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Food insecurity in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) amid the COVID-19 pandemic

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Haiti
  • April 2020
Food insecurity in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Following confirmation of a case of COVID-19 in Haiti on 19 March by the Ministry of Public Health and Population, the government took steps to curb the spread of the virus, which included reducing working hours and closing the Haitian-Dominican borders. Other measures announced by some mayors include limiting access to markets selling agricultural and hygiene products, imposing operational restrictions on markets and restricting travel to selected cities (Cap-Haitien and Jérémie) and the Sud region.

    • The sociopolitical situation remains calm but unpredictable. However, some panic was observed at the beginning of the pandemic. Moderate inflation – particularly for food – persists, which continues to affect the poorest households’ access to food.

    • At the same time, irregular and below-average rainfall since late March has slowed agricultural activities and delayed the development of existing plantations in Nord, Nord-Est, Ouest, Centre and Haut Artibonite.

    • Preventative measures to curb the spread of the virus are adversely affecting markets, remittances and employment. High food prices continue to affect the poorest households’ access to food which will force them to intensify their crisis and stressed coping strategies in order to maintain their basic food consumption. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity are, for the most part, maintained, with a gradual increase in the number of people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through June.


    The COVID-19 pandemic: The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Haiti on 19 March 2020. As of 26 April 2020, 72 cases have been recorded, including six deaths and seven recoveries (Ministry of Public Health and Population, 2020). The government continues to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus, such as reducing working hours, closing the Haitian-Dominican border, implementing a curfew which has automatically led to the closure of businesses that operated only in the evening (e.g. nightclubs), reducing the number of opening days and hours of some markets and reducing passenger numbers on public transport.

    Other measures have been adopted at the municipal level, including restrictions on access to certain public places, banning public transport to certain cities (Cap-Haitien and Jérémie) and to the Sud region, and reducing the number of days some local markets are open.

    The sociopolitical situation: The situation remains calm, despite some gang-related incidents in some areas of Port-au-Prince in recent days.

    Weather conditions: Since the end of March, there have been rainfall deficits in most regions, which has delayed planting and could affect the beans and maize harvests in February and March. This situation is particularly worrying in the dry areas without irrigation systems (Côte Sud, the coast of Grand’Anse, Haut-Plateau, Haut Artibonite and Bas Nord-Ouest).

    The agricultural and livestock situation: Land preparation and planting for the spring growing season are under way in most regions. Seasonally low-volume harvests of groundnuts, cassava, bananas and sweet potatoes have started in Centre, Grand’Anse and Sud, as have rice harvests in Bas Artibonite. In areas with water shortages (the coast of Grand’Anse, Sud, Grand Nord, Centre and Haut Artibonite), the shortage of water and fodder is causing the physical condition of livestock – particularly cattle – to deteriorate. As a result, their market value has decreased compared with last January.

    Food availability: Staple foods – which are mostly imported – are available. Local products such as roots, tubers and bananas are also available but at levels considered low for the season. Maize and beans are very rarely seen in this season until the harvest in June. Mangoes from low-lying areas are available in several locations.

    Markets and food prices: The official announcement regarding COVID-19 cases and restrictive measures led to a rush on the formal and informal food markets. On the first few days following the introduction of these measures, some markets saw a significant increase in customers. As a result, prices fluctuated between 17 and 24 March, but recovered after a few days to levels seen prior to the government announcements, especially for imported rice. Local authorities have closed the Ouanaminthe market and imposed operational restrictions on the markets in Cap-Haïtien and Jérémie. These COVID-19 disruptions are exacerbating prices that were already above the five-year average, making food access for very poor households more difficult.

    Agricultural labor and other sources of income: Despite preparations for the spring growing season, labor demand is lower than usual due to the slowdown in economic activity which is reducing farmers’ ability to fund the season. Agricultural income may therefore be below average for poor and very poor households. Moreover, migration yields limited income given the closure of the border with the Dominican Republic and the sanctions that impede the use of informal crossing points.

    Other formal and informal sectors are affected by the measures, including night-time activities, transport and the textile industry, the latter of which is currently at a standstill.

    According to the World Bank, foreign remittances to Haiti account for about 33 percent of GDP, more than 50 percent of which come from the United States and about 20 percent from the Dominican Republic. The slowdown in economic activities due to the lockdown in both countries may have a direct impact on the volume of remittances to Haiti and may affect the income sources of the relatively large category of households receiving remittances.

    Food assistance: The Haitian government has announced assistance interventions for the most vulnerable in around 20 rural and urban areas and is distributing food packages and cash contributions. However, they will not be able to cover all of the food needs of poor and very poor households in the current context. In addition, the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing unconditional cash distributions of 7,650 gourdes per family in six regions (Nord, Sud-Est, Centre, Ouest, Grand’Anse, Nord-Ouest) under its emergency relief program.

    Current food security outcomes: Food security continues to be affected by inflation. The situation is further aggravated by the negative impact of government measures to prevent the spread of the virus on income sources. In addition to prices that are already above average, the slowdown in market activity is increasing the prices of certain products. High food prices and lower incomes caused, inter alia, by the closure or slowing down of business activities and the decline in remittances from abroad, have reduced households’ purchasing power and thus their access to staple foods. For example, to maintain their basic food consumption, poor and very poor households continue to largely adopt stress coping strategies (reducing the quantity and quality of food usually consumed, taking out credit, adults eating less so the children can eat, etc.) and crisis coping strategies (increasing the consumption of seeds and foods low in nutritional value, and increasing the sale of charcoal). 


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the February to September 2020 Food Security Outlook have changed as follows:

    • Response to the COVID-19 pandemic
      • The pandemic is likely to continue with an increasing number of confirmed cases during the scenario period.
      • Government restrictions to combat the virus, such as reduced working hours and closing the Haitian-Dominican border, are likely to remain in place at least until June. Other measures in place, such as the closure of textile factories, are likely to gradually be relaxed.
      • According to forecasts by the Central Bank of Haiti (BRH), despite the plausible assumption of a return to normal economic conditions in June, a decline of 2.7 percent in the GDP growth rate for 2020 is likely to be observed.
    • Agricultural production 
      • Spring and summer growing seasons: The low performance of previous growing seasons and the decline in remittances from the United States and Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic affecting farmers’ ability to finance the spring agricultural season (labor costs and seed purchases) may cause harvests to be below average, especially along the border (Nord-Est, Centre and Sud-Est).
      • Rice: Production is expected to be roughly normal in irrigated areas.
      • Bananas and tubers: Production of bananas and tubers will be around normal during the outlook period.
    • Sources of income
      • Agricultural labor: Due to the low investment capacity of farmers, labor demand will be below average, leading to a decline in agricultural labor income for poor and very poor households throughout the outlook period.
      • Daily migration between the Dominican Republic and Haiti will continue to decrease. As a result of border closures, workers will no longer be able to travel to the Dominican Republic and will therefore be a burden on their households in Haiti.
      • The imposition of curfews and the economic slowdown will result in poor urban households losing income from informal and formal activities impacted by these measures.
      • Income from agricultural sales will be below average from July onwards because of below-average spring harvests.
    • General trends in the prices of basic foods
      • Most imported staple foods have been relatively stable, with the exception of cooking oil, rice (all varieties) and certain varieties of dry peas (e.g. Pinto and Lima). Prices will remain high, owing to the level of depreciation of the gourde against the dollar, the increase in world prices and the possible spread of COVID-19.
      • For local products, particularly maize and beans, prices could increase in line with the seasonal trend. 
    • Other assumptions
      • Food imports, except from the Dominican Republic, should continue at levels close to normal.
      • USD and peso exchange rates: The gourde exchange rate against the United States dollar and the peso will continue to increase, as was the case at the beginning of 2019 and has been the case since January 2020. The economic, health and political crisis is, among other factors, determining the depreciation of the gourde. Thus, the exchange rate – which had already reached 104 gourdes to one dollar in some banks – will keep its upward trend at least until June.


    The purchasing power of poor households will be diminished as a result of high staple food prices and reduced incomes for part of the population due to government restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity will, for the most part, continue, with a gradual increase in the number of people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) until the spring harvest from June onwards.

    The period from June to September coincides with the spring harvests, which will have a limited impact on acute food insecurity for poor and very poor households. The performance of the spring growing season will be below average due to the low investment capacity of farmers. High commodity prices and below-average incomes will negatively affect poor households’ access to food. As a result, the poorest households will adopt crisis coping strategies such as increased charcoal sales, consumption of low-quality food and resorting to early food consumption, as well as stressed coping strategies (reducing the quantity and quality of food consumed, and purchasing on credit). In this context, most regions of the country would remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Figures Haiti seasonal calendar

Land preparation is from April to June and mid-September until December. Lean season is from April

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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