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Late start of the rains jeopardizes spring crops

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Haiti
  • April - September 2013
Late start of the rains jeopardizes spring crops

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • The early depletion of food supplies from bad harvests, the growing dependence for poor households on market, and a reduction in agricultural employment opportunities have contributed to the increasingly widespread acute food insecurity throughout the country. Many municipalities are currently in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0).

    • The size of the total cultivated area for this growing season will be sharply reduced. In addition to the late start of the rains, farmers are faced with a shortage of seeds, where seed prices are as much as 20 to 30 percent above the five-year average. Early crops planted in February in certain parts of the Southeast are withered, which will definitely translate into lower yields.

    • Poor rural households reliant both on farming and on wage labor from agricultural activities are especially hard hit by the late start-of-season. Their situation is growing increasingly unstable as food prices on most markets across the country continue to climb. Forced to intensify or to resort to irreversible survival strategies and exhorbitant loans, they are still unable to meet their basic food needs.

    National Overview
    Current situation

    All parts of the country are currently in the midst of the yearly lean season, which will continue through the month of June. Harvests of beans and market garden produce in irrigated areas have had little impact on food security conditions. Production levels were too low to meet both food needs and needs for seeds for the spring growing season. The country will be coping with the effects of the poor 2012 harvest until the end of the current growing season in July. The sweet potato harvest is already underway on the northern plains and the rice harvest in the Artibonite Valley has just gotten started and will continue throughout the month of April. However, any positive effects from the small volume of available crops from these harvests will be limited to the local level.

    The rainy season got off to an extremely late start. The month of March, which is generally extremely wet, was marked by pronounced rainfall deficits. Reports based on remote sensing data produced by the NOAA show most parts of the country with a cumulative rainfall deficit of 100 mm over a span of approximately 30 days. The levels of rivers and lakes are unusually low, particularly on the Central Plateau, the site of the Péligre hydroelectric dam supplying electricity to the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and irrigation water to rice fields in the Artibonite. With the drying up or low levels of surface water sources in these areas, certain municipalities such as Thomassique, on the Central Plateau, or Roche-à-Bateau, in the South, are reporting shortages of drinking water.

    The water deficit is delaying the planting of crops in many parts of the West, the lower Artibonite, the Southern Peninsula, the Northeast, and the North. Farmers in certain municipalities in the country’s southeastern and southern departments who took advantage of the first rainfall of the season to plant early crops in February have suffered a complete loss due to the protracted drought in March and April. Some have planted a second round of maize crops, but consider it too late to plant beans. The lack of rain precluded the planting of any crops whatsoever until April in many parts of the Southern Peninsula, where local farmers consider the spring growing season a complete loss. The map in Figure 4 shows the impact of the drought on the condition of vegetation across the country.

    In contrast, farmers in other parts of the country such as Cap-Rouge (Jacmel) and Mare-Rouge (Mole-St Nicolas) taking advantage of the good rainfall activity in these areas to plant early crops will begin harvesting beans in May. The light to moderate rainfall activity in many parts of the country at the end of April is accelerating land preparation and crop planting efforts in areas where farming activities had fallen behind schedule. Such delays will, most likely, extend this year’s lean season for poor rural households through the end of June. The harvesting season will begin slightly later than usual and production levels for spring crops will be below-average, reducing household income and food availability for poor households in affected areas.

    In addition to the lack of rain, farmers have also been dealing with the shortage and high price of seeds. While fluctuating depending on the area, prices for maize and bean seeds, the two main spring crops, have increased by as much as 70 percent from March of last year. NGOs have organized distributions of seeds or seed fairs for different groups of farmers in certain areas such as the far western reaches of the Northwest and in a number of municipalities in the South and the Southeast. However, the scale of these activities is limited, meeting only about five to 20 percent of actual needs.

    The volume of seeds supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture and FAO for this growing season is negligible compared with the large amount of seeds (more than 5 kg) normally distributed to farmers in hardship areas. On the other hand, ongoing government subsidies of up to 50 percent of the market value of chemical fertilizer bolster usage in irrigation areas: Les Cayes Plains and in Maribaroux, St Raphael, the Artibonite Valley, and humid mountain areas of the Forêt des Pins (Pine Forest), and Kenscoff. These areas are also closer to large retail markets, which helps local farmers make a larger profit than in other areas.

    The high cost of food is affecting food access for poor households. Prices for locally grown food crops have been on the rise since August of last year as a result of the poor harvest due to climatic shocks. Prices for foods like ground maize, beans, bananas, tubers, and vegetables are steadily rising. Prices for imported foods on certain markets like that of Port-au-Prince are stable and, in some cases, are actually decreasing, as in the case of flour and sugar. In other markets such as Hinche and Cap-Haitien, rice prices have been rising since March (Figure 5). In an effort to stabilize rice prices, which account for as much as 21 percent of the cost of the household food basket in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, the government has agreed to import 15,000 metric tons of competitively priced rice. However, these orders for imports have not yet had an impact on markets, nor had any effect on prices.

    The agricultural recovery and job creation programs announced by the government have not yet materialized. At the same time, operations by NGOs across the country have slowed compared with the level of activity in the period following the January 2010 earthquake, when large numbers of humanitarian organizations were furnishing a variety of services to the Haitian population. Households in certain parts of the West, the Southern Peninsula, and the Central Plateau are receiving food assistance in the form of dry rations, school meal programs, and food vouchers or are being put to work in gully treatment and river dredging projects. However, the number of beneficiaries served by these programs is minimal compared with actual needs, forcing households to implement or intensify their use of livelihood strategies. For example, according to first-hand accounts by residents of municipalities such as Thomassique and Cerca-Cavajal, many young children have dropped out of school to immigrate to the Dominican Republic because their parents can no longer afford to pay their tuition. In other cases, it is the adult breadwinners who are migrating to different Latin American countries, selling their assets or borrowing cash for their journey at exorbitant interest rates. Others have sold off their few remaining assets such as livestock in order to buy seeds and food for their families. Nevertheless, there should be a slight improvement in conditions by the end of May with the harvest of cashews, mangos, and tamarinds in certain municipalities on the upper Central Plateau.


    The following general assumptions for the outlook period are based on the findings outlined above:

    • The harvest of spring crops will be 10 to 15 percent less than usual.
    • Prices for locally produced foods will remain above-average and could continue to rise.
    • There will be a larger flow of imported foods such as rice, maize, and wheat flour throughout the outlook period to offset production shortfalls.
    • The gourde will continue to fall against the U.S. dollar as a result of speculation by traders.
    • Possible mass demonstrations in the weeks leading up to the national and local legislative elections could slow business all across the country.
    • There will be a steady reduction in direct aid to Haiti, slowing the start-up of agricultural recovery programs.
    • The rice-growing season in the Artibonite and the bean-growing season in humid mountain areas between July and October will provide agricultural employment opportunities for poor households.
    • The May, August, and September floods in the West, the South, the Artibonite, and the North could trigger a new outbreak of cholera.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Faced with the increasingly high food prices, poor households are seeing their purchasing power diminishes, while decreases in agricultural employment opportunities are leading to a loss of income. Many poor households have been forced to sell all their livestock in order to eat or to buy seeds and, in some cases, have had to take their children out of school for not being able to pay tuition fees. Many households in the North, the Artibonite, the Northwest, the South, and the Southeast and on the Central Plateau are currently experiencing Crisis levels of acute food insecurity (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) and may continue to do so through the end of June. However, the spring harvest in July should help improve conditions through the end of the outlook period in September, shifting these households back to Stressed levels (Phase 2, IPC 2.0).

    In addition to the above-mentioned factors, the hurricane season beginning as of June 1 could seriously affect food security conditions in Haiti. In fact, with the advanced state of environmental degradation, a heavy downpour would damage crops and destroy farm infrastructure. This year’s hurricane season is expected to be more active than usual in terms of the number of named hurricanes, compared with the historical average for 1981 through 2010. The April forecast for the Atlantic basin by the University of Colorado predicts there will be 18 named hurricanes this year, six more than the typical annual average. Crop losses from Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy last year rendered entire areas of the Southern Peninsula food-insecure.

    Areas of Concern

    Dry farming and fishing areas: Anse-à-Pitres, Belle-Anse, Grand-Gosier, Côtes de Fer, and Marigot

    Current situation

    There was very little rainfall up until April 15, measuring barely a quarter of last year’s rains. Average rainfall for February 2012 was 60 mm, compared with an average of only 15 mm in February of this year in the Southeast. Nearly 40 percent of farmers in this area had taken advantage of the first February rains to plant crops. Thus, maize and bean crops in the Southeast are suffering from water stress, which is compromising their growth. The shortage of seeds will force farmers to significantly reduce area planted as compared to usual for this growing season.

    The March bean harvest was considerably smaller than last year’s harvest, which was considered average. However, harvests in irrigated areas of Côtes de Fer were better than in March of last year.

    In spite of the January and February harvests, bean prices rose by 22 percent between January and April of this year and are up by 40 percent from the same time last year. Prices for all locally grown crops are on the rise, except for sorghum prices, which are down by five percent. The price of maize, for example, rose by approximately 11 percent between January and February. Prices for imports are stable and slightly declining.

    The Ministry of Agriculture and its partners are mounting Cash-For-Work programs in the Southeast, which are creating jobs for poor households. NGOs and international organizations are providing food assistance to impoverished residents of the municipalities of Anse-à-Pitre, Thiotte, and Côtes de Fer. Students at more than half of all schools are being served a hot meal at school on regular school days.

    The number of head of livestock for sale on livestock markets is up and average prices are down compared with the same time last year. The depletion of their food supplies and their needs for seeds are forcing many households to sell their animals as a source of cash for the purchasing of food and seeds.

    Normally, sorghum, bananas, tubers, and root vegetables are the main dietary staples for poor households at this time of year. With their crop losses and the depletion of their food reserves, the share of market purchase as a source of food for poor households in April, which is usually over 90 percent, is currently close to 100 percent. The high cost of food and necessary farm inputs for the spring growing season beginning in February is making it increasingly difficult for poor households to meet their food needs, particularly with the growing scarcity of agricultural employment opportunities—the main source of household income. Better-off households whose capital assets were depleted by recent shocks are reluctant to begin planting spring crops. As a result, poor households are resorting to lower quality or much less expensive foods such as broken rice and, in general, are cutting back their food consumption compared to a typical year.

    • Markets will continue to be stocked with imported foods, which should keep prices for these products stable.
    • Maize, sweet potato, and groundnut crops will be harvested in June and July. Though food availability from these harvests will be considerably more limited than usual, it should still help improve the food access of poor households.
    • Mango crops will ripen by May or June and the harvest outlook is promising. Many poor households will take advantage of the opportunity to earn more income by selling mangos.
    • The main sources of household income will be small-scale selling and agricultural labor, particularly between April and June and in August.
    • Poor households will step up their sales of livestock and the felling of trees for charcoal production in September, just before the beginning of the new school year.
    • According to rainfall forecasts by the IRI, there will be normal to below-normal rainfall activity through the month of June. Thus far, there has been only light to moderate rainfall. A rainfall deficit would reduce output from the spring growing season which, in relative terms, accounts for 60 percent of annual crop production.
    • The size of cropped areas will be smaller than usual due to the shortage of seeds/grain.
    • Excessive rainfall in May and September could affect bean production and block roads to Belle-Anse, Côtes-de-Fer, and Marigot.
    • Heavy downpours could instigate a surge in cholera cases in this area in May, August, and September and then reduce the productivity of local breadwinners, particularly in poor households.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Poor households are currently in an extremely difficult situation, unable to maximize the value of their wage labor, which is normally their main source of income at this time of year. The rainy season is getting off to a slow start and farmers are planting smaller areas in crops due to the shortage and high cost of seeds. Most poor households are resorting to irreversible coping strategies such as selling off their livestock or cutting down trees for charcoal production. High food prices and losses of household income have considerably eroded their purchasing power. They will be facing large food consumption gaps between April and June, during which time they will be virtually entirely dependent on market purchase for their food supplies. This will classify them in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0). Their food security situation will begin to improve with harvests of spring crops as of June and for the remainder of the outlook period.

    Dry - semi-humid agropastoral areas (Tiburon, Les Irois, Anse-d’Hailnaut, Dame-Marie)

    Current situation

    The yam harvest in Grande Anse is underway, but the smaller than usual yields from these crops cannot offset the shortfall in grain production. Poor households whose grain reserves are completely depleted are dependent on market purchase as their main source of food. The black bean harvest in Les Anglais also got underway in April, but is much weaker than usual.

    Cumulative average rainfall for the last three months ranged from 120 to 150 mm, which slowly helped get land preparation and crop planting activities started in the above-captioned municipalities. However, there was too little rain to create enough moisture for the large-scale planting of crops, resulting in a general delay in the start-of-season. Moreover, the shortage of seeds is liable to reduce the size of the area normally planted.

    Nevertheless, the presence of humanitarian organizations in these areas is providing many households with food rations and assistance through school meals or labor-intensive work programs. This increase in agricultural activities is creating job opportunities, though there is still a below-average demand for labor due to the capital losses of prospective employers.

    Markets are well-stocked with imports, which are still extremely unaffordable due to their generally high prices. Locally produced foods are extremely scarce and are also selling at very high prices. Current prices for maize and black beans are 20 to 25 percent higher than in the first quarter of last year.

    More poor households than usual are resorting to coping strategies such as charcoal production and the sale of livestock.

    Shortages of locally grown crops like sweet potatoes, yams, sorghum, pearl millet, pigeon peas, bananas, and breadfruits, which are normally available and affordable at this time of year, along with the high cost of available foods are causing poor households to change their eating habits, mainly to a diet based on rice and wheat flour. At the same time, with the limited recovery of agricultural livelihoods, a shortage of funds is preventing poor households from stocking sufficient supplies to meet their food and nutritional needs.

    To compensate for their shortage of income, poor households are forced to increase their sales of small animals and to cut down trees for charcoal production, including mango trees. A sizable number of households are also resorting to buying on credit or are seeking employment under Cash-For-Work programs.

    • Markets will be well-stocked with imported foods throughout the outlook period. As of July, they will also be well-stocked with local crops from harvests for the spring growing season.
    • As of June, harvests of bananas, breadfruits, and vegetables all across Grand Anse will improve food availability.
    • According to rainfall forecasts by the IRI, there will be normal to below-normal rainfall activity through the month of June. A rainfall deficit would reduce yields from the spring growing season which, in relative terms, accounts for 60 percent of annual crop production.
    • The size of cropped areas will be smaller than usual due to the shortage of seeds/grains. This will affect demand for agricultural labor, which is a major source of income for poor households.
    • The start of the school year in September will reduce the available income for poor households.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    Poor households will have difficulty meeting their food needs between April and June, particularly in the first two months of this period. This year’s lean season began a month earlier than usual, which has further heightened their market-dependence. Food prices are much higher than usual, while income-generating activities have slowed. This group of households will be forced to cut their food intake or to buy substitute foods with lower nutritional value.

    Poor households are cutting down more trees for charcoal production as a coping strategy. Some households are buying on credit or borrowing at exorbitant interest rates. Such strategies will only end up depleting the area’s natural resources. Members of poor households will also seek employment in Cash-for-Work programs or apply for food assistance. Even with these strategies, poor households will be facing a large food gap which will keep them in Crisis (Phase 3, IPC 2.0) in April and May. Nonetheless, their food security situation is expected to improve by the beginning of June with breadfruits, beans, bananas, vegetables, and maize harvests, which should ease acute food insecurity from Crisis to Stressed levels for the remainder of the outlook period. 

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security conditions



    Destruction of crops and farm infrastructure, disrupting the flow of commodities and services within local communities. This will hurt the ability of poor households to maintain a stable source of food and income.


    Rise in the cost of fuel and the value of the U.S. dollar against the gourde

    This would increase transportation costs and, eventually, drive up food prices.


    Availability of irrigation water and agricultural inputs

    This could mean a good rice harvest and would help bring down the price of locally grown rice.

    Central Plateau

    Good levels and distribution of rainfall


    Good harvests and a production surplus, helping to rebuild assets lost over the last few months.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, April 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, April 2013

    Source: FEWS NET

    NDVi anomalies, April 6 - 15, 2013

    Figure 3

    NDVi anomalies, April 6 - 15, 2013

    Source: USGS

    Price trends on selected markets (five-year average and April 2012 and 2013 prices shown)

    Figure 4

    Price trends on selected markets (five-year average and April 2012 and 2013 prices shown)


    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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