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Start of agricultural season slowed by below-average rainfall and reduced agricultural investments

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Haiti
  • April - September 2015
Start of agricultural season slowed by below-average rainfall and reduced agricultural investments

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Partner
    Key Messages
    • The rainy season is underway and providing agricultural income opportunities for many very poor households, but some areas of the country have yet to see the rainy season begin. Moreover, there is an 80 percent likelihood for an El Nino to occur during the April to June period, which could result in below-average total seasonal rainfall, and therefore below-average harvests in June and July.  

    • Prices for locally produced foods were generally higher on markets in March 2015 than at the same time in 2014. On certain markets, prices of locally produced maize meal and beans are 40 and 30 percent above average, respectively. Imported staple foods, however, only show slight monthly and yearly changes. 

    • Erratic rainfall in several parts of the country, a lack of investment in the agricultural sector, and above-average prices for agricultural inputs (seeds and fertilizer) will likely contribute to a reduction in demand for agricultural labor. Poor and very poor households in the South-East, North-West, and Artibonite Departments, having experienced production losses in 2014 and having recently been in Stressed (IPC Phase 2), are likely to fall into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between April and June. 

    National Overview
    Current situation

    The current outlook period coincides with the spring growing season from April through July. This season accounts for close to 60 percent of annual nationwide crop production. The summer growing season beginning in August and is confined mostly to humid mountain areas and rice-growing areas of the Artibonite Valley generates an estimated 20 to 30 percent of crop production. These two seasons play a crucial role in maintaining or improving food availability. Agriculture and livestock-raising activities account for 40 to 60 percent of the sources of income of very poor households, depending on the livelihood zone.

    Spring growing season. The spring growing season is one of the main economic activities in rural areas at this time of year. It creates jobs for many agricultural laborers looking for work. It requires a financial investment by farmers in purchases of farm inputs. However, rainfall is still the main deciding factor in the success of this season in most crop-producing areas.

    Rainfall. The rainy season got underway in March in many parts of the country, with a pick-up in rainfall activity at the beginning of April. Areas of the Western Department, for example, mainly Damien, Croix-des-Bouquets, and Thomazeau, recorded 123, 83, and 84 mm of rain, respectively, between April 1st and April 5th. Flooding in the municipality of Carrefour during this same period caused six fatalities and destroyed numerous homes. The first rains on the Southern Peninsula were in the middle of March. The lower Central Plateau and a large part of the lower Artibonite and the North are also getting their first spring rains. However, many parts of the North-West, the upper Artibonite, the Central Plateau, and the North-East and a few areas in the Southeast and La Gonâve are still suffering from a rainfall deficits (Figure 1). Certain areas like Anse-Rouge in the upper Artibonite, Bombardopolis in the North-West, and the municipality of Anse-a-Galets in La Gonâve have been dry for the past six months.

    Farmers reacted positively to the good rainfall in many areas by proceeding to plant crops.  According to local technicians, 10 to 15 percent of the bean crops planted by farmers In the South-East Department are in the seed-setting stage, with the rest in various stages of growth and development, and an estimated 40 percent of cropping areas in this department has already been planted in crops. Crop planting activities on the southern coast are much more advanced and farmers are showing more enthusiasm than in 2014, when harvests were rather poor. Expecting a better rainy season this year, in addition to beans, they are also planting maize, pigeon peas, peanuts, sorghum, yams, and cassava. Farming activities in this area started up at the end of March. There are ongoing crop planting activities in all other areas where the rainy season has gotten underway in varying stages of progress depending on the area. Farmers in areas where the rains are running late are engaged in land preparation work, anticipating rains to begin shortly.   

    Labor. Certain parts of the country have a good supply of available labor for the performance of farm work, while farmers in other areas are having difficulty hiring workers. There are no such hiring problems on the southern coast, particularly in Tiburon, Les Anglais, and Chardonnières, where workers are paid a daily wage of as much as 100 gourdes for a six-hour work day. In contrast, there is an increasingly scarce supply of labor in the South-East and many other parts of the country. This explains the increasingly high cost of labor, with workers earning 150 gourdes for half a day of work, from 8:00 am to noon. The shortage and resulting high cost of labor could affect the size of cropped areas and the volume of crop production at harvest time. The reason for this is the large numbers of youths choosing to migrate to large cities or the Dominican Republic in search of a better life, finding it more advantageous from both an economic and a physical standpoint to drive motorbike taxis, shine shoes, and engage in petty trade in the city. Moreover, farmers are in no position to offer farm workers higher wages without raising the selling prices of their crops, but with imports selling at much lower prices than locally grown crops, they have very little maneuvering room.

    Farm inputs. Many of the country’s better-off farmers use seeds from previous harvests, though most are forced to make do with whatever they can find on grain markets. However, with the limited volume of crop production in 2014, estimated at approximately half the figure for the reference year (2009), the price of seeds is unusually high, forcing farmers in general and the poorest farmers in particular to spend more to secure a supply of seeds. The price of maize on the Jérémie, Hinche, and Jacmel markets, for example, rose by 33, 31, and 21 percent, respectively, between March 2014 and March 2015. Cuttings for certain types of crops like sweet potatoes, yams, and cassava are hard to come by. There are very few available sweet potato cuttings in certain parts of the South and South-East especially hard hit by the 2014 drought. This could undermine the food security of local populations, for which sweet potatoes are a source of both food and income.

    In addition, domestic market supplies of chemical fertilizer, which is in high demand, particularly in rice-growing and market gardening areas like the Artibonite Valley, the Les Cayes Plains, St Raphael, and Kenscoff, are extremely limited. Of the 20,000 to 30,000 metric tons of chemical fertilizer generally available on the market at this time of year, only 8,000 MT are expected to be made available for this season. Thus, prices are likely to increase substantially, as was the case in 2014 when a 100 pound bag of fertilizer was selling for anywhere from 800 to close toy 2000 gourdes, even with the government subsidy.

    There is an available supply of water for irrigation in the Artibonite Valley, which produces more than 75 percent of the country’s rice supplies, but irrigation infrastructure is in need of maintenance. Approximately 70 kilometers of banks are in need of repair and drainage ditches need to be cleared. The number of tractors, which was already inadequate, is presently down to 12. If these problems are not solved immediately, there will be large shortfalls in rice production in the Artibonite Valley, particularly in downstream areas like Grande-Saline, Desdunes, and Estère.

    Expected assistance from the Ministry of Agriculture and partner organizations. For years, the Ministry of Agriculture, FAO, and a number of NGOs have been providing farmers with sizeable amounts of assistance to help make their growing seasons a success. The Ministry of Agriculture will spend 90 million gourdes on procurements of chemical fertilizer.  Farmers will pay only 50 percent of the real cost of this input on local markets. However, from 50,000 MT in 2009, supplies of this product went down to 20,000 MT in 2014 and will be limited to only 8,000 metric tons in 2015. The Ministry will also supply 410 metric tons of bean seeds, which are already being distributed in Grand’Anse and the Artibonite. Needs for seeds are estimated at 11,000 MT of pulses and 12,000 MT of cereals. FAO will furnish 7421 farmers in the North-West with approximately 56 metric tons of pulses.  

    Livestock production. Except in certain parts of the South-East and North-West where livestock were severely affected by the dry spell between November and April, according to data coming in from other areas, their physical condition is stable. Prices have inched downwards in Grand‘Anse, where households have been forced to sell animals in order to buy seeds. In contrast, prices for goats in the South-East have been driven up by a growing demand from the Dominican Republic.

    Humanitarian assistance. Five years after the January 12th earthquake, the number of nongovernmental organizations providing services to the Haitian population has dropped off sharply. The more well-known NGOs still have a field presence, but their services have been cut back considerably compared with the scale of their operations prior to the earthquake. However, new projects are being implemented in many parts of the country such as the upper Central Plateau area, the Northwest, La Gonâve, and certain municipalities in the South-East, where poor households are receiving monthly food vouchers. The AVANSE and PTTA projects in the North and North-East are still operating and the WINNER 2 project by USAID in the West Department is expected to start up very shortly. WFP is providing hot meals to more than 400,000 public school students in North, North-East, Artibonite, Central, and West Departments. OCHA, backed by the Haitian government and U.N. agencies, has launched a transitional appeal (TAP) requiring US$ 401 million in funding for 2015-2016. The TAP will address any remaining unmet humanitarian needs engendered by internal population displacements, the cholera outbreak, and food and nutritional insecurity. On the other hand, the safety-net programs mounted by the Haitian government have been inoperative since December 2014. 

    Food prices. The string of dry spells beginning in May 2014 has severely affected crop production in nearly all parts of the country. Harvest assessments by the CNSA (Coordination Nationale de Sécurité Alimentaire) and its partners revealed shortfalls of 50 percent or more in crop yields, depending on the crop. This has created a sizeable gap between supply and demand for locally grown foods.

    There have been sharp rises in the prices of black beans, one of the most widely consumed pulses and the main source of protein for poor households, even in major farming areas for this crop. These price increases are even more striking when compared against the five-year average (for 2010-2014). For example, prices on the Jacmel, Jérémie, and Hinche markets rose by around seven percent, 33 percent, and seven percent, respectively, between February and March 2015, but are above the five-year average (for 2010-2014) by 31, 43, and 33 percent, respectively. Prices for this commodity will, most likely, continue to shoot up through the month of April and into the middle of May, driven by the growing demand for seeds for ongoing crop planting activities. The next harvest will get underway towards the end of May.

    Trends in prices for maize meal, another important staple food, vary from one market to another. Prices on the Port-au-Prince, Ouanaminthe, and Cap-Haitien markets were stable between February and March, but rose by 40 and 10 percent, respectively, during the same period on the Jérémie and Hinche markets.

    Prices for imports are more stable than those of locally grown commodities. Prices for imported rice, vegetable oil, sugar, and wheat flour were extremely stable for the entire first quarter of 2015, but fluctuations in the prices of commodities like vegetable oil, sugar, and wheat flour since March 2014 vary from market to market. Thus, the price of vegetable oil has dropped by approximately eight percent since March 2014 on the Port-au-Prince market and by a similar margin in Jacmel since that same time. In contrast, the price of vegetable oil on the Cap-Haitien market is up by eight percent compared with figures for March 2014, while prices for wheat flour on the Port-au-Prince, Hinche, and Jérémie markets are up by 11, six, and 12 percent, respectively, from March 2014.

    Apparently, this price behavior is a reflection of trends in world market prices. In fact, the FAO food price index shows a slight downward trend in prices for cereals and vegetable oil and an especially sharp decline in the price of sugar. The already large world-wide inventories and good global production levels in 2014 have boosted food supplies and brought down prices. The rises in the prices of certain imported commodities since March 2014 could be attributable to the sharp depreciation in the value of the Haitian gourde against the U.S. Dollar, with the exchange rate going from approximately 45 gourdes per dollar to nearly 48 gourdes between March 2014 and March 2015.   


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

    • The rainy season is expected to get off to an erratic start. This assumption is supported, in particular, by the forecasted 80 percent probability of an El Niño to develop in April, May, and June. The materialization of these conditions will have unfortunate effects on the growth and development of spring crops, and could result in the volume of crop production reduced by as much as 50 percent.
    • This year’s hurricane season from June through September is not expected to be very active, producing only three hurricanes, including one major hurricane. However, while the probability of the country being hit by a hurricane this season is relatively low, based on the high degree of vulnerability of at-risk areas, a hit by even a minor hurricane will cause heavy losses, including losses of human lives.
    • Smaller cropped areas. The repeated dry spells causing shortfalls in crop production for the past few years could reduce the size of areas normally planted in crops by farmers. The high cost of farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizer and the growing detachment of actors previously supplying inputs and other forms of technical assistance could mean larger cutbacks in the size of cropped areas and larger shortfalls in national crop production.
    • Plentiful supply of fruit as of June. The dry season, underway since December, has helped spur the flowering of mango trees. The plentiful harvests expected between May and June will serve as a source of both food and income for all households, including very poor households.
    • Suspension of funding for certain government projects. The expected slow growth of the economy in 2015 (by approximately 2.5 percent), the large expenditures on the elections, the political uncertainty discouraging investment, and the smaller than expected government revenues could mean the cancellation of many ongoing job-creating projects across the country. Already suspended social programs such as direct cash transfer programs for poor households could stay that way for the entire outlook period.
    • Volatility of the Haitian gourde. With the measures taken by the National Bank of Haiti (BRH) to shore up the gourde, it is highly unlikely that it will depreciate to the point of negatively impacting prices for imported foods.
    • Higher prices for locally grown foods. The downward trend in prices for locally grown crops such as beans and maize through December/January reversed itself, with prices moving upwards as of February. With the heavy losses in 2014 tightening supplies of local crops, prices will continue to climb until the upcoming bean harvest in May and maize harvest in July. Thus, June prices are likely to be up by as much as 10 percent from the month of March.
    • Humanitarian assistance. While much less visible on the ground for more than two years, there is still a humanitarian presence in certain areas such as the North-West, the Central Plateau, La Gonâve, and the South-East, but the number of beneficiaries is sharply reduced, generally limited to no more than 5,000 households per department. The ongoing Development Food Assistance Program (DFAP) funded by USAID known as the Kore Lavi project, together with other projects in the North and North-East, will help slow the deterioration in the food security situation of poor households within their service areas, but will not affect their food security classification on the IPC scale.
    • The year 2015 is a general election year across the country. These elections will cause disturbances disrupting the free movement of goods and services. All other things being equal, this will mean a loss of income for poor households, for which every day without working is a day without food, particularly during the lean season (April through June) when market purchase is practically their sole source of food.
    Most likely food security outcomes

    It has been raining since March in practically all areas on the Southern Peninsula and in large parts of West Department, the lower Artibonite, the lower Central Plateau area, and the North. Ongoing farming activities in these areas are creating jobs, which are helping very poor households get through the lean season. The food security situation of many of these households is Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and will stay that way through June, but should improve between July and September.

    Farmers in other areas are apprehensive about embarking on the spring growing season. The erratic start of the rainy season and limited investments by traditional actors are troubling. Crop planting activities in certain parts of the North-East, the Central Plateau area, the South-East, the upper Artibonite, and the upper Central Plateau area could not get started until the middle of April. This is particularly worrisome with the rains tending to end by the beginning of June for the past few years. Farm workers, mostly from very poor households, do not have many other options. Gainful on-farm employment, accounting for over 50 percent of the annual income of very poor households in most parts of the country, should peak between April and May. In addition, these households have been coping with an earlier than usual lean season since March, which has left them virtually entirely dependent on market purchase as their sole source of food. More than a few will be forced into selling livestock. Others will resort to cutting down trees (depleting soil and water resources) or to labor migration as a source of income. However, these measures could be counter-productive, stripping them of their assets in the short or medium-term, without providing the 2100 kilocalories of energy needed to ensure their survival. The large majority of these very poor households, which make up over 40 percent of the population of these areas, are currently facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security conditions.

    The situation in areas still in the throes of a long dry spell is not expected to improve anytime in the next few months, even with good levels of rainfall helping to jump-start farming activities. Very poor households stripped of their assets will be forced to use part of their income to purchase farm inputs. Their food security situation could actually deteriorate, particularly in the case of households in semi-arid areas of the South-East, the North-East, the Artibonite, the North, and the North-West affected by the loss of their 2014 crops. These households will likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in May and June. The picking of fruits (mangoes, breadfruits, and other fruits such as pomegranates) beginning in the middle of June, the July harvests, household crop production, and the decline in food prices on local markets will all help improve the food access of very poor households, easing their food insecurity back down to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) levels through September 2015.

    For more information on the outlook for areas of concern, please click on the link above to download the complete report. 


    Figures Current food security outcomes, April 2015

    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, April 2015

    Source: FEWS NET

    Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Figure 2

    Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) Anomaly, April 16-25, 2015

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) Anomaly, April 16-25, 2015

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 2. Trends in black bean prices on the Les Cayes, Jérémie, and Port-au-Prince markets, compared with the five-year aver

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. Trends in black bean prices on the Les Cayes, Jérémie, and Port-au-Prince markets, compared with the five-year average and 2014 (as of March 2015).

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5


    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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