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Dry Corridor: Poor Primera harvests and risk to Postrera crops due to rainfall deficits

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • July - December 2015
Dry Corridor: Poor Primera harvests and risk to Postrera crops due to rainfall deficits

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Key Messages
    • The rainfall anomalies since May are expected to cause subsistence farmers in eastern and western areas of the country’s Dry Corridor to lose up to 75 percent of their Primera crops, reducing the size of maize reserves from harvests beginning in August. The expected extended canícula and presence of El Niño conditions are likely to put Postrera crops at risk, reducing bean production by households in affected areas.

    • According to the findings from the SMART survey conducted in March 2015, 22.8 percent of households interviewed in the West and 30 percent of households interviewed in the East reported resorting to emergency survival strategies (CSI). While global acute malnutrition (GAM) rates for children between six and 59 months of age in both areas were under five percent, there is likely to be an increase in acute malnutrition through at least the month of September.

    • Deliveries of food assistencia through September will narrow the food consumption gaps of covered households, maintaining food security outcomes in parts of the East and West at Stressed (IPC Phase 2!). There are no scheduled deliveries of government assistance or assistance funded by external cooperation agencies beyond the end of September.  

    • Households affected by the coffee rust outbreak and poor rainfall conditions for the Primera growing season in temperate altiplano areas in the West not targeted for food assistance will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through November, when the annual staple harvest begins. Unassisted households in the East will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until October and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes between October and the end of the year.


    National overview

    Current situation

    The annual lean season is approaching its most critical phase. The poorest households depleted their basic grain reserves two months earlier than usual, or by February, due to the poor crop production by many of these households for the 2014 Primera growing season. According to the SMART survey conducted this past March by FEWS NET and Action Against Hunger (ACH) with the assistance of other partners, over half of all households classified as severely food-insecure in both eastern and western areas of the country’s Dry Corridor had already depleted their food reserves by that time and were resorting to emergency coping strategies. Even with these strategies, the survey findings show households engaging in less-than-optimal infant and young child feeding practices, compounding problems with poor national basic health care service coverage.

    Income-generating options are limited at this time of year, both in terms of opportunities available and wages.. This is reducing the total incomes of the country’s poorest households and, thus, undermining their purchasing power and food access. According to the SMART survey, more than a fourth of both groups of households interviewed were already classified as moderately food-insecure in March, though acute malnutrition rates for children between six and 59 months of age (based on weight-for-height z-scores, with a 95 percent confidence interval) in neither survey area exceeded five percent. With the seasonal contraction in employment opportunities and the coping options for these households, it is reasonable to conclude that their food security situation has definitely deteriorated between then and now.

    Prices for white maize and black beans are in line with normal seasonal trends, stabilized by reserves from recent harvests in the East, Petén, and the Northern Transversal Strip and grain imports from Mexico. The adequate level of supplies was reflected in prices for June 2015, which were under figures for June of last year as well as the five-year average.


    • Climate and the El Niño phenomenon: According to the mid-July report by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), there is a 98 percent probability of the continuation of El Niño conditions through December 2015.
    • Rainfall pattern during the second half of the rainy season: Forecasts by the Forty-Seventh Central American Climate Outlook Forum for August through October 2015 are predicting above-normal levels of cumulative rainfall in western Guatemala and normal levels of cumulative rainfall in the rest of the country. Though current forecasts are showing normal cumulative rainfall totals for that quarter in the  meseta central (central plateau), eastern, and Pacific coast areas, a second canícula (break in the rains) is expected between August fifth and 15th, which will mean a rainfall deficit for that month. The rains will pick up in September, but there are not expected to be unusually abundant amounts of rain. The rainy season is expected to end in or around the second half of October.
    • Basic grain production for the Primera growing season: The Primera growing season for staple crops is underway. The rainfall anomalies at the beginning of the season delayed planting in a number of areas, though other areas are reporting the timely planting of crops. The rainfall deficits in several parts of the country (Figure 4) in May, the second half of June, and July due to an early and protracted canícula have reportedly caused damage and contributed to the proliferation of crop pests, hurting yields of maize crops, particularly subsistence crops grown in the country’s ‘Dry Corridor.’ This affects both maize and bean crops, though bean production is relatively lower for the Primera season. There is a limited supply of water in parts of the Dry Corridor. However, this is not the case in other parts of the country, where there are surplus crop-producing areas. A major impact on national crop production for the Primera growing season is not expected.
    • Staple production for the Postrera growing season: The Postrera growing season usually gets underway sometime between August and September. This year, the rains are expected to pick up towards the second half of August, but an erratic start to rainfall during the season  could delay the planting of crops for this growing cycle. Soil water deficits could also contribute to the delay due to their potential effect on seed germination and the early developmental stages of crops in general and bean crops in particular, which account for most crop production during the Postrera season. The harvest is expected in December.
    • Staple supplies and prices: Adequate supply of staples is expected in all parts of the country from recent harvests of maize and bean crops in surplus crop-producing areas of northern Guatemala and the steady flow of grain imports from Mexico. As a result, staple prices will follow normal seasonal trends, moving upwards until the maize harvest in August, after which they will remain stable for the rest of the year. The seasonal rise in bean prices normally ends with the harvest in August/September.
    • Income sources: During the outlook period, there  is a seasonally low demand for unskilled labor until October, when the period of high-demand for farm labor for coffee, sugar cane, tobacco, and other crop-growing activities begins. According to ANACAFE (the National Coffee Association), the late start of the rainy season in certain parts of the country and resulting soil water deficits have affected the growth of new coffee plants and the development of productive plants. Although the harvest forecast is not presented until August, according to field-level agro-meteorological data from ANACAFE, current climatic conditions and projected scenarios are conducive to an upsurge in coffee rust disease in August and September. However, production is still expected to be up by three to five percent from the 2014/15 harvest.
    • Food assistance: At this time, distributions of government food assistance, consisting of donated food supplies from the Brazilian government supplemented by supplies obtained by the Guatemalan government, and assistance furnished by the World Food Program and a consortium headed up by Action Against Hunger (ACH) with FFP/USAID and ECHO funding to target households in selected areas affected by rain deficits, are scheduled for the period between August and September. However, there are no plans to provide any further assistance after this date, at which point the household food security situation could start to deteriorate.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    There is currently a seasonal deterioration in food security outcomes for very poor households in most parts of the country, with no reserves of own-produced staple crops and with the final weeks of the annual lean season before the harvest of Primera crops. These households are completely dependent on market purchase for their food supplies between July and August/September. In spite of their limited income-generating options and the steady rise in prices until the harvest of Primera crops, households in most parts of the country will have no difficulty maintaining food access between now and September. There will be a seasonal improvement in food security outcomes with the boost in their food reserves from harvests of home-grown crops and the beginning of the high-demand period for labor. Thus, there will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity in most parts of the country between July and December 2015. The exception will be coffee-dependent households affected by the extended canículas of the past two years. These households will have an early start to the lean season after poor Primera harvests for the fourth consecutive year, as well as potentially low yields of Postrera crops. In addition, with the rust outbreak and climatic anomalies, there will be below-average yields in the coffee sector, which constitutes one of the primary sources of income for these households beginning in October. This will affect the available supply of work, reducing the amount of work time and pay and, thus, the earned incomes of day laborers. Prior to this, they are employed in any available local low-paying jobs. The forecasts for low crop yields due to the rainfall anomalies in areas within the Dry Corridor are liable to trigger hoarding by basic grain traders at the wholesale level seeking to sell at higher prices, further weakening the purchasing power of affected households. Pledged deliveries of food assistance by the government and international cooperation agencies are scheduled to run through September, which should improve basic food security conditions for these households, with this assistance maintaining food insecurity at Stressed (IPC Phase 2!). Due to the lack of sufficient funding to cover all affected municipalities and populations, households not targeted for assistance will be forced to resort to coping strategies to meet their basic food needs, and may not be able to meet basic non-food needs. This group of households is already facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 

    Furthermore, there are shortages of safe water supplies for human consumption in several parts of the country, particularly in especially arid areas, due to the very low rainfall totals in the first half of the rainy season. 


    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Rainfall anomalies (TRMM) for the period from May 1st through June 28, 2015, in mm

    Figure 2

    Rainfall anomalies (TRMM) for the period from May 1st through June 28, 2015, in mm

    Source: NOAA

    Figure 1


    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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