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Food Insecurity aggravated by crop losses and rising prices

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Haiti
  • September 2012
Food Insecurity aggravated by crop losses and rising prices

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  • Key Messages
  • Food Security Outlook Update to December 2012
  • Key Messages
    • Dry conditions recorded throughout the country in May and June during the critical stage of spring crop development resulted in up to 40 percent losses of the spring harvest. Additionally, in the north-west and south-east in particular, where crop losses were more significant, production deficits and seasonal income losses have resulted in IPC Phase 2 food insecurity outcomes among poor households sooner than expected.

    • Hurricane Isaac had the most severe impact in the south-east and west Departments, exacerbating an overall spring crop production deficit. The passage of the storm resulted in excess of 60 percent losses in affected areas to autumn perennials such as bananas, coffee, fruit trees and crops sown in August (including corn, and beans).

    • Following multiple shocks to local food availability, the upward trend in the prices of imported food, and appreciation of the U.S. dollar, poor households face increasing constraints to purchasing power and a likely extension of the lean season in the west and south-east among others.

    • The second rainy season is underway, but rains have been poorly distributed in the North, Northeast, and Northwest departments, compromising the success of the fall growing season.

    Food Security Outlook Update to December 2012

    On August 24 and 25, hurricane Isaac dropped over 100 mm of rain on nearly the entire country, which represents nearly  a quarter of the usual annual rainfall on the northwestern peninsula. The rains significantly damaged agricultural infrastructure in the Southeast department, causing destruction to banana plantations and many species of fruit trees such as breadfruit trees, the fruit of which is widely eaten by the poor and also picked by rural households—work which provides an important source of seasonal income. The second rainy season got off to a slow start with moderate rainfall, especially on the southern peninsula, in the west, and on the central plateau. Since the passage of the hurricane, precipitation has decreased throughout the country to slight or even no rainfall  in some areas including the North, Northeast, and Northwest. These rains are critical to the success of the autumn season, during which time beans, congo beans, maize, sorghum, bananas, and many fruits are grown. These crops are staple foods for the poor and very poor between October and December. Furthermore, income earned from seasonal manual labor during the fall harvest is critical to providing sufficient purchasing power for poor and very poor households to access food during this time. 

    Around the end of September, precipitation was more or less normal on the southern peninsula, in the west and on the central plateau. The continuation of this rainfall through November continues to be critically important to households that have already lost the spring harvest and work opportunities in the fields that have been damaged by Hurricane Isaac, factors that have exacerbated the risk of food insecurity in areas that GTSAN (Food Security and Nutrition Technical Group) has defined as high-priority because of their high level of vulnerability to the multiple adverse events (Fig. 3).

    Agricultural Production

    Agricultural production was seriously impaired by hurricane Isaac, especially in the Southeast and West departments and in part of Northwest and the central plateau. Aside from the infrastructure damage, some species of fruit trees, livestock, and banana plantations suffered the worst effects. Banana plantations in Archaie, one of the country’s largest banana-producing areas, were significantly impacted. This crop is widely eaten by people in all income classes and is a main cash crop for the producers, who likewise come from all income levels. According to technical experts from the WINNER project, about 60 percent of the banana plants bearing fruit that would have been harvested between October and December were knocked down. CNSA (National Food Security Commission) estimates losses in the west and southeast, where the most bananas are raised, at 100,000 MT, or about a quarter of annual national production. Banana plants that are still standing will be ready to harvest again beginning in February. The effect of this situation will be to significantly curtail the availability of bananas and make them more expensive on Port-au-Prince’s major markets until next February/March.

    In the Northeast department, the improved availability of groundwater following the storm allowed rice and maize to be sown, especially in mountainous areas, where a normal harvest is currently uncertain because rainfall stopped at the end of August on the plains. On the Maribaroux plain, rice harvesting continues, which has generated some jobs for agricultural day laborers at the usual cost of between 150 and 200 gourdes. At the same time, in irrigated areas, preparation of the land for planting rice and beans is proceeding well. In contrast, low rainfall in the municipalities of Ferier, Caracol, and Terrier Rouge has slowed farming activities that had begun due to increased precipitation from Hurricane Isaac.

    As a consequence of the drought and the storm passage, the availability of local products such as maize, beans, bananas, breadfruit, avocadoes, and citrus fruits, among others, will be significantly below average during the entire outlook period, especially in Southeast, Northwest, Gonâve, and Northeast, to cite only regions where maize, beans, and especially bananas are among the staple foods. Higher prices for these products as well as imported products will affect poor households by reducing their purchasing power, probably until the end of the outlook period or even beyond. Rice alone makes up about a 22 percent share of the diet. Rice, beans, wheat, maize, and bananas have all seen unusual price increases in August and September, on both Port-au-Prince markets and those outside the capital (Jacmel, Cap Haitien, and Hinche).

    Changes in Food Prices

    After a month of relatively stable prices for staple foods on the various markets in July 2012, an atypical upward trend was seen throughout August and September. Given the poor spring harvest, the arrival of the hurricane, and the water shortage that is already affecting fall crops, prices are likely to continue to rise until the end of 2012. For example, on the Croix-des-Bossales market, a bunch of bananas is currently selling for between 400 and 450 gourdes, compared to 250 to 300 gourdes in July (an increase of 63% to 66%). This is unusual for this time of year. The atypical price hike is most probably the direct result of the banana shortage caused by hurricane Isaac.

    On the international market, the FAO cereal price index remained the same in August as it was in July, because increases in wheat and rice prices were offset by a drop in maize prices. At the local level, the US dollar continually gained in value on the exchange market. From March 2012 to September, the gourde has depreciated by 2.6% relative to the dollar. Its depreciation is one factor that has contributed to the upswing in prices for imported products on nearly all of the country’s markets. At Croix-des-Bossales, a pot of imported rice is currently selling for 125 gourdes, which is 8 percent more than in July 2012 and 10 percent more than the average for the past five years. This rather unusual trend is the same in the towns of Cap-Haitien province, where the price has gone from 120 to 132 gourdes during the same period. The government has announced the arrival of nearly 30,000 MT of donated rice (equivalent to one month of importation), which will be pumped into the national market to stabilize prices.

    Southeast Department

    In the Southeast department, successive setbacks have each left their mark on farming and food security in the households most vulnerable to these abnormal events. While dry conditions caused losses in maize and bean production estimated at about 40%, Hurricane Isaac destroyed banana plantations, damaged the bean and maize crops planted in August, devastated fruit trees such as breadfruit and citrus, and also harmed the coffee crop. These crops provide staple foods and income sources across income classes between July and December. Moreover, the loss of the harvest will reduce employment opportunities for poor people making their living from agricultural work. While in the vast majority of cases, especially in the dry agriculture and fishing zone, household income-generating activities between September and October consist primarily of selling charcoal and livestock along with internal migration, in November and December they do count on harvests from the fall growing season—sorghum, Congo beans, maize, and groundnuts—and external migration for income and food.

    In this area, prices for staple food products rose in August. For example, imported rice and bean prices increased by 19 and 28 percent, respectively, between July and September. This differs significantly from the situation in Grand’Anse, which was not much affected by the spring and fall droughts or by hurricane Isaac and where prices were more stable over the same period. Since dependence on the market will continue to grow following these unusual events, household purchasing power will diminish. To meet food needs from now until December, poor households may adopt strategies such as increasing the number of household members participating in seasonal migration, selling assets such as livestock, and cutting wood to make charcoal. Poor households will continue to face IPC Phase 2: Stress level food insecurity conditions until December 2012 due to losses of spring and fall harvests, the impact of hurricane Isaac, decreased opportunities for field work, and rising prices for staple foodstuffs.

    The Northwest

    Hurricane Isaac struck the western point of the Northwest department, damaging banana plantations, fruit trees, and sorghum over an area of about 900 ha, according to the CNSA. Though the area received a great deal of rain with the hurricane passage in August, a September water shortage affected crops such as congo beans and what was left of the sorghum planted last spring or in August. Additionally, beans could not be sown in the fall due to a lack of rain, which reduced household income in comparison to a normal year. However, the Ministry of Agriculture is undertaking cash for work activities, hiring 200 people on a rotating basis in August and September in the municipalities of Mole St Nicolas, Baie de Henne and Bombardopolis. Poor households are depending almost exclusively on the market for their food, in a context of atypical but generalized increases in staple food prices. Those poor already classified as being in IPC Phase 2: Stress conditions will continue to be food insecure at least until the end of December.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Multivariable vulnerability map by municipality

    Figure 2

    Multivariable vulnerability map by municipality

    Source: CNSA, August 2012

    Changes in staple food prices, 2011-2012

    Figure 3

    Changes in staple food prices, 2011-2012

    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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