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Crop losses and reduced labor demand strain livelihoods

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Guatemala
  • October 2013 - March 2014
Crop losses and reduced labor demand strain livelihoods

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events That Might Change The Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Current climate conditions favor an adequate national Postrera harvest in November/December, allowing the majority of households to meet food consumption needs during the outlook period. Excessive rainfall could, nonetheless, affect the harvest due to high moisture levels.

    • The lean season for poor smallholder farmers in eastern Guatemala will be extended until the next harvest in December due to crop losses from the Primera harvest in September. Households in this area in the dry corridor will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) until December 2013.

    • Day laborers in the Western Highlands will have difficulty meeting their basic food consumption needs due to the reduction in the demand for unskilled labor in the coffee harvest. These households will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity from January to March 2014.


    National Overview
    Current situation

    For most households, the Primera staple crop harvest in August/September marked the conclusion of the annual lean season and the beginning of the annual period of high demand for unskilled labor, which lasts from October to March.

    National Primera production levels were within normal range. However, according to the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA), 31,224 households in the dry corridor were negatively affected by a protracted dry spell in July and August 2013. Based on field assessments conducted by FEWS NET, poor smallholder farmers in this area lost an estimated 60 to 100 percent of their maize harvest. Of the affected households, 27,294 live in the eastern part of the dry corridor in El Progreso, Zacapa, Chiquimula, and Baja Verapaz.

    Staple grain prices seasonally decreased with the Primera harvest in September. Prices are slightly lower than they were this time last year due to reduced exports to other Central American countries, as well as a good 2012 Postrera bean harvest.

    According to a WFP study on the impact of the coffee rust on food security, 20 percent of national production losses from the 2012/13 coffee harvest, which represents an almost 19 percent reduction in jobs compared to 2011/12, and will result in the loss of approximately 96,000 jobs in the coffee sector. Day laborers are the most affected by reduced coffee production in terms of food security.

    According to the Guatemalan Food Security Secretariat, SESAN, the government has planned to provide a 16-day ration (2100 kcal/day for 5 people) to households affected by the 2013 dry spell and/or the reduction in labor demand in the coffee sector. As of October 9, 14 percent of this assistance had been delivered throughout the country and is expected to be completed by the end of the year. This assistance will provide a small complement to usual food purchases and own production.

    Assumptions
    • Staple crop supply and prices: Supplies for staple crops are stable and prices are expected to continue decreasing and behave according to seasonal trends throughout the period (decreasing until January in the case of maize and until March in the case of beans). An expected normal Postera harvest in November/December will help maintain stability.
    • Labor demand: Demand for unskilled labor is expected to be within normal range, except for the coffee sector where demand is estimated to be 19 percent lower than last year because of the prevalence of rust in coffee plantations. It is expected that day laborers will seek alternate sources of income to offset the reduced demand.
    • Postrera harvest: Current climate conditions favor an average national Postrera harvest in November/December.
    • Remittances: Remittances are expected to be normal. Extremely poor households do not receive remittances themselves, but remittances are important for the construction sector, which provides employment for this group.
    • Nutritional status: As of September 28, the cumulative severe acute malnutrition (SAM) rate for 2013 nationally was significantly above last year’s rate for the same period, according to the Ministry of Health. A higher number of cases were documented during the lean season earlier this year. Since the Primera harvest began, SAM rates have seasonally gone down and are expected to continue doing so until January, at which time they will increase as usual as food stocks and labor opportunities start to decline.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The food security situation has improved in most areas of the country. The Primera harvest of staple crops ended the annual lean season, allowing poor smallholder farmers to replenish food reserves in most of the country. Rainfall in October will favor an average Postrera staple crop harvest, further improving poor smallholder farmers’ food availability in the first quarter of 2014. This month marks the beginning of the annual six months’ period of high demand for unskilled labor. This will allow households to generate income. Combined with the seasonal staple price decreases, this will improve access to food, by increasing household purchasing capacity. Therefore, Minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) will be observed in most of Guatemala for the October 2013 to March 2014 period.


    Areas of Concern

    Livelihood Zone 5 in the Western Highlands [1] (Subsistence Agriculture)

    Current Situation

    Current food security situation: Extremely poor households are still able to meet their basic food consumption needs. Households’ food stocks are still depleted, as expected during this time of the year, because the annual harvest is still to come out in November/December. October marks the beginning of the annual period of high demand for unskilled labor, which ends the annual lean season in this area. Extremely poor households generate income while staple food prices are seasonally low, which will improve access to food and food reserves for extremely poor households. Extremely poor households in this area currently experience Minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1).

    Unskilled labor demand. Working in the coffee harvest represents about 90 percent of income for extremely poor households in this area during the scenario period. Demand for unskilled labor in the coffee harvest is expected to be reduced by 19 percent in the upcoming 2013/14 harvest (November to March) compared to 2011/12. Other sources of income are expected to behave normally. Therefore, the reduction in coffee-related labor will translate into an approximate 17 percent loss in household income.

    Crop development and production. The July/August dry spell will reduce yields for the annual November/December harvest given that this zone has one harvest per year. It is still too early to estimate losses, but they are not expected to be significant. Rainfall in the western part of this area is expected to be above normal in October, according to INSIVUMEH. Considering that soil moisture is already high, this excess of rainfall could further reduce yields because of increased pests.

    Nutritional status. Quetzaltenango and Huehuetenango are two departments in this zone that are reporting SAM rates above last year’s, as well as an increase in the number of cases, as a result of households struggling to access to food due to last year’s losses in staple crops and the reduction in their income from coffee harvest. For the outlook period, even with the income and staple harvest reductions, SAM rates are expected to stay below the 10 percent limit for declaring a nutritional emergency throughout this area.

    Assumptions

    The outlook for this region is based on the following assumptions, in addition to the national assumptions outlined earlier in the report:

    • The annual harvest in November/December will be within normal range.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The lean season just ended for extremely poor households in this area. For the October to December period, household food consumption will be similar to normal years, as the annual period of high demand for unskilled labor begins and staple prices seasonally decrease. Households will experience Minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) during these three months.

    For the January to March period, households will face difficulty in meeting basic food consumption needs as of February 2014. Income for extremely poor households during the scenario period is expected to be reduced by approximately 17 percent because of the reduced demand for unskilled labor in the coffee harvest. The annual lean season for these households will therefore start as early as February 2014, as opposed to April/May in normal years, as a result of reduced demand for labor in the coffee harvest. Dietary diversity is foreseen to experience deterioration.

    To cope with the situation, households will likely:

    • increase collection and sale of firewood and wild fruits throughout the period;
    • temporarily migrate within Guatemala to atypical locations and for longer periods of time; and
    • sell small animals to generate extra income as throughout the period (providing an slight increase in income).

    Consequently, extremely poor households will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during the January to March period. The situation of extremely poor smallholder farmers, often the same households that work in the coffee harvest, could deteriorate if yields of staple crops still growing in the eastern part of this area (the western part of the dry corridor) have suffered from the dry spell in July/August. This could imply that the lean season would start 3 to 4 months early, in January 2014 rather than in April.

    Livelihood Zone 8[2] (Basic Grains, border zone with Honduras and El Salvador) and Livelihood Zone 9[3] (Basic Grains and Wage Labor)

    Current Situation

    Crop losses: The lean season for extremely poor smallholder farmers did not end in September due to 60 to 100 percent crop losses. According to the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA), 31,224 households located in the dry corridor, were negatively affected by a dry spell in July and August 2013. Crop losses will reduce income by two to four percent, as crops will not be available for selling. Of the affected households, 27,294 live in El Progreso, Zacapa, Chiquimula, and Baja Verapaz in the eastern part of the dry corridor. Extremely poor smallholder farmers in this area are currently facing Stressed acute food security outcomes (IPC Phase 2).   

    Food reserves: Extremely poor smallholder farmers have no food reserves left and depend on market purchase. In normal years they would have had 3 to 4 months of food reserves, lasting until the next harvest in November/December. Further, there is a large degree of overlap between these households and those affected by the 2012 dry spell, where many smallholder farmers also lost part of their production.

    Unskilled labor demand: Even though this month marks the beginning of the annual season of high demand for unskilled manual labor (October to March), the most important income source for extremely poor households in the area, earnings are likely to be below normal levels and strain livelihoods. Many households accessed credit or owe on debts and therefore their Stressed outcomes will only end with the Postrera harvest in November/December.

    Further, the demand for unskilled labor in the coffee harvest is expected to be reduced by 19 percent in the upcoming 2013/14 harvest (November to March) compared to 2011/12. Working in the coffee harvest represents about 80 percent of household income during this period, and the reduction in labor demand will thus reduce income for day laborers by approximately 15 percent. Other income sources are expected to behave normally during this time period. These households are often similar situations as the poor smallholder farmers. Food security for day laborers is significantly affected by a reduction in coffee production labor needed according to the WFP study, however small producers will also be directly affected because of the reduction in yields.

    Nutritional status: SAM rates are historically highest in this area of the country due to the low yields as a result of high vulnerability to rainfall irregularities, along with limited cash-earning opportunities. The department of Chiquimula has the highest rates in this zone. So far this year, almost 1,350 cases have been reported in Chiquimula, and approximately 3,000 others in the whole zone. Nonetheless, for this outlook period, acute malnutrition rates are expected to follow a seasonal trend, with a decrease after the Postrera harvest and a gradual increase starting in February with the lean season. SAM rates will not exceed 10 percent for any of the departments in the area, despite the Primera losses and a reduction in coffee-related income.

    Assumptions

    The outlook for this region is based on the following assumptions, in addition to the national assumptions outlined earlier in the report:

    • The Postrera harvest is expected to be within normal range (November/December) and will let households restock in anticipation of the lean season.
    • Rainfall for this area is expected to be within normal range for the rest of the rainy season, and is expected to end two weeks late in November, according to the National Meteorological Services, INSIVUMEH. This is beneficial for crops, as planting was delayed.
    • Staple grain prices are expected to continue decreasing and behave according to the seasonal trends throughout the period (decreasing until January in the case of maize and until March in the case of beans).
    • Demand for unskilled labor in the sugar harvest in livelihood zone 12 and other activities are expected to be within normal range, except for the coffee sector.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Extremely poor households’ food consumption is expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during the October to December period because of the losses from the Primera harvest combined with reduced demand for labor in the coffee sector. Postrera is harvested in November and December, and for the January to March period, household food availability and consumption is expected to improve, and households will experience Minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1).

    There are no reports of changes in livelihoods. Households will utilize usual coping strategies to feed their families, such as:

    • increase their collection and sale of firewood and wild fruits throughout the scenario period, and
    • temporarily migrate to atypical locations, mainly within Guatemala, but also to Honduras and El Salvador, and for longer periods (January to March).

    [1] See the 2007 Livelihood Profile (available in Spanish only): http://www.fews.net/docs/Publications/gt_profile_es.pdf

    [2] See the 2007 Livelihood Profile (available in Spanish only): http://www.fews.net/docs/Publications/gt_profile_es.pdf

    [3] See the 2007 Livelihood Profile (available in Spanish only): http://www.fews.net/docs/Publications/gt_profile_es.pdf

     


    Events That Might Change The Outlook

    Area

    Event

    Impact on food security outcomes

    National

    Heavy rainfall

    Negative impact on Postrera harvest, particularly beans, because excessive moisture could hinder harvest activities and lead to crop damages and losses.

    National

    Typical end date for the rainy season (given the 20-day late start)

    Delayed Postrera sowing would lead to a decrease in crop production levels in the eastern region (a surplus region that supplies the western region with beans). If this case, a significant increase in the price of beans would be expected beginning in January, impacting the purchasing power of households.

    Coffee production areas, eastern and western departments

    Extensive spread of coffee rust due to excess rainfall or lack of prevention. 

    This would provoke even further increased losses and further reduced demand for labor, hence reducing income in poor households and food access.

    Figures Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes for October 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes for October 2013

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Source:

    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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