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High food prices and low incomes will increase Crisis outcomes through at least June 2016

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Haiti
  • February - September 2016
High food prices and low incomes will increase Crisis outcomes through at least June 2016

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Partner
    Key Messages
    • Severe dryness associated with El Niño in 2015 caused crop losses across much of the country and resulted in national crop production totaling less than 50 percent of the five-year average. While still present, the El Niño conditions are weakening. According to the forecast models of various weather centers, there should be average to above-average levels of rainfall between February and September 2016.

    • Agricultural households in certain communes in Nippes, Nord-Est, Sud-Est, Ouest, Nord-Ouest, and Sud Departments will face difficulty obtaining needed inputs for the spring growing season, due to lower than usual income and high seed prices. This could reduce the size of normally cropped areas by 20 to 30 percent.

    • Food prices are remain above average, particularly for locally produced foods following poor crop production in 2014 and 2015. As of January 2016, the price of maize meal, one of the main crops grown in Haiti, was from six to 120 percent above the five-year average. On the other hand, prices for imports such as rice are relatively stable despite the continued depreciation of the Haitian Gourde (HTG) against the U.S. Dollar (USD). 

    • Many communes in Sud-Est, Ouest, Nord-Ouest, upper Artibonite, Centre, Nord-Est Departments and on the Southern Peninsula will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through June 2016. Improved harvests in 2016 compared to 2015 will likely result in improvements in food security from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in many areas.

    National Overview

    Current situation

    The food security situation in Haiti throughout 2015 and in the first two months of 2016 was affected in large part by the impact of the El Niño phenomenon on crop production. The El Niño-induced drought triggered losses of crops in all parts of the country, limiting food availability and resulting in high increases in prices for locally grown food crops.

    In addition, the election crisis since last August has created an unhealthy business climate, which is limiting both public and private investment. The combined effects of these shocks are weakening the country’s macroeconomic situation, accelerating the deterioration in the food security situation of very poor households.

    Climatic hazards. The El Niño phenomenon remained active during both growing seasons for 2015, with the lowest rainfall in 30 years across most areas during the spring season, and resulted in significant dry spells throughout the year. There were water shortages in virtually all parts of the country, particularly on the Southern Peninsula and the Central Plateau and in the Sud-Est, Nord-Ouest, upper Artibonite, Nord-Est, and Ouest Departments. Rainfall levels in most of these areas were at barely 50 percent of figures for 2014, which, themselves, were below average.

    One of the main effects was a drop in surface water levels and a sharp reduction in the discharge of rivers. A comparative study by the National Water Supply and Sanitation Bureau (DINEPA) puts the level of the water table in 2015 as much as 50 percent lower than in 2010. The growing cycle of bean crops planted between December and February in many parts of Sud-Est Department, for example, has been severely disrupted by the lack of water in irrigation canals.

    However, according to the NOAA, during the last 30 days there have been near-average levels of rainfall across the country, which have helped to improve soil moisture. In addition, all parts of the island have been reporting seasonal surpluses of over 50 mm since December 2015. Recent vegetation indexes such as the NDVI show average or above-average conditions in most areas with the exception of the Nord-Ouest and Nord-Est Departments, where conditions are reportedly below average (Figure 1). There were even reports of flooding in the Nord Department at the beginning of February, which helped considerably improve soil moisture conditions in that area. According to field officers with the CNSA (the Office of the National Food Security Coordinator), the municipality of Borgne got more than 500 mm of rain in a single week during this same period.

    Crop production was particularly affected by the drought. The sharp reduction in crop production, which is an important source of income for rural households, is severely affecting very poor households. The assessment of the spring growing season by the CNSA and its partners estimated losses for 2015 at 70 percent compared with production figures for 2014. National maize production, for example, was estimated at 107,600 metric tons, down from 159,600 MT in 2014, or 39 percent below the five-year average. Likewise, the volume of bean production for 2015 was estimated at 56,600 metric tons, down from 100,600 MT in 2014, a drop of approximately 44 percent. Beans and maize are the two main cereals and pulses grown in Haiti.

    Yields of other crops such as tubers (sweet potatoes, yams, malanga, and cassava) and bananas were down by an estimated 50 percent from 2014. In addition to the effects of the drought on crops across the country, yellow aphids and cochineal mealybugs ravaged sorghum fields in many communes in the Ouest, Centre, Nippes, and Sud Departments. In general, over 80 percent of sorghum crops are harvested in the month of February, which normally helps ease the severity of the lean season, which usually runs from April to June. The result is a loss of potential income for very poor households at a time when they are generally able to find gainful employment in the sorghum harvest.

    With the limited volume of crop production, local markets have become virtually the only source of food in practically all departments with the exception of the lower Artibonite and a few communes in Nord Department, on the Les Cayes Plain, and in Torbeck, where irrigation systems are maintaining more or less adequate levels of production.

    The El Niño-induced drought is having less of an effect on livestock-raising activities than on crops. In many areas, the crop residues are being used as forage. There are still surface water sources serving as animal watering holes. The practice of free-range grazing during the dry season began much sooner than usual in the worst drought-stricken areas (particularly Anse-à-Pitres). Animals in other areas such as Nord and Artibonite Departments are still in good physical condition.

    Trends in food prices. In general, prices for locally grown crops such as maize and beans had been relatively stable or, in some cases, edging downwards on certain markets, before starting to climb in February. However, prices for these crops are above the five-year average on all markets.

    Maize is grown in all livelihood zones and consumed by a large majority of the Haitian population. With the small volume of production in the last two years, the price of maize has been steadily rising on most markets. Prices on the Gonaïves and Port-au-Prince markets jumped by 10 percent and 16 percent, respectively, between December 2015 and January 2016. However, after steadily increasing by 200 percent between January and December 2015, maize prices on the Jérémie market fell 33 percent between December 2015 and January 2016. This was very likely attributable harvests, even if limited, of breadfruit, tubers, beans, and pigeon peas.

    The high demand for beans, which are one of the main sources of protein for poor households, and their limited availability on local markets due to the consecutive poor harvests and the restrictive measures imposed on imports from the Dominican Republic by the Haitian government are responsible for the relatively high level of bean prices. Movements in bean prices between December 2015 and January 2016 were more or less in line with trends in previous years, though well above the five-year average and figures for January 2015 by as much as 50 to 125 percent. Bean prices on the Fond-des-Nègres and Jérémie markets dropped by 6.5 percent and 14 percent, respectively, driven down by January harvests of pigeon peas and beans in near-by mountain areas. Many households choose to eat green pigeon peas at that time of year, particularly in December and January, which causes bean prices to fall. On the other hand, prices on the Hinche and Jacmel markets rose by seven and 25 percent, respectively, between December and January. This rise in prices could be attributable to the severe drought in both these areas and to the Haitian government’s trade policies. 

    January 2016 prices for all other locally grown food crops were also above the five-year average and January 2015 prices. According to on-site consultations with traders, a bunch of bananas previously purchased for 250 gourdes on the Jacmel market, for example, was selling for 350 to 400 gourdes in January 2016.

    The shortfall in national crop production is increasing the volume of imports and their share of market supplies. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Haitian imports for 2015 approached 400,000 metric tons, up from 350,000 metric tons in 2014, for example. Prices for these imports have risen only very slightly, except for the price of sugar, which is up by anywhere from 15 percent to 75 percent from January 2015, depending on the market. Prices for imported rice are still relatively stable on practically all markets. It is one of the main dietary staples for Haitian households. According to a study conducted in 2009 by FEWS NET in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and by the USDA at the nationwide level, it accounts for close to 20 percent of daily energy intake, followed by maize and vegetable oils, which, according to the USDA, account for 14 percent each.

    In spite of the accelerated depreciation in the value of the gourde since June 2015, prices for imported foods are still more or less stable. The explanation for this lies with the FAO food price index, which is at its lowest level in seven years due to high global food stocks, the slowdown in the world economy, and the strengthening of the U.S. dollar. All these factors have helped mitigate the effect of the depreciation of the Haitian gourde and keep prices for imported food crops stable.

    Demand for farm labor. Despite its seasonal nature, wage labor is the main source of income for very poor households. On average, it accounts for close to 40 percent of their income. There is typically a lull in demand in most areas between November and February, except in irrigation schemes, followed by a rebound in February/March, peaking in April/May. However, the drought conditions affecting crops and the damage caused by crop pests sharply reduced the demand for labor for this year’s January/February harvests. Nevertheless, according to information supplied by contacts in the field, there has been no change in normal pay rates, which still range from 100 to 150 gourdes per day, depending on the area. Farm workers in the municipality of Fond-Verrettes, for example, are being paid 100 gourdes in cash, plus a snack and a meal worth 25 to 50 gourdes for a day’s work. With the beginning of the rains, mainly in humid mountain areas, land preparation work, the establishment of seedbeds for vegetable production, and the planting of bean crops are starting to absorb part of the workforce.

    As rural households increasingly turn to market purchases in order to access staple foods, petty trade, which is already an important occupation, is playing an increasingly large role in the livelihoods of very poor households. This trend has been confirmed by discussions with contacts in the field and actual members of the local population. However, petty trading activities are so widespread that, in general, returns on investments are negligible. Those engaged in petty trade report oftentimes having earned virtually nothing whatsoever from these activities. Many even end up in debt, with small-scale traders generally end up using a small part of their own inventory.

    Driven by their crop losses, very poor households are attempting to intensify traditional activities such as taking in laundry for better-off households, driving motorbike taxis, and charcoal production. Others make unsolicited morning calls on better-off households offering to perform domestic work in the hope of receiving a little money or food upon their departure in the evening in return for their services. These activities all serve as a way to offset losses from poor crop production due to the El Niño-induced drought. 

    Deterioration in the sociopolitical climate. The country has been in the midst of an election crisis since August 2015, which is disrupting social as well as economic activities. Violent street demonstrations and an increase in crime fueled by the weakness of government institutions, among other factors, are creating a risk-averse attitude on the part of traders and consumers alike. The uncertainty created by the elections at the end of December and the potential for violence kept Haitian emigrants residing in North America and Europe from visiting the country during that period, unlike the case in previous years. This same scenario was repeated during the Carnival celebrations in February for the same reason: a fear of violence sparked by the election crisis. These visitors generally help drive the economy through their infusions of foreign exchange. As a result, the Haitian gourde, which normally gains strength against the dollar during this period, has been depreciating at an accelerated rate since June 2015.

    The drought and the election crisis happen to have coincided with the deterioration in the country’s macroeconomic situation. There have been large cutbacks in international assistance, which had provided some additional stability up until 2014. As of December, the general consumer price index had declined by 12.5 percent for the year. In addition, the value of the gourde against the dollar went from 46 gourdes per dollar in December 2014 to 60 gourdes as of December 2015. The uncertainty created by the announced elections in 2015 for economic operators virtually eliminated any prospect of growth for that year. The government had projected the growth rate at 4.3 percent, but the actual rate was a mere 1.7 percent, the lowest in ten years. In addition, the plunge in the international market price of a barrel of oil is threatening national budget funding. The national budget for 2014 was financed with the help of a 20 billion gourde loan from Venezuela as part of the Petrocaribe Accord. With the falling price of oil, the expected 10 billion gourdes from Petrocaribe for the 2015-2016 budget will not be available. According to economists with the Groupe Croissance, this budget deficit would affect government investment and, by extension, both growth and job creation in 2016. The government could reduce the amount of input assistance granted to farmers for this year’s spring growing season, at a time when they are particularly in need of assistance. This reduction is likely to reduce the area normally planted in crops.

    Nutritional situation. The Ministry of Health and UNICEF conducted a SMART survey over the period from November 4 through November 8, 2015 to assess the nutritional status of children between the ages of six and 59 months in 20 severely drought-stricken municipalities in Nord-Ouest, Artibonite, Centre, and Sud-Est Departments. The survey sought to produce representative data at the commune level. The nutritional assessment was based on measurements of mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) and determinations of the presence or absence of edema. According to the survey, four municipalities had a global acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalence of over 15 percent based on MUAC measurements (<125 mm). The municipalities in question were Fonds-Verrettes, Port-de-Paix, Anse-Rouge, and Bombardopolis. Two other municipalities, namely Jean Rabel and Belle-Anse, had GAM prevalences greater than 10 percent. Eight municipalities had a GAM prevalence under five percent and another five had prevalences ranging from 10 to 15 percent. The communes with high GAM prevalence were scattered across the country and other neighboring municipalities reported having much lower GAM prevalences.

    However, several methodological concerns should be noted. The survey measured only arm circumference and not height-to-weight ratios, which would have given the report much more credibility. In addition, weight calculations for the sample assumed a three percent non-response rate, which is standard for most surveys. However, the average non-response rate for the municipalities surveyed was actually 16 percent, and 11 of the 20 municipalities had non-response rates of over 15 percent. Such high non-response rates can affect the precision of the survey data and, bias the results, since non-respondents can vary from one household to another.

    Agricultural development. Large-scale development projects such as Feed the Future Haiti in the West, RESEPAG and AVANSE in the North, and others in the Sud Department continue to assist farmers in their respective service areas. The Ministry of Agriculture has a larger budget for the new fiscal year but, with the cancellation of the Petrocaribe agreement, these budget funds may not be available. To date, there are approximately 5,500 metric tons of fertilizer available for the spring growing season, compared with the usual 20,000 to 35,000 metric tons.

    The FAO is planning deliveries of assistance for a total of 10 communes in three departments. Approximately 13,000 households will be targeted for a distribution of drought-tolerant seeds for the spring growing season beginning in March/April. These beneficiaries will receive 58.5 metric tons of beans, 36.5 metric tons of pigeon peas, 30 metric tons of lima beans (dwarf variety), 6,750,000 potato cuttings, and 3,900,000 cassava cuttings. Given the scarcity and high cost of seeds in these target areas, their distribution by the beginning of the season will enable recipients to start the spring season without too much stress. AVSI, an Italian NGO, will furnish 2,300 rural households in the municipality of Aquin in Sud Department with farm input assistance, cash-for-work, and a safe drinking water supply for a period of 16 months beginning as of February 2016 with ECHO funding.

    Farmers in areas targeted for and effectively supplied with crop production assistance, including the distribution of farm inputs, will be able to plant regular cropping areas within the usual time frame. On the other hand, there is continuing uncertainty in areas with no expectation of receiving any such assistance. Area cropped in these areas could be less than 80 percent of normal.

    Humanitarian assistance. The extension of certain ongoing humanitarian assistance programs such as Kore Lavi to larger numbers of beneficiaries is helping to improve the food security of recipient households on the Central Plateau and in Sud-Est and Nord-Ouest Departments. International organizations such as USAID, ECHO, UNOCHA, the WFP, and the FAO are presently taking steps to strengthen their ongoing operations and mount new operations. The combined effects of these measures could help improve the nutritional status and livelihoods of recipient households in target areas of Sud-est and Nord-Ouest Departments, and on the Central Plateau.

    Foreign private remittances. The volume of private remittances from Haitian emigrants living abroad to family members back in Haiti is steadily increasing every year. These funds are not preventing continued depreciation, which has continued at a concerning rate, but they can at least help slow it down. Over US$100,000,000 are injected into the Haitian economy every month by the diaspora. There was an approximate nine percent increase in these remittances between December 2014 and December 2015, from US$160,000,000 to US$175,000,000. These funds are used to pay tuition fees for children and to cover the cost of food, goods, and various types of services.

    Cross-border deportations. Organizations active in the field of migration estimate the number of people expelled from the Dominican Republic to Haiti at approximately 60,000. Of this figure, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates there are approximately 2,900 people or 544 households living in a makeshift camp in Anse-à-Pitre. The IOM is working to relocate these households with US$2 million in funding from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).


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

    • The depreciation of the Haitian Gourde against the U.S. Dollar has accelerated since June 2015. The measures taken by the Central Bank have failed to stabilize the gourde or contain the rate of inflation. It is highly likely that the value of the gourde will continue to depreciate and that crop prices will continue to rise, weakening the effects of the response plan on food security.
    • NMME, IRI, ECMWF, and CariCOF forecasts and most forecast models for the period from February through June show average to above-average levels of cumulative rainfall (Figure 3). Moreover, the El Niño phenomenon will remain very strong through the end of March but could start to weaken between April and May. There is still a high probability that the first rainy season will get off to a timely start in March/April, which would help spur crop-planting activities in all parts of the country from the beginning of the season.
    • The political instability and current election crisis appear to be affecting the implementation of development programs funded by the international community. Even the installation of a new government does not guarantee the engagement of the international community, which could take a wait-and-see attitude towards the government’s policy stance. Already, certain nongovernmental organizations operating in certain parts of the country for years are reportedly starting to cut back their activities and lay off staff. This trend could affect future growing seasons to the extent that these organizations assist farmers within their areas of intervention.
    • The large shortfall in crop production for 2014 has sharply increased prices for locally grown food crops by anywhere from 50 to more than 80 percent since February 2015. With the even larger crop losses in 2015, current prices will very likely remain above average until the next harvest in July 2016 and could surpass 2015 levels. Based on the average to above-average rainfall forecast for the entire outlook period, prices are highly likely to come down significantly between July and September, which is when prices are typically at their lowest levels.
    • Close to 60,000 Haitians have returned from the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean countries. The elections scheduled for 2016 in the Dominican Republic may have contributed to the increasing numbers of expulsions, which is a policy generally applied by the Dominican government during election periods. The flagging demand for labor at this time of year will make it that much more difficult for these deportees with very little social capital in Haiti to find employment, who will join the ranks of the food-insecure in receiving areas such as Sud-Est, Nord-Est Departments, and the Central Plateau.
    • The SMART survey conducted by the Ministry of Health in November 2015 showed concerning levels of acute malnutrition among children between six and 59 months of age in certain municipalities especially hard hit by the drought in 2015. With the steady deterioration in food security conditions, the prevalence of acute malnutrition in these communes are likely to stay high or possibly even worsen between February and June.
    • Demand for farm labor. There is currently a much lower than normal demand for labor with the poor harvests in January and February. There should be a gradual rise in demand by the beginning of March, peaking sometime in April/May though staying lower than usual. Middle-income and better-off households will probably not have the means with which to plant as large an area as usual during the first growing season. Poor households earn more than 30 percent of their annual income from farm labor. There should be a sizeable improvement in demand for labor between August and September, during the second growing season. As is the case every season, very poor households will wait to receive part of their wages before planting their own fields, which they generally start to do a little late, running the risk of missing the rainy season. Based on the more positive rainfall outlook for both growing seasons, there is a high likelihood that very poor households will successfully farm their land and harvest crops.
    • The Central Bank has taken steps to reduce the money supply in circulation in an attempt to stabilize the exchange rate for the Haitian gourde. As a result, commercial banks have less liquidity with which to meet demand from their customers. This will tighten consumer credit and slow investment loans, which could affect economic activity, particularly job maintenance and creation.

    Most likely food security outcomes

    The failure of both main growing seasons in most crop-producing areas in 2015 exacerbated the already precarious food security situation after the heavy crop losses in 2014. According to the preliminary data emerging from a rapid assessment conducted by the CNSA in December 2015 in the worst drought-stricken areas, 72 percent of respondents reported having lost over 80 percent of their crops.

    Very poor households normally earn as much as 60 percent of their income from farming activities and own-produced foods account for 20 percent of their food consumption. Other sources of income such as charcoal production, fishing, and migration cannot fully make up for these reported crop losses.

    With their lower incomes, the higher prices of locally grown food crops are limiting food access for very poor households. Prices for imported foods have not been quickly rising but they are still relatively high. Households are resorting to borrowing and to the replacement of cereals with less expensive foods such as sweet potatoes, which may be less preferred.

    Based on all these factors, food security is unlikely to improve in areas already classified as in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between now and June 2016. Areas of Nippes, Nord-Est, Ouest, and Grand’Anse Departments that are classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) could deteriorate into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between February and June due to the long lean season and the expenses required to purchase inputs for the spring growing season. Food security conditions across the country should show some improvement by with harvests of spring crops in July, associated decreases in staple food prices, and sustained demand for labor during the second growing season in August and September. There will be significantly fewer people in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and parts of Ouest, Nord-Ouest, Sud-Est, Nippes Departments and the Central Plateau, currently classified in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, continued monitoring of the food security situation is essential. Ongoing surveys of food supplies and prices (CFSAM) and household surveys (EFSA) by the WFP, the FAO, the CNSA, the Ministry of Agriculture, FEWS NET, and their main partners and the long-awaited nationwide nutritional survey will shed more light on trends in the food security situation across the country.


    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar in a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, February 2016

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, February 2016

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) Anomaly, February 21-29, 2016

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) Anomaly, February 21-29, 2016

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 2. Port-au-Prince retail maize meal prices, HTG/6 lb. sack

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. Port-au-Prince retail maize meal prices, HTG/6 lb. sack

    Source: FEWS NET/CNSA

    Figure 3. NMME forecast of normalized precipitation anomalies for April through June 2016

    Figure 5

    Figure 3. NMME forecast of normalized precipitation anomalies for April through June 2016

    Source: CPC/NOAA

    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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