As a result, the lean season concluded in October for most households in the country.

    The period from January through March will see an improvement in food availability following the harvesting of Postrera crops in the areas that typically produce during this season. The peak period of demand for unskilled labor will also have been reached, to be followed by a seasonal decrease toward the end of the quarter. Accordingly, households in most areas of the country will be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity during this period.

    The areas affected by the prolonged canícula will receive food assistance through December. In addition, affected households will improve their food situation through increased income from day labor during the coffee and sugar harvests. However, since available food assistance does not fully cover the gap in household food requirements, households in the Highlands affected by the drought and by reduced coffee sector income will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through December. Provision of food assistance has yet to be funded for the first quarter of 2015. Without assistance, these households will again be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during January through March, as they will be forced to reduce both the quality of the food consumed and the number of daily meals.

    In the case of households affected by rainfall deficits in the Eastern region of the country, the Postrera harvest will lead to improved food availability as a result of household bean reserves, as well as increased income through the sale of a portion of the harvest. For this reason, these households will be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1!) acute food insecurity from November through December. As the quarter progresses from January toward March, this classification will change to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to a seasonal decrease in income-generating options. As a result of the losses incurred during the Primera season, maize reserves will be depleted earlier than usual, whereas market prices of basic grains will begin to increase seasonally. This situation will be exacerbated in the absence of the food assistance initially scheduled by the government to cover the months in question.


    Figure 1


    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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