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Early start to lean season and continuation of Crisis food insecurity outcomes

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • February - September 2021
Early start to lean season and continuation of Crisis food insecurity outcomes

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Job recovery continues in urban areas, especially for jobs linked to commerce, services and education, as the number of municipalities placed on “orange” and “yellow” alert status rises. On the other hand, in rural areas, the season when demand for agricultural labor is high has ended. Overall, incomes continue to be lower than usual as a result of continued capacity restrictions, social distancing measures and transportation issues.

    • Markets are stocked up on stored maize and beans and formal and informal imports from Mexico. In February, basic grain crops harvested in the postrera tardía season in the north of the country usually start to flow. But due to the impact of the storms, sowing was delayed or resowing was required, so new grains are expected to reach markets later than usual and in slightly smaller quantities. Although supplies will remain stable, prices will continue to be above the five-year average. 

    • Nationwide, poor and very poor urban and rural households will continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity, given that, since the very beginning of the pandemic, they have experienced a reduction in income, coupled with high food and transportation costs, which together have had an impact on the quality and quantity of food included in their traditional diet. They have not managed to overcome this situation despite using up all their savings, reducing non-essential spending, and resorting to loans and credits. 

    • Despite the season of high demand for agricultural labor having recently ended, the poorest households in the Dry Corridor and those located in the areas affected by hurricanes Eta and Iota have made immediate use of their income to pay off debts and buy food, thereby reducing their ability to save. To cover their increasingly less varied and reduced diet, they will resort to loans and credits, atypical migration, and the sale of their productive assets, moving up the start of the lean season and classifying them as in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food insecurity. 



    Current situation

    Evolution of COVID-19 and restrictions. By mid-January, infection rates, hospital bed occupancy, and the number of municipalities placed on “red” alerts all rose, leading to the reinforcement of restrictive measures limiting the business hours of shopping malls, markets, supermarkets, neighborhood stores, and restaurants. However, at the beginning of February, these businesses were authorized to operate during normal business hours, while still respecting the social distancing, capacity, and biosecurity measures. As of February 21st, 49 municipalities are on “red” alert, 110 are on “orange” alert and 181 on “yellow” alert. At the beginning of the year, the government reported that it had acquired vaccines through the COVAX mechanism.

    Weather and basic grain crops. Due to storm damage, the postrera basic grain harvest in the affected areas in the north of the country was below average. Postrera tardía (apante) crops were sown in the northern areas. However, in some cases, they were sown late because the land continued to be flooded, while in others, farmers were unable to sow at all because their soil had been damaged by flooding. As rains continued in January, the residual moisture allowed some farmers who lost their surplus and subsistence crops to succeed in resowing, with the support of the Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (MAGA). As usual, cold fronts appeared in January and February, causing frost in the western highlands, especially in the department of San Marcos where hail fell. As regards pest infestation, the presence of locusts was reported, especially in grasslands in some communities in the north of Petén, and control and monitoring actions were taken. According to the MAGA, neither of those events have had an impact on crops thus far.

    Markets and prices. Markets are supplied with grain from the postrera harvests, stored grain, and formal and informal imports from Mexico. After both corn and bean crops and transportation routes were damaged in the north and east, prices showed atypical increases for several days in November. In December, the flow of crops from harvests in the south, north and east caused white maize prices to drop and settle in January at an average of 123.00/QQ GTQ, similar to the five-year average. However, prices rose in February due to the lower flow of national grain, settling at 133.10/QQ GTQ in the week from February 11 to 17. As for black bean prices, after the peak in November, there was a decrease in December and a reported average price of 439.10/QQ GTQ in January. In mid-February, the price showed stability at 427.50/QQ GTQ, which DIPLAN/MAGA attributes to the flow of fresh grain from the east and stored grain from both the east and north of the country.

    Income. In urban areas, jobs in the commerce, service and educational sectors, and in various informal occupations linked to the reactivation of these sectors, continue to recover. According to the Bank of Guatemala (BANGUAT), as of December 2020, exports such as clothing, cardamom, bananas, coffee, and edible fats and oils were 3.5 percent higher than in 2019, generating the highest revenue. The Monthly Index of Economic Activity (IMAE published by the BANGUAT) also continued to rise in December, which demonstrates the continuity of the economic recovery. However, all economic activities are still subject to capacity and social distancing restrictions and have to adhere to biosecurity measures. Activities linked to local domestic tourism recovered slightly in December, but those linked to foreign tourism remain at decreased levels. The season of high demand for agricultural labor in rural areas was affected in some regions by storm damage and transportation challenges stemming from the collapse of transportation networks and the resulting high cost of transportation. Likewise, migration to Honduras and Mexico to harvest coffee fell due to poor road conditions, border controls, the requirement of negative a COVID-19 test, and the fear of COVID-19 transmission.

    Remittances. Despite the drop observed from March to May, remittances rose significantly by the end of 2020, at which point they were 7.9 percent higher than in 2019. Although this growth was more modest than that seen in previous years, it was better than expected considering the impact of the pandemic. Although the Bank of Guatemala has not provided a breakdown of the remittances received by department, it is assumed that they rose across the board. According to data from the Office of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), from October 2020 to January 2021, Guatemalan migrants continued to be detained in and deported from the United States, either en route or at the border, with figures higher than those for fiscal year 2020, although well below those for 2019.

    Savings and spending. In January, the consumer price index showed some stability, with food (güisquil, potato, green beans, tomato) and transportation (particularly extra-urban transportation, 61 percent higher than in January 2020; and urban transportation with a 45.39 percent variation) being the spending divisions that showed the highest positive inflation. Since the pandemic started, the irregularity and high cost of transportation have been constant concerns in urban and rural areas. Excessive fares and capacity restrictions within transportation units have made it difficult to get to places of employment and to markets. The pandemic has forced many households to use up savings and take out loans as a coping strategy.

    Food assistance. The country’s humanitarian team has designed the Action Plan in Response to the Effects of Storms. The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is currently pouring 2.5 million USD into the municipalities of Morales and Puerto Barrios in the department of Izabal, and the municipalities of Cobán, San Pedro Carchá, and San Cristóbal Verapaz in the department of Alta Verapaz. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Save the Children, and Project Concern International (PCI) have been implementing food assistance projects with USAID funds, distributing a total of 18 million USD in the form of cash transfers to 22,675 families from 16 municipalities in Chiquimula, Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango and Quiché. The USAID also approved approximately 16.1 million USD for food assistance and to restore water systems in response to the storms. These funds are being channeled through the same implementing NGOs (CRS, Save the Children and PCI) and will be distributed in the coming months. ECHO has provided funds to the Humanitarian Aid Consortium made up of Action Against Hunger (AAH), the Italian Cooperation (COOPI), OXFAM, TROCAIRE, Médicos del Mundo and WeWorld-GVC, to support families from Alta Verapaz, Izabal, Huehuetenango, Quiché and Chiquimula.

    Current food security outcomes. After a rise in cases and a temporary reinforcement of restrictions on business operating hours, economic activities are slowly recovering, especially those related to commerce and personal services. In December, the promotion of domestic tourism and the end-of-year holidays and vacations resulted in a slight increase in the income generated by households dependent on this sector. In rural areas, the demand for seasonal agricultural labor continues to evolve. However, transportation costs, difficulties in crossing borders, and damage to cash crops in areas affected by the storms have meant lower income. Since March, when the COVID-19 restrictions were introduced, both rural and urban households have been facing irregular income generation coupled with high food and transportation costs. As a result, they have been forced to use up their savings and constantly resort to loans and credits, while restricting their basic diet. They are therefore classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in terms of food insecurity. In addition to these difficulties, the poorest households in the Dry Corridor, which were already facing problems in meeting their basic food needs before the pandemic, as well as households affected by the storms, have intensified their restrictions and further limited the quality and quantity of food included in their diet. They have also resorted even more to strategies such as using up savings, taking out loans/credits, atypically migrating and selling assets, continuing to put their livelihoods at risk to cover their minimum food requirements. Therefore, they are classified as Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in terms of food insecurity.

    National assumptions

    Evolution of COVID-19 and restrictions. Capacity limits, social distancing measures, and mask requirements will remain in force based on the “traffic light” alert system throughout the period covered by this report. Some type of mobility restrictions may be introduced should cases continue to rise. Nonetheless, it is unlikely that greater restrictions will be imposed on the operation of the various economic sectors. The government expects to receive a first batch of 847,200 to 1,432,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of February, which would cover 2.5 to 4.2 percent of the total population. Considering the logistical and administrative complexities of vaccination, the global demand for the vaccine, and the fact that at the time of this writing there is no information on the acquisition of additional vaccine doses, the country is not expected to achieve more than 5 percent coverage during the period covered by this report.

    Basic grain crops and weather. Due to the impact of the storms on the production areas in the north of the country, the postrera tardía (or apante) harvest could be slightly lower than the average. Nationally, the rainy season is expected to start between April and May as usual, and with it the sowing of the basic grain crops of the primera cycle will begin. In the Pacific area, sowing could start earlier than usual due to above-average rainfall between March and May 2021. The high levels of rainfall, and the expectation of a canícula (seasonal dry spell) period that is normal both in intensity and in duration between July and August, would favor the development of the crops.

    According to forecasts, an average second rainy season is expected and would favor the normal development of postrera season sowing between the end of September and the beginning of October.

    Basic grain reserves and markets. Households that usually maintain basic grain reserves for the coming months would not have them due to below average harvests and/or higher sales to generate income. White maize and black bean prices would continue their seasonal trends, remaining above average but lower than the prices reported in 2020, until the next primera harvest between September and October 2021. The market will continue to be supplied with the last postrera tardía harvests, stored grain, and formal and informal imports, especially of white maize, from Mexico. However, just like at the end of 2020, intermediaries could hoard the product to keep prices high.

    Income. The gradual recovery of different economic activities will continue, as confidence in economic activity increases (January, BANGUAT). Jobs linked to domestic work, tortilla factories, masonry, as well as retail and domestic tourism, will continue to be in lower demand due to restrictions and will generate lower income from buyers or those who demand these products and services. The demand for labor in rural areas for clearing and sowing activities of the primera basic grain production cycle, and for other seasonal agricultural activities (vegetables, fruits, and cardamom), will follow its usual trend, representing sporadic income for households.

    Transportation. Transportation will continue to operate irregularly and at a higher cost, which will limit transportation to places of employment in both urban and rural areas, keeping family spending in this area higher than usual.

    Remittances and savings. Poor and very poor households will continue to have less savings than usual, since they will continue to use their income immediately to pay off debts and to pay for transportation and food. Remittances will remain stable and probably higher than in 2020, when they were higher than in 2019, which would allow households dependent on this resource to improve their access to food. This increase may mean that households receive more remittances or that more households are receiving remittances.

    Nutrition. A trend similar to that seen in 2020 is expected in 2021, with rates substantially higher than in previous years. However, data from 2020 cannot be compared with previous years due to the methodological adjustment made by the Ministry of Health. The usual peak is expected to take place during the lean season. The active search brigades will continue to identify cases of acute malnutrition not yet reported by the Ministry of Health; also, children diagnosed with acute malnutrition will be able to receive the care and supplementation package.

    Food assistance. For the first period covered by this report, 44,000 households from at least 46 municipalities in Quiché, Huehuetenango, Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Chiquimula and Izabal will receive humanitarian assistance, through cash transfers large enough to cover the dietary requirements of the family for 1 to 3 months. With the funds received from ECHO, ACH, COOPI, OXFAM, TROCAIRE, Médicos del Mundo and WW-GVC, two cash deliveries will be made between March and April, to 3,779 households in various municipalities in Alta Verapaz, Izabal, Huehuetenango, Quiché and Chiquimula. Plan Internacional will provide cash transfers to a total of 7,500 households in Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz and Quiché, during March and April. CRS, Save the Children and PCI will continue their food assistance program in Chiquimula, Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango and Quiché, from May to June. They will also execute the additional 16.1 million USD from USAID in response to the emergency caused by the storms, which will be used to support 10,300 households from March to June/July, by sending them cash transfers and restoring water systems, in 13 municipalities of Izabal, Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango and Quiché. The various money transfers range from 65 USD to 130 USD.

    Most likely food-security outcomes

    Nationwide, economic activities continue to recover, while capacity, social distancing and biosecurity measures continue to be observed. Despite a rise in cases in December and the temporary reinforcement of restrictions, normal business and service hours were restored in February, so no major limitations on the continuity of economic activities are expected, even if there is another rise in COVID-19 infections. The projected arrival of vaccines and, the accompanying return to normal, is still quite speculative, which is why this is not expected to positively influence the recovery of income levels during the period analyzed. Poor and very poor urban and rural households will continue to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in terms of food insecurity given their lower income, use of savings and indebtedness, high food and transportation costs (urban, extra-urban and private - taxis, motorcycles, tuk-tuks), the additional expenses to comply with biosecurity measures (purchase of face masks and alcohol), which has pushed them to make adjustments to the quality and quantity of food in their traditional diet. The poorest households in the Dry Corridor have suffered years of continuous distress that have weakened their resilience and made them highly vulnerable to any shock. The restrictions imposed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 caused a drop in income from day labor and informal employment in non-agricultural jobs, a rise in food prices, and a transportation shortage and increase in transportation costs, which has led to households to use coping strategies such as cutting back on health spending, engaging in atypical migration, and intensifying the sale of backyard animals and of their productive assets such as farm tools. Likewise, the poorest households located in the areas affected by the storms lost backyard animals and productive assets and have seen a drop in their income due to cash crop damage. Households in the Dry Corridor have also chosen to adjust their diet to ensure minimum consumption, to sell whatever assets they can, and to generate income in non-traditional jobs. Due to the premature use of negative coping strategies and the maintenance of a minimal diet consisting mainly of maize, sugar and some herbs, these households will face the lean season earlier than usual, starting in February. In some of these areas, various international cooperation organizations financed mainly by USAID and ECHO will implement food assistance programs that would partially improve food security outcomes, at least during the first period covered by this report (February to May) but that would not generally be enough to change the phase that would remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the entire period covered by this report.

    Events that may change the outlook

    Possible events in the coming eight months that may change the most likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Hoarding of maize or beans

    Could cause further rise in the prices of these basic grains.

    High intensity and short-lasting rainfall

    Would cause targeted damage.

    Extension or reinforcement of restrictive measures due to COVID-19

    Would prolong the lack of income for households in informal economy activities and formal employees in non-essential sectors.

    More food assistance for the first period in comparison to the second period covered by this report

    Would increase Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes

    Uncontrolled locust outbreak

    Would affect the primera sowing

    Figures Las precipitaciones en gran parte de centroamérica se esperan por arriba del promedio

    Figure 1

    Figura 1

    Source: NMME-CPC-NOAA

    Los precios del maíz se esperan por arriba del promedio pero siguiendo la tendencia estacional

    Figure 2

    Figura 2

    Source: FEWS NET con datos del Ministerio de Agricultura

    Los precios del frijol se esperan por arriba del promedio pero siguiendo la tendencia estacional

    Figure 3

    Figura 3

    Source: FEWS NET con datos del Ministerio de Agricultura

    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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