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An increase in rainfall has improved prospects for Primera season crops

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • June 2017 - January 2018
An increase in rainfall has improved prospects for Primera season crops

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Key Messages
    • The high levels of cumulative rainfall in the month of June helped improve soil moisture content. The excess moisture will help ensure water availability for crops during the canícula, including in the Dry Corridor. This improves crop production prospects for the Primera growing season. The outcome of the Postrera season will depend upon the geographic and temporal distribution of anticipated rainfall.  

    • Several consecutive years of little or no crop production by small farmers in the Dry Corridor and lower incomes from farming activities due to the impact of the coffee rust infestation and low availability of local labor opportunities have eroded the ability of households to cope with current shortages of household food reserves and income-generating options. This has obliged very poor households in the Dry Corridor to reduce the quality and quantity of their food consumption and number of daily meals, putting them in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until the beginning of the Primera harvests in August.  

    • A seasonal improvement in income-generating opportunities with the beginning of the high-demand period for labor and the harvest of staple grain crops starting in August and continuing through January will help gradually improve food security outcomes for households in the Dry Corridor to Stressed (IPC Phase 2)

    National overview

    Current situation

    The rainy season is fully established throughout the country, which has permitted farmers to begin planting staple crops for the Primera growing season, primarily maize. In most areas, planting was initiated in May, with the exception of a few parts within the highlands of San Marcos, where planting occurred between February and March.

    The beginning of the rainy season was erratic, especially in the southern part of the country and parts of the east, where the season commenced late, while in some areas that are typically more arid, such as Zacapa, Chiquimula, and Baja Verapaz, the rainy season was established earlier than normal. Rainfall normalized in June, with cumulative rainfall totals rising above average in most of the country, causing some losses of maize and bean crops from excess moisture, damage to road infrastructure, and a few fatalities. Locally heavy rains in a short space of time, in some cases accompanied by hail, caused localized damage to crops, particularly in parts of western altiplano areas. The reported losses are a shock to affected households but will not significantly affect aggregate staple production.

    Until the harvest of Primera crops in August/September, markets will continue to be supplied with crops from harvests in February/March in surplus-producing areas of the Northern Transversal Strip and southern Petén, as well as small irrigated areas on the southern coast. Prices are reacting to these dynamics with steady seasonal rises in both maize and bean prices until the next harvest. However, maize prices are well below-average due to a large influx of informal imports from Mexico, significantly boosting supplies on domestic markets. Bean prices, on the other hand, are at a five-year high due to weak market supply, poor Postrera production in parts of the Dry Corridor in 2016, and reduced area devoted to black bean production. These staple market dynamics have helped maintain access to maize for very poor households who are largely dependent on market purchases as their source of food, which is more pronounced this year with the sharp reduction in household food reserves after the last growing season. However, the high cost of beans has severely limited bean purchases and consumption, which is the main source of protein in the diets of these households.

    The decline in income-generation from informal wage labor, particularly in the coffee sector, has negatively affected food access for the last four years. The larger demand for employment from households suffering losses of staple crops over the last three years has limited job availability and driven down wage rates for day labor.


    ·       Climate and El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions: According to the early June analysis from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), there is a greater probability for the continuation of ENSO-neutral conditions than for the development of El Niño conditions through the beginning of 2018, representing a shift from previous indications, which were more favorable for the development of El Niño. However, it is likely that positive sea surface temperature anomalies will continue in the central and eastern Pacific through the end of 2017.

    ·       The canícula and second rainy period: Forecasts by INSIVUMEH (the Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology, and Hydrology Center) predict that the canícula will begin somewhere between July 10th and 20th in the east and the meseta central (Central Plateau), with a duration of approximately 20 days. The NMME average of various forecast models indicates a likelihood for average to above-average cumulative rainfall during the second half of the rainy season, though some experts in the region maintain an increased likelihood for irregular temporal distribution. Forecasts by Colorado State University and the U.S. National Hurricane Center show average to above-average hurricane activity during this year’s hurricane season (from June through October), both in the Atlantic/Caribbean basin and in the Pacific.

    ·       Primera staple production: The high cumulative rainfall totals in June are likely to mitigate the impact of the canícula on staple crops, causing fewer crop losses than in previous years in subsistence farming areas within the Dry Corridor, particularly in lower-elevation areas. In the rest of the country, near-average Primera harvests are expected.

    ·       Postrera staple production: It is likely that staple crops will develop normally during the Postrera season, except in a few bean-producing areas where excessive moisture could reduce crop yields. However, aggregate national production is likely to be near average.

    ·       Supply and prices for maize and black beans: Domestic markets will continue to have above-average supplies of maize with the steady influx from Mexico, the harvest of Primera crops in August/September, and the smaller harvest of Postrera crops in November/December. Accordingly, prices are expected to remain below-average, and will follow normal seasonal trends, with prices decreasing in August and subsequently rising slightly in December. Market supplies of black beans are expected to improve after November to higher levels than in 2016, with the harvest of Postrera crops. However, black bean prices will remain above-average.

    ·       Sources of income: There will continue to be a seasonally low demand for informal labor until August/September, when labor demand will seasonally increase with the beginning of the harvests of coffee, melon, sugar, tobacco, staples, and other crops requiring large numbers of day laborers. Labor demand during the period is expected to be near average, with the exception of labor in the coffee sector, which has not fully recovered from the coffee rust infestation. However, due to low household incomes and poor staple production for consecutive years that have led to high indebtedness, there will be a larger than usual pool of laborers from very poor households in the Dry Corridor. This may lead to limited ability for workers to find employment opportunities, and below-average wages. The high-demand period for labor will extend through the end of the outlook period. 

    ·       Food assistance: There are currently no plans for any major deliveries of emergency food assistance to any part of the country.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    The low levels of crop production for 2016 in most communities in the Dry Corridor (including the east, the meseta central or central plateau, and medium-to-low-altitude, arid areas of the west) have made poor households in these areas dependent on market purchases for their food supplies for an extended period. Due to the large supply of labor and limited job opportunities for day laborers in the coffee sector, income-generating opportunities have been scarcer than normal. These households are currently faced with seasonally low availability of labor opportunities in the farming sector, while very poor households have no household food reserves. This will continue to be the case until the beginning of the harvest of Primera crops in August/September and the ensuing high-demand period for farm labor.

    The harvest of Primera crops expected to begin in August will help bring down market prices and replenish household food reserves, improving food availability. Western altiplano areas ae an exception, where the single yearly harvest is not until November/December. The improvement in incomes of very poor households in August will improve their purchasing power and food access.

    In spite of the production anomalies in the Dry Corridor and labor market anomalies, in most parts of the country the majority of poor households will not face any atypical food access issues. Accordingly, the majority of the country will remain in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity throughout the outlook period. However, many very poor households in eastern and western areas of the Dry Corridor affected by the major losses of staple crops and limited income-generating opportunities in the last three or four years will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until the beginning of the Primera season harvests in August. Conditions will improve in subsequent months with the harvests of Primera and Postrera crops, and the beginning of the high-demand period for informal labor, which, even in the coffee sector, should expand income-generating opportunities for the poorest households. Accordingly, these households are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from September through at least the end of the outlook period in January 2018.


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    Figures Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Cumulative rainfall percent of normal, May 1 – June 20, 2017

    Figure 2

    Cumulative rainfall percent of normal, May 1 – June 20, 2017

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Maize and black bean price trends, May 2017

    Figure 3

    Maize and black bean price trends, May 2017

    Source: MAGA/DIPLAN

    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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