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Though delayed, the harvest of Primera crops will improve food security across the country

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • June 2016
Though delayed, the harvest of Primera crops will improve food security across the country

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Key Messages
    • The late start of the 2016 rainy season caused damage to crops planted with the first rains in April, and delayed the planting of Primera crops in Dry Corridor areas in the east and west. This will delay harvests in these areas by approximately a month. Forecasts indicate near-average cumulative rainfall in the second part of the rainy season, with a 70 percent likelihood of a shift to La Niña conditions in the three-month period from August through October.

    • Very poor households in the Temperate Western Highlands will continue to resort to negative strategies to cope with shortfalls in food and income, and will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through October, when the seasonal decline in prices and improvement in income-earning opportunities will strengthen their purchasing power. The annual harvest of staple crops in December 2016/January 2017 will help improve food availability and temporarily reduce household reliance on income for the purchasing of staple foods. These areas will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from October through at least January 2017, with pockets of households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • Very poor households in the eastern part of the country will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through September due to their complete dependence on market purchases after the losses during both growing seasons in 2015 and with their limited employment options for the past few months. Some municipalities in Chiquimula, Baja Verapaz, Jalapa, and Jutiapa will receive assistance from the WFP and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in the form of food and/or cash, mitigating food security outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2!). The harvest of Primera crops in August/September and the beginning of the high-demand period for unskilled labor will improve household food availability and food access at least through January 2017, improving these areas to Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    National overview

    Current situation

    Poor households in the Dry Corridor, who are primarily small-scale farmers, are currently facing the consequences of consecutive years of heavy losses of staple crops, after three straight years during which cumulative rainfall was both below average and  below the estimated water requirement for the growing of maize (700 mm) (Figure 4). Furthermore, income-generating opportunities in the coffee sector have been below normal during the same period, due to the coffee rust outbreak and the decline in international coffee prices during the 2015/2016 season. Due to these factors, the poorest households in these areas began the current lean season in January, with fewer than usual coping options. They are currently approaching the most critical point of the lean season.

    Very poor households currently have no staple food reserves from own production, and are completely dependent on market purchases in cash or on credit as their sole source of food. The seasonal decline in income-generating opportunities is weakening household purchasing power.

    May 2016 prices for white maize were generally similar to the previous month and close to the five-year average, due to the adequate domestic market supplies from stored stocks of grain from recent harvests in March/April in northern areas of the country, particularly southern Petén, the Northern Transversal Strip, and Izabal. There are also large market supplies of maize from Mexico, particularly in the west. However, even with these sources of supply, the increased demand from subsistence households after last year’s losses has driven prices up slightly.

    Producer and wholesale prices for black beans are up from the previous month, last year, and the five-year average, after the losses of Postrera crops in surplus eastern areas at the end of 2015 and the hoarding tactics of certain private traders in recent months. For example, in May the producer price of black beans in the eastern region was GTQ 380, 38.18 percent higher than in May 2015.

    The start of the rainy season was marked by late, light, erratic rainfall, particularly in central and northern areas of the country (Figure 5). Rainfall increased beginning in the first week of June, with cumulative totals as of June 20th above 40 percent. However this has not been sufficient to compensate for the accrued soil moisture deficit since April. This heavier rainfall allowed for planting and the beginning of the Primera growing season, with a delay of more than a month in certain areas. According to observations during a field visit conducted by FEWS NET at the end of May, there were near-total losses of staple crops that were planted by subsistence farmers in Dry Corridor areas in the western part of the country with the first rains in April, in line with normal seasonal crop planting schedules.


    • Climate and ENSO conditions: According to the mid-June report by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), there was a shift from El Niño to neutral conditions during the month of May 2016. There is an elevated probability of 70 percent that there will be a transition to La Niña conditions in the three-month period from August through October, lasting at least through the end of  the outlook period (January 2017).
    • Canícula and second part of the rainy season: According to INSIVUMEH (the Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology, and Hydrology Institute), the canícula (the break in the rains) will begin sometime between July 8th and July 15th, with a near-average duration and severity. As for the second part of the rainy season, based on its analysis of rainfall patterns in previous years in which there was a transition from El Niño to La Niña conditions, INSIVUMEH indicates that there is a likelihood for above-average rainfall beginning in August/September, continuing into the first half of November, with the rainy season expected to end later than usual. Temperature forecasts show a gradual normalization in temperatures over the remainder of the year.
    • Staple production for the Primera growing season: Based on forecasts for a shorter and less severe canícula than during the last two years, and an increase in rainfall beginning in July, Primera harvests will likely be near-average in most areas of the country, except in parts of the western Dry Corridor, where there are already reports of crop losses from the poor distribution of rainfall at the beginning of the growing season. This erratic rainfall pattern has also delayed planting in these areas, as well as in the east, which will delay the harvest by one to one and a half months.
    • Staple grain production for the Postrera season: With the expected above-normal levels of rainfall in the second part of the rainy season and based on the fact that the main crop grown during this season is beans, which are more sensitive to moisture, Postrera harvests are likely to be average to below-average.
    • Staple grain supplies and prices: Prices for staples (maize and black beans) are expected to follow normal seasonal price trends through the month of August. Prices for white maize will start to rise as of July, when market supplies will be coming from stored stocks of grain from harvests in the northern part of the country at the beginning of the year. Based on the pattern in previous years, there will be a steady flow of imports from Mexico. Black bean prices will stabilize after the slight rise reported in May with expected imports from China, Mexico, and Argentina. The harvest of Primera crops in surplus areas will trigger a seasonal decline in maize prices through the month of November, which will be followed by a slight rise in January. Bean prices, on the other hand, will come down in September before starting to climb until the harvest of Postrera crops in December and January.
    • Sources of income: Demand for agricultural wage labor will remain at a seasonal low until October, with only sporadic, short-term work opportunities at low rates for day laborers in farming maize and beans, as well as maintenance work for other crops. There is not expected to be any major change in demand for casual labor between now and October, though there could be a growing labor pool with the larger numbers of households affected by last year’s drought in need of income to purchase food supplies. These dynamics will heighten competition for available jobs, which could weaken the bargaining power of day laborers in wage negotiations, as has been the case in similar years. The beginning of the harvest season for agroindustrial crops such as coffee, sugar cane, tobacco, and melons will boost demand for labor for the remainder of the outlook period. The damage to coffee crops from the dry conditions and rust infestation and the continued low selling prices of coffee are expected to reduce the size of the coffee harvest and, thus, the number of day laborers hired and the final pay of coffee harvesters.
    • Emergency assistance: The WFP is planning to deliver food and cash assistance to 23,600 households in selected municipalities in Chiquimula, Baja Verapaz, and Jutiapa, in the eastern region, through the month of September 2016. There will also be deliveries of food and cash assistance to households in certain municipalities in Huehuetenango and Quiché through September 2016. CRS, for its part, has plans for the delivery of food assistance to 1,500 households in five municipalities in Jalapa through at least the month of October. With no provisions for emergency food assistance in other parts of the country during the outlook period, there could be a further deterioration in food security outcomes of unassisted households.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    There will be a steady seasonal deterioration in food security conditions for the country’s poorest households until the harvest of Primera crops in August/September in most parts of the country and in November/December in western altiplano areas, at which point their food availability will improve with the replenishment of their food reserves and improved income-generating opportunities. The harvest of Postrera crops will improve bean availability for households and on domestic markets. Since the annual lean season will not end until August with the harvest of Primera crops, households will be resorting to market purchase as their main source of food at a time when their incomes are at yearly lows and prices are on the rise, which will curtail their food access. However, with this being the norm at this time of year and with no expected major shocks prior to the anticipated large improvement in conditions as of September with the beginning of the harvest and better employment opportunities, most areas of the country will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity throughout the outlook period from June 2016 through January 2017.

    Households in the east and in temperate western altiplano areas within the Dry Corridor who were affected by the 2015 drought and the resulting heavy losses of their annual staple crops, as well as households of small farmers and day laborers highly dependent on the coffee sector, will be the exception to the above. These households have suffered large shortfalls in their crop production and incomes since 2013, forcing them to resort to negative strategies that have significantly reduced their current coping options and resilience. With their lower incomes, particularly from coffee-related activities, and an atypical sustained dependence on market purchase for their food supplies, these households have reported reduced dietary diversity and number of daily meals, and have had to resort to atypical patterns of migration in terms of their destinations and the number of migrants. Thus, the food security situation in areas scheduled to receive emergency assistance (in the form of food and/or cash) such as certain municipalities in the eastern and western regions of the country will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) through September. Without assistance, other parts of these areas will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through the month of September. The ensuing harvests for the Primera and Postrera growing seasons and the beginning of the high-demand period for agricultural labor will help mitigate food insecurity to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through at least January 2017. 


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    Figures Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Acumulados de lluvia de Primera (mayo 1 a agosto 31), por año, en el corredor seco de Guatemala, comparado con el umbral míni

    Figure 2

    Acumulados de lluvia de Primera (mayo 1 a agosto 31), por año, en el corredor seco de Guatemala, comparado con el umbral mínimo de 700 mm requeridos para el cultivo de maíz

    Source: UCSB, USGS, FEWS NET

    Máximo número de días consecutivos sin lluvia. Mayo 2016

    Figure 3

    Máximo número de días consecutivos sin lluvia. Mayo 2016

    Source: USGS/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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