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Lean season ending soon as primera harvests continue

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • July - December 2012
Lean season ending soon as primera harvests continue

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  • Key Messages
  • Most likely food security scenario (July-December 2012)
  • Key Messages
    • The annual lean season is approaching its most critical juncture, given the upcoming harvest of the primera season crops and the beginning of the peak season for the demand of unskilled labor. Although the strategies used to address these constraints are typical for this time of year, they do not allow households to satisfy all of their basic needs. By the third quarter of the year, the altiplano and eastern regions of the country will be classified at Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels, a situation that will affect some two million people, while the rest of the country will be classified as in Phase 1 (Figure 1).

    • Due to the irregularity – and sometimes total lack – of rainfall over the past two months, a decrease in primera yields for subsistence farmers is projected, although this will not be the case in areas experiencing higher than average rainfall. This situation is particularly significant for the eastern region, which currently exhibits the greatest degree of crop damage. This reduction in crop yields will have implications in terms of the length of time that household reserves will last in 2013.

    • The El Niño phenomenon is expected to take place in the second half of the year, thereby defining a weather outlook for the period from August to October that will include (a) a second canicula expected to occur on the central meseta during the first two weeks of August, (b) higher than average rainfall in the northern and Caribbean regions, and (c) rainfall within normal ranges but trending toward somewhat lower than normal in the Pacific region. Given these conditions, no negative effects are projected for the postrera season in the eastern region, although the postrera season in the northern region could experience some degree of flood damage; such an occurrence would not, however, create supply problems for the national market. 

    • Conclusion of the primera harvest in September/October will improve food availability, which will in turn contribute to a seasonal decrease in prices. The combination of these two factors – food availability and food affordability – will substantially improve the food situation in the country’s poorest households in the last quarter of the year. Accordingly, the eastern region is classified in IPC Phase 1 (no/minimal acute food insecurity), while the western region, where poverty and social exclusion are greater, will remain in Phase 2. It is essential that weather and price variables be closely monitored in order to identify factors having the potential to bring about a change in these classifications.

    Most likely food security scenario (July-December 2012)

    In projecting food security outcomes over the six-month period covered by this outlook report, FEWS NET makes assumptions about the most likely scenario in terms of key events that are expected to occur, taking into account their influence on livelihoods and food sources for the populations in each region.

    At present, the poorest households are now in the annual lean season in all areas of the country. With no reserves of basic grains, most households are dependent on market purchases. Although the market is adequately supplied with grain stocks from the postrera harvest and other stocks, as well as grain entering the country from Mexico, prices during this period of the year reflect a seasonal upward trend, making access to food difficult. Labor opportunities are extremely scarce, since there are no activities currently underway requiring massive amounts of unskilled labor, such as coffee and sugar cane harvesting. This does not mean, however, that there is no demand at all, since occasional opportunities do exist, especially in the area of crop maintenance and cultivation activities in basic grain production. In these cases, however, both wages paid and the number of days of available employment are lower, which translates into lower monthly income. At present, the poorest households in the altiplano and eastern regions will utilize typical livelihood strategies, but these strategies will not allow them to satisfy all of their basic needs, which mandates their placement in IPC Phase 2 (Stress). Households in the rest of the country are not yet relying on atypical or unsustainable response strategies for the near future. Rather, they are making use of other response strategies to ensure food consumption that is adequate in terms of minimum caloric intake, although not in terms of food variety and nutritional quality.

    The most likely scenario for the period between July and December 2012 is based on the following national assumptions:

    • Harvest of primera season crops: The harvest of basic grains from the primera season, primarily maize, will end in almost the entire country between September and October, which will improve food availability in the national market and among producer households. Nationally, this harvest is expected to be normal, although in the dry corridor, losses are projected for some crops. However, areas with excess production, which supply grain to the national market, will not be affected. Accordingly, prices will reflect a seasonal decrease.
    • Harvest of postrera season crops: The basic grain cycle for the postrera season, consisting primarily of beans, begins with planting between August and September, and concludes with crop harvesting between November and December. This cycle behaves differently in the area of the Transverse Strip and Petén, where planting takes place in November/December and crops are harvested in March/April. This latter region, with its substantial production, is a key supplier to the national market. No significant impact is projected on postrera crops in areas with excess production, although the potential exists for some damage to occur in specific areas as a result of flooding and/or fungal disease, both the result of projected excess rainfall.
    • El Niño: Most models related to the ENOS (El Niño-Oscilación del Sur) forecast are consistent in projecting the occurrence of an El Niño event sometime during the period between August and October, which would be expected to continue through the end of the year. Typically, this means rainfall that is lower than average along the Pacific coast and above average in the northern and Caribbean regions.
    • Outlook for August-October: Taking into account ENSO-related conditions and other current oceanicatmospheric indicators, the report from the XXXVII Climate Forum of Central America (Figure 4) points to the potential for a second canícula to occur sometime between August 5 and August 15 in the country’s central meseta. In addition, the August-October quarter forecasts call for precipitation above normal in the northern region of the country (Transverse Strip, Petén and Caribbean regions). Normal rainfall is projected for the central meseta although, as would be expected in a normal year, it is possible that August might experience prolonged periods with no significant rainfall associated with the canícula, followed by rainstorms in September and the first half of October. The Pacific region presents a cumulative rainfall scenario of between normal and less than normal.
    • Cold fronts: The Forum report also indicates that cold fronts could move in beginning in the first two weeks of October, even though such cold fronts normally do not materialize until November. A somewhat early end of the rainy season is expected for the second two weeks of October in the Pacific region and the central meseta.
    • Hurricane seasons: The outlook for the hurricane season in the Atlantic continues to point to normal activity. Hurricane activity is likewise expected to be within normal ranges in the Pacific. These outlooks do not rule out, however, the possibility that a tropical storm of some degree of magnitude could either make landfall or have a direct or indirect impact on the Guatemalan mainland. The report issued by the Climate Forum of Central America indicates that, statistically, the influence of one or two tropical storms could be expected during the period between August and October. FEWS NET will continue to monitor the information made available by the Guatemalan weather service and the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
    • Basic grain prices: As a result of the worst drought to hit the Midwest region of the United States in recent years, the July report on supply and demand issued by the United States Department of Agriculture predicts a 12% reduction in maize yields from the figure forecast the previous month, which has in turn led to increases in the price of maize of up to 20% in U.S. commodity markets since mid-June. Soybeans, which are used to prepare animal feed, have also been affected by the weather, with prices exhibiting behavior similar to that observed in the case of maize. Since no improvement in rainfall is projected for Guatemala over the medium term, prices would be expected to remain high, although not to the same extent as seen in the U.S. Since Guatemala depends largely on maize imports, especially yellow maize, from the United States, this increase could affect the price of chicken and pork in the national market. A possible scenario in which the animal feed industry were to switch from yellow maize to white maize, which is used primarily as food for consumption by the general population, would have the potential to increase the demand for white maize, with a corresponding increase in price. The magnitude of these increases is not yet clear, as it will be contingent on a number of factors that have not yet materialized. FEWS NET will continue to monitor the weather, agricultural conditions and prices in order to determine possible impacts on food security in Guatemala.
    • Demand for labor: The demand for unskilled labor, particularly for picking coffee berries and cutting sugar cane, is expected to be within normal ranges, which will enable the country’s poorest households to increase their cash availability, thereby improving their purchasing power.

    Based on these factors, the food security situation is expected to continue to deteriorate nationally until the harvest of primera season crops ends in September, although the strategies that households are expected to use will enable them to meet their minimum food requirements in terms of caloric intake. No increase beyond historic seasonal levels is expected in the number of cases of acute malnutrition resulting from the annual lean season. Once the harvest of primera crops has concluded and the peak season of demand for unskilled labor has begun, the food situation will improve at the household level and remain stable through the end of the year, when the harvest of postrera crops will take place. There are, however, certain areas which, due to their vulnerability to food insecurity, are addressed in certain detail below.

    Altiplano (livelihood zone 5)1

    As a result of losses suffered during the previous year, the poorest households in the altiplano region have been without reserves of maize or beans since February, which has made them dependent on food purchases one month earlier than usual. The most important source of income for the poorest socioeconomic groups in livelihood zone 5 is the sale of unskilled labor (85%) focused on both farming activities (60% among the extremely poor, 45% among the poor) and construction work (35% among the extremely poor, 35% among the poor). Employment options at present are scarce, and what little work is available is scarce and low paying. Coffee berry picking will begin in October, however, and the sugar cane harvest will commence in November, both of which will improve income generation substantially for this population group. Thus, over the course of the period covered by this outlook report, the purchasing power of these households will improve, particularly because the prices of basic grains are expected to decrease seasonally following the harvesting of crops from the primera season in production areas such as the south coast and the Transverse Strip.

    This zone has only one harvest per year, occurring between November and December. The irregular rainfall in June and July could reduce yields in some areas of Quiché and Huehuetenango (Figure 5), although this will not be a widespread occurrence. For affected households, this will mean that their reserves will be exhausted earlier than usual, which could once again lead to an earlier than usual onset of next year’s lean season. The occurrence of the canicula in July and August will determine the extent of the damages, since forecasts for the second part of the rainy season call for accumulated rainfall within normal ranges. Accordingly, monitoring of rainfall behavior during the canicula will be key to determining the need for an alert. Because of its altitude and topography, this zone is particularly vulnerable to cold fronts. Because of this vulnerability, the early onset of the cold season could damage maize crops as a result of lodging caused by strong winds. The low temperatures could also impact vegetable crops in this zone, which would lead to a moderate reduction in employment opportunities in that production sector.

    The poorest households, which account for most of the population in this zone, begin the period under analysis with limited food reserves, which places them in IPC Phase 2. Beginning in October, income from wages earned will improve access to food, and upon the conclusion of the harvest in November, the food situation will further improve. However, since poverty and other structural limitations are substantial in this zone, even with the availability of employment options and the harvest to be brought in in December, the poorest population groups will be able to satisfy only their minimum requirements in terms of caloric intake, in addition to which the quality of their diet will not be adequate. Accordingly, this area will continue to be classified in Phase 2 from July through December, even if improvements are noted over the course of this period. Although some households will face serious food problems, this group will represent less than 20% of the population of the area in question, as a result of which the extent of the problem will not be sufficient to classify this group in the next highest IPC phases. These households will require concrete actions focused on improving their situation.

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

    Since this zone is part of Guatemala’s so-called “dry corridor,” it is more vulnerable to decreased or irregular rainfall, such as has been observed since June. For this reason, the FEWS NET Water Balance Index shows a number of areas (Figure 5) with scores of “mediocre” in the departments of El Progreso, Zacapa and Chiquimula. A field mission might be undertaken in the coming weeks in order to determine the extent of the damage. At present, however, affected households will obtain a poor harvest of their primera crops which will lead to lower reserves that will be depleted earlier than usual.

    As with much of the rest of the country, reserves of maize from the 2011 harvests have now been exhausted among the poorest households. Accordingly, purchases are now the predominant source of food until completion of the primera harvest in September/October. Since sources of employment are scarce during this period and prices remain seasonally high, there will be very little variety in the diet of these households, who will sell firewood and fruits to meet their minimum caloric intake. Beginning in October, however, the situation will improve with the conclusion of the harvest of primera crops and in November with the beginning of the coffee and sugar cane harvests, as well as activities related to the harvesting of tobacco, fruits and vegetables. With the increased demand for labor, households will see incomes increase.

    The weather outlook for August through October points to an increased likelihood of normal rainfall, as a result of which no significant impact on the harvesting of postrera crops is expected. This production zone is an important supplier to the national market during the postrera season, by virtue of its excess production and its provision of grain to the capital city and from there to the western and southern regions of the country.

    Both the quality and quantity of the diet will deteriorate toward October as a result of the reduction in income and the increase in food prices, especially for basic grains. However, the harvest of primera crops will enable producer households to replenish their reserves and the subsequent harvesting of postrera crops will complete the restocking of these reserves with beans, thereby improving household food availability. A reduction in the yields of harvested primera crops will have consequences next year, with reserves not expected to last as long as usual. From July to September, this region will be classified in IPC Phase 2, since most of its population will be unable to completely satisfy their basic needs. Although there will be households that are unable to satisfy their requirements and that will even have children suffering from moderate to severe acute malnutrition, these households do not represent a large enough percentage of the population to merit classifying this region as being in a crisis situation (IPC Phase 3). During the October-December quarter, food availability and affordability will both improve, as a result of which this zone is classified in Phase 1.

    Table 1. Less likely events during the next six months that could change the above scenarios

    AreaEventsImpact on food security outcomes
    Entire CountryAccumulated rainfall is less than usualA shortage of rainfall would generate a greater impact on crops already affected in the eastern region of the country and could, if it were to occur at the end of the rainy season, decrease the yields of postrera crops. If either of these two events were to occur, the annual lean season would once again conclude earlier than usual and would increase dependency on purchases for 2013.
    Entire CountryDirect impact or indirect influence of a tropical event on the countryLoss of crops, both cash and subsistence. Cash crops are a source of income. Fishing, which is a source of both food and income, would also be affected, with fewer days of work and possible damage to productive assets. Reduction in physical access to, and affordability of, foods, as well as food availability at the household level. If such an event were to impact the south coast or the production areas of Petén and the Transverse Strip, thereby substantially reducing harvests in those areas, prices would increase. The magnitude of the tropical event would determine the extent and impact of damages.


    1 Livelihoods:

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Most likely acute food insecurity outcomes, July 2012

    Figure 2

    Most likely acute food insecurity outcomes, July 2012

    Source: FEWS NET

    Weather outlook map, August-October 2012

    Figure 3

    Weather outlook map, August-October 2012

    Source: Climate Forum of Central America

    Anomaly with respect to the average of the Water Balance Index for maize, second dekad of July 2012

    Figure 4

    Anomaly with respect to the average of the Water Balance Index for maize, second dekad of July 2012

    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.

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