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Extended lean season hampers food access for households in the dry corridor

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • December 2018
Extended lean season hampers food access for households in the dry corridor

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • As a result of the extended heat wave and subsequent crop losses, poor households located in the dry corridor will continue to rely on the purchase of basic grains to feed themselves, marking an early onset to the lean season. 

    • Reduced income from temporary work in the coffee industry will create an income shortfall, restricting access to food, which households will attempt to cover through adopting survival strategies that will continue to deplete their livelihoods, and will be classified as in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). It is estimated that the number of households in this situation will increase over the course of the lean season.

    • Market supply of basic cereals will increase seasonally, thanks to an average Postrera production from the surplus areas of the southern coast, the Northern Transversal Strip and southern Petén, and the upcoming harvests that will keep the market supplied until March, resulting in a decrease and stabilization of maize and bean prices, improving household spending power.

    • Continued El Niño conditions would cause irregularity at the start of the first rainy season of 2019. This situation would impede the start of Primera sowings, particularly for those poor households in the dry corridor whose resources for the purchase of inputs have been diminished.


    Current situation

    Basic grains harvests in the various regions of the country led to an improvement in the availability of food for households and on the national market, with the exception of those areas in the east and west within the dry corridor where there was an almost total loss of crops due to the extended heat wave. According to Ministry of Agriculture data, 300,000 subsistence and below-subsistence farmers were affected by the extended heat wave, which led to losses ranging from 50 percent to total of maize and bean crops. These households, which were already buying maize and beans on the market during the months leading up to the harvest, will continue to depend on this source of food, signaling an early onset to the annual lean season. Postrera crop development has been positive in all areas and average production is thus expected.

    The entry on to the market of cereals from recent harvests in the surplus areas of the southern coast, the Northern Transversal Strip and southern Petén have started to influence the behavior of prices, which are initiating a downward trend: wholesale prices in the key La Terminal market in October showed a decrease from the previous months of eight percent in maize and one percent in beans. However, comparison with the five-year average reveals different trends, with a variation of +7.51 percent for maize and
    -17.13 percent for beans.

    During the period covered by this outlook, demand for unskilled labor increased seasonally, reaching a peak during December/January which will continue until March. Temporary employment opportunities are provided by agricultural sectors such as coffee, sugar cane, melon, tobacco and basic grains and other specific crops according to the country’s different production areas. The coffee harvest is the most important source of income for poor households, generating approximately 25 million days of wages according to production projections for this season. However, the international price has fallen, and in October the ICO (International Coffee Organization) composite indicator average price was 110.01 US cents per pound of green coffee, a reduction of 8.8 cents compared to the previous year.


    The national outlook for December 2018 through May 2019 is based on the following assumptions:

    • Season of cold fronts and frosts: The cold season began in November. Between 12 and 14 cold fronts are forecast, which would cause low temperatures in the highest areas of the altiplano and precipitation in the northern and Caribbean region.
    • El Niño - Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions: ENSO conditions will persist until May, causing an irregular start to the first rainy season of 2019.
    • Postrera cycle production: With the exception of households who failed to carry out Postrera sowings due to losses in the Primera cycle, crops are expected to fall within the average range.
    • Production during the northern basic grains season: Meteorological models for areas in Petén show average to below-average rainfall until March 2019. However, rainfall from cold fronts and soil moisture will enable plants to develop adequately and crops are expected to be within the average.
    • Start of the 2019 Primera season: Irregularities at the beginning of the first rainy season may lead to delays in planting. Due to losses from Primera crops, poor households that suffered losses and accrued debts will not have the resources needed for purchasing inputs for planting or will sow a smaller than usual area.
    • Supply and prices of maize and black beans: The national market will continue to be supplied with maize and beans thanks to the recent Primera harvests, Postrera production from the west and north of the country which runs from November to March, and continuing informal imports of maize from Mexico. Maize prices will therefore fall with respect to previous months, when there were atypical rises caused by the announcement of crop losses, but will remain slightly above the five-year average until March when the seasonal upward trend begins as the flow of national crops diminishes. Bean prices will continue to fall during the final months of the year. They will then stabilize but will remain below the five-year average as a result of high market supply and a drop in demand.
    • Income sources: The demand for unskilled labor will reach a peak during December/January and will continue until March, and opportunities for temporary employment will remain stable in sugar cane, melon, tobacco, basic cereal and vegetable production. The low international coffee price could have a negative impact on the daily wage for picking, reducing total household income from this activity. While labor demand for other crops will remain stable, the amount of employment is lower either due to the type of work, duration and/or volume produced, or ways that employees are hired. 
    • Humanitarian assistance: In response to the Primera harvest losses, the government announced in December the provision of two redeemable food coupons worth Q 250 each to a total of 300,000 farmers at the national level.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    The beginning of the peak season for unskilled labor and the flow of crops from the country’s surplus areas that will maintain seasonally low prices will enable households to meet their food requirements and maintain regular livelihoods, thus remaining in Minimal food insecurity (IPC phase 1).

    The situation is different for those poor households located in the dry corridor affected by the prolonged heat wave, who will continue to buy food when in a normal year basic grains would be available from their own harvest. This premature market dependency signals the early onset of the annual lean season, which will begin in January instead of March/April. While markets will remain supplied, lowering the prices of basic grains, the impact of low international coffee prices on wages would cause an income shortfall, affecting food consumption, which will be limited to basic products such as maize and beans, to the detriment of the purchase of more varied and nutritious products. To address this situation, the poorest households that have resorted to survival strategies, such as taking loans, using seed stocks, and cutting spending on health, education and agricultural inputs, will continue to exhaust their livelihoods to ensure access to a basic minimum of food. These areas will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2), with groups of households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the period from December to February; from March to May, as the lean season progresses and income and sources of employment decrease, the number of households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) will increase. 

    Figures The first rainy season indicates below average rainfall.

    Figure 1

    Percentage of average rainfall accumulated between May and August 2018

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    The second rainy season indicates near-average rainfall in almost all of Guatemala

    Figure 2

    Percentage of average cumulative rainfall between August and November 2018

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    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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