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Average postrera harvest expected following favorable rainfall

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • October 2012 - March 2013
Average postrera harvest expected following favorable rainfall

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  • Key Messages
  • National Outlook
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events Which Could Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Rainfall in October is expected to favor the production of average yields for the national harvest of postrera season crops of both maize and beans, which will stabilize market prices. In addition, food availability will improve for extremely poor households dependent on subsistence farming in the extended dry corridor (an area that includes parts of the western region of the country) that suffered losses during the harvest of primera season crops.

    • For areas dependent on subsistence farming in the eastern region, as well as some localized areas in the western region affected by this year’s canícula, next year’s lean season could begin as early as March.  A portion of the income and own production from postrera production will go toward paying debts that these farmers were unable to pay off following the primera harvest.

    • International prices for maize are not expected to significantly affect the national market over the coming months, due to the extension of the quota for yellow maize so that the grain can be imported from Brazil and Argentina at more favorable prices than those in the United States. In addition, a good postrera harvest is expected to ensure typical seasonal price behavior for the period covered by this outlook report.

    • Food security outcomes will improve in most areas of the country through the outlook period. Improvements in the availability of basic grains, the decrease in prices, and the increase in work opportunities for unskilled labor help ensure that minimum levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) will be observed throughout the country through March 2013.

    National Outlook
    Current situation

    For most households, the annual lean season concluded with the harvesting of crops from the primera planting season. The latter crop season involves primarily maize, accounting for 60 percent of national production. The yields obtained in areas with excess production – in the northern and southern regions of the country – were average, despite isolated outbreaks of tar spot disease (Phyllachora maydis and Monographella maydis). The harvest took place mostly in September, which led to an improvement in the availability of grain among producer households. In addition, flows of grain from this harvest increased market supplies, which in turn led to a seasonal reduction in prices. The price of maize on the international market has stabilized, with no apparent impact on Guatemalan markets.

    In most areas, activities related to the postrera planting season, which involves primarily black beans, took place in the second half of August. An exception was observed in southern Petén, where the crop cycle does not begin until November/December. Black beans have recorded above-average prices compared to the five-year average, and since October 2011 prices have shown a general upward trend.

    The availability of water for crops improved in October. Even though rainfall for September was lower than the historic average for that month, total accumulated rainfall for October will benefit agricultural activities during the postrera season despite the irregular distribution of precipitation, with brief periods characterized by lack of humidity, particularly in the eastern region.

    • Postrera season: Given the relatively favorable rainfall from August to date, and since forecasts for October call for accumulated rainfall ranging from normal to above-normal and a normal conclusion to the rainy season, average yields are projected for postrera crops harvested in November. The harvest of maize and black beans is scheduled to take place in February in Petén and the Northern Transverse Strip, with projected outcomes ranging from average to above-average.
    • Basic grain harvest in the cold western altiplano: Since this area was the least affected by the prolonged canícula in July, compared to some other bimodal areas where primera harvests were impacted, yields are expected to be slightly below-average.
    • Basic grain prices: Following the primera harvest, prices decreased seasonally and will continue this downward trend until January, when prices will again begin to increase according to seasonality. No substantial impact generated by international factors is projected. A favorable postrera harvest will allow bean prices to exhibit typical seasonal behavior, with a downward trend through March 2013. Even so, prices will remain above the five-year average.
    • El Niño phenomenon: At present, it appears that the expected El Niño phenomenon will most likely be weak and short-lived. According to the most recent report from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), there is a 55 percent likelihood of an El Niño phenomenon occurring sometime during the September-November trimester and lasting until January 2013, at which time neutral conditions are expected to return. These conditions are not currently expected to have a significant impact on Guatemala’s cold front season, nor on the onset of the 2013 rainy season.
    • Unskilled labor: Since crops requiring a large volume of unskilled labor did not suffer any significant damage during the year, the sole exception being several coffee plantations affected by coffee rust, the amount of work available for day laborers is expected to be at normal levels. However, the potential for an increase in the availability of such day workers could conceivably decrease wages slightly. This increase in worker availability results from the need for households to increase their income in order to recover from the primera season losses and to pay off debts acquired for the purpose of leasing land for their primera crops, payment of which is typically made in kind, from a portion of the harvest, which this year was less bountiful than usual.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Food security outcomes will improve in most areas of the country. The harvesting of primera crops brought to a close the annual lean season, with the replenishment, albeit partial, of food reserves. Rainfall in October will be sufficient to ensure a favorable harvest of postrera crops, which will in turn lead to an even greater improvement in food availability in the first quarter of 2013 among households dependant on subsistence farming. A similar occurrence will be observed in the cold altiplano, where the impact of the canícula was less substantial and the yields will be somewhat closer to average, when the harvest takes place in November/December. The increase in income-generating opportunities in the period between October and the end of February or the beginning of March will improve access to food, by increasing household purchasing capacity. Improvements in grain availability, the decrease in prices and the increase in work opportunities for unskilled labor will ensure that minimum levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) will be observed in Guatemala for the six-month period between October 2012 and March 2013.

    Areas of Concern

    Livelihood zone 5[1]: Subsistence agriculture in the temperate western altiplano

    Current situation

    With the commencement of the period of greatest demand for unskilled labor, the annual lean season comes to an end – even though the harvest will not begin until November – as it will increase opportunities for income generation. Extremely poor households in this zone are resorting to normal coping strategies that will enable them to satisfy only their minimum food requirements, as a result of which they will be unable to satisfy other essential non-food-related needs. The increase in the incidence of cases of acute malnutrition is seasonal and within the expected range, and accordingly this area will experience minimal acute food insecurity and therefore be classified in IPC phase 1.

    Crop status: Damage and losses have been reported in basic grain crops owing to the irregular rainfall experienced since July, particularly in the more arid areas of the departments of Huehuetenango, Quiché, Sololá and Totonicapán, several of which are located in an extended dry corridor, not usually associated with the strip characterized by low levels of precipitation. As a preliminary measure, the government of Guatemala, with support provided by the World Food Programme, targeted food assistance to some 15,000 families that suffered significant damage to their crops, although the significance of this situation will be evident until the November harvest. According to information from INSIVUMEH, September had accumulated rainfall equal to 40-60 percent of normal, while a few isolated areas had an even greater deficit, of between 21 and 40 percent of normal (Figure 4). September is the most critical month in terms of humidity available for maize crops. However, a considerable increase in accumulated rainfall had been recorded as of October 21, as much as 81 percent above projections for the month, and with figures reaching as high as 200 percent above projections in localized areas. Although this increase in precipitation will not be significant in terms of the recovery of crops already affected, it will allow those that were not affected to develop normally.

    Basic grain prices: Normal flows of basic grains from Mexico and surplus areas (southern coast and Petén) not affected by July’s deficit rainfall are now observed. Although some fluctuations in demand were reported, prices for white maize have not shown any atypical behavior and are actually lower than those reported in September 2011.

    Sources of income: The demand for unskilled labor (primarily for the coffee and sugar cane harvests) is expected to be normal, although the daily wage could decrease slightly due to a possible increase in the availability of labor resulting from a coping strategy adopted by households affected by the dry spell. This activity will commence in October. Remittances are within normal ranges for the past two years.

    Food assistance: The government and the World Food Programme have already concluded the initial delivery of planned food assistance, as part of the activities for responding to the presence of drought conditions. It is expected that the second distribution cycle will take place in October/November. In both cases, the household rations distributed, equal to 2,100 kcal per person per day, are expected to last for about 20 days. This plan includes an additional two rounds of distribution, but funds are not yet available to continue implementation of the plan.


    In addition to those described in the section  on the National Outlook, the following assumptions were made in preparing the projection for this area:

    • The flow of remittances is expected to exhibit normal behavior, as has been the case for the past two years, with a slight increase during December consistent with the year-end holidays. The extremely poor households do not receive remittances; the flow of remittances does have, however, a direct influence on the dynamic of the construction industry, which is a source of income for poor and extremely poor households.
    • The total income of the poorest households will be very similar to that observed in an average year, since these households will resort to an increase in the gathering and sale of firewood to augment their income.
    • A normal flow of basic grains is expected from Mexico, Petén, the eastern region and the southern coast, since the rainfall from October through February will promote average production during the postrera season. This flow of grains will support a seasonal price trend that is consistent with the period covered by this outlook, although the price of beans will continue to remain at levels higher than those observed in 2011 and, in so doing, will exhibit the same behavior observed throughout the entire year.
    • According to INSIVUMEH projections, a normal frost and cold front season, with low temperatures and strong winds, can be expected. This has the potential to affect vegetable production, a source of income for the poorest households. Since the intensity will be about average, however, producers will be able to put into effect customary strategies designed to minimize the impact.
    • The harvest, which will take place in late November, will be smaller than normal in a number of areas of the departments of Huehuetenango, Quiché, Totonicapán and Sololá that are often subject to dry conditions. In the rest of the region, the harvest will be slightly below average. These damages and losses will lead, particularly in the most affected places, to a decrease of up to 60 percent in household production as a source of food, and as a compensatory effect, to an earlier dependency on food purchases. This has the likelihood of increasing by approximately 20 percent the importance of purchases of food over the next six months.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Using typical livelihood and coping strategies, the poorest households in this zone will be able to satisfy their minimum food requirements, despite crop losses reported in the areas most affected by the lack of rainfall during the canícula. At the beginning of the period, the food status of these households is expected to be virtually normal for the season, since crops will be harvested in late November and December, and this source of food will not be significant until that time. From mid-October through about early March, these households will have increased opportunities to generate income through the sale of labor for harvesting agricultural products such as coffee, sugar cane, tobacco and others. In conjunction with the food aid distributed by the government and the World Food Programme, this will have the effect of increasing food availability, postponing the need to resort to purchases for a period of approximately 20 days.

    By the second quarter of the period covered by this outlook, the decreased yield of basic grain harvests will impact the duration of food reserves, which will be depleted earlier than normal, with the result that these households will turn to purchases for a longer period of time; this will be more apparent at the end of the quarter. Coping strategies will be moderately successful due to small increases in income, and, since no unusual price increases are forecast and since prices typically decrease once the harvest has been brought in, households will benefit from a minimal offset to the loss over almost the entire quarter, although the situation will begin to deteriorate beginning in March. As a result of these conditions, this zone is classified in IPC Phase 1 (no or minimum acute food insecurity) for the entire period covered by this outlook.

    Livelihood zone 8[2]: Basic grains, area bordering Honduras and El Salvador in the dry corridor

    Current situation

    With the harvest of primera crops, the annual lean season comes to an end, even though yields were lower than projected. At present, households are consuming minimally adequate diets and the grain reserves that they were able to store following the harvest of primera crops have now been depleted. Until the postrera crop harvest and the season of high demand for farm labor for sugar cane, coffee, melon and tobacco is fully underway, the distribution of two rations of food as part of the government and WFP food assistance plan will help meet family food requirements, albeit on a temporary basis.

    Postrera planting: The postrera planting for this area consists primarily of beans, and during the month of October crops will be approaching their fruit-bearing stage. According to INSIVUMEH, records as of October 21 indicate that more than 61 percent of the accumulated rainfall for the month has already occurred, and although slight irregularities have been recorded in rainfall distribution, no significant impact on production is expected.

    Food reserves: Households depending on subsistence farming have experienced difficulties in replenishing their grain reserves. Reports on visits to the field made by FEWS NET, WFP, OXFAM and ACF to a number of communities in this region consistently indicated that most households suffered losses to their primera crops of between 40 and 80 percent of projected yield, with maize crops most affected. As a result of this low yield, it is estimated that households were able to replenish only a portion of their reserves of basic grains for family consumption.

    Food assistance: With support from the World Food Programme, the government of Guatemala distributed food aid to some 18,000 families dependent on subsistence farming that suffered crop losses during the primera season, totaling more than 50 percent of the expected yield. The first ration of food aid was delivered in September and was sufficient to supply an average family for a period of 20 days, at 2,100 calories per person per day. A second round of food assistance is expected to be distributed in October/November, with an additional two rounds scheduled for 2013, although funding sources for the latter have yet to be finalized.

    Food prices and commodity flows: The flow of cereal grains to this zone from Petén is normal. Information on consumer prices for basic grains in the markets of some departments of the region indicates that the price of white maize shows no significant variances vis-à-vis prior months, which is sufficient reason to conclude that prices have not varied substantially in this zone. At most, they have increased seasonally. There are also reports of flows of black beans from this zone toward the La Terminal market in Guatemala City, from which it can be inferred that there is no shortage of supply or any significant increase in the demand for black beans in this zone.

    Acute malnutrition: The rates of moderate and severe acute malnutrition in children under age five are no higher than normal levels expected for this season of the year. However, WFP, working jointly with OXFAM, ACH and the government of Guatemala, will conduct an emergency food security assessment (EFSA) that will include a nutritional evaluation of children under age five; this will ensure the availability of more detailed information on these areas by late 2012.


    In addition to those listed in the section on the national outlook, the following assumptions were taken into account in preparing projections for this area:

    • Based on INSIVUMEH forecasts, an early conclusion to the rainy season is not expected, and accumulated rainfall is expected to be between average and above-average for the month of October.
    • The postrera bean harvest will take place in November/December, with average yields expected.
    • The price of white maize will decrease seasonally beginning in October, and a normal flow of basic grains is expected from Petén (harvest of maize in September and beans in February/March).
    • Household income will be approximately 15 percent lower than normal, due to the need to pay off cash and/or in-kind debts contracted in order to be able to plant primera and segunda grain crops this year; this will reduce the availability of beans that can be sold, used as seed or consumed in the household.
    • Decreased food reserves will place additional pressures on cash income earned during the season of greatest demand for farm labor (November through March).
    Most likely food security outcomes

    With an adequate postrera harvest and the intensification of livelihood strategies, the poorest households in this zone will be able to satisfy their food requirements during this period. The prolongation of the period of migration to engage in agricultural activities will be an effective strategy for satisfying household food needs, together with income from the sale of beans from the postrera season (IPC Phase 1). Even with a normal harvest, however, the availability of beans will be less than in a typical year (such availability would normally be expected to last through March 2013), since a major portion will be already committed to paying off debt taken on for the two annual harvests in 2012. Households will reduce the amount of grains set aside for food consumption by approximately 18 percent, as a result of which from January to March that they will be expected to resort primarily to purchased food.

    All of the above will place strong pressure on cash income received from farm labor, particularly in early 2013, due to the need to purchase earlier than usual cereal grains for household consumption, to prepare for the planting of primera crops in the coming year, and to procure other essential non-food-related commodities. Generally speaking, it is expected that the annual lean season could commence as early as March in 2013, forcing households to start engaging in typical coping strategies to maintain their livelihoods (Phase 1, IPC).

    This analysis is valid for livelihood zones 8 and 9, which are also located in the dry corridor.

    Events Which Could Change the Outlook



    Impact on Food Security Outcomes

    Western region

    Government of Guatemala implements a consistent food assistance plan that includes broad coverage

    Food access would improve for the poorest households during this period. Such an event would also avoid their having to resort to purchases while enabling them to save income generated during this period and so be able to weather the most critical months of 2013, i.e., from June forward.

    Eastern and western regions

    Early conclusion of the rainy season (by 15 days)

    This would lead to a decrease in postrera production in the eastern region (a surplus region that supplies the western region with beans), since crops would be in a stage of development requiring a greater amount of humidity. If this were to happen, a significant increase in the price of beans would be expected beginning in January, impacting the purchasing capacity of households in both regions.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012

    Source: FEWS NET

    Percentage of accumulated rainfall compared to average, September 2012

    Figure 3

    Percentage of accumulated rainfall compared to average, September 2012

    Source: INSIVUMEH

    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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