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Poor rainfall conditions will reduce staple grain production

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • July - December 2014
Poor rainfall conditions will reduce staple grain production

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of concern
  • Events that could change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • One in five very poor households in certain municipalities in eastern and altiplano (highland) areas highly dependent on the coffee sector will have difficulty meeting their food needs, even resorting to measures weakening their future coping capacity. This will keep them in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between July and September.

    • Since altiplano areas have only one harvest, households in these areas will remain in Crisis until the completion of the harvest in December, when Crisis conditions will become Stressed (IPC Phase 2). With shortfalls in crop production and incomes, the food security situation is expected to deteriorate more quickly and, thus, earlier than usual in the first quarter of next year.

    • A long dry spell (canícula) and lower levels of rainfall with the shift to possible El Niño conditions will reduce yields of subsistence crops for both the Primera and the Postrera seasons, particularly in the Dry Corridor. However, these harvests will improve food security outcomes in the last quarter of this year. Thus, food security conditions in this latter area will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2), while the rest of the country will experience Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1).

    National Overview
    Current situation

    As is the case every year, the annual lean season peaks in July, with food reserves depleted for months and prices for both maize and beans at their yearly high. Current demand for unskilled labor is seasonably low, which means fewer employment options and lower levels of wage income for very poor households than during the high-demand period. Domestic market supplies at this time of year are from grain inventories from previous harvests and imports from Mexico. After two very rainy months, namely May and June, as predicted, the dry period (canícula) began in early July and is expected to extend through the end of the month and, in certain areas, through August 10th, which is unusually long. The Primera growing season devoted mainly to maize production is well established across the country, with crops already in the developmental stage and expected to be in the fruit-bearing stage by the end of July, when the availability of water is critical for the seed filling process. With the dry period running its course, some crops are already showing signs of damage from soil water deficits, particularly in the Dry Corridor.


    Climate: According to forecasts by the Central American Climate Outlook Forum held on July 15th  and 16th of this year in San Salvador, El Salvador, cumulative rainfall totals for the period from August through October will be below-normal on the central plateau (meseta central), above-normal in the north, the southwest, and the west, and within the normal range  in the rest of the country (Figure 1). The area of greatest concern, given the implications of low rainfall for agriculture, includes Oriente, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, Sacatepéquez, northern Chimaltenango, southern Quiché, and eastern Izabal departments. Forecasts also call for light rainfall in the first half of August, becoming gradually heavier and peaking in the month of September.

    El Niño phenomenon: Forecasts by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) show a 60 percent likelihood of the development of El Niño conditions during the three-month period between August and October. An El Niño event usually lasts for eight to ten months, in which case it would extend into the beginning of next year. A shift to El Niño conditions generally means a longer and harsher than usual canícula (dry period) and rainfall deficits between July and December, particularly in the Pacific area and Dry Corridor. There is also decreased hurricane activity. Thus, as has been the case since the beginning of the hurricane season, forecasts are calling for below-average hurricane activity in the Atlantic and Caribbean and the opposite in the Pacific. Both hurricane seasons officially end on November 30th. Forecasts by the Regional Climate Outlook Forum do not rule out a direct or indirect hit by at least one tropical storm somewhere in the country during the three-month period from August through October, especially along the border with Mexico.

    Primera and Postrera staple grain production cycles: The unusually long dry spell and prior rainfall anomalies are expected to cause damage to and losses of staple grain crops for the Primera season, particularly in areas within the Dry Corridor. This growing cycle accounts for approximately 60 percent of annual maize production, while the Postrera season (from August/September to November/December) accounts for 60 percent of yearly bean production.  In spite of the erratic, light rainfall activity up until July, the Postrera season is still expected to get off to a more or less timely start, with forecasts predicting heavier rainfall activity in late August and September, which would improve soil water conditions for the planting of crops. However, based on the outlook for below-normal levels of cumulative rainfall in large parts of the country and the prospect of a shortened rainy season, crop yields for that production cycle are expected to be below-average.

    Staple grain prices: Movements in bean prices over the next three months should be in line with seasonal trends, though subject to larger than usual fluctuations due to anomalies in red bean supplies in the rest of the Central American region, affecting the supply of black beans for domestic consumption. These fluctuations are also attributable to the atypical demand for these grain crops from Costa Rica and the manipulation of domestic demand by traders. The expected smaller than usual harvests of Postrera crops by small farmers in the east, a surplus area within the Dry Corridor, will drive prices up even further by the end of the year. Maize prices are expected to steadily rise over the next three months due to expected losses of subsistence crops for the Primera growing season. There will be a drop in demand immediately following the harvest of Primera crops, with most households producing enough to live on for at least a month. However, the premature depletion of these grain reserves will trigger another anomalous rise in demand.

    Unskilled labor: There will be a stable supply of work (in sugar cane production, market gardening operations, brick-laying activities, weaving operations, and domestic service). The coffee sector is the sole exception, where the wage incomes of day laborers will be cut by at least 50 percent due to production shortfalls from the effects of the rust outbreak and the erratic pattern of seasonal rainfall. Coffee crops could suffer more damage from the rust fungus with the changeable weather conditions conducive to the spread and adhesion of the fungus to coffee plants. This is especially true in the case of small coffee growers whose plantations are poorly managed, which would affect the incomes of households dependent on this crop. Daily wage rates will move closer to the average with the rise in international coffee prices, but the continued below-normal quantity and quality of coffee beans ready for harvesting will affect the daily wages of workers paid based on the amount of beans harvested.

    Remittances: Based on trends over the past year, there should continue to be a stable flow of remittances. These remittances represent a source of work for many bricklayers, with the income generated by these activities used to make direct food purchases.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    As of July, very poor households in most parts of the country will face a seasonal escalation in food insecurity. Households will resort to market purchasing as their source of food during this period, whilerises in staple grain prices over the past month will erode their purchasing power. This fact  is especially relevant considering how households dependent on coffee have much less ready cash this year.

    The lean season will end in August/September with the harvest of Primera crops. Rainfall deficits and the unusually long dry period, especially in the Dry Corridor, are expected to reduce yields from these crops. However, households should produce enough grain to meet their consumption needs for at least a month.

    Thus, households in most parts of the country will experience Minimal acute food insecurity (Phase 1, IPC 2.0) between July and December of this year. However, with wage incomes dependent on the coffee sector, a track record of two years of crop failures, and the vulnerability to rainfall deficits, there will be Crisis conditions Phase 3, IPC 2.0)  in temperate western highland and eastern areas. Conditions will improve in the last quarter of the year with harvests of Primera and Postrera crops, giving way to Stressed food security outcomes (Phase 2, IPC 2.0). The food security situation is expected to deteriorate much more quickly than usual in the first quarter of next year.


    Areas of concern

    Coffee-dependent day laborers in livelihood zones 5 (subsistence farming),  7 (agro-industry, timber, mining, and coffee ), 8 (basic grains, Honduras-El Salvador border area), and 9 (basic grains and labor) [1]

    Current situation

    As is the case in other parts of the country, this is the most critical time of year for very poor households in these livelihood zones, with few income-generating options and high staple grain prices. The Primera growing season is already well established in these areas. Certain farmers in El Progreso department in particular were forced to replant their crops due to the rainfall anomalies in May. Crops in the eastern region are already showing signs of water stress with the rains cut short by the canícula (the break in the rainy season) which, in certain areas, produced as many as 42 days without rain within a 51-day period.

    Current market supplies in the east are from grain inventories from local 2013 harvests and, in the case of beans, include some shipments of crops from surplus areas of Petén in the aftermath of this year’s April harvest. Retail prices for black beans on the Chiquimula departmental market, which is a reference market for this region, show little movement from last month or last year. Market supplies in altiplano areas are from crop-producing areas on the southern coast and Mexico, with grain shipments coming from the wholesale market in the capital.

    According to the FAO, household maize reserves were depleted by April and bean reserves were drained by May in the east, two months sooner than usual. Income levels from crops such as melons and market garden produce are stable. On the other hand, damage from the rust outbreak has reduced the incomes of households dependent on coffee normally engaged in clean-up work on coffee plantations at this time of year.  Food reserves in the west were depleted by April, two months earlier than usual, where households have been purchasing their food supplies ever since. Households whose main sources of employment are market gardening or potato farming activities have stable incomes. Other households normally engaged in clean-up work on coffee plantations at this time of year have lower incomes due to the damage caused by the rust outbreak in this area. 

    An examination of the influx of foreign exchange income from migrant remittances since January of this year shows a 3.75 percent increase between April and May and a 25 percent increase from May of last year. However, the poorest households receive no such remittances since they do not have the funds with which to cover migration costs. In any case, this larger volume of foreign exchange could stimulate the trade or construction sectors, affording potential employment opportunities for certain very poor households, though not enough to improve the food security status of these areas of concern.

    The lean season is already well underway, having begun several months sooner than usual. Households are currently dependent on market purchasing, while this year’s incomes are lower than in previous years due to the losses of wage income from the coffee sector, weakening the purchasing power of very poor households. As a result, these households have chosen to implement negative coping strategies to cover gaps in their income and in the quality and quantity of their food consumption. They are still able to buy some staple grains with income from the sale of firewood, small animals serving as livelihood assets, and woven goods or other hand-made items produced by women and alternative sources of employment outside their community (domestic work, brick-laying, etc.). Thus, municipalities in which the majority of households are dependent on coffee and/or affected by the 2013 drought are in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0). Food security conditions in other municipalities in these regions are Stressed (Phase 2, IPC 2.0).


    The outlook for these regions is based on the following assumption in addition to the assumptions on nationwide conditions outlined elsewhere in this report:

    Rainfall anomalies and an extended dry period are expected to reduce crop yields for the Primera season and the sole growing season in altiplano areas by 50 to 75 percent and yields from Postrera crops by 40 to 80 percent. These crop losses will affect small farmers, whose food reserves will meet their consumption needs for approximately one month.

    The total incomes of subject households in livelihood zone 5 are expected to be reduced by at least 25 percent for the entire outlook period due to the problems in the coffee sector. The main source of food for the next few months is market purchasing and, while some households have found alternative sources of income such as market gardening activities, the growing of sugar cane, brick-laying work, domestic service, etc., they are not representative of the majority of the population. Reduced yields of maize and beans by more than 50 percent will prevent households from selling part of their crops as a source of income generation, forcing them to hold onto the few crops they are able to harvest for household consumption. As a result, accrued losses of purchasing power over the past several months will reduce their food access by 25 percent.

    As a coping strategy, households with any remaining available farmyard animals could resort to selling eggs or even poultry, while other households will intensify their local job search or expand their job hunt to the departmental or national capital, in areas such as construction, security, and agriculture. The Ministry of Food and Nutritional Security, with the help of other international organizations, has planned assistance programs for households affected by the damage to coffee plantations from the rust outbreak as part of its Community-Based Temporary Job Creation (GETCo) strategy. This strategy was originally implemented in the eastern region, but has since been expanded to three western departments, namely San Marcos, Quiché, and Huehuetenango, serving a total of 26,000 households. In addition, the World Food Program (WFP) has mounted a 60-day cash-for-work program in five municipalities in Huehuetenango and four municipalities in San Marcos in conjunction with other partners, serving a total of 7,270 households, financed by the United Nations Emergency Fund. The FAO will assist some 600 households in Huehuetenango through a resilience-building project including work on coffee plantations and activities designed to strengthen household food supply systems through short-term measures such as the planting of orchards and other short-cycle crops as a source of food. These operations will cover a total of approximately 30,000 households in the west affected by the coffee rust fungus.

    The acute malnutrition rate among children under the age of five for the period from January through July 5th in the northwest was around 26 per 10,000, compared with last year’s figure of close to 38. The rate in the southwest was 29 per 10,000, compared with last year’s figure of close to 40. However, there is a 36 percent rate of underreporting in areas subject to reporting requirements in both parts of the country, which suggests that the actual number of cases of malnutrition this year is larger than reported. Nevertheless, the acute malnutrition rate for this population group is not expected to exceed 10 percent.

    Food security conditions will steadily deteriorate during this period as a result of lower incomes and losses of staple grain crops. Households can count on some grain availability from their harvests to meet their consumption needs in the last two months of the year, especially in December. Households normally engaged in the harvesting and sale of coffee beginning as of October will have lower incomes due to the damage caused by the rust fungus to coffee plantations. Last year, yields from 70 percent of the area’s coffee plantations were cut by more than half. Many small growers hit by the rust outbreak have not treated their coffee plants and, thus, can expect to find themselves in a similar or worse situation than last year. The projected 50 percent food consumption deficit will reduce the quality of food intake, as well as the number of mealtimes. Thus, certain municipalities in which highly coffee-dependent households account for more than 20 percent of the population are expected to face Crisis conditions (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) through November, which will give way to Stressed acute food insecurity outcomes (Phase 2, IPC 2.0) in December once the harvest is brought in. Other municipalities in this area will face Stressed food security conditions for the entire outlook period.

    Food security conditions in highly coffee-dependent municipalities in this livelihood zone are expected to deteriorate more quickly and, thus, earlier than usual in the first quarter of next year, where coping capacity has been weakened by three consecutive years of crop failures and low incomes.

    The situation in livelihood zones 7, 8, and 9, is similar to that of livelihood zone 5. The difference is that this region has a second crop production cycle (the Postrera growing season ) between August and November, which gives local households more options as sources of grain for sale and consumption compared with those available in livelihood zone 5. During this period, households are more reliant on home production for their food supplies, as well as for income-generation through the sale of part of their crops. However, with the large projected losses from this year’s harvests, there will be fewer crops to sell, with the priority on meeting household consumption needs.

    With the high-demand period for labor beginning during the outlook period, the wage incomes of day laborers will also play an important role in the food security of very poor households. Employment in the coffee sector will be cut by approximately 50 percent, with less work time and lower daily wages. This will reduce the incomes of households employed in the coffee harvest by 50 to 55 percent for the entire outlook period. Approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population of this area consists of day laborers in the coffee sector. There will be work available for the majority of the population from this source between August and December. Other sources of employment include local melon production, which employs two percent of the population, and the sugar cane harvest on the southern coast, employing less than one percent of the population. Since both these crops require highly skilled labor, there is very little turnover in the workforce and this is not expected to change.

    Subject households will be making use of coping stategies such as selling firewood and farmyard animals, looking for other sources of work such as brick-laying and domestic service, and rural-urban migration throughout the outlook period. There are already some isolated reports of the use of certain asset-stripping strategies such as the consumption of grains earmarked for use as seeds. Save the Children has recently mounted a cash-for-work program in this area, but its limited coverage will only affect the food security situation of participating households but will have no impact at the municipal level. The WFP is planning a cash-for-work program for 525 households in Baja Verapaz department and a food assistance program serving 2,985 households, in both cases, with a duration of 60 days.

    The number of cases of malnutrition is expected to steadily mount between now and September, as is normally the case during the lean season. The malnutrition rate is lower than last year, which was an atypical year, but above rates for previous relatively average years. The northwest region reported an acute malnutrition rate of close to 51 per 10,000 children under five for the period from January through July 5th, compared with last year’s figure of approximately 82 for the same period. In any case, the acute malnutrition rate is not expected to surpass 10 percent, nor is there expected to be a high rate of mortality due to nutritional problems.

    By the end of August, harvests of Primera crops will enable very poor households to rebuild their food reserves, improving their food consumption. However, with the expected large losses due to the extended dry period (canícula), this improvement will only last for approximately a month. These food reserves will be sharply depleted by October but, with the beginning of the high-demand period for labor, subject households should be able to generate income to cover food shortages through market purchasing. The harvest of Postrera crops expected to take place in late November/December will replenish their reserves, particularly their bean reserves, though projected below-normal levels of cumulative rainfall and an unusually short rainy season could affect crop yields for this growing cycle. Based on expected shortfalls in income and crop losses for this year, there will be Crisis conditions (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) between July and September in municipalities highly dependent on coffee or affected by the rainfall anomalies in the last few years. Conditions in other municipalities will be Stressed (Phase 2, IPC 2.0).  In spite of expected crop losses, food security conditions in all municipalities in these livelihood zones will be Stressed (Phase 2, IPC 2.0) between October and December, bolstered by harvests of Primera and Postrera crops.



    [1] See the 2007 Livelihood Profile (available in Spanish only) at:

    Events that could change the Outlook

    Table 1: Possible events in the next six months that could change the most likely scenario



    Impact on food security outcomes

    East and West

    Increased deliveries of humanitarian assistance

    This would help improve food access for the poorest households, reclassifying target areas in a more favorable IPC phase.

    Entire country

    No El Niño phenomenon

    This would pave the way for a better spatial-temporal distribution of rainfall during the second rainy period and, thus, average to above-average crop yields for the Postrera growing season. This, in turn, would improve food security conditions for very poor households.

    Entire country

    Tropical storm

    Since the formation of at least one or two hurricanes in the Central American area during the second part of the rainy season cannot be ruled out, the projected food security scenario for the country as a whole would change in the event of a direct or indirect hit. The effects will depend on the magnitude and location of the event.

    Figures seasonal calendar for Guatemala

    Figure 1

    Calendario Estacional Para Un Ano Tipico

    Source: FEWS NET

    Resultados estimados de seguridad alimentaria, julio 2014

    Figure 2

    Resultados estimados de seguridad alimentaria, julio 2014

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figura 1. Pronóstico de acumulados de lluvia para el período agosto a octubre 2014

    Figure 3

    Figura 1. Pronóstico de acumulados de lluvia para el período agosto a octubre 2014

    Source: Foro Climático Regional de Centroamérica

    Figure 4


    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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