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Prolonged purchase of food at high prices, irregular rainfall, and high temperatures usher in the early onset of the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • February 2024
Prolonged purchase of food at high prices, irregular rainfall, and high temperatures usher in the early onset of the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Areas of Concern: Western Highlands, Labor, Staple Crops, Vegetables, Trade, and Remittances Livelihood Zone GT06 — focused on Huehuetenango
  • Key Messages
    • As of February, poor rural households located in the Dry Corridor, Alta Verapaz, and Altiplano that suffered losses in staple grain harvests will see their diet deteriorate. Consecutive years of below-normal staple grain harvests have forced these households to buy maize and beans for a longer period of the year. Although the recently ended season of high demand for agricultural labor (from October to February) allowed households to generate income, the lack of staple grain reserves and repayment of debts did not allow them to build savings. These households will face high food prices that are still above the five-year average, ushering in the early onset of the lean season. To meet food needs, households will resort to unsustainable coping strategies such as selling agricultural assets and reducing food in the family diet, facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes until September.
    • In the rest of the country, poor rural households that have reserves and income for the following months will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout the period covered by this outlook. This is because high prices of food, transportation, and agricultural inputs will restrict household purchasing power, and they will have to resort to coping strategies such as decreasing the quality of their diet, buying food on credit, and reducing investment into their crops. Meanwhile, small-scale coffee producers, after selling their products at prices in average ranges, will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes starting in July. High investment in inputs and labor for the maintenance of coffee plantations will lead to borrowing, as well as other negative coping strategies such as atypical migration to cover basic food needs and to protect agricultural assets.
    • According to the long-term forecast, the persistence of El Niño conditions until March or April will likely cause reduced and erratic rainfall, in addition to high temperatures. These conditions  will delay the start of the primera planting season and the only agricultural cycle in the Altiplano, leading to lower planting intentions, late planting, high production costs, and seed loss. This situation is expected to decrease yields for small-scale producers and possibly delay domestic harvests. As in 2023, this will likely mean persistently high prices for staple grains.
    • The national economy will continue to recover, but the purchasing power of households will remain limited. Although the pace of inflation has shown signs of slowing down in recent months, the cost of basic items such as food and fuel remains high. The cost of agricultural inputs above the five-year average will continue to hinder access and will raise production costs, affecting the prices of staple grains and other fresh products.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Production of staple grains: In 2023, the climate and the cost of fertilizers were the main challenges faced by domestic producers of staple grains. In general, rainfall performance was spatiotemporally irregular due to El Niño conditions, with several consecutive days of low rainfall and short periods of excess rainfall, in addition to the high temperatures experienced throughout the year. As a result, the planting of the primera (April–May), postrera (September–October), and late postrera (November–December) cycles was delayed. According to information presented by the Department of Regional Coordination and Rural Extension of the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA), drought-induced crop damage was recorded mainly between June and early September in Alta Verapaz and the south of the country, as well as areas of the Dry Corridor (including Baja Verapaz, Chiquimula, El Progreso, Zacapa, Jutiapa, and Quiché). Between July and November, the reported damage to crops was caused by excess rainfall that led to flooding, as well as frost and winds due to heavy rainfall, mainly in areas of Huehuetenango, Alta Verapaz, Petén, and Quiché.

    Planting was delayed by one to two months for the primera cycle, the main one for maize production that usually takes place between the end of April and May. Some farmers decided to wait for the rains to improve, while those who had planted had to replant after the rainy season failed to start. Most medium-scale semi-subsistence and cash crop producers, whose production capacities are greater (due to the size of the farm, capital, and mechanization, among others), managed to replant, but many small-scale farmers were unable to do so. Replanting raised production costs due to additional expenditure on seeds and other inputs. 

    However, the continued erratic spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall and the rapid loss of soil moisture affected the development of crops, resulting in decreased yields, especially for medium- and small-scale farmers who depend on it to meet their food needs. 

    Due to the delay in the primera planting and the consequent staggered harvests, the postrera cycle was also planted late and harvested late. This delay meant that crops were still in the development stages when the season of cold fronts began in November, so they were affected by the usual rains, winds, and frosts of the season. In a typical year, crops would already be nearing harvest in these months. In the case of bean cultivation, particularly for subsistence producers, the losses ranged from average to total due to the sensitivity of beans to changes in climate. There were periods with no rainfall, followed by excess rainfall and winds that caused damage to plants and led to fungal diseases. 

    Contrary to semi-subsistence and cash crop producers who allocate production for sale, the reduction in harvests had an impact on household food availability for small- and medium-scale producers as production was depleted due to infertile land and a lack of investment due to high input costs. For medium-scale producers, the decreased harvest translated into lower sales revenues, but for small-scale subsistence producers, it meant less availability to accumulate the usual reserves. According to the FAO's monitoring of reserves, subsistence farmers had less than a month of staple grain reserves at the start of February. 

    Production of cash crops and demand for labor: Coffee, cardamom, and sugar are three of the most important cash crops in terms of employment opportunities. For example, the coffee harvest requires between 90 and 115 days of labor per hectare per growing cycle. The high season of labor demand ends between February and March for coffee and cardamom, while the sugar harvest lasts until April or May. As with staple grains, the irregularity in rainfall performance affected the normal development of sugar cane, cardamom, and coffee plantations.

    As for sugar, despite the reduction in rainfall that affected plant development at the beginning of the rainy season, crops managed to recover as rainfall increased in the following months. Production is expected to be similar to that of previous years, which means that the number of temporary harvesting jobs generally remains stable.

    Figure 1

    Fertilizer prices, wholesale, Guatemala City, January 2024
    This chart shows wholesale fertilizer prices in Guatemal City in January 2024

    Source: Prepared with MAGA/DIPLAN data

    Coffee plantations were also affected by the low and poorly distributed rainfall. In the main producing areas, particularly in the west, the light rainfall at the start of May led to the beginning of the bloom period. However, the rainfall suddenly stopped for several weeks and caused the flowers to fall off, leading to a smaller amount of fruit. According to information collected in the field by FEWS NET in the last week of January in Huehuetenango, rainfall resumed normally in June and remained stable until July/August. The late arrival of rainfall and its irregular distribution delayed the development of the fruits, so the harvest began around mid-January, when in other years a second harvest would already be underway. The expectation of lower-than-normal yields—due to the interrupted bloom period and late development of the fruits, as well as sales prices that fail to cover production costs—is directly affecting small-scale producers. For this crop, labor availability has become another obstacle for producers, as migration to the United States, which has been increasing since 2020, has resulted in a lower availability of local people to work on the harvest, and those who are available are also in demand for other non-agricultural jobs such as construction. Added to the increase in the value of day labor are the high costs of agricultural inputs, which have doubled in the last three years (Figure 1), and the fact that, despite certain decreases, prices remain high. 

    Cardamom is harvested between September and March. One of the main production areas is Alta Verapaz. Unlike last year, the sale price has improved, which allows for stability in the income generated by both producers and day laborers. According to information provided by key informants, the sale price of the 2023 to 2024 harvest of cardamom seeds has been between approximately 3,000.00 GTQ and 5,000.00 GTQ/quintal. 

    Economic activity: According to the Bank of Guatemala (BANGUAT), the total value of exports in 2023 decreased by 9 percent compared to the end of 2022. The total exported value of sugar, coffee, and cardamom in 2023 fell by 24, 15, and 12 percent, respectively, when compared to 2022. On the other hand, bananas increased by 15 percent, as did other products such as beans, some vegetables, and fruits, which showed positive variations of 3 to 6 percent. Overall, economic activity remains stable. According to BANGUAT's January 2024 report on gross domestic product for the third quarter of 2023, the growth rate was 3.7 percent compared to the same period in 2022. Components of trade and vehicle repairs, real estate activities, administrative and support services activities, and information and communications show the most important variations in this regard, while agriculture, livestock, forestry, fishing, transportation, storage, accommodation and food services, and healthcare show slight year-on-year positive variations. Likewise, the Monthly Index of Economic Activity (Índice Mensual de la Actividad Económica, IMAE) shows stability, registering a year-on-year change of 2.8 percent compared to December 2022. Remittance income in 2023 exceeded the total of previous years, being 9.8 percent higher than in 2022, while at the beginning of 2024, there was a 6 percent increase compared to January 2023. Sixty-six percent of transfers are intended for consumption and economic/family support, followed by a lower percentage for real estate construction (5 percent), savings, and loan repayment (4 percent). The Department of Guatemala is the largest recipient of remittances, followed by Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Petén, and Quiché, which report the highest amounts of remittances. However, it is in Quiché where the highest average value of remittances is recorded, followed by Baja Verapaz and Sololá. 

    The tourism industry has fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to INGUAT. In 2023, there were 24 percent more visits from foreigners than in 2022. Compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019, the variation is 15 percent. In November 2023, the Guatemalan Institute of Social Security (IGSS) reported an 8 percent increase in members, with retail, manufacturing, and transportation activities reporting the most significant increases. The recovery in tourism and the increase in participation in formal sources of employment are indicative of the stability of formal and informal employment in terms of the demand generated by employees for the products and services offered by this industry. 

    Food prices: The annual inflation rate in January was 3.82 percent, 0.36 percent lower than in December 2023 and 5.88 percent lower than in January 2023. This indicates an improvement in the inflation situation, but the inflation rate remains above the five-year average. Despite overall declines, the categories of transportation, restaurants, and food were the areas where spending increased. Gasoline (0.07 percent), fresh chicken (0.06 percent), fresh tomato (0.02 percent), and onion (0.01 percent) were the products that had the highest incidence this month. Of the eight regions of the country, five registered inflation rates higher than the national level: Region II (Alta and Baja Verapaz), with 6.48 percent; Region VIII (Departments of Huehuetenango and Quiché), with 6.97 percent; Region VIII (Petén), with 5.25 percent; Region IV (Jutiapa and Santa Rosa), with 5.02 percent; and Region VI (San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Retalhuleu, Suchitepéquez, and Totonicapán), with 4.86 percent. 

    Up to December 2023, the calculation of the basic food basket (BFB) was carried out nationwide and consisted of 34 products, with the total monthly cost for a household of 4.77 members in that month being 3,904.98 GTQ. In January 2024, the National Institute of Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, INE) completed the methodological review of the BFB and consumer price index (CPI), incorporating a differentiated approach by area to estimate the Basic Urban Basket (BUFB) and the Basic Rural Basket (BRFB). In January 2024, the BUFB was composed of 66 products and cost 3,520.51 GTQ for a household of 4.16 members, while the BRFB included 60 products and cost 3,140.64 GTQ for a household of 4.80 members. The minimum wage in all departments except the Department of Guatemala is 3,374.41 GTQ for agricultural activities and 3,477.82 GTQ for non-agricultural activities. Between 91 and 97 percent of this salary is used just to cover the BRFB. However, most poor households, especially in rural areas, depend on an informal source of income where daily or monthly income is not regulated, and the daily wage ranges between 60 and 100 GTQ/day. It is also important to mention that, as specified by the INE, the new estimate of the BFB reflects consumption patterns based on information from the 2022 to 2023 National Household Income and Expenditure Survey (ENIGH). and its items represent the average diet of Guatemalans. The new BFB includes new products and adjusts calorie intake based on the ENIGH results and not for dietary purposes.

    Meanwhile, at the Terminal Market in Guatemala City, the wholesale price of maize in January 2024 was still 7 percent higher than in January last year and 32 percent above the five-year average, respectively. Black beans were priced 24 percent above last year and 54 percent above the five-year average. Staggered and late harvests, the high cost of fertilizers, low yields of small-scale producers, and increased demand due to crop losses and harvest reduction have an impact on continued high prices. 

    In January 2024, although fertilizer prices remained above the five-year average, they were already showing reductions compared to the previous month and year, adhering more to the behavior of international prices. For example, urea decreased 5 percent compared to the previous month and 31 percent compared to the previous year but remains 16 percent above the five-year average and 58 percent above the price recorded in January 2019 and 2020 (Figure 3). Another factor that puts pressure on food prices is the cost of fuel, through the cost of freight transportation. In January, diesel and gasoline prices fell by 18 percent and 10 percent compared to last year, but remained 21 and 13 percent, respectively, above the five-year average due to higher international prices. 

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Currently, while much of the country is experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, the Dry Corridor, Alta Verapaz, and some areas of the Altiplano are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 

    In most areas of the country, the demand for agricultural labor in February—mostly for harvesting coffee, cardamom, and sugar—allowed households dependent on these sources to continue receiving average income. Other sources of employment, such as trade, construction, domestic services, and food, remain stable, providing average income for poor rural households. Generally, there is greater availability of staple grains thanks to average levels of cash crop harvests. However, high food prices continue to put pressure on households' purchasing power, limiting access to varied and diverse foods. To maintain a basic diet, households have resorted to adjusting the quality of their diet and adopting coping strategies, such as using savings and cutting down on non-food expenditures. As a result, these households are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2). 

    In the Dry Corridor, Alta Verapaz, and areas of the Altiplano, households are experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes after a prolonged period of purchasing staple grains at high prices due to consecutive shocks that have reduced their production capacity. This year, households also failed to harvest the normal amount because of irregular weather due to the El Niño season, as well as lack of seeds and economic resources. The season of high demand for agricultural labor allowed them to generate income, but this was quickly used to buy food and pay off loans taken out months ago to buy food. To cover their essential diet, these households are reducing portion sizes and frequency of meals, continuing to borrow money, and using different coping strategies such as the migration of household members who do not typically migrate or the sale of agricultural assets.


    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    This shows the seasonal calendar for a typical year in Guatemala

    Source: FEWS NET

    Assumptions 

    The most likely scenario for February to September 2024 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Between February and March, staple grain harvests in the north of the country are expected to be in normal ranges as this is the surplus production that received irrigation and other mechanisms to counteract climate effects.
    • Based on an analysis by FEWS NET's scientific partners of long-term weather forecast models, El Niño conditions will likely persist until March to May 2024, which will likely lead to reduced and erratic rainfall and high temperatures, which would delay the start of the primera planting season and the only cycle in the Altiplano
    • From April to June, the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon is expected to transition to neutral conditions, which could mean average to above-average rainfall for the rest of the period covered by this outlook and would cover the entire agricultural season of staple grains. However, rainfall will likely continue with an erratic distribution, and temperatures will likely remain above normal, causing the loss of soil moisture, especially in the Dry Corridor regions, which would affect the development of the primera cycle crops.

    Figure 2

    Projected temperature forecast for April–June 2024
    This map shpws the projected temperatures for Guatemala for April to June 2024

    Source: NOAA/CPC

    Figure 3

    Projected precipitation forecast for April–June 2024
    This map shows projected precipitation for April–June 2024 in Guatemala

    Source: NOAA/CPC

    • The heatwave (from mid-July to mid-August) is expected to be in average ranges in terms of times, duration, and intensity. However, the persistence of high temperatures, coupled with the reduction in rainfall typical of the season, will likely affect the staple grain crops of small-scale producers located in the Dry Corridor.
    • Domestic production of staple grains in the primera cycle will likely be in average ranges in the north and south of the country, but harvests would be delayed and staggered. However, in the eastern area, production could be slightly below normal due to irregular rainfall and high temperatures.
    • For subsistence farmers, particularly in the Dry Corridor, the production of primera cycle staple grains will likely be delayed and below average due to climate irregularity and the possible late start of planting due to the delay of primera harvests. 
    • Small-scale producers in the Dry Corridor could have less criollo seed of their own selection for planting due to the losses in the last two production cycles, so they will have to buy it, thus raising production costs. This could also mean a smaller cultivation area or no planting at all. 
    • The staple grain reserves of small-scale producers will likely be 25 to 50 percent below normal due to the reduced harvests of 2023 and the 2024 primera cycle, especially in areas of the Dry Corridor, where they could reach total losses, particularly in the case of beans.
    • Subsistence farmers in the Dry Corridor and Alta Verapaz could experience an early and prolonged lean season due to the reduced harvests of the two agricultural seasons of 2023 and the 2024 primera cycle, above-normal food prices, continued dependence on purchases, and the diversion of income toward the repayment of debts, limiting the funds available for food purchases. 
    • Labor demand on cash crop farms for activities related to the cultivation of staple grains could be in average ranges. 
    • Small-scale farmers at the local level who usually contract day laborers for a few days during the primera and postrera agricultural seasons for staple grains may reduce their demand for external labor, especially those located in the areas of the Dry Corridor affected by losses in the previous agricultural cycle, climate uncertainty, and high production costs. This would mean lower income for locally employed households.
    • Incomes from non-agricultural jobs and informal employment, including activities linked to tourism, will likely be in average ranges, as will income from remittances. 
    • Food prices will continue to be higher than the prices recorded in 2019. Maize and beans will continue with variations of between 25 and 50 percent above the five-year average due to the delay in primera planting, replanting, and the associated additional cost, as well as the high price of agricultural inputs.

    Figure 4

    (White) maize price outlook, wholesale, Terminal Market, Guatemala City, GTQ/100 lbs
    This chart shows projected wholesale prices for white maize in the Terminal Market, Guatemala City

    Source: MAGA/DIPLAN

    Figure 5

    (Black) beans price outlook, wholesale, Terminal Market, Guatemala City, GTQ/100 lbs
    This chart shows price projections for wholesale black beans in the Terminal Market, Guatemala City

    Source: MAGA/DIPLAN

    • International fuel prices will likely continue at average rates, but the price of diesel/gasoline at the national level will likely remain high, similar to 2023 and above the five-year average. 
    • The high cost of basic food and transportation will cause households to retain atypical debts, especially in areas that have suffered from consecutive shocks (Dry Corridor, Alta Verapaz, Altiplano).
    • FEWS NET does not have information on planned and probable food aid deliveries between February and September. Therefore, this scenario does not incorporate any food aid assumptions.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Up to September, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected throughout the country, as well as areas of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in the Dry Corridor, Alta Verapaz, and areas of the Altiplano. 

    From June to September, which coincides with the lean season, the gradual depletion of staple grain reserves and savings and the decrease in sources of employment is expected to cause more poor and very poor rural households to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 

    Poorer households located in the Dry Corridor, Alta Verapaz, and western Altiplano started to buy maize and beans for consumption earlier than usual. The aftermath of bad harvests in the past three to four years left them with a minimal or non-existent production of staple grains, often seedless, and, in general, with debts that they regularly take on each season to plant crops. The season of high demand for agricultural labor is just ending, and although it was an average season in terms of quantities produced for each cash crop (such as coffee, bananas, sugar, and cardamom, among others), the income generated was not enough to cover food needs due to the repayment of debts, leaving households with little money to spend on food. Due to irregular rainfall distribution and high temperatures, planting will likely start late, leading to delayed harvests for another consecutive year, as well as low yields of maize crops and average-to-total losses of bean production. The high costs of agricultural inputs will also negatively impact yields, due to decreased use of fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. In the following months, income sources will be limited as the harvest season of various cash crops is ending. Above all, opportunities for seasonally less important jobs at the local level will be even lower this year because local farmers will hire less labor in order to cut production costs. Already faced with high food expenditures, the progressive increase in prices of staple grains and the scarcity of savings and income will further limit access to food, ushering in the early onset of the lean season. To meet their minimum food needs, households will continue to go into debt and resort to unsustainable coping strategies, such as atypical migration of household members, selling agricultural assets, adjusting the amount of food consumed, and cutting portion sizes and the number of daily meals. These households are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    From February to May, a large part of the rural population will still have reserves of staple grains from the postrera cycle and the only cycle in the Altiplano. The recent season of increased temporary agricultural employment allowed households to save part of their income for use in the following months. Households will continue with land preparation and staple grain planting activities, and they will be able to obtain some agricultural day labor that will allow them to have stable access to food, although these opportunities will be reduced. As a result of high food and transportation prices, households will be required to use much of their income and savings on feeding themselves. To ensure a minimally adequate diet, these households will need to adjust the quality and diversity of the foods included in their diet. Likewise, they will avoid other non-food expenditures and—in order to maintain access to basic food—they will have to prolong labor migration, in addition to using other coping strategies such as resorting to savings, taking out loans, and cutting down on healthcare and education expenditures, which will classify them as Stressed (IPC Phase 2). As part of this population remains Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until September, many households will see a progressive deterioration in access to food as of June, as food stocks and savings decrease and prices of staple grains increase. At the peak of the lean season, many households located in the Altiplano and the east of the country, as well as pockets of the population in the rest of the country, will fall into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until September. Meanwhile, small-scale coffee producers, who have faced high production costs and low sales prices in recent years, will see a deterioration in their livelihoods, so they will join the population that will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes until September 

    Events That Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1
    Possible events in the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationalFirst period with a significant reduction in rainfallReduction of yields due to seed loss, crop loss, and lower yields, which would lead to lower numbers of day laborers hired for local activities related to the planting and maintenance of crops, thereby increasing the number of households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 
    First period with regular rainfall distribution and normal temperaturesThis would prevent the need for replanting due to seed loss, allow for the proper development of crops, and avoid an increase in production costs, which would make it easier for more households to continue as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during the second period covered by this outlook.  
    Above-expected increase in fuel and food prices This would put further pressure on households' purchasing power, leading to increased spending on food and affecting access to food, which would cause a greater number of people to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    Areas of Concern: Western Highlands, Labor, Staple Crops, Vegetables, Trade, and Remittances Livelihood Zone GT06 — focused on Huehuetenango

    Figure 6

    Reference map for area of concern: Western Highlands, Labor, Staple Crops, Vegetables, Trade, and Remittances Livelihood Zone GT06 — focused on Huehuetenango
    This is a reference map for the area of concern Reference map for area of concern: Western Highlands, Labor, Staple Crops, Vegetables, Trade, and Remittances Livelihood Zone GT06 — focused on Huehuetenango

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current Situation

    In this area, there is only one agricultural season for staple grains (April-May to October-December). Maize and beans are traditional crops in this area, and, although they have little land, households usually plant them for self-consumption. Very poor rural households have little land for planting (two to four small land plots on average) and low yields (1 to 1.5 quintals/plot of maize and 25–75 lbs of beans). This year, it rained a little in April and then not at all until July. Due to the irregular distribution and late arrival of the rains, farmers who planted crops on the usual dates lost their seeds. As a result, most planted once or twice more, while others did not plant any further crops. In the following months, rainfall also continued to be erratic, and temperatures remained high, which damaged the crops due to lower soil moisture, pest proliferation, excess rainfall in a short time, and a drop in temperatures when the grains were ready to be harvested. The bean crop is the hardest hit, given its susceptibility to diseases and the need to apply pesticides. The damage caused partial and total losses, especially in some areas in the south of the Department. Households have only 30 to 50 percent of their usual maize production and lost between 50 and 100 percent of beans, which negatively affected the possibility of accumulating reserves for the coming months. These households have not only lost part or all of their crops, but also incurred expenses when it comes to planting, such as land rent. In addition, they bought fertilizer and pesticides at prices ranging between 400 and 440 GTQ/quintal, compared to around 200 to 250 GTQ/quintal prior to 2021, so farmers managed to buy only about half of what they would usually buy. Most households take out loans in order to plant crops, which they pay for with the income generated by the sale of their labor. 

    Many of these households had to rely on the market to meet their food needs for almost all last year due to the reduced staple grain harvests. In the Department, municipal markets and local stores are stocked with maize and beans, but at high prices due to the late and staggered harvests that failed to influence price reductions, in addition to high production costs that have been passed on to end consumers. Maize prices locally range from 230 GTQ/quintal (Mexican or coastal) and 275 to 325 GTQ/quintal (native criollo), and bean prices range from 725 GTQ/quintal to 900 GTQ/quintal, and 10 GTQ/lbs. Households usually buy maize in their local area of residence. They used to go to the market, but due to the high cost of transportation, which doubled in the area during the pandemic, they prefer to buy locally. Food expenditure has doubled. Households used to buy what they needed with 300 GTQ, but now they need 500 GTQ and cannot buy the same quantity as they used to.

    The main source of income for rural households is agricultural and non-agricultural day labor. The most important time to find temporary work in the agricultural industry is between October and February, when different cash crops are harvested. Labor migration to Mexico was commonplace in the area, but this has no longer been a routine option since last year due to the difficulty in crossing the border. The most important product in this area is coffee, as it is grown by small-scale and large-scale cash crop producers that employ both local people and those from other areas of the country. Coffee production has faced various challenges in recent years. Since the appearance of coffee leaf rust, the high price of inputs, climate irregularity, low international sales prices, low labor availability, and the high price of day laborers' wages have been affecting producers. This increases production costs, which producers try to control by hiring fewer external employees and relying increasingly on family workers or partnerships with other producers. The increase in migration to the United States has impacted the economic and labor dynamics of the area, as there is less availability, a high demand for labor, and higher day labor costs, as those who receive remittances can pay more, especially for activities such as construction and retail, leading to increased disinterest in agricultural work. In addition, coffee production this year in this area is expected to be below last year's average, as the delay in rainfall disrupted the flowering of coffee plantations and the proper development of the fruits, which in turn delayed the ripening process and the harvest.

    Assumptions 

    In addition to the national-level assumptions above, the most likely scenario from February to September 2024 for this area of concern is based on the following assumptions.

    • The season of high demand for local labor is likely to come to an end in February.  Despite the fact that coffee production may well be below average, incomes generated during this peak labor period are expected to be near average due to wages remaining close to average.
    • Low temperatures are likely to continue having an effect until March, causing frost that will likely damage crops, prevent normal growth, or lead to their loss, particularly for vegetables.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes 

    The poorest households located in this area have faced consecutive climate and economic impacts for several years that have affected their livelihoods. Due to weather events that reduced production, households’ meager harvests have been used for immediate consumption. This year, their staple grain harvests lasted for only one or two months (between December and February, depending on the harvest date). This means that households will start buying maize and beans earlier than usual, when in a normal year they would have relied on their own production to feed themselves. Over the past few months, access to food has improved thanks to income from temporary employment from harvest activities, mainly for coffee, which is the crop that generates the most work at this time of year. However, this income was quickly used up for the purchase of food at prices that have remained above average for several years, increasing food expenditures in general. Households have been unable to save money to cover their food needs for the following months, as job options in the agricultural industry have decreased. During the season of preparing and planting staple grains (March to May), rural households engage in these activities and work a few days a month at a local level. However, this year, the high production costs for staple grains and coffee will impact the amount of labor required, because medium-scale and semi-subsistence farmers who usually employ external labor will cut down on this expense to offset the loss of staple grains and average income, in the case of coffee. Reliance on the market to guarantee consumption of staple grains will usher in the lean season earlier than usual. To ensure basic consumption, the poorest households will continue to go into debt and employ strategies such as limiting the amount of food in their diet and the frequency and portions of meals, as well as other livelihood strategies such as intensifying migration, encouraging typically non-migrating family members to migrate, and selling agricultural assets. Given high food prices and the necessity of resorting to crisis-coping strategies to secure their basic food needs, poor households in this area will be classified in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the period covered by this outlook.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Guatemala Food Security Outlook February 2024: Prolonged purchase of food at high prices, irregular rainfall, and high temperatures usher in the early onset of the lean season, 2024.

    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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