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Worsening food security outcomes in the context of drought and COVID-19

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Haiti
  • June 2020
Worsening food security outcomes in the context of drought and COVID-19

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Irregular and below-average rainfall since late March has slowed agricultural activities and delayed the development of crops throughout most of the country, with the exception of some irrigated areas in the Sud, Nord, Nord-Est, Ouest, Centre and Artibonite departments. This situation has disrupted the growing cycle of seasonal crops, especially beans and maize.

    • Poor spring harvests foreshadow below-average summer/fall and winter growing seasons, given the reliance on inputs from the first season. Although cumulative rainfall is forecast to be above average for this period, these growing seasons will produce below-average harvests.

    • Measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 are continuing to have an adverse effect on market functioning and remittances, impacting income and job opportunities throughout the country. In addition, the poorest households are finding it hard to access food because of the high prices of staple foods at a time when the national currency is continuing to weaken against the dollar and income has fallen below average.

    • The June/July harvests will marginally improve food security and access for very poor households because of expected declines in production, continuing inflation and the effects of COVID-19. Most of these households will remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during the outlook period.


    Current Situation

    COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Ministry of Public Health and Population (MSPP), there were over 5,000 recorded cases of COVID-19 in June 2020, along with 100 deaths and 800 recoveries (MSPP, 2020). Close to 80 percent of cases were recorded in the Ouest department, where the country’s three COVID-19 testing laboratories are located (in Port-au-Prince).

    The COVID-19 pandemic should be considered first and foremost an aggravating factor against the backdrop of the pre-existing situation in the country. Haiti is a low-income country with a health care system that lacks the resources necessary to cope with demand for COVID-19 prevention and treatment services. In addition, resources normally allocated to addressing food insecurity and vulnerability have been mostly redirected to COVID-19 control efforts. For instance, over 50 percent of the entire budget for the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) is allocated to COVID-19 control.

    In addition, as COVID-19 cases have been rising rapidly since May, the Haitian Government has opted to keep the measures to contain the spread of the virus in place until July. Measures such as restricting access to certain public spaces, limiting the number of passengers on public transportation, and reducing the number of market days are having an impact on income-generating activities and adversely affecting households’ access to food.

    Socio-political situation. The socio-political situation is calm at present, and restrictions on gatherings to contain the spread of COVID-19 are limiting the ability to hold demonstrations. The outlook remains unpredictable, however, amid persistent inflation and price rises, and the impending end of the Government’s term of office.

    Rainfall conditions. Cumulative rainfall between the end of March and the first dekad of June was below average, with irregular temporal and geographical distribution. The normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) (Figure 1) remains below average, despite the rainfall recorded in late May. Other than areas with irrigation systems (Les Cayes Plain, Camp-Perrin, Les Anglais in the Sud department, Artibonite Valley, Maribahoux Plain in the Nord-Est department, etc.), most of Haiti is experiencing prolonged water shortages, which is disrupting the growing cycle of spring crops in those areas that planted early. This situation is similar to the conditions experienced in 2019, when the drought caused production to decline by an estimated 12 percent (FEWS NET, Haiti: Supply and Market Outlook, September 2019). This year, the drought began earlier, and marks two consecutive years of low rainfall.

    Impact on seasonal agricultural production. Except for irrigated plains and semi-humid mountain areas, the temporal and geographical irregularity of rainfall has disrupted the normal development of spring crops and affected the launch of the spring growing season in dry, largely rain-fed agricultural zones. The first harvests were expected in departments such as Grand’Anse and Sud in May and June, but the ongoing drought and delayed crop growth have pushed back the harvests. In other areas, where the harvest normally starts in July, current ripening trends foreshadow a poor harvest. This situation is especially concerning in dry areas such as the south coast, coastal parts of Grand’Anse, Haut-Plateau, Haut-Artibonite, lowlands in Nord-Ouest, Nippes, and some areas of the Ouest department (Fond-Baptiste in the commune of Cabaret).

    Urban and regional markets. Despite the global COVID-19 pandemic, the domestic market remains well supplied with food products across all categories, especially imported food. No stock shortages have been observed to date. Staple food flows have remained largely unaffected by the restrictions, although the availability of some products that come exclusively from the Dominican Republic (such as condiments, oil, flour and other non-food goods and services) has been somewhat limited since the borders closed. As a result, prices have been on an upward trend during the period. Locally produced food is still in extremely limited supply, and in some cases even below average for this period, with the exception of bananas, mangoes, etc. However, the local and regional authorities are continuing to limit the number of market days and market opening hours to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Haiti. This is adversely affecting income.

    Price trends. Staple food prices have been rising for three consecutive months. The price of grain maize increased by almost 7 percent between April and May, from HTG 168.50 to HTG 180 per 6 lb pot. This situation is due to limited local supply of grain maize, especially in the Grand’Anse and Sud departments, which saw an atypically high price increase of close to 41 percent (by monthly average). Grain maize prices are currently around 80 percent higher than the 5-year average. Local black bean prices fell between May and June but are still 61 percent above the 5-year average. This appears to be the result of falling prices at some markets such as Hinche and Jacmel, where several black bean harvests have been observed. At markets in Les Cayes and Fonds-des-Nègres, most black beans come from Beaumont (Grand’Anse), where plantations have produced generally satisfactory harvests. Prices at these markets were down 20.2 percent and 13.5 percent on average.

    The price of imported rice remains well above the 5-year average, by 67 percent. The price has also increased by 12 percent since March, reflecting the continued weakening of the gourde against the US dollar and the high price of rice on the international market. Locally, a 6 lb pot is selling for around HTG 304, up from HTG 293 in April.

    Relatively modest price rises have been observed for other staple food products, such as cooking oil, wheat flour and sugar. For instance, prices of wheat flour and cooking oil increased by approximately 5.3 percent and 4 percent respectively between April and May. These two commodities are now selling for 21 percent and 31 percent more than they were one year ago, and for 51 percent and 65 percent above the 5-year average.

    Livestock conditions. In areas experiencing water shortages, a lack of water points and feed is causing the physical condition of animals, especially cattle, to deteriorate. As a result, their market value has decreased compared with last January. There have even been reports of some animals dying, particularly in Grand’Anse (Corail, Pestel, Anse-d’Hainault, etc.).

    Agricultural labor and other sources of income: Demand for labor is lower than usual due to the slowdown in economic activity, which has reduced farmers’ ability to fund the spring growing season and this year’s poor, late harvests. In addition, the supply of agricultural labor has increased with the influx of Haitian migrants from the Dominican Republic, school closures, and a decline in other income sources because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, income from what is a major source for the poorest rural households is below average. Moreover, migration yields limited income given the closure of the border with the Dominican Republic and the sanctions that impede the use of informal crossing points.

    The measures have also affected other formal and informal sectors in urban areas, especially the night-time economy and transportation, causing income to fall in these areas.

    According to the World Bank, foreign remittances to Haiti account for about 34 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), with over 50 percent of remittances coming from the United States and about 20 percent from the Dominican Republic. The slowdown in economic activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic in both countries is having a direct impact on the volume of remittances to Haiti and affecting the income sources of the relatively large group of households receiving these transfers. According to a World Bank estimate, the volume of remittances is over 9 percent lower this year (Dialogue, Migrants and the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Remittances, May 2020).

    In terms of malnutrition, the preliminary findings of the Standardized Monitoring and Assessment of Relief and Transitions (SMART) survey conducted last January by the MSPP, with the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), revealed a national increase in cases of malnutrition (weight-for-height) compared with the Mortality, Morbidity and Service Utilization Survey (EMMUS) survey in 2016/2017. There is now 6 percent prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM). At the departmental level, severe acute malnutrition (SAM) ranges from 0 percent (Nippes) to 1.3 percent (Nord-Est). However, the situation is more serious in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, where there is 6.5 percent prevalence of GAM and 2.5 percent prevalence of SAM.

    Impact on food security. Food security continues to be affected by inflation. In addition, while food security outcomes continue to be impacted by the residual effects of the socio-political crisis of last year and early this year, climatic conditions observed since the last dekad of March have severely disrupted the launch of the spring growing season and the normal development of seasonal crops. All of these issues come against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is heightening the vulnerability of most areas of the country. Demand for labor is below average, even in the run-up to the spring harvest and the start of the summer/fall season, because farmers are struggling to finance their growing seasons. Meanwhile, labor supply is high, inflated by the voluntary return of around 33,000 workers from the Dominican Republic, according to the Support Group for Refugees and Returnees (GARR). The poorest households are seeing their income from the sale of agricultural products and manual labor decline, while continued price rises for food products is eroding their purchasing power.

    In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic is making matters worse for households in vulnerable areas of the country. As well as prices that are already above average, the slowdown in market activity due to the restrictions is increasing the prices of certain products. High food prices and lower incomes caused, inter alia, by the closure or reduced activities of businesses and the decline in remittances from abroad, have reduced households’ purchasing power and thus their access to staple foods. Against this backdrop, the poorest households in some areas have no option but to resort to stress strategies just to maintain their current food consumption. These strategies include reducing non-essential expenditure, increasing food purchases on credit, consuming less preferred food, and reducing adult consumption to prioritize children. These areas are Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    In other areas that are more vulnerable to price shocks and drought, such as Nord-Est, Nord-Ouest, lowland communes in Nippes, some communes in Ouest (e.g. Gonâve, and Fond-Baptiste in the commune of Cabaret), Sud-Est (district of Belle-Anse) and along the south coast (Tiburon), households are more commonly adopting crisis strategies such as increasing the sale of charcoal and animals, and consuming seeds and foods low in nutritional value. They are therefore in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    The poorest households in urban areas, especially in Port-au-Prince, are facing food prices that are well above the 5-year average and that have risen even further in recent months. In addition, the current curfew and restrictions on travel and gatherings are adversely affecting informal income-generating opportunities and demand for paid labor. These households are Stressed (IPC Phase 2), while the poorest households (such as in Cité Soleil) are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).


    In light of the above, the most likely scenario for June 2020 to January 2021 is based on the following assumptions at the national level:


    • The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season began on June 1 and will last until November, covering the North Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. According to forecasts by the Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University (CSU), this year’s season is expected to be more active than normal, which will lead to above-average cumulative rainfall during the outlook period.


    • The Government’s measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 (closure of ports, airports and border crossings, support for online banking transactions, a debt holiday for businesses, social distancing, etc.) are expected to remain in place until July and to be eased gradually thereafter. The re-opening of the airport, expected on June 30, is a promising sign of a return to normal.

    Agricultural production

    • Overall, spring harvest yields will be 20–30 percent below average. Following low production from the main spring growing season, farmers will lack the financial capacity they need to fund the summer season, and total usable agricultural land will be limited even in the event of good rainfall conditions. The worst-affected areas will be dry zones with no irrigation systems.
    • Supply of inputs will be below normal for the summer/fall and winter growing seasons due to the below-average spring harvests.

    Sources of income

    • Labor supply will be above average because of the influx of Haitian migrants from the Dominican Republic and school closures.
    • Sales of charcoal will be average to below average due to potential government-imposed travel restrictions and a possible fall in demand for charcoal driven by the falling price of propane.
    • Migration to the Dominican Republic will be below average, but will depend on the course of the COVID-19 pandemic both domestically and globally.
    • Income from the sale of agricultural products will be below average because of below-average harvests.

    Prices and markets

    • Oil prices will continue to fall as a slowdown in economic activity in major importing and exporting countries continues to depress global demand.
    • The prices of imported products will increase as the domestic currency continues to weaken, and the prices of local products will follow the same trend as imported products.
    • Market supplies will continue to be disrupted because of tighter restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19, such as limits on the number of market days and market opening hours.

    Other assumptions

    • The socio-political situation will remain calm but unpredictable. Moreover, confusion around the end of the President’s term of office could breed uncertainty and bring the recent period of apparent calm to an end.
    • The gourde will continue to weaken against the US dollar and the Dominican peso, depreciating at a rate faster than last year and above normal. At present, the gourde is trading at close to 2 Dominican pesos in border areas, and will continue to lose value.
    • Inflation will continue throughout the outlook period, following the same trend as the exchange rate.
    • Various sources, including the Bank of the Republic of Haiti (BRH) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), predict that foreign remittances will be 10 percent lower than last year because of the sharp slowdown in global economies, especially the United States and the Dominican Republic.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The period from June to September coincides with the spring harvests, which will have a limited impact on acute food insecurity for poor and very poor households. Production from this growing season will be below average because of farmers’ limited investment capacity (less land planted this season) and the prolonged water shortage experienced in most productive areas. However, harvests from the spring growing season will temporarily improve the food security situation for poor households and will go some way to stabilizing market prices, especially in irrigated areas where the production outlook is average. High commodity prices and below-average incomes will continue to negatively affect households’ access to food. As a result, the poorest households will continue to resort to the above-mentioned crisis strategies. In this context, most areas of the country are expected to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    The second part of the outlook period, from October 2020 to January 2021, coincides with the harvest for the summer/fall growing season and the start of the winter growing season. This includes beans and maize in irrigated plains and humid mountain areas, as well as roots, tubers and bananas. It also coincides with the harvest of seasonal crops such as pigeon peas, lima beans and cowpeas. Despite favorable agroclimatic conditions, these growing seasons, which represent only a small contribution to national agricultural production, will be adversely affected by losses from the spring season. As a result, households will continue to source most of their food from markets. In addition, given the strong supply of agricultural labor, income-generating activities will be unable to absorb the surplus observed since the border closure to contain the spread of COVID-19 on both sides of the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The income of the poorest households will once again be below average. In these circumstances, the poorest households will continue to use coping strategies to meet their food needs. Although there may be a reduction in the number of food-insecure households following the summer/fall growing season harvests and a resumption of economic activity in the run-up to the end-of-year celebrations, most areas of the country will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Increased socio-political unrest

    The escalation of violence would likely disrupt the current functioning of the economy and markets. This would lead to a decrease in food availability and access, forcing more households to adopt negative coping strategies. As certain coping strategies are depleted, food consumption deficits could emerge. Thus, more areas and households could be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).


    Substantial improvement in the situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

    If the pandemic stabilizes, both globally and locally, the volume of incoming remittances should increase significantly and households could resume informal income-generating activities. Sources of income could also return to normal. This would reduce the number of people and areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Production zones

    A hyperactive hurricane season

    Flooding in rice, maize and bean production areas could cause substantial losses of summer/fall crops, damaging the livelihoods of the poorest households.


    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1


    Figure 3


    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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