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The annual lean season has now begun

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • April - September 2012
The annual lean season has now begun

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  • Key Messages
  • Most likely food security scenario (April – September 2012)
  • Key Messages
    • Throughout the country, households are now resorting to purchases to obtain food, as they now find themselves in the annual lean season. However, the strategies used by these households to address these difficulties are typical for this time of year, as a result of which they are classified in IPC Phase 1 (none/minimal) (Figure 1).

    • Irregular precipitation at the beginning of the rainy season could affect the growth of primera season crops. In addition, as forecast by the Climate Forum of Central America, the scarcity of rain over and above that observed during July’s canícula could increase the impact on the growth of primera crops, especially in the area known as the “dry corridor”. In this regard, monitoring of the information generated by INSIVUMEH will take on increased importance for timely decision-making.

    • The food security situation in the eastern region of the country will deteriorate in line with seasonal trends though August, when primera crops will be harvested. This deterioration will also be evident in the altiplano; although harvesting in this region will not take place until November, the harvest of first-cycle crops in other regions of the country during the month of August will improve both prices and market availability. In both cases, most of the households in this region will manage to satisfy their minimum food requirements without resorting to unsustainable response strategies, and have therefore been classified in IPC Phase 1 (none/minimal). The situation will remain stable and unchanged in the rest of the country, which has accordingly also been classified at IPC Phase 1.


    Most likely food security scenario (April – September 2012)

    In projecting food security outcomes over the six-month period covered by this outlook report, FEWS NET makes assumptions that are probable with regard to certain key events, both current and future, which will take place during that period, and takes into consideration their effect on the food and income generation of the residents of each region, or on their means of livelihood.

    At present, households throughout the country find themselves in the annual lean season, lacking reserves of basic grains and dependent on cash purchases of food, but with a market that is adequately supplied with both recently harvested products, as well as produce brought in from Mexico, and at levels similar to those observed in prior years. Hence, prices are stable, although they are projected to improve seasonally. Work opportunities are decreasing due to the conclusion of the harvesting of crops requiring large quantities of unskilled labor, such as coffee and sugar cane, among others. Households are currently able to satisfy their minimum food requirements without having to resort to unusual or unsustainable response strategies.

    The most likely scenario for the period from April through September 2012 is based on the following national-level assumptions: 

    • The harvesting of second-cycle corn in the northern region of the country is currently at its seasonal peak, with yields within normal ranges despite the negative impact caused by weather-related events and the tar spot disease infestation in 2011. Accordingly, grain prices are stable and may even reflect a slight decrease. It is expected that the beginning of the seasonal price increase will occur in May, concurrently with the conclusion of the production cycle. 
    • The second-cycle harvest for black beans is coming to a close, and seasonal price increases will become evident beginning in late April. Following the harvesting of first- cycle crops between August and September, the prices of both corn and black beans will decrease. 
    • The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that the La Niña phenomenon continues to weaken, with most models forecasting neutral conditions for the period between May and September. Despite the fact that La Niña will run its course in April, it will nonetheless affect the onset of the rainy season, with irregular precipitation projected for the period from April through June, given that the atmospheric impacts of these events often lag behind the conclusion of the ENSO episode. Even so, it is projected that rainfall accumulation between May and July will be within normal ranges. So far, the levels of accumulated rainfall reported are unusually high for this period. It should be noted, however, that in March and April historic levels of accumulated rainfall are extremely low, as a result of which rain in excess of normal does not present a risk. 
    • According to the report issued by the XXXVI Climate Forum of Central America, the rainy season will have begun during the second half of May throughout the country, with the exception of the northern region, where no rainfall is expected until June. In addition, the canícula is projected to occur this year between July 10-20, although it is still possible that rainfall in June will be less than normal. 
    • The outlook conducted as of March 21 by Colorado State University projects lower than average activity during the Atlantic hurricane season. It is still possible, however, that one or more tropical events may make landfall or otherwise have a direct impact on the Guatemalan land mass. FEWS NET will continue to monitor updates to the above-mentioned outlook and to forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, as well as advisory bulletins issued by the national weather service. 
    • Forecasts prepared by international experts suggest that prices for crude oil will be higher than those reported for the preceding year. Such an increase will translate into more expensive fuel in Guatemala, as a result of which the cost of transporting food commodities will likewise increase. 

    At the national level, the food security situation will continue to deteriorate, following exhaustion of household reserves and the increase in food prices. Although food prices are expected to continue to increase up until the harvesting of first-cycle crops in August, the strategies adopted by households will enable them to fulfill their minimum food requirements in terms of caloric intake. The increase in the number of cases of acute malnutrition during the annual food shortage period is not expected to increase beyond historic seasonal levels. There are some areas, however, which as a result of their vulnerability to food insecurity are addressed in some detail below. 

    Altiplano (livelihood zone 5) [1]

    The poorest households in this region no longer have reserves of corn and beans, since the harvest of these two crops was leaner than usual in 2011. With their reserves fully depleted, they must now resort to making cash purchases one month earlier than usual to obtain food. The poorest socioeconomic groups in livelihood zone 5 are dependent on employment as unskilled farm workers for between 45 to 60 percent of their total income, and during the period covered by this outlook the supply of labor will be seasonally reduced, as the harvesting of sugar cane and coffee will gradually come to a close. For this period, unskilled farm labor will consist of clean-up and planting of fields, especially to basic grains, with the result that it will be more difficult to earn income in the amounts received two to three months ago. Beginning in April and May, basic grains prices will begin their seasonal increase, with prices expected to be lower than those reported last year but still above the historic average for the past five years.

    The planting season in this zone takes place between February and May, as the production cycle begins early in this area, owing to the extended growth period and the humidity remaining in the soil, which allows some farmers to begin planting prior to the beginning of the rainy season. This year has witnessed atypical rainfall beginning in February, albeit with no negative consequences. The humid conditions prevailing in this area will reduce the impact of any potentially irregular rainfall projected for the period between April and June, and normal crop growth will depend on the amount of humidity that accumulates in the soil during these months, since the possibility of a scarcity of rainfall in July cannot be ruled out. Monitoring of this variable will be key in determining the need for an alert. However, the consequences of the problems for agriculture that could result from these weather conditions will not become evident until November, which does not fall within the scope of this outlook report.

    There have been no reports of problems involving the availability of seed for this planting season, although there have been delays in the distribution of central government-subsidized fertilizer. If the current administrative problems are resolved, the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that this fertilizer could reach the farmers in this region no later than the first two weeks of May. Although the Minister has recommended that planting commence during the second half of May, this is not a feasible option for the farmers of this region, due to the long growth period required for corn. As a result, the fertilizer will not reach farmers in time for it to do them any good and, because of a lack of sufficient cash for making out-of-pocket purchases, crops will not benefit from appropriate fertilization, which will in turn reduce their yield and, accordingly, the reserves of the poorest households by year-end.

    The high prices of fuel translate into increased prices for the transportation of commodities. Since at this time of year this region is highly dependent on grains produced in other areas of the country, the increase in transportation costs will mean that some merchants may cover this cost by increasing their prices to the consumer, at a time of year when the flow of basic grains into the national market is already at low levels. However, contraband fuel originating in Mexico is currently being sold, at prices considerably lower than those charged in the national market, in addition to which cereal grains from Mexico continue to flow into the country. Accordingly, it is projected that this will serve to regulate supply and that the increase in commodity prices will be less than expected.

    Both the quality and quantity of the diet will worsen beginning in April and continuing on through the conclusion of the harvest in November, as a result of the reduction in income and the increase in food prices, especially those of basic grains. With the annual food shortage period already underway, it is expected that the mechanisms used by the poorest households in this region to respond to the current situation will be typical, i.e., their strategies will be reversible and will not decrease their means of livelihood. These strategies will include national and regional migration, the sale of domestic animals, and the gathering of seasonal fruit and herbs during the entire period in question, which will enable these households to meet their daily requirements of 2100 kcal. This critical period will become more so over time, since the year’s only harvest will not take place until November/December. A reduction in yields would have consequences that could reach into 2013, when reserves will be exhausted sooner than usual. The poorest households in this region will face food difficulties as a result of the seasonal deterioration occurring during this period, as a result of which they have been classified in IPC Phase 1. There are some households that will face problems of food supply, although they will account for less than 20 percent of the population of the municipalities in the region, and accordingly the extent of the problem does not merit classification in more critical IPC phases. These households urgently require assistance focused on improving their status, in order to avoid a future crisis. 

    Eastern region (especially livelihood zone 8, which includes the departments of El Progreso, Santa Rosa, Chiquimula, Zacapa, Jalapa and Jutiapa)

    This zone is located in Guatemala’s so-called “dry corridor,” characterized by its arid conditions and the country’s lowest levels of average accumulated rainfall. For this reason, the farmers of the region begin planting their first-cycle crops in May, as soon as the initial rains begin, which this year are expected to be irregular in nature. Farmers planting during this month may experience damages to first-cycle crops caused by seed germination problems. However, some of these farmers will resort to replanting, even though doing so would lead to indebtedness, which at the conclusion of the crop cycle would translate into a lower availability of grain, since the farmers will be required to use part of their production to pay off the debt thus acquired. In addition, the forecast made by the recent Climate Forum indicates that rainfall in July may be lower than usual. This month is critical in terms of humidity available for corn crops, as it is during this period that the plant sprouts and bears fruit, which ultimately will define crop yield. A deficit in humidity has a greater potential to translate into a reduction in the corn harvest than do irregularities with respect to the commencement of the rainy season. The harvesting of crops planted during the first production cycle will take place between August and September and, unless farmers experience a total crop loss, will therefore improve food availability in crop-producing households. However, a lower yield will mean that the reserves to be used for consumption after September will not last nearly as long as usual.

    According to FAO reports as of April 1, reserves of harvested corn in the poorest households have now been exhausted, and accordingly these households must obtain grain by means of cash purchases. In the case of beans, reserves will last through mid-May. Last year during this period, there were no reserves, as a result of which these households are comparatively better off vis-à-vis the situation prevailing in 2011. However, this amount of grain is significantly less than that reported for the same month in 2008 and 2009 (Figure 3). These data suggest that the annual food shortage period will begin in late April and early May, i.e., somewhat earlier than usual. This early onset has occurred for three consecutive years in this area. 

    Between 50 and 75 percent of the basic grains procured by this region’s poorest groups are the result of cash purchases, especially in the case of the extremely poor, whose crop production is lower. It is between April and May that this food source becomes most important, since grain produced the preceding year has already been consumed. Income for the purchase of food comes primarily from the sale of unskilled labor (day-wage farm work) — up to 90 percent in the case of 

    extremely poor households, which in turn means that they resort to day-wage farm work all year round to obtain cash. During this period, these daily farm wages will be earned from work involving the clean-up and planting of fields, particularly to basic grains, inasmuch as the sugar cane and coffee harvests, together with the gathering of cucurbits and other vegetables, will have already concluded. Since there are fewer sources of employment at this time than in other seasons of the year, and therefore fewer days worked, income for these households will be scant during a period already characterized by high prices. For the period covered by this outlook, the prices of basic grains will begin their seasonal increase with a peak expected to be reached in July; this increase in prices will be exacerbated by a concomitant increase in the cost of fuel. It is expected that these prices will be higher than the historic average, but at levels lower than those reported last year. In August, when the harvest of first-cycle crops will have been brought in, prices will begin to decrease, although the increased price of fuel will mean that this decrease will be less pronounced than was reported in previous years.

    So far there have been no reports of a nutritional crisis situation; it should be remembered, however, that the period between May and July typically reflects an increase in the prevalence of seasonal respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, with a corresponding deterioration in health that will affect people’s nutritional status. In addition, beginning in May it is common to see an increase in the number of cases of acute malnutrition in this region, with a decrease occurring once the

    harvest has been brought in during the month of August. However, these cases are not expected to affect more than five percent of the population.

    Until August/September, both the quality and quantity of food intake will be negatively affected as a result of the reduction in income and the increase in food prices, particularly in the case of basic grains. However, the gathering of fruits and herbs, which occurs between May and September, will allow households to meet their daily requirements of 2100 kcal. Beginning in August, the harvesting of crops planted during the first production cycle will make it possible to replenish reserves in grain-producing households, which in turn will improve the availability of food at the household level. A reduction in the yields of first-cycle crops will produce consequences in subsequent months, when reserves will not last as long as usual.

    The typical strategies to which the poorest households will resort, such as the sale of domestic animals to obtain cash and the decrease in the number of meals per day, will allow them to withstand (though not optimally) these dietary difficulties. Conditions will begin to deteriorate throughout the year, with July being the most critical month, immediately prior to the harvesting of crops from the first production cycle. This region will remain at IPC Phase 1 (none/minimal). Although there are households that will be unable to meet their dietary requirements, and that may even have children with moderate to severe acute malnutrition, these households do not represent a sufficiently significant percentage of the population for this region to be classified at the IPC stress level. 

    Table 1. Less probable events during the next six months that could change the above-described scenarios 

    Areas

    Event

    Impact on food security outcomes

    The entire country, and especially the altiplano 

    The proposed interventions involving new government plans and programs are not implemented during the next six months 

    Since the population will receive no additional external assistance as compared to previous years, and since the food shortage season began early, households might resort to strategies that would erode their sources of livelihood, to the point that they could conceivably be classified at the stress level (IPC, Phase 2) 

    Entire country 

    The onset of the rainy season occurs normally 

    A normal onset to the rainy season would facilitate the normal growth of crops, especially basic grains in the eastern region, with a yield of about average and harvests occurring at the usual time of year. Accordingly, the annual food shortage period would conclude at the usual time and household food reserves would mean less dependence on purchases for the second half of the year and on into 2013. 

    Entire country 

    Direct impact or indirect effect caused by a tropical event affecting the country 

    Loss of both subsistence (consumption) and cash crops. The latter are a source of income. Fishing as a source of food and income would also be affected by a decrease in the number of days of work available and possible damage to productive assets. Reduction in the physical and economic access to food, and in the availability of food in households. If such an event were to impact the southern coastal area or the production areas of Petén and the Transverse Strip, thereby reducing considerably the harvest in those areas, the result would be an increase in prices. The magnitude of the tropical event would determine the extent of any damages as well as their impact. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Reserves of white corn (in number of months) in the eastern region, as of April 1, 2012

    Figure 2

    Reserves of white corn (in number of months) in the eastern region, as of April 1, 2012

    Source: FAO

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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