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Depleted food reserves and uncertainty over the Primera growing season

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • April 2015
Depleted food reserves and uncertainty over the Primera growing season

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  • Key Messages
  • Agricultural Production
  • Coffee Sector
  • Staple Grain Markets
  • Food Security Interventions
  • Projected Regional Outlook Through September 2015
  • Key Messages
    • According to the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), there is an 80 percent probability of continuing El Niño (ENSO) conditions over the period between May and July. The forecast for Central America for May through July 2015 by the XLV Central American Climate Outlook Forum is for below-normal to normal levels of rainfall in areas of regional countries within the Dry Corridor, affecting subsistence farming activities.

    • Movements in prices of staples (primarily maize and beans) are in line with normal seasonal trends for this time of year, but price levels are up from last year. Maize prices are expected to continue to rise over the next few months, while harvests of Postrera Tardía and Apante crops in the region should stabilize red bean prices by the end of the first half of the year, though at levels above figures for last year and the five-year average. 

    • Subsistence and infra-subsistence farming households, small coffee growers, poor households residing on coffee plantations, and peri-urban populations making a living from coffee will have the most difficulty overcoming problems with food insecurity. Of all regional countries, Honduras has the most households facing food insecurity between May and August, whose numbers are likely to climb with the expected damage to or losses of Primera crops based on current forecasts.





    Stabilization of red bean and maize prices at levels above figures for the same time last year.

    Decline in international coffee prices in the first quarter of 2015, affecting the household economy of coffee growers and day laborers across the region.

    Fires in coffee-growing and staple grain-producing areas.

    The small volume of crop production will trigger a seasonal rise in grain prices as of May, with prices liable to stay above figures for last year.

    Delays in the planting of crops for the Primera growing season in April and May or damage to these crops from anomalies in the start and establishment of the rainy season between May and July.

    Irregular flowering of coffee plants due to a poor distribution of rainfall.

    Agricultural Production

    The ENSO forecasts issued by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) in the middle of April indicate an 80 percent probability of the presence of El Niño conditions between May and July, which could mean below-normal levels of rainfall. According to the forecast for Central America for May through July 2015 emanating from the XLV Central American Climate Outlook Forum, there will be below-normal to normal levels of rainfall in areas of regional countries in the Dry Corridor. These rainfall forecasts could mean losses of Primera crops grown by subsistence farming households (between May and July), mainly in drought-prone areas of the Dry Corridor, with the region’s most fragile livelihoods.


    Rainfed Postrera Tardía maize and bean crops across the country were harvested at the end of March and the beginning of April. Crops in irrigated areas of Olancho and Valle del Aguán have not yet been harvested.

    To help improve staple grain supplies across the country, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG) is heading up an effort to establish demand and plan the production and distribution of improved seeds to farmers to help boost crop yields.

    The government has ruled out the need for any bean imports this season, having entered into production contracts with farmers who will cultivate approximately five thousand hectares of land equipped with irrigation systems. In addition to supplying technical assistance and basic farm inputs, the government will maintain a guaranteed price of HNL 1,000 per quintal of grain.

    Based on country-specific data from the weather outlook for Central America for May – July 2015 issued by the XLV Central American Climate Outlook Forum, average to slightly below-average levels of cumulative rainfall are expected in the month of May in nearly all parts of the country. Rainfall totals in areas on the northern slope of the mountains in the central, western, and southern parts of the country could be below the historical average. Quarterly cumulative rainfall totals in Francisco Morazán, Choluteca, Valle, and Ocotepeque departments, the southern reaches of Lempira and Intibucá departments, and the central and southern reaches of El Paraíso department are also expected to be below-average.


    In mid-April, the Ministry of Agriculture began delivering “farming packages” consisting of 22 pounds of certified maize seeds and 100 pounds of fertilizer to a target group of 400,000 farmers across the country. These packages represent savings of approximately USD 80 for recipient farmers on the cost of inputs for the planting of crops.

    To ensure that farmers have the best possible seeds for the growing of crops based on agro-climatic conditions in the country, the Ministry of Agriculture has been releasing new varieties of bean seeds such as CENTA-Chaparrastique, CENTA-Ferromás, Guazapa 1, La Presa-JF, and San Nicolás FP-01 through the National Center for Agricultural and Forestry Technology (CENTA) over the past few years, which have been distributed to farmers for use in the current growing season.

    Based on country-specific data from the outlook for Central America for May – July 2015 issued by the XLV Central American Climate Outlook Forum, rainfall totals in May and June in most parts of the country should be within the normal range, with the likelihood of some rainfall anomalies associated with the El Niño phenomenon, including a delay in the start of the rains in the eastern part of the country and a rainfall deficit from intermittent days without any rain in the first two months of the outlook period.


    The National Farmers’ and Cattlemen’s Union (UNAG) expects an eight to 10 percent boost in staple grain and livestock production for the 2015-2016 agricultural season compared with last year, which will help strengthen national food security and create an exportable surplus. This expected growth in production is due, in part, to the greater capacity of farmers to cope with rainfall anomalies and, in part, to their support by the national financial system through the provision of loans to micro, small, and medium-size farmers.

    UNAG estimates stocks of 20,000 quintals of INTA Sequía bean seeds for the growing of bean crops this season, to be distributed to farmers for the planting of Primera crops. This new variety of beans is expected to be resistant to the potential effects of the rainfall deficit associated with the El Niño conditions across the region based on current forecasts. The use of these seeds for the planting of Postrera and Apante crops could generate triple the estimated volume of production for the Primera growing season.

    Based on country-specific outlooks for Central America for May – July 2015 issued by the XLV Central American Climate Outlook Forum, rainy season conditions in the Pacific, northern, and central areas of the country are expected to normalize after May 20th, with below-normal levels of cumulative rainfall expected in the western part of the Pacific area,  the southwestern reaches of the Lake Nicaragua area, the North, and the South Atlantic Autonomous Region on the southern Caribbean coast.

    Coffee Sector

    EL SALVADOR: This year, the National Cooperative Business Association, formerly the Cooperative League of the United States of America (NCBA-CLUSA), will implement an assistance project for the coffee sector in El Salvador backed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help deal with its heavy losses. The plan is to design new production models as a basis for the development of a sustainable household economy, with the focus on revitalizing the coffee sector.  The project will bolster the trading and production of food crops such as red beans and chili peppers to promote the marketing of these crops while damaged coffee plantations are being rehabilitated.

    The “Cosechemos más Café”  (Let’s Grow More Coffee) project assisting two thousand small coffee growers launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is designed to help improve coffee production in the western part of the country and boost the incomes of coffee-dependent households. The project will have a USD 4 million budget funded by a public-private partnership of USAID, the Smucker's Group (a private business group), the PIMCO Foundation, and TechnoServe and is being supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, the Salvadoran Coffee Council, and other partners.

    Staple Grain Markets

    HONDURAS: The municipality of Choloma in Cortés department recently inaugurated a grain collection and storage center consisting of a battery of 11 silos with an initial storage capacity of 300,000 quintals scheduled to be increased to 550,000 quintals. The facility was built by private industry for the handling and storage of staple grain crops (maize, beans, and rice) to be purchased directly from farmers without the intervention of intermediaries, to help ensure an adequate supply of grain to meet domestic demand.

    Maize prices across the region are moving slowly but steadily upwards with the beginning of the low-production period in regional countries. This trend will continue over the short-term, picking up speed by mid-April. Prices are up from last year and above the five-year average.

    Bean prices across the region have stabilized with the flow of grain from crop-producing areas of Honduras with Postrera Tardía crops and areas of Nicaragua producing Apante crops, the control of price speculation, announced imports from outside the region, and possible new areas of irrigated crops in June.

    Food Security Interventions

    EL SALVADOR: The World Food Program (WFP) introduced a new mode of food assistance in late 2014 consisting of the distribution of food vouchers to beneficiaries of its Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) and the PROGRESANDO El Salvador project through which, as of April 2015, it had assisted approximately 8,000 households in the country’s 33 poorest municipalities affected by the coffee rust outbreak and the drought.

    Projected Regional Outlook Through September 2015

    In Honduras, losses in staple grain crops for three consecutive years, the steady rise in staple food prices for more than a year, and the limited job opportunities in coffee-growing activities will translate into Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) food security outcomes for the poorest households in communities in livelihood zones 7 (subsistence grains and remittances) and 5 (mountainous coffee-growing zone) between April and September, mitigated by humanitarian assistance. However, new rises in prices and their lack of food reserves with the failure of 2014 Primera crops will put small, extremely localized, groups of food-insecure households not reached by food assistance programs in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In addition, the predicted start-of-season anomalies for the 2015 rainy season could affect the planting of Primera crops which, in turn, could prolong food insecurity and expand it to other population groups.

    In Nicaragua, very poor subsistence farming households and households of day laborers and small coffee growers in livelihood zones 3 and 12 in the northern and northwestern reaches of the country will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes for the entire outlook period between April and September, triggered by the large losses of 2014 Primera crops, high grain prices on domestic markets, and limited employment opportunities, particularly in coffee-growing and livestock-raising activities. With their lack of food reserves, the rising market price of grain, and their limited job prospects and reduced incomes as a result of the new damage to coffee production from the rust fungus and rainfall deficit, poor households in localized areas of these livelihood zones could be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) levels of food insecurity between May and September.

    According to humanitarian assistance agencies, an estimated 3,000 children in the country’s Dry Corridor were suffering from malnutrition last year due to the effects of rainfall anomalies, resulting in the failure of crops. The Dry Corridor, which includes 33 of the country’s 153 municipalities, is the area of the country most vulnerable to the expected damage to this season’s crops, putting residents of this area in the same if not a worse situation this year.

    In El Salvador, households of small farmers in livelihood zones 2 and 3 in the eastern and western reaches of the country are experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1!) food insecurity with the help of humanitarian programs necessitated by the limited employment opportunities in the coffee sector, their lack of reserves, and the high market prices of staple grains, including food assistance from the government and international cooperation agencies. However, cutbacks in these food assistance programs, limited reserves, and rises in staple grain prices will create Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes for part of this population between April and September.

    Figures Figure 3. Probability of above-normal, normal, and below-normal levels of cumulative rainfall for May-July 2015

    Figure 1

    Figure 3

    Source: XLVI Central American Climate Outlook Forum

    Trends in wholesale grain prices in the capital cities of regional countries

    Figure 2

    Trends in wholesale grain prices in the capital cities of regional countries

    Source: Internal estimates based on official records

    Figure 3


    In remote monitoring, a coordinator typically works from a nearby regional office. Relying on partners for data, the coordinator uses scenario development to conduct analysis and produce monthly reports. As less data may be available, remote monitoring reports may have less detail than those from countries with FEWS NET offices. Learn more about our work here.

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