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Good distribution of spring rains indicates a promising harvest outlook

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Haiti
  • May 2012
Good distribution of spring rains indicates a promising harvest outlook

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Crops across the country are benefiting from above-average seasonal rainfall. These rains are facilitating farming activities, and  creating jobs for farm laborers. The outlook for the July harvest is good.

    • The lean season will continue through the end of June in most parts of the country. The food security situation is expected to gradually improve over the coming weeks.  Harvests should begin by as early as June on the southern peninsula, in the west, in the lower Artibonite, and in the central and northern reaches of the country where the rains got underway in March.

    • These harvests should improve food availability in practically all parts of the country. Prices will more than likely fall between July and September, improving food access through September. Most poor households in IPC Phase 2 (stressed) during the lean season should experience only minimal acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) by July.

    Updated food security outlook

    Over ninety percent of Haitian agriculture is dependent on rainfall.  Since water is the main limiting factor, a good rainy season, particularly the first season generally running from March to June, results in average to above-average harvests and an improvement in the household food security situation. This year, the first rainy season began as early as March in most farming areas, in contrast to last year’s two-month delay in the onset of the rains.  The first rainfall in the country’s most drought-prone areas such as the Northwest Peninsula and the Northeast was in mid-April and the end of March, respectively. Since the beginning of the season and as of the middle of May, there has been a well-balanced distribution of rainfall, with rainfall surpluses of 50 to 100 millimeters compared with the norm.  Excessive rainfall in certain parts of the Central Plateau is interfering with farming activities. 

    Crop maintenance work continues in practically all farming areas of the country. Crops are in different stages of growth and development, depending on the timing of the beginning of the rainy season and planting periods.  Harvests of beans and green corn are already underway in the south and southeast. The main harvest of corn, bean, and cowpea crops will take place between June and July.  Thanks to the good distribution of rainfall, most parts of the country are expecting above-average harvests.  The nationwide food security situation should gradually improve, beginning as of July.  The first harvests of beans, green corn, and breadfruit got underway by the middle of May, which is often the case in a typical year in many parts of the southern peninsula, the west, the lower Artibonite, and the central and northern reaches of the country where the rains began as early as March or where there are irrigation systems in place.  In contrast, other parts of the country such as the lower northwest, the upper Artibonite, certain municipalities in the northeast and on the Central Plateau, and numerous pockets within municipalities plagued by an extended drought or having lost their crops harvested in February/March will remain in IPC Phase 2 (stressed) through the end of June, until the upcoming harvesting period.  Most of these areas do not have the benefit of early May harvests capable of slowing down the depletion of food reserves and ensuring adequate food availability and food access. 

    The main growing season in the Artibonite Valley, which accounts for 80 percent of nationwide rice production, will get underway in June. Some rice farmers have already begun preparing their land and planting seedbeds.  Markets are still lacking adequate supplies of fertilizer and prices will be approximately 200 percent higher than in previous years with the reduction in government subsidies and rise in world market prices for fertilizer. Moreover, the mechanization service operated primarily by the Organisme de Développement de la Vallée de l’Artibonite (the Artibonite Valley Development Agency) may not be fully functional.  The agency’s tractors are virtually all in need of repair and are not expected to be in working order before the end of the season, which would delay the transplanting of rice seedlings into paddies and reduce the size of the area planted in crops, possibly resulting in a smaller rice harvest.

    In general, prices for imported crops on most departmental markets are stable, as is often the case at this time of year.  April prices for imported rice on the Hinche market were actually down by four percent from March of this year and April of last year and compared with the five-year average, while the general trend is for prices to rise.  This is a result of the growing competition among importers on local markets and the stability of world market prices for rice.  Rice prices on all markets started to fall as of the beginning of May. This downward trend in prices could be sustained by upcoming harvests in June/July, particularly harvests of corn, breadfruit, bananas, leafy vegetables, and beans. The ongoing mango harvest reaches its height at the end of May.

    The spread of cholera could affect food security conditions across the country.  According to health officials, more than 500,000 people, or approximately five percent of the population, have been stricken with cholera since the first outbreak of the disease back in October of 2010.  Parts of the Central, Western, Southern, and Artibonite Departments without proper water supply and sanitation systems are especially vulnerable to a new outbreak of cholera. Members of households whose breadwinners fall ill will have an extremely hard time getting enough to eat during their convalescence.

    After a three-month void, a new government has finally been formed, which should help expedite voting on a new budget and budget funding for the agricultural sector. Specific measures could be taken to strengthen technical training and assistance services for rice farmers in the Artibonite, such as the repairing of mechanized farming equipment or the provision of high-quality inputs in the necessary quantities.  If taken, such measures should have a positive effect on rice production by expanding the area planted in crops and increasing unit yields.  Farm laborers from very poor households will have the benefit of gainful employment. On the other hand, doing nothing will reduce the size of the area planted in rice, lower crop yields, and keep large numbers of households dependent on rice-farming activities food insecure, as is oftentimes the case when seasonal government assistance is extremely limited. The Ministry of Agriculture had already distributed seeds to farmers in the Northwest well before the new government was installed in office.  

    Upper Artibonite (Anse-Rouge, Gros-Morne, Terre-Neuve, and northern sector of the municipality of Gonaïves)

    The rainy season began in the middle of April in this area. In contrast to last year, this year’s rains began on schedule. Farmers were able to plant their fields with very little seed aid from the Haitian government and its partners.  Corn, bean, tuber, and leafy vegetable crops are all in the growing stage.  Harvests are expected to begin at the end of June or the beginning of July, and the outlook is promising. The mango harvest is already underway.  In spite of this year’s below-average harvest in this area, as usual, many local households used mango consumption as a survival strategy for practically the entire month of May. The fruit is sold on markets in Port-de-Paix, Port-au-Prince, and Gonaïves and exported to the U.S. market. As has always been the case at this time of year, the mango industry provides seasonal employment for large numbers of workers involved in the harvesting, handling, shipping, and sale of the fruit. 

    The failure of sorghum and pigeon pea crops harvested in January/February due to the drought created food deficits affecting poor households across the region.  These food deficits were aggravated by the beginning of the planting season, requiring additional outlays by all farmers for the sowing of crops. Many households are claiming that they do not have enough money to hire farm laborers to work their fields and are doing the work themselves.  This could hold up farming activities, reducing output.  Food prices are extremely high and prices for certain crops like beans and corn have been rising faster than usual due to the demand for grain for use as seeds. The price of grain corn has nearly doubled.  Moreover, the entire area will continue to face flooding risks and the threat of a cholera outbreak during the rainy season, which reaches its height in May and again in September.  However, household food security conditions should improve with the upcoming harvests between July and September.  The stress currently affecting many households will gradually ease to minimal levels of acute food insecurity as of July.

    Far western areas of the Northwest

    Plagued by an extended drought causing crops to fail in February, the far western reaches of the Northwest have had a good distribution of rainfall for more than a month, which is helping to promote good crop growth and development. Members of poor households dependent on the sale of their labor to eat have had opportunities to work for the past few weeks. Their daily income-earning potential is currently 200 gourdes, slightly above the five-year average. The rains are also beneficial for livestock-raising activities, improving the availability of pasture and water for the feeding and watering of livestock whose physical condition had deteriorated over the past several months as a result of the drought. The animals should gradually recover, which will increase their market value.  However, food prices are still high, particularly prices for local crops like beans and corn for which there has been a growing demand from farmers for use as seeds. The Ministry of Agriculture has furnished farmers with 35 metric tons of corn seeds, 25 metric tons of bean seeds, and 15,000 cassava cuttings.

    Port-au-Prince metropolitan area

    Like many other parts of the country, the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, plagued by serious sanitation problems, is facing the threat of a new outbreak of cholera. Moreover, violent demonstrations like those organized early this month could hurt the poor by preventing them from pursuing their normal livelihoods.  Poor households depend on day-to-day earnings to buy food to eat.  Each lost day of work for the breadwinner in a poor household jeopardizes its food security. These turbulent times also end up raising food prices by triggering market failures.  Adding to these hazards, food prices have been inching upwards, which is often the case at this time of year, but are higher than they were last year. For example, prices for staples like imported rice, corn, and beans are up by six, 15, and eight percent, respectively, compared with figures for April of last year and the five-year average.  Earning potential is more or less unchanged, at approximately 400 gourdes per day of work for a poor household of six, with two working members. The food security situation of this group of households is not expected to change between now and the upcoming harvest, which should eventually lower prices for staple foodstuffs, at which point most poor households should experience only minimal acute food insecurity. 

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Timeline of Critical Events

    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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