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No short-term prospect of a deterioration in food security conditions due to the drought

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Haiti
  • June 2012
No short-term prospect of a deterioration in food security conditions due to the drought

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  • Key Messages
  • Updated of the most likely food security scenario through September 2012
  • Key Messages
    • Crops planted in February/March in many parts of the country are currently being harvested, increasing market supplies of local crops and stabilizing their prices.

    • The drought conditions in many areas since the end of May are threatening harvests of corn crops planted in April/May, as well as other crops like rice and beans. The Southern, Western, Northwestern, and Northeastern regions have been especially hard hit by the drought. Ministry of Agriculture experts are estimating potential losses at 40 percent or higher, depending on the area in question. 

    • Crop failures due to the May/June drought should not have any significant short-term effect on food insecurity levels, with harvests in June/July helping to meet household food needs into July and August. However, practically the entire Northeastern region and many municipalities in the Southern, Western, Northwestern, Artibonite, and Nippes regions will be in IPC Phase 2 (Stressed) in August and September if the drought continues beyond the end of July.

    • Staple food prices on most markets across the country are relatively stable. This trend could continue into July/August, during the harvest season. However, with the small harvest of spring crops and the end of the season for mangoes and breadfruits, which are used mostly for on-farm consumption and in large-scale marketing operations, prices for local crops will probably begin to rise by August, which is a little earlier than usual.

    Updated of the most likely food security scenario through September 2012

    Farmers in many parts of the country and, in particular, in the Southern and Southeastern Departments, who planted crops in February/March are currently harvesting beans, corn, cassava, and sweet potatoes, as well as numerous other crops such as breadfruits, legumes, bananas, and mangoes. This is also the case in the lower Central Plateau and lower Artibonite areas and in certain municipalities in the Northern Department. This is a complete reversal of the situation last year, when the rainy season got underway two months late. These favorable conditions are attributable to the regular, plentiful rainfall in these areas since February/March.  

    However, meteorological conditions changed dramatically towards the end of May. Rainfall activity tapered off considerably, creating widespread drought conditions all across the country, particularly on the Southern Peninsula, in the far western reaches of the Northwestern Department, in the Western Department, and in certain municipalities in the North and Northeast. Crops like corn, in the vegetative or early heading stages of their growth cycle, suffered considerably as a result of this conditions. After benefiting from a water surplus in April, corn and sorghum crops were soon subject to water stress by the early part of June, which resulted in the loss of up to 40 to 50 percent of corn crops according to experts assessing conditions on the Southern Peninsula, in the North, and in the lower Central Plateau area. The effects of the drought on crops vary according to the varieties planted, their planting dates, and the agro-ecological zone in question.

    Short-cycle varieties of corn planted at low altitudes in March were not affected by the drought, reaching full maturity well before it even began. In contrast, crops planted in April/May in the South, the North, the West, and the Northwest experienced severe water stress, particularly those planted in shallow, eroded soils, which were especially severely impacted. These latter crops are already to the point of withering and will not develop heads. Crops planted in rainy mountain or plateau areas in March or April could still recover, since these areas normally get more rain than coastal areas. This is especially true of the Mare Rouge highlands in the Northwest or the upper Central Plateau.

    The spring growing season accounts for approximately 60 percent of domestic production. The main grain crop planted during this season is corn, which is second only to rice as the most widely consumed crop. Corn is much less expensive than rice and much more affordable for poor households, especially in rural areas. It is also a cash crop, sold by farmers either green or in kernel form. Poor households generally use their corn for household consumption. Poor households in many corn-growing areas of the Southern Peninsula, the Northwest, and the Northeast could be in IPC Phase 2 (Stressed) by September if the rains do not pick up again soon. On the other hand, the low rainfall levels in late May of this year actually helped bean crops, whose harvest is oftentimes hampered by excess rainfall in the month of May. In general, the bean harvest will be slightly below-average due to the excess rainfall in certain areas, the drought in other areas, and the high cost and resulting minimal use of chemical fertilizer. Farmers in the lower Central Plateau and lower Artibonite areas, for example, had a very good bean harvest thanks to the adequate rainfall activity in areas planted in crops, but harvests in the lower Northwestern area are expected to be poor to nil with the insufficient levels of precipitation in that area.

    Current harvests have helped increase food availability. There are larger market supplies of crops and farming households in areas with ongoing harvesting activities are able to use crops right from their fields for on-farm consumption. However, the lean season continues in the lower Northwest and in certain municipalities in the upper Artibonite such as Anse-Rouge, Terre-Neuve, and Gros-Morne. With the failure of winter crops, this year’s lean season began slightly earlier than usual in these parts of the country; it should abate with the July harvests of corn, peas, and legumes. This season’s harvests will be comparatively small due to water stress since the end of May. Nevertheless, these crops should meet the needs of poor households through July/August; then, they will turn to market purchases as the main source of food, slightly earlier than usual. However, with the continuing rainfall in many areas, a harvest assessment is needed in July to estimate the actual size of this season’s harvest.

    In contrast to the situation in April of this year, markets have much larger stocks of local crops, which are improving food availability. Prices for most crops have been relatively stable since April. However, price differentials from May of last year or compared with the five-year average vary from crop to crop and according to the regional market. For example, the current price of imported rice, one of the most widely consumed crops, is above the five-year average on virtually all markets. This is more than likely due to the various shocks endured by the country since the January 2010 earthquake, triggering repeated hikes in food prices. Prices for local corn crops are down from April of this year on all markets with the exception of Jacmel; in Jacmel May prices were also above the five-year average. Most prices should remain stable into July and August. However, bean prices are expected to rise in the face of the growing demand for seeds for the planting of crops in rainy mountain areas in July and August.

    Farmers in the Artibonite Valley are busy planting rice for the main summer growing season. The Valley is unaffected by current drought conditions, where fields are irrigated with water from the Artibonite River and its numerous tributaries rising in the middle reaches of the Central Plateau and in certain parts of the North getting large amounts of rain. The period from June to July is marked by intensive planting activities. The Artibonite Valley Development Authority (ODVA) is presently in the process of clearing irrigation channels and drainage ditches, which should help prevent or minimize flooding by enabling them to carry a rapid flow of water in the event of heavy rains. However, the ODVA has still not repaired its tractors, and rice farmers are forced to rely on the use of private tractors or those of development agencies, which is far from ideal. There is still a possibility of delays in the planting of crops or reductions in the size of areas under crops. In addition, the price of fertilizer is still very high, which was selling for 1250 gourdes per 100 lb. sack as of the middle of June, compared with only approximately 500 gourdes back in 2010. According to a study conducted by the ODVA, purchases of chemical fertilizer account for 25 percent of the cost of producing rice in the Artibonite Valley. As a result, the price of locally grown rice crops will remain above the price of imported rice. Domestic rice production accounts for approximately 20 percent of domestic consumption, of which close to 80 percent comes from the Artibonite Valley, which provides thousands of jobs for poor workers in rice-farming and market-gardening operations.

    There is a good possibility of an improvement in food availability in all parts of the country in July and August with ongoing and expected harvests in the next two months. This will have a positive effect on the food security situation during this period. However, municipalities on the Southern Peninsula and in the Northwestern, Western, and Northeastern Departments reporting sizeable losses of crops as a result of the drought are likely to be in IPC Phase 2 (Stressed) by September. Municipalities in the West, on the Central Plateau, and in the Northeast already in Phase 2 could stay there or face a further escalation in food insecurity levels in the event of a protracted drought.

    The second rainy season beginning in August should provide job opportunities for members of poor households in bean, grain, and tuber-growing activities in rainy mountain areas. It is also expected to trigger a fresh cholera outbreak, as was the case last year, hitting impoverished households especially hard. Conditions in August and September are also conducive to flooding and ripe for a hurricane strike. However, the Red Cross, the Civil Defense Agency, and their partners have put contingency plans in place allowing for rapid intervention in the event of a disaster to save lives. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Trends in prices for staple food crops in Port-au-Prince: January 2011 - May 2012

    Figure 2

    Trends in prices for staple food crops in Port-au-Prince: January 2011 - May 2012

    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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