Skip to main content

March will mark the early onset of the annual lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • January - July 2013
March will mark the early onset of the annual lean season

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Coffee rust has affected the country’s coffee plantations, with estimates indicating a potential decrease in approximately 10 percent of wage labor (August-April). This in turn would lead to a similar reduction in the income of households engaging in this activity. The greatest impact, however, is not expected until the 2013-14 harvest.

    • For regions in the dry corridor affected by the 2012 dry period, including the temperate western highlands, the annual lean season is expected to begin two months earlier than usual (March). This is because households in these areas used part of their 2013 income and basic cereal stocks to pay off debts incurred as a result of the significant losses sustained in last year’s harvest.

    • The Postrera harvest was average, and the February/March harvest in the northern region is also expected to be normal. These harvests will improve basic cereal availability for both households and the national market, and will help stabilize prices. 

    • From January to March 2013, food security will improve with increased food availability and access and the country will be classified as Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity. During the second quarter of the year, most areas will remain in Phase 1 with the exception of the temperate highlands, which will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to losses that resulted from the prolonged 2012 dry period. Earthquake-affected areas of the western region will also be classified as Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity due to food aid. 

    National Overview
    Current situation

    The Postrera harvest in November/December, improved food availability for the poorest households as well as for the national market. According to field reports, Postrera harvests of maize and beans were average, with adequate yields in surplus areas, such as the Northern Transversal Strip, the eastern region and some areas along the southern coast that uses irrigated agriculture.  The flows of cereals from this harvest increased the country's market supplies, which in turn led to a significant reduction in seasonal prices.

    The second production cycle in southern Petén began in November/December, and so far it has not been affected by either weather-related events or infestations by pests and/or disease.

    At present, the demand for unskilled labor for crops such as sugar cane and tobacco, has behaved similarly to projections. This is expected to remain unchanged for the remainder of the season, ending in March. In the case of coffee, production is expected to suffer an average reduction of 10 percent, attributable to the coffee rust infestation. A reduction in production will also cause a similar reduction in the number of agricultural laborers hired.

    The cold front and frost season has remained within normal limits. Although there have been several occurrences of low temperatures, particularly in the western and central highlands, no extreme temperatures have been recorded. It should be noted, however, that historically the months of January and February  experience the greatest incidence of cold fronts and lower temperatures.

    • Primera season planting: Planting takes place in March to May in the case of maize, and in May/June in the case of beans. Since a normal onset of the rainy season is expected, this planting will take place on time, even if government-subsidized fertilizers are late in reaching beneficiaries, as has been the case in previous years.
    • Harvest of basic cereals in the northern region: As these crops have not been affected by weather-related events or pests/diseases of any significance, crop yields are expected to be close to or greater than average; this harvest will take place between February and March.
    • Prices of basic cereals: Since there was an average Postrera harvest and a similar outcome is expected for harvests in the northern region, basic cereal prices are expected to remain seasonally low. In the case of maize, prices will remain low until March, when a slight increase will then occur. However, prices will again decrease with the completion of the harvest season in Petén, and subsequently increase as of June, in line with the beginning of seasonal price increases. Bean prices, on the other hand, will start their increase in May.
    • Onset of the rainy season: According to the information received from the national weather service, the 2013 rainy season is expected to begin during the second half of April from the central plateau to the Pacific, and in the second half of June in the northern region, where harvest activities begin later. These time periods fall within the normal range, and accordingly no delay is expected for the beginning of the Primera production cycle.
    • Unskilled labor: With the exception of coffee, none of the crops requiring a large volume of unskilled labor will be significantly affected over the course of the year. As a result, the expected need for agricultural laborers is expected to be similar to levels during the past two years. Coffee has been impacted by the coffee rust fungus, which will continue to cause a 10 percent reduction in the number of hired laborers through the end of the harvest period, between April and May. The greatest impact is projected for the 2013-2014 coffee harvest, since this year's coffee rust will begin to impact the crop from the very beginning of the productive phase, unlike the previous production cycle, when the impact was felt at a later point during the cycle.
    • Fuel prices: At the national level, fuel prices remained stable through November as projected. However with the increase in demand that typically occurs in December, January is expected to see an increase in prices, which will trend upward in February and March 2013.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Food security outcomes will improve in most regions of the country. Since the Postrera harvest was not affected by any significant negative impacts, it replenished household food stocks and increased national market supplies. This is especially true in the case of beans, which is the crop with the greatest production volume at this time of year. This will lead to an improvement in the availability of food during the first quarter of 2013 for small producer households. In the western highlands, the harvest took place in November/December, which improved food availability for farming households. Despite the damage caused by coffee rust, the period requiring the greatest demand for unskilled labor will increase income-generating options for the first quarter, with these options extending in some cases through April/May. This situation will improve food access by increasing household purchasing power. With the market well-supplied with cereals from harvests brought in during the latter part of 2012, as well as the average harvests from the northern region expected in February/March, prices are expected to remain low and follow normal seasonal trends until the early part of the second quarter of the year. This will improve food access for the country's poorest households who will resort to market purchases. Based on the above, it is estimated that from January to June, the country will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) levels of food insecurity, despite the fact that the annual lean season may begin nationally in March/April. There are a few areas that will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2), details of which are provided below in Areas of Concern.

    Areas of Concern

    Livelihood zone 5[1]: Subsistence agriculture in the western highlands

    Current situation

    The annual lean season concluded with the beginning of the high demand period for unskilled labor and the completion of the harvest at the end of the year. At present, this area's extremely poor households find themselves in the optimal period of the year, given their basic cereal stocks from the harvest of their own production, cash earned from wages from coffee and sugar cane harvests, as well as from other income-generating activities. All of this enables households to satisfy their food requirements. Consequently, this area exhibits Minimum acute food insecurity, and is accordingly classified in IPC Phase 1.

    Crop status: The only harvest of basic cereals in this region takes place in late November and December, with some households harvesting as late as early January. Yields for this harvest are close to average. This harvest has enabled households to temporarily replenish their stocks, although these stocks will not last as long as they usually do in the case of households in the temperate highlands[2] that reported severe losses as a result of the 2012 dry period, according to the Emergency Food Security Assessment (EFSA) carried out by the World Food Programme (WFP) and other partners.

    According to the monthly FAO report on food stocks, as of December 30, households in the western region had less than one month of maize stocks, although these stocks are expected to increase with the conclusion of the harvest. In the case of beans, this publication reports stocks sufficient for 1.7 months, which is greater than reported for the past five years, with the exception of 2010.

    Basic cereal prices: Normal flows of basic cereals are observed from Mexico and surplus production areas (southern coast in the case of maize, and the eastern region (Petén and the Northern Transversal Strip) in the case of beans). These surplus production areas reported average harvests for Postrera crops made possible by adequate amounts of rainfall. No data exists for consumer prices at the departmental level; however, prices at the La Terminal market in the capital city reflect a downward trend for both maize and beans, a natural result of the conclusion of the harvest. In addition, the FAO report on farm gate prices indicates that the producer prices have decreased for both maize and beans, with figures lower than those recorded over the past four years.

    Income sources: The demand for unskilled labor to harvest sugar cane is expected to be normal, although for other activities, the daily wage could decrease slightly as a result of a greater supply of laborers brought about by the prolonged dry period in 2012. This activity, which began in October, will conclude in March. In the particular case of coffee, the impact of coffee rust will decrease the number of opportunities available to unskilled laborers by about 10 percent. As of December, income from remittances (national figure) reflects a slight 7 percent increase. According to the most recent study on remittances prepared by the IOM in 2010, 49.4 percent of remittances are spent on consumer goods, with a similar percentage spent on food purchases.


    In addition to those described in the National Overview, the following assumptions were taken into account in preparing the projection for this area:

    • The demand for unskilled labor will be normal for all crops with the exception of coffee, and the same will be true for the daily wage rate. Migration toward zone 11 (coffee), Mexico and zone 12 (sugar cane) will be within the projected range, with the exception of the areas most affected by the earthquake.
    • The 2013 rainy season is expected to commence normally, therefore it is also reasonable to project that planting will also take place on time. Harvesting of this single planting will take place in November/December.
    • The flow of remittances is expected to exhibit almost normal behavior, based on data for the past two years. The group of extremely poor households receives no remittances; however, the flow of remittances directly affects the dynamic of the construction industry, which is a source of income for this group.
    • Basic cereal prices for the first quarter of 2013 are expected to exhibit more or less average behavior for the season, given that (a) the Postrera harvest was average, (b) it is expected that production in the northern region (where crops are harvested in February/March) will also be at average levels, and (c) a normal flow of basic cereals from the production areas of Petén, the Northern Transversal Strip, the eastern region and the southern coast is projected. 
    • According to the forecast of the Regional Climate Outlook Forum for Central America, predictions call for a normal number of cold fronts and frosts which will produce low temperatures and strong winds until early March. However, given the history of temperatures below 0°C even without the occurrence of cold fronts, it should be expected that these conditions can not only occur but even worsen, with new cold fronts likely to move in from January to March (the period of greatest incidence), although INSIVUMEH has not yet made available any information on the likely intensity of such cold fronts. In addition, strong winds could also affect not only the coffee production sector but also maize having been blown over in the field.
    • There will be a slight increase in fuel prices in February and March, owing to a seasonal increase in the international market. Since this region depends to a large extent on the flow of cereals from other production areas of the country, this increase has the potential to generate a slight increase in food prices.
    • WFP will deliver 3,500 family rations, each providing food for a period of 90 days to families receiving shelter provided by the government and individuals in earthquake-affected areas in the departments of San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, Sololá, Totonicapán and Quiché, and with San Marcos and Quetzaltenango receiving special attention. Priority will be given to households located in rural areas and in places where government coverage does not reach. The request submitted to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) also includes a supplementary ration of food for small children.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    As a result of the conclusion of the only harvest in this zone and the beginning of the period of peak demand for unskilled labor, the poorest households will be able to satisfy their food requirements. For the first quarter of the year, the food situation is expected to be adequate for all households, thereby meriting an IPC Phase 1 classification, with the following variations expected for the second quarter:

    Households that were affected by the earthquake will have a significant percentage of their food needs assured as a result of the food aid distributed by the WFP, which places these households in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) for the January/March quarter. In the event of a food deficit, families will compensate by using a portion of their stocks or by resorting to purchases. The existence of foreign assistance will enable beneficiary households to hold on to the cereal from their own harvested crops for subsequent consumption. For the second quarter, however, in the absence of foreign assistance these households will resort to this source of food for their diet. Typically at this time of the year, they resort to purchases. Their stocks will last for approximately two months, at which point they will resort to purchasing in late May or June. The reduction in their income will therefore continue to have an impact on into the months not covered by this Outlook report.

    The situation is different for households affected by the drought in the temperate highlands in the departments of Huehuetenango, Quiché, Sololá and Totonicapán. During the first quarter, these households will resort to an increase in purchases as a result of the reduction observed in their harvested crops. However, they are still expected to be able to meet their food requirements. Beginning in late March or April, they will be required to resort exclusively to purchases to obtain food. As a result of reduced income, they will be left with an approximate 20 percent food consumption deficit, despite intensified typical coping strategies, and will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity.

    Livelihood zone 8[3]: Basic cereals, area bordering Honduras and El Salvador in the dry corridor

    Current situation

    The food situation improved as a result of an average Postrera harvest and high demand for unskilled labor. The Postrera harvest had the effect of partially replenishing food stocks in producer households, especially with regards to beans, the predominant crop for this season. A portion of this harvest is also set aside to be sold, which will improve income and enable households affected by the prolonged dry period of mid-2012 to pay off the debts incurred as a result of the losses caused by that phenomenon. It will in addition generate the cash necessary for the purchase of maize, which is deficient in this area. Income from wages will also enhance household purchasing power, and in so doing, improve access to food. Accordingly, it is estimated that this region is currently in Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

    Food stocks: According to the latest FAO report published in December 2012, the households in this region had bean stocks to last for a period of 1.7 months, a figure similar to that recorded for the same period in 2011 and close to the historical average. In addition, as a result of the losses incurred in the production cycle during the Primera season, stocks of maize are now at minimum levels, with sufficient cereal on hand to cover less than one month, in contrast to the situation during the same period last year when households had stocks sufficient for 2.6 months.

    Prices and food flow: According to FAO reports, local markets are receiving normal flows of cereal into this region from national production regions, as well as from Mexico. Prices for white maize decreased as expected since November and December, when the maximum production level was reached both locally and nationally, as a result of which January began to reflect the gradual scaling up of prices caused by the decrease in supply. Bean prices also decreased as projected, but not to the extent experienced by white maize, as a result of which, January will also see an upturn.

    Sources of income: Households in this zone have a number of employment options, involving sugar cane cutting as well as the harvesting of tobacco, tomato, red pepper, cantaloupe and watermelon, plus basic cereals in Petén. The demand for wages is expected to be within the range observed in recent years. However, coffee is also an important source of employment, since households not only pick coffee within the zone but also travel to El Salvador and Honduras in search of work. This crop has been affected by coffee rust, both in Guatemala as well as in neighboring countries, which will mean a reduction of approximately 15 percent in the number of workdays available, as well as a similar reduction in income for households participating in this activity. This region will find itself slightly more affected than the rest of the country, which reports a reduction of 10 percent, since the problem experienced by neighboring countries will compound Guatemala’s own problem, due to its geographic proximity to these countries and the tendency of household members to migrate toward them.


    In addition to those described in the section addressing the National Overview, the following assumptions were taken into account for projections for this area:

    • The supply of labor for farm work is normal for basic cereals, sugar cane and other commodities, with the exception of coffee. Basic cereal prices will maintain normal trends by virtue of an average harvest of Postrera crops and the influx of cereal from national production regions and Mexico. The demand for labor will be lower for those households that depend on coffee for income generation, given the prediction of an infestation of coffee rust and a 15 percent reduction in labor.
    • According to the weather forecast through March, no significant risks are foreseen for agricultural activities during the first quarter of the year, beyond what is typical for the season. Accordingly, the planting season for Primera crops is projected to be normal.
    • Prices for white maize and beans decreased as expected beginning in November and December 2012, when local and national production reached peak levels. It is expected that this trend toward low prices for white maize will be maintained through March 2013. Subsequently, the seasonal scaling-up of prices is expected.
    • Given the early depletion of basic cereal stocks, the purchase of cereals is expected to begin in January 2013.
    • Regarding acute malnutrition, behavior similar to that reported in previous years by the MOH malnutrition situation room is expected, characterized by a gradual increase in cases that will peak during March, later followed by a decrease in April and a subsequent upturn in May. The prevalence of acute malnutrition is not expected to exceed 10 percent, and no increase in death rates is anticipated.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    With an average harvest of Postrera crops and the intensification of livelihood strategies, the poorest households in this zone will be able to satisfy their food needs during the period in question. Reports indicate a drop of up to 15 percent in the supply of labor, owing primarily to the damages incurred by coffee crops, which constitute one of the primary sources of farm work both locally and beyond national borders. Generally speaking, despite the existence of a normal supply of work opportunities, there also exists the possibility of decreased access to such work for other crops, due to the increase in the supply of day laborers resulting from the increased pressure on income with which these households will begin the year. The yield of household crops was normal for the Postrera season; however, at least one third of cereals are already committed to repayment of debt incurred from the previous production cycle (Primera season of 2012), as a result of which these households will have less available for sale. The sale price at the end of 2012 was stable, although lower than in 2011, as a result of which economic income will be lower than expected, and insufficient to satisfy household needs. On this basis, it is estimated that household income will be reduced by approximately 25-30 percent, as compared to normal levels.

    Regarding consumption, extremely poor households will deplete their cereal stocks earlier than usual, since a part of these stocks (in those households who plant on rented land) were already committed by virtue of losses suffered and debts incurred during 2012. The shorter duration of maize and bean stocks will lead to the need to purchase cereals earlier than usual during semester. Households will have to resort to early purchasing of food when prices increase seasonally, and, at the same time, will not see any increase in income earned, as a result of which they will experience difficulties in meeting at least a third of their basic cereal needs, especially during the second quarter of the year. This is due primarily to a reduction in purchasing power.

    To summarize, during the first two months of the period covered by this scenario, households will be expected to satisfy their food requirements initially by consuming their own production of cereals and then, to a greater extent, through the purchase of cereals with the income received from farm labor, resulting in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. From the third month of the year, it is expected that they will implement coping strategies earlier than usual, with such strategies expected to intensify toward the second quarter as a result of the seasonal increase in the price of basic cereals and the anticipated early onset of the lean season. The poorest households are expected to be classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2); however, since they do not represent more than 20 percent of the total population of the area, thus this zone maintains its classification of Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    This analysis is also valid for livelihood zones 8 and 9, both of which are located in the dry corridor.

    [2] Temperate highlands: refers to an area of the western highlands where temperatures are not as low as in the rest of the region and that forms a part of the extended dry corridor.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Western region

    Granting of TPS (Temporary Protected Status) to Guatemala by the United States government

    Following the earthquake that affected Guatemala in November 2012, the Guatemalan government intensified activities aimed at obtaining this authorization. Should this occur, the number of deportees will decrease, which could result in an increase in the number and amount of remittances to Guatemala. This could, in turn, increase the amount of this money used for construction, especially in view of the increased demand resulting from the reconstruction process, which could compensate for the reduction in income in the coffee sector. This would enable Phase 2 households to identify other options for increasing their income, thereby offsetting their food deficit.

    Eastern region

    Milder than normal rainy season

    This would affect the planting of basic cereal crops in the Primera season, as well as their normal development beginning in the second quarter of the year.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, January 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, January 2013

    Source: 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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top