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Very poor households affected by drought and low income will be in Crisis until Primera harvests

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • April 2016
Very poor households affected by drought and low income will be in Crisis until Primera harvests

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  • Key Messages
  • Climate outlook
  • Staple food markets in the region
  • Humanitarian assistance
  • Coffee sector
  • Projected regional outlook through September 2016
  • Key Messages
    • The poorest subsistence farming households and households of small coffee growers and on-farm wage laborers in southwestern Honduras, eastern and western El Salvador, and the Northern Pacific and North-Central regions of Nicaragua will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) between April and September due to the seasonal decline in employment and several consecutive years of rainfall deficits affecting crop production, including the major crop losses in 2015 due to the drought caused by El Niño.

    • Households most affected by these anomalies currently have no household reserves of staples, at a time when food prices experience a seasonal increase and job opportunities in farming and livestock-raising activities and availability of wild foods are at seasonal lows. In addition, there is limited access to water for human consumption in certain localized areas.

    • Last year’s rainfall anomalies had a direct impact on coffee production, as reflected by the incomplete filling of coffee beans and uneven ripening of coffee plants (with some ripening early, others delayed, and still others failing to ripen altogether). At the same time, coffee prices on the international market fell by more than 30 percent between October 2014 and the beginning of the 2015/2016 season, affecting the incomes of small coffee growers and day laborers. 

    • The limited sources of surface and underground water are putting the water supply for human consumption at risk, driving up morbidity rates for the region’s poorest households, particularly at the end of the dry season (in April/May), when temperatures are at their peak.  







    Subsistence farmers and day laborers in areas within the Dry Corridor have neither staple reserves nor jobs providing them with the financial means with which to meet their food needs.


    The poor distribution of rainfall in December and January reduced yields of Apante bean crops in Nicaragua by more than 25 percent.


    Rivers, lakes, and wells are reportedly low or have dried up altogether, limiting water availability for human consumption and crop and animal production.


    Seasonal trends in crop production are driving up maize and bean prices, affecting the most vulnerable households dependent on market purchases for their food supplies for an extended period. 



    According to regional meteorological services, there is a high risk of rainfall anomalies in the first few weeks of the rainy season, at which time there will be damage to crops in certain areas across the region from a lack of rain during developmental stages.


    The shortfalls in bean production for the Apante growing season in Nicaragua could help drive up prices in other countries of the region, for which this harvest serves as an important source of supply at this time of year.   


    The high temperatures and the low levels or drying up of water sources will force vulnerable households to allot more resources to obtaining water, making it difficult to meet other basic needs, including food needs.



    Climate outlook

    The El Niño is currently in its weakening phase. According to the forecast released by the IRI (International Research Institute) on April 14th, there is a high likelihood (56 percent) of  a return to neutral conditions between May and July. However, this transition poses a high risk of a poor spatial-temporal distribution of rainfall, which could adversely affect crops. The regional consensus-based forecast for May through July by the Forty-Ninth Central American Climate Outlook Forum is predicting average to below-average levels of cumulative rainfall across the region (Figure 3).

    Forecasts predict periods of high temperatures, which could reach record high temperatures in many areas of the region, causing losses in agricultural activities, particularly losses of short-cycle crops such as staples due to extended dry spells or high levels of evapotranspiration caused by high temperatures.

    Forecasts for eastern and coastal areas of El Salvador are predicting that the rainy season will get off to a late, erratic start. Rainfall conditions in Honduras for the three-month period from May through July 2016 are expected to be close to climatic norms. There will likely be a poor distribution of rainfall in Nicaragua, particularly in the month of May. Experts in that country believe that the most likely scenario will be marked by below-normal levels of cumulative rainfall between May and July in the Southern Pacific Zone, the Northern Region, the North Atlantic Autonomous Region, and the Central Region.

    Water levels in major watersheds are lower than usual as a result of the effects of El Niño. Thus, cattle farmers in major watersheds (Lempa in El Salvador; Ulúa, Patuca, Aguan, and Choluteca in Honduras; and Coco, Matagalpa, and Prinzapolka in Nicaragua) are forced to look for a better supply of pasture or options for moving their herds in order to ensure their survival. The situation is expected to become even more critical by mid-April, until the rains start back up, particularly in communities in the lower reaches of watersheds where the levels of rivers have been unduly low since January.

    In Nicaragua, riverbeds have been drying up since the beginning of the year. As of mid-March, most secondary rivers had run dry, and even the largest rivers in lower watershed areas had slowed or dried up, causing water levels in area wells to drop or the wells to run dry and forcing local households to expend more energy on securing a supply of water for human consumption, which is often contaminated. The desperate search for water for livestock herds is another issue. The shortage of water is causing diseases and stress from which it is difficult to recover, making it necessary to sell off animals before they become ill or die. Water levels in rivers, lagoons, and wells had fallen or these water sources had run completely dry by the middle of February in communities within the Dry Corridor, including the municipalities of Chinandega, Madriz, Estelí, Nueva Segovia, Boaco, and Matagalpa. Another currently highly visible indicator which had not been discernible or prevalent in previous years in these communities is the death of wild animals.


    Staple food markets in the region

    In general, staple food prices on major markets have followed a similar pattern in the countries of the region.


    There has been a seasonal increase in maize prices since January, but only in Nicaragua are prices up from last year by more than 30 percent. Domestic supplies are reportedly beginning to be depleted, putting more pressure on intra-regional trade.

    The survey conducted in mid-March in staple-producing areas of Honduras (producing mostly maize) showed major damage to crops from rainfall deficits in high-production areas of the municipality of Concepción del Sur and other neighboring municipalities with large tracts of land planted in crops for the Postrera Tardía growing season (from November through March). According to interviews with local farmers, the extent of the damage could exceed 90 percent of expected crop production from the harvest at the end of March.

    Red beans

    While bean prices across the region for March 2016 were below prices for March of last year and on par with the five-year average, a comparison with the previous month showed rises of anywhere from five to 18 percent, suggesting that inventories had begun to drop. Prices are expected to continue to rise on account of the anticipated smaller than usual harvest of Apante crops, which is the region’s main source of supply at this time of year.

    In Nicaragua, this season’s Apante bean crops were affected by the rainfall anomalies in December and early February, damaging crops in the flowering and pod-filling stages. This year’s losses are expected to reach 25 percent, impacting prices as inventories across the country are gradually depleted.

    In Honduras, the bean production forecast for 2016 by the Ministry of Agriculture (SAG) is for three million quintals of miscellaneous varieties of beans, which is 20 percent above the figure for last year. The government is maintaining its support price of HNL 1,000 per quintal of red beans as a production incentive.


    This year, domestic demand for rice in regional countries will be met by national harvests and international market supplies following the price agreements reached by farmers with the industry for the purchasing of broken rice from local harvests, under which anticipated deficits in each country may be covered, in advance, by authorized imports subject to tariff quotas.

    Humanitarian assistance

    Honduras: The World Food Program (WFP) and the Government of Honduras, through the intermediary of the Commission for the Prevention of Emergencies (COPECO) and with 75 percent of program funding supplied by the United States Embassy in Honduras, are operating an assistance program for approximately 26,000 drought-affected households. Target households are receiving USD 75 per month for a three-month period (a total of USD 225) to rebuild their livelihoods and prevent a deterioration in their nutritional situation. This assistance for drought-affected households is being furnished in the form of redeemable vouchers and cash transfers made through banks and cooperatives and by cell phone. An estimated six percent of the food-insecure population could be covered by food assistance programs through the month of June.

    The United States Government, through the WFP, has allotted the sum of USD 2.3 million for the year 2016 to an assistance program serving 10,408 drought-affected households in five departments. The program will distribute 170 metric tons of Super Cereal Plus, a food and nutrition supplement enriched with proteins, vitamins and minerals, to children under five years of age at risk of malnutrition. The target population will consist of 9,298 boys and girls in 44 municipalities in the five departments in question.

    According to assessments by the government and international cooperation agencies, the population affected by the 2015 drought is concentrated in 146 municipalities in 12 departments, namely Comayagua (nine municipalities), Copán (nine municipalities), Choluteca (15 municipalities), El Paraíso (12 municipalities), Francisco Morazán (19 municipalities), Intibucá (eight municipalities), La Paz (17 municipalities), Lempira (22 municipalities), Ocotepeque (15 municipalities), Olancho (eight municipalities), Valle (seven municipalities), and Yoro (five municipalities).

    El Salvador: The government of El Salvador is providing food assistance to approximately 98,000 drought-affected residents of vulnerable municipalities (Ahuachapán, Santa Ana, Usulután, San Miguel, and Morazán) through the Ministry of Health and the WFP. This three-month initiative will run from March through May of 2016, providing recipients with vouchers redeemable for a food basket in local shops and supermarkets. At the same time, the Ministry of Health and the WFP are also implementing the “Nutrimos El Salvador” project for the prevention of malnutrition through the distribution of supplies of Super Cereal Plus. The target population consists of 18,000 women and children under two years of age in 35 municipalities living at or below the poverty line.

    Coffee sector

    Honduras: Income from coffee exports for this season was reportedly down by 29 percent due to the drop in international coffee prices, though the volume of coffee exports to date is close to the figure for last year. The average selling price was USD 122.00 per 46 kg bag of coffee, compared with an average price of USD 167.97 at the same time last year, representing a 27 percent price reduction. As of March, there were bills of sale for a total of 5.2 million bags of coffee, compared with 4.5 million at the same time last season, putting the volume of sales up by 15.14 percent.

    El Salvador: As of March, the cumulative volume of coffee exports for this season came to 212,186 quintals, generating USD 34.96 million in sales revenues based on an average selling price of USD 164.74 per quintal. The cumulative volume and value of exports as of March were down by 47.4 percent and 56.5 percent, respectively, from the same time last season.  

    Nicaragua: According to the Export Processing Center (CETREX), 541,551 quintals of coffee were exported between October 2015 and February of this year, 8.49 percent less than the 591,803 quintals exported in the first five months of last season. This smaller volume of exports and the lower average selling price of coffee reduced income-generation from this activity by 20.76 percent. More specifically, the average selling price of coffee beans went from USD 178.28 per quintal last season down to USD 151.61 for the current reference period, which is an average loss of USD 26.67 per quintal of coffee exported. These price fluctuations reduced earnings from the sale of coffee beans in the first five months of this season to USD 82.64 million, compared with the USD 104.30 million in sales revenues at the same time last season.


    Projected regional outlook through September 2016


    Honduras: The most vulnerable subsistence farming households and households of day laborers and small coffee growers in communities in the southwest, mainly in livelihood zones 7 and 5, will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity as of May, until the staple harvests beginning in September, due to their losses of all or part of their staple production from the repeated rainfall anomalies in the last three years, the depletion of their food reserves, and their limited seasonal employment opportunities.

    El Salvador: With their repeated crop losses, lack of reserves, and limited employment opportunities in coffee-growing activities, households of subsistence staple producers, small coffee growers, and day laborers in the eastern and western parts of the country in livelihood zones 2 and 3 will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) acute food insecurity between May and July. The severity of outcomes will be mitigated by food assistance programs conducted by the government and international cooperation agencies. A seasonal improvement in food security outcomes is expected as of August with the harvest of Primera crops.

    Nicaragua: With their repeated losses of staple crops, lack of reserves, and employment opportunities that are more limited than usual, mainly in coffee-growing and livestock-raising activities, the poorest subsistence farming households and households of day laborers and small coffee growers in high-risk communities in the country’s Northern Pacific, Northern, and North-Central regions, primarily in livelihood zones 3 and 12, will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) acute food insecurity between May and September. The severity of these outcomes will be mitigated by regular government programs. Similar to other countries in the region, a seasonal improvement in food security outcomes is expected by September. 

    Figures Climate outlook for May through July 2016

    Figure 1

    Climate outlook for May through July 2016

    Source: Regional Committee on Water Resources (CRRH)

    Trends in wholesale prices for staples across the region

    Figure 2

    Trends in wholesale prices for staples across the region

    Source: Honduras, Nicaragua – SIMPHA; El Salvador – MAG Agricultural Statistics

    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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