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The start of the rainy season indicates good prospects for crops in the West, South, and Central departments

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Haiti
  • April - September 2014
The start of the rainy season indicates good prospects for crops in the West, South, and Central departments

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  • Key Messages
  • Current situation
  • Assumptions
  • Most likely food security outcomes
  • Key Messages
    • The spring season, the most important agricultural season, started with rains in March for many areas in the southern peninsula, some municipalities in the West, the Central Plateau, and in a large part of the humid mountains. According to the Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum forecasts (CariCOF), these rains are expected to continue until the end of June as usual.
    • The spring season, the most important agricultural season, started with rains in March for many areas in the southern peninsula, some municipalities in the West, the Central Plateau, and in a large part of the humid mountains. According to the Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum forecasts (CariCOF), these rains are expected to continue until the end of June as usual.
    • Agricultural labor, normally the main source of income for poor households, has seen lower than usual demand in areas where rains have yet to begin. Some coping strategies used in these areas, such as the felling of trees, which reduces the productive capacity of the soil, are increasing the population’s vulnerability to natural disasters.
    • Poor households in the mountains and plains of the dry areas of the North in upper Artibonite, where they are almost exclusively dependent on market purchase for food, yet at a time when their purchasing power is diminishing, are considered to be Stressed (Phase 2) or Crisis (Phase 3) based on the IPC analysis conducted in early April by the Technical Working Group (TWG), which included FEWS NET.

    Current situation

    The spring growing season, which is the most important season in terms of the volume of crop production, generally begins in April in most areas of the country. Its success hinges on a good distribution of rainfall and the availability of farm inputs and labor. This growing season, extending through the end of June, also coincides with the lean season when rural households are more dependent on market purchasing than crop production for their food needs.

    Rainfall. The rainy season has been underway since March in many parts of the country, particularly in humid mountain areas on the Southern Peninsula and the Central Plateau. According to the Food Security Observatory for the Southeast (OSASE), for example, rains began earlier than usual on the department’s western slope, where the first rains were reported in the first half of January. Apart from Seguin, a market gardening zone in northern Marigot, the heaviest rains were in  Cayes-Jacmel, Marigot, and parts of the municipality of Jacmel." The Central Plateau, where the rainy season normally begins somewhere between the end of April and the end of May, has received relatively regular rainfall since February. The onset of seasonal rainfall in most of the Western department was observed in April.  

    In contrast, the North, including parts of the upper Artibonite, and the Northwestern, Northern, and Northeastern departments, has felt the impact of an extended drought since last November (Figure 4). However, nearly all humid mountain farming areas are getting some rainfall activity, kicking off the rainy season in these areas. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA), substantial rainfall is needed to ease soil water deficits in drought-stricken areas. Certain municipalities in Nippes department such as Anse-à-Veau and Baradères are experiencing similar dry conditions.

    Impact on crop production. Early rainfall in January and February on the Southern Peninsula initiated the planting of bean and maize crops, which are currently in different stages of growth and development. Bean crops in highland areas of Les Anglais, Beaumont, Cayes-Jacmel, Marigot, and even Bainet, are in the maturation phase. Crop planting activities began in April in semi-humid and dry areas. Other crops such as breadfruits (Artocarpus) and mangoes thrived on the early rainfall activity in these areas, with the first harvests starting in April. The same is true of banana plantations, especially in dryb mountain and plain areas.

    The March rains on the Central Plateau helped keep the soil moist, facilitating plowing activities in April and May. Yields from banana plantations and cashew and mango trees should improve compared to last year when the rainy season started in May.

    Rice crops planted in November in the Artibonite were harvested through April. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), rice production in this area is back to normal after some production losses in 2012, which drove up consumer prices. However, this harvest is much less than the October harvest and accounts for only approximately 25 percent of annual production in the Artibonite Valley. This is also the harvesting period for market garden crops in the Valley. These harvests will help improve food availability during May in crop-producing areas getting early rains, which could help stabilize prices for locally grown crops.

    However, farmers in areas where the rainy season is slow to start have been unable to plant any crops. Moreover, perennial crops like bananas are withering and water sources are beginning to dry up. There were heavy losses of “winter” crops such as beans and maize, which sharply reduced available supplies of locally produced staples, driving up their prices between January and March of this year.

    Labor. Demand for farm labor continues to increase for the critical spring growing season. However, according to farmers, labor supply is not meeting demand, with growing numbers of youth heading to urban areas or the Dominican Republic. Scarce labor supply is driving farmers to pay workers as much as 150 to 250 gourdes for a six-hour work day, plus a specified amount of food and rum. This is more or less comparable to if not more than the wages of factory workers in Port-au-Prince. The Ministry of Agriculture is subsidizing the cost of plowing in certain parts of the country such as the South and the North through its rural development projects. Some farmers are planting smaller areas in crops to make up for the high cost of labor.

    Farm inputs. Chemical fertilizer and pesticides are used in irrigated areas and humid mountain areas close to marketing hubs, but are virtually nonexistent in dry mountain and plain areas. Despite Haitian government subsidies, the cost of chemical fertilizer is still unaffordable for small scale farmers.  Moreover, availability is sharply reduced this year. In contrast to the 35,000 metric tons of fertilizer furnished by the Ministry of Agriculture last year, budget cuts in 2014 are expected to reduce this figure to only 20,000 metric tons. With the large-scale government investments in crop production in 2009 to mitigate the effects of the 2008 shocks, farmers used a total of 50,000 metric tons of fertilizer that year. A 100 lb. sack of fertilizer was selling for 500 gourdes in 2010, compared with 900 gourdes since 2013. The limited availability of chemical fertilizer could continue to drive up prices, making them even less affordable for small farmers.

    Lack of seed access is restricting crop production, and  very poor households invariably have very limited access to seeds. To mitigate this problem, the Ministry of Agriculture, the FAO, and a number of NGOs have been distributing seeds for the last twenty years, not only to help give farmers access to higher-quality seeds, but also to allow them to sow their fields on time and plant larger areas in crops. However, these organizations previously distributing thousands of tons of seeds per year have been unable to mobilize large amounts of resources for this growing season. The Ministry of Agriculture will furnish a few hundred tons of seeds, a seemingly negligible amount compared with needs. The size of the area planted in crops will most likely be smaller than in other years in which farmers were given grants of seeds. As a result, production could fall short of figures for 2009 and 2013.

    Food availability. The 2014 lean season, which generally runs from April to June, began in March in areas where February harvests were lost to the drought. With the depletion of food reserves, poor households are reliant on market purchase as their main source of food. While, for the most part, markets are well-stocked with foodstuffs, imports make up over 60 percent of market supplies. Imported rice accounts for 80 percent of all domestic rice consumption and rice accounts for over 21 percent of the diet of poor households. Projected imports for MY 2013/14 (July 2013 - June 2014) are estimated at 415,000 metric tons, the same as in MY 2012/13 (USDA). Supplies of other imported foodstuffs such as flour, oil, and sugar are meeting demand, and import flows by the government and private sector are at normal levels. Thus, food availability is highly likely for the entire outlook period.

    Price trends. With the large volume of imports on markets around the country, food prices will reflect trends in international market prices or, at least, prices in exporting countries. For example, there was relatively little movement in the price of imported rice from the United States between March 2013 and March 2014. Market prices for this commodity in Port-au-Prince, Jacmel, Hinche, Jérémie, and Cap Haïtien were virtually unchanged, while the price of a six pound sack of rice on the Les Cayes market in March of this year was up 13 percent from March of last year, from 124 to 140 gourdes. Meanwhile, the international market price of this same commodity went down by approximately nine percent between March of last year and March of this year, from $652 to $594/ton. At the same time, the U.S. dollar rose against the Haitian gourde, selling for 43.50 gourdes in 2013 and 45 gourdes in March 2014. Prices for other imported foods such as oil, sugar, and flour on all domestic markets are also relatively stable. Price stability is helping to mitigate the effects of the drought, particularly in drought-stricken areas and, in general, to improve household food security.

    Prices for locally grown crops whose volume of production fluctuates from year to year and from one area of the country to another are somewhat more variable. March prices for black beans, for example, were down sharply from the same time last year on virtually all markets. This decline in black bean prices is due to last year’s larger volume of production compared with 2012, increasing the size of bean reserves. On the other hand, prices in Cap Haïtien have been stable due to the limited bean production in that area for the 2014 winter season (Figure 5). However, prices for locally grown crops in general and for beans and sorghum in particular increased between January and March on practically all markets. Sorghum prices in Jérémie rose by as much as 25 percent and black bean prices on the Les Cayes market increased by as much as 13 percent, driven by demand for seeds and dwindling inventories. Household access to staple foodstuffs between March and April of this year was supposedly better than at the same time last year, when prices were much higher.

     


    Assumptions

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

    • The rainy season is expected to begin normally, in April, in most areas of the country. However, according to CariCOF, the expected El Niño conditions and resulting erratic pattern of rainfall at the end of June and into July could adversely affect crop production, particularly yields from crops planted between the end of April and the middle of May.
    • The price of seeds will curtail seed access among poor households in rural areas. Without the provision of farm input assistance in April, these households are likely to plant smaller than usual areas in crops.
    • The current rate of depreciation of the Haitian gourde could drive up prices for imported foods between April and July. However, upcoming harvests will bring down prices for both imported and locally-grown foodstuffs between July and September.
    • The expected increase in monthly cash remittances from the diaspora during the Easter holiday period in April will give recipient households extra income.
    • The depletion of household food stocks and rising rates of water-borne diseases could weaken the nutritional status of children in poor households between April and June.
    • Spending cuts by international organizations for humanitarian operations, increase the likelihood of cholera and other water-borne diseases during the rainy season between May and September.
    • Flooding in May, August, and September, which are normally the rainiest months of the outlook period (from April through September), could destroy crops and homes, cut roads, and disrupt the smooth operation of markets in the South, the Artibonite, the North, and Port-au-Prince.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    In spite of numerous efforts to assist affected households over the past four years, the residual effects of multiple shocks are still perceptible. However, food security has visibly improved since August of last year, driven by subsequent harvests and the resulting stability in staple food prices in many areas of the country, particularly in the Port-au-Prince,  Gonaïves, and Jacmel metropolitan areas. The earlier than usual start of the rainy season on the Southern Peninsula will allow for the harvesting of local crops by early May, helping to improve food availability in the above-mentioned areas.

    However, the premature end of the rainy season in late October or early November of last year in the North, the upper Artibonite, the eastern reaches of the Western department, on Île de la Gonâve, and in other areas caused losses of “winter” crops estimated at over 50 percent of the harvest. These areas, impacted by unfavorable weather conditions in 2012 and where prices are reportedly high, are still facing a difficult recovery. Most of these areas are still experiencing drought, particularly dry mountain and plain areas in the far North (the upper Artibonite and the Northwestern, Northeastern, and Northern departments). This is delaying farming activities providing employment for poor households at this time of year. Demand for farm labor, the main source of income for poor households in these areas, is lower than usual for this time of year due to the long drought, which is impeding farming activities.

    In addition, the lean season for most households in these areas began slightly earlier than usual, in March instead of April. As these households become increasingly dependent on market purchase as their main source of food, they resort to the use of different coping strategies as sources of income, some of which are irreversible. Examples include tree cutting or the harvesting of tree stumps in areas already stripped of trees, youth labor, the sale of breeding animals, and use of credit for food purchase.

    The IPC analysis by the Technical Working Group (TWG) in early April classified some of these areas as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and others as already in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) (Figures 1, 2, and 3). This will continue to be the case through the end of June, until the first harvests of spring crops.

    Figures seasonal calendar

    Figure 1

    Haiti seasonal calendar

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Indice de la différence normalisée de la végétation

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Indice de la différence normalisée de la végétation

    Source: USGS

    Figure 2. Evolution du prix du haricot noir en Haïti, janvier à mars 2013 et 2014

    Figure 3

    Figure 2. Evolution du prix du haricot noir en Haïti, janvier à mars 2013 et 2014

    Source: FEWS NET

    Nutrition Corner

    Figure 4

    Nutrition Corner

    Source: CNSA

    Figure 5

    Source:

    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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