Skip to main content

Loss of Primera harvests and accelerated income depletion makes food access difficult for poor households in the Dry Corridor

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • June 2019 - January 2020
Loss of Primera harvests and accelerated income depletion makes food access difficult for poor households in the Dry Corridor

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • With El Niño conditions forecast up to January 2020, the rains began in the country in early June. Despite irregular distribution, rainfall during May and June could reach or exceed the average, enabling adequate growth of Primera crops, with the exception of the Dry Corridor, where erratic and scarce rainfall and high temperatures could cause crop losses.

    • Crops cultivated by poor highland households are developing normally, with average harvests expected. Access to food will improve from October onwards when the seasonal demand for labor emerges. However, food security will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to households depending on the markets for produce earlier than usual (since 2018), which has reduced households’ ability to recover and improve their diets.

    • In the Dry Corridor, rainfall deficits and high temperatures will reduce maize and bean yields. While sources of seasonal employment will increase in October, income will be insufficient to compensate for the continued dependence on the markets and use of negative coping strategies. As such, poorer households will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the period.

    • Small-scale coffee farmers, whose plantations have not recovered from the damage caused by leaf rust from 2012 onwards, were affected by the low market prices of the 2018–2019 harvest. These consecutive impacts on their livelihoods have meant less investment in crop maintenance, thus putting next season’s yields at risk.


    Current Situation

    June marks the peak of the annual lean season, when demand for unskilled labor is seasonally low and households turn to the markets, having exhausted their reserves of basic grains for consumption. Owing to harvest losses in 2018 caused by the prolonged canícula (summer dry spell), poorer households located in the Dry Corridor have had to resort to purchasing from the markets sooner and over a longer period.

    The market is currently stocked with maize reserves and significant grain flows from Mexico, which can be found in most national markets and in large volumes in the western region. However, owing to increased demand from subsistence farming households following last year’s losses and stockpiling by intermediary traders, prices have risen – maize prices have remained above the five-year average and have been steadily rising since the beginning of the year. The wholesale price of a quintal of white maize is 8.6 percent higher than the five-year average and 10 percent higher than last year. On the contrary, the price of black beans remains below the five-year average, showing a -14.4 percent differential with the five-year average and a -21.4 percent drop compared with the same period last year, due to oversupply in the market. This decrease in wholesale price has not, however, been reflected in the consumer price, which remains constant, at 5 quetzales per pound. International fuel and fertilizer prices have been constantly rising since 2016. For now, this variation has not directly influenced the price of staple foods, but it is a factor to be closely observed given the important role of transportation in the supply chain.

    Maize and bean crops across most of the country are at the growth stage. Basic grains were sown throughout the country, with households located in the driest areas being the last to do so, between late May and early June. Although in some areas such as the departments located in the east and the north of the country the onset of the rains was delayed by between 10 and 15 days, strong rainfall in recent weeks has enabled the soil conditions to recover.

    At present, no food and/or in-kind assistance is being provided by the Government in response to the prolonged canícula that affected the country in 2018. However, the Ministry of Social Development (MIDES) is continuing the regular care program for poor and extremely poor families, which has earmarked 226 million quetzales to be delivered as cash transfers or vouchers in 2019 to a total of 149,000 families in all the country’s departments except the department of Guatemala. Each transfer, for a sum of 300 or 500 quetzales, is scheduled to be made three to four times per year; by April, one or two transfers had already been made to 80 percent of the families, representing 48 percent of the total resources. In addition, international cooperation organizations are supporting very poor households in various parts of the country. These organizations include: Save the Children, World Food Programme (WFP), a consortium of humanitarian organizations (Gruppo di Volontariato Civile (GVC), Cooperazione Internazionale (COOPI), Trócaire/Pastoral Social Caritas, Oxfam/Asociación Corazón de Maíz and Oxfam/Asociación de Servicios y Desarrollo Socioeconómico de Chiquimula (ASEDECHI), Alianza Cristiana para los Huérfanos (ACH)), Project Concern International (PCI) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Cash transfers are being made in a total of 31 municipalities in Huehuetenango, Quiché, Jutiapa, Baja Verapaz and Chiquimula, supporting more than 20,200 families, with transfers ranging from 420 to 525 quetzales per transfer and in volumes of one to eight transfers during this outlook period.

    According to the last meeting of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare’s (MSPAS) National Epidemiology Center (CNE), for the epidemiological week of 5–11 May (week 19), acute malnutrition in children aged under 5 was at the expected levels, with a rate of 20.04 per 10,000 children under 5, and 4,615 cumulative cases. These figures are slightly higher than in 2017 and 2018, but lower than those of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

    National Assumptions

    • Climate, El Niño conditions and the first rainy season. According to the International Research Institute for Climate and Society’s (IRI) mid-May report, El Niño conditions will continue throughout the year and will be particularly strong during the first season – this will be characterized by erratic rainfall with irregular temporal and spatial distribution and strong accumulations at the beginning of the Primera season, which will ease off during the course of this season. The National Institute for Seismology, Vulcanology Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH) predicts normal to above-normal rainfall for the first rainy season (May–July) in the Northern Transversal Strip and the Boca Costa region.
    • Canícula, temperatures and second rainy season. According to INSIVUMEH, the canícula is expected to manifest from 10 to 20 July, with a considerable decrease in rainfall before and after the canícula period, and erratic rainfall will continue during the second rainy season, until November. Temperatures will stay above average, which could increase evapotranspiration.
    • Production of Primera basic grains. Sowing of the maize and bean seeds for the Primera season is now complete throughout the country, having begun in the highlands in mid-April and finished in the Dry Corridor and the rest of the country by early June. Harvests are expected to be near-average for most of the country, with the exception of areas in the Dry Corridor, where rainfall deficit and high temperatures will affect crop growth.
    • Production of Postrera basic grains. With a normal hurricane season forecast, national production of Postrera basic grains is expected to be at average levels, with the exception of some areas in the Dry Corridor, where irregular rainfall could result in a delayed start to the Postrera season.
    • Market supply. Markets will remain stocked with basic grains thanks to the Primera maize and bean harvests from the north and the south coast of the country, as well as grain reserves and formal and informal flows from Mexico. The presence of Mexican maize is most evident the closer places are to the border, and is found in markets and warehouses, as well as in small community stores.
    • Income. Income levels from harvesting coffee, melon/watermelon, vegetables and sugar will follow the usual patterns during this period, which includes the season of high labor demand, both within the country and in Mexico and Honduras, where many people from the border areas migrate to temporarily, in most cases with their entire families. Other sources of income such as bricklaying, selling firewood and informal small-scale sales of food/fabric will remain stable, as will remittances from jobs in both Mexico and the United States.
    • Prices of white maize and black beans. Maize and bean prices will remain stable according to their seasonality, beginning to rise in the coming months and peaking between July and August, until the arrival of the next harvest. The price of maize will remain above the five-year average. The wholesale price of beans will be slightly below average, while the consumer price will remain at the five-year average.
    • Malnutrition. In epidemiological week 21 (19–25 May), the national acute malnutrition rate was 24.2 per 10,000 children aged under 5. This is within the usual range, albeit slightly higher than the 22.0 reported for 2018. So far in 2019, acute malnutrition has been following the usual pattern observed over the last five years, and the peak corresponds to the lean season. The acute malnutrition rate for children under 5 is expected to follow the usual pattern, with increases in the number of cases identified during the lean season until approximately epidemiological week 28, which corresponds to the end of July. The rate will then begin declining towards the end of this outlook period.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Households will continue to depend on the markets for purchasing food until the Primera basic grains harvest and the start of the season of high demand for unskilled labor, which will bring the annual lean season to an end across most of the country, where food insecurity will remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) throughout this outlook period.

    Food security for the poorest households in the Dry Corridor will continue to deteriorate during the prolonged lean season. Households will depend on the market as their main source of food, but income is minimal at this time of year and maize and bean prices tend to rise seasonally, which will limit households’ access to food. Usually, households are self-sufficient with maize and beans from the Primera harvests; however, owing to crop losses this year, they will be unable to replenish their reserves so they will continue buying from the market. From October onwards, incomes will rise due to the high demand for day laborers to harvest high-yield crops, such as coffee, sugar cane and tobacco. This increased income will not, however, translate into a significant improvement in the quality of the diets of households in the eastern part of the country that have been suffering the consequences of partial or non-existent harvests for several years and have thus consistently resorted to negative coping strategies to bridge the food gap. These households will therefore be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) throughout the period. Meanwhile, food security for the poorest households located in the highlands will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2), but the opportunity for generating income will allow them to have better access to food. However, the situation will be more difficult for households in the driest areas of this region, where significant pockets of the population will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as they face crop losses from their only production season and continue to employ negative coping strategies to address the food-consumption gap that they are unable to cover financially due to the rapid depletion of their recently earned income. 


    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes



    Increase in fuel prices

    Increase in basic food prices

    First regular rainy season

    Improved availability of basic grains from own crops

    Stockpiling of maize or beans due to harvest losses

    Could cause an atypical increase in maize and bean prices

    Stronger-than-average hurricane season during the second rainy season or a hurricane that reaches land and becomes a tropical storm

    Could cause flooding in low-lying areas and areas surrounding rivers, affecting household livelihoods and transportation for supplying the markets

    Figures The majority of the country has sufficient moisture in the soil, except for the northeast and part of the western dry corrido

    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    The majority of the country has a good water balance, except for the northeast and part of the western dry corridor.

    Figure 2

    Figure 2

    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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top