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Rainfall anomalies could reduce yields from staple grain crops in the Dry Corridor

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • April 2017
Rainfall anomalies could reduce yields from staple grain crops in the Dry Corridor

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  • Key Messages
  • Honduras
  • El Salvador
  • Nicaragua
  • Key Messages
    • The high season for temporary employment has ended with the coffee harvest in most crop-producing areas across the region. At the same time, the poorest households have exhausted their food reserves, particularly subsistence farming households and households of day laborers and small coffee growers in areas of the Dry Corridor affected by rainfall anomalies in 2016.

    • Sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean are above-average and rising. Even if anomalies fail to reach the threshold for the development of El Niño conditions during the outlook period, the weather pattern will probably have a negative effect on the spatial-temporal distribution of rainfall after the end of June and reduce cumulative rainfall levels. These factors could adversely affect crops in the Dry Corridor.

    • With the seasonal decline in employment opportunities and depletion of the food reserves of poor households in the Dry Corridor, there are already populations across the region that are Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Households in areas affected by crop losses or low crop yields for last year’s Primera and Postrera growing seasons and without access to employment opportunities will be face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) conditions before the harvest of Primera crops in August. Based on a geographic breakdown of affected Dry Corridor areas, the largest number of households in Crisis are believed to be in Honduras.


    Sea surface temperatures (SST) off the Pacific Coast of Central and South America are currently above-average. There is a high probability of these anomalies developing into El Niño conditions by the second half of the year. However, even if these anomalies do not reach the threshold for the transition to El Niño conditions, the high temperatures in the eastern Pacific are likely to have a negative effect on cumulative rainfall levels as of the end of June, while heightening the risk of anomalies in the spatial-temporal distribution of rainfall. The most likely scenario is that these anomalies will adversely affect yields from maize and bean crops in areas of the region within the Dry Corridor.

    The consensus forecast for the period from May through July 2017 established by experts from across the region at the Central American Climate Outlook Forum predicts the following conditions in the first few months of the rainy season:

    Honduras: Rainfall numbers for the month of June are expected to be slightly below-average in the central part of the country, near-average in the southern and southwestern parts of the country, and above-normal in the La Mosquitia area. There will be a sharp reduction in rainfall activity in the Dry Corridor in the second half of June with the beginning of the canícula (the break in the rains). The influence of the hot surface temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean off the coast of South and Central America will reduce cumulative rainfall totals for July.

    El Salvador: Short dry spells are expected throughout the three-month period between May and July.  As of the second half of July, there is a high likelihood of events reaching the magnitude of minor or moderate droughts in the western and central reaches of the country. The most severe rainfall anomalies are expected between the middle of July and the first half of August during the canícula in those two months. Temperatures during this three-month period are also expected to be above-average.

    Nicaragua: The rainy season will likely begin in the third dekad of May in the Pacific region and in the first few days of June in the northern and central reaches of the country. However, there will be isolated moderate to heavy rainfall activity before the above-mentioned dates, mainly in Pacific, northern, and central areas of the country. These rains could raise the prospect of a false start-of-season as part of the transitional phase between the dry season and the definitive onset of the rainy season.

    There is a high probability that the pattern of rainfall in the first rainy sub-season of 2017 will be marked by rainfall deficits in western Pacific, central, and northern areas of the country. Other parts of the country are expected to get normal levels of cumulative rainfall.


    An examination of trends in maize and bean prices in all three regional countries shows prices remaining stable or moving downwards over all three comparison periods (a month, a year, and a five-year period). The inference is that the region’s last harvests beginning in March, such as the harvest of Postrera Tardía crops in Honduras (in the Valle del Aguan, Yoro, Santa Bárbara, Olancho, and El Paraíso areas) and the harvest of Apante crops in Nicaragua (in the Autonomous North and South Atlantic Regions and the Jinotega and Matagalpa areas), helped stabilize prices in the first quarter of the year and, by extension, helped, build large enough supplies to meet domestic demand.


    According to the most relevant ICO (International Coffee Organization) price index for Central American coffee production (“other milds”), the downward trend in prices since the beginning of the year continued into April 2017, with the price of coffee reaching USD 1.55/pound, similar to the figure for April 2016. This puts the April price of coffee 12 percent below the five-year average (2012 – 2016) for that month.


    Staple grain production

    According to the Agrometeorological Report (Year V – No. 10), all Postrera Tardía maize crops in the Valle del Aguan area and the country’s western region (Lempira, Ocotepeque, and Copán) have been harvested, producing average yields. Some crops in the northern and central-eastern reaches of the country will not be harvested until the end of April. Likewise, some irrigated and rainfed bean crops in the western part of the country still in the maturation phase have not yet been harvested. Most bean crops in the Valle del Aguan area and crop-producing areas of El Paraíso have already been harvested, where harvesting activities are expected to be completed by the end of April.

    Coffee sector

    Export records as of April 2017 put coffee exports by Honduras at 4.78 million bags, representing 51 percent of estimated exports for the 2016/2017 season (9.4 million bags). These exports are valued at USD 697.15 million, which is 42 percent above the figure of USD 492.47 million for the 2015-2016 season as of this same date. The average export price is USD 145.67/bag, a gain of 15 percent from the average price figure at the same time last season (USD 126.64).

    The Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) has confirmed that, with the mutation of existing races of the rust fungus and the introduction of a whole new race, the Lempira 11 variety of coffee, the main variety grown in Honduras, is now susceptible to this disease. This has raised concerns in all areas of the country due to the large percentage of coffee-growing areas planted in the Lempira 11 variety. Another concern is that many rust-resistant varieties similar to the Lempira 11 variety could be vulnerable to damage from the mutating rust fungus.

    According to Rust Monitoring System data for April 2017, the national incidence rate was six percent, well within normal range. However, incidence rates in 18 percent of areas planted in the Lempira 11 variety are above 10 percent, with the risk that the fungus could spread with the beginning of the rainy season.

    Food security outlook

    According to the forecast issued by the Climate Outlook Forum, the most likely scenario is for below-normal levels of cumulative rainfall over the three-month period from May through July. This would mainly affect farming areas populated by small farmers growing crops on marginal lands in Choluteca, Valle, La Paz, southwestern Olancho, central and western El Paraíso, central and southern Comayagua, Intibucá, Lempira, and Ocotepeque departments. It is highly likely that it will negatively affect staple grain crops in the vegetative growth and development stage and could affect the fruiting stage.

    Most farming households highly dependent on staple grain production for household consumption having lost their 2016 crops due to last year’s erratic distribution of rainfall are in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity. The majority of these households are in communities in the Dry Corridor (in the southern and southwestern parts of the country) in livelihood zones 7 and 5. With their crop losses or low crop yields in 2016, their limited coping capacity due to their weakened livelihoods (from losses of assets, degraded croplands, and debts), their remoteness from urban population centers, and their limited access to basic services (health care, education, and water supply), the worst-off households in these areas are expected to be in a Crisis (IPC Phase 3) situation between April and September at the very least.

    El Salvador

    Coffee sector

    Salvadoran Coffee Council records show 822,465 quintals of coffee harvested as of March 31st (between October and March), eight percent more than the amount harvested by the same time last season, reflecting the slight rebound in coffee production. This figure could double by the next harvest with new areas still unproductive this season beginning to bear fruit.

    According to the Rust Monitoring System, incidence rates rose in the month of December, though they were still lower than in October, when national incidence rates are believed to have reached a seasonal high. The national average incidence rate of coffee rust disease for the month of December was close to 15 percent at all elevations, 58 percent lower than the highest recorded rate based on available records (namely 38 percent in January 2015).

    Labor market and remittances

    According to the Central Reserve Bank, the upcoming survey by DIGESTYC (the National Statistics and Census Bureau) will show changes in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) since 2005. The survey data from 2005 puts the share of value added by SMEs at 35 percent and job creation by SMEs at close to 700,000 jobs.

    The Central Reserve Bank valued household remittances for the first two months of 2017 at USD 726.1 million, which is USD 67.4 million or 10.2 percent more than the value of inflows of remittances at the same time in 2016. Based on Salvadoran Coffee Council records, this season’s harvest created 10.28 million day jobs (days of work), the equivalent of ~41,000 full-time jobs for one year (five days of work a week for 50 weeks).

    Food security outlook

    The poorest households in livelihood zones 2, 3, and 4 with repeated crop losses from rainfall anomalies and limited access to temporary employment opportunities in the coffee harvest due to the slow recovery of areas affected by the coffee rust outbreak are in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity. However, households in eastern and western areas of the country hardest hit by poor harvests and with limited job opportunities and landless peasants in coffee-growing mountain areas could be in a Crisis (IPC Phase 3) situation before harvesting their 2017 Primera crops. Nevertheless, with these households failing to meet the 20 percent threshold requirement for reclassifying any given area, conditions across the country will continue to be classified in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity during the outlook period.


    Staple grain production

    Based on Ministry of Agriculture data referenced by the country’s Vice President but without giving any specific figures, Nicaragua has larger inventories of maize, beans, and vegetables. According to the Nicaraguan Crop and Stock Farmers’ Association, there are approximately two million quintals of red beans for sale on the market from the harvest of Apante crops, which, in addition to ensuring that the country will meet its production target for the 2016-2017 crop year in progress, will produce the largest harvest since 2013, which should help keep prices stable.


    The latest report by the Central Bank of Nicaragua (BCN) on the state of the economy and the outlook for 2017 showed the most growth in formal employment, as reflected by the membership rolls of the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute (INSS), which put the number of enrolled workers during the past year at 857,219, mainly in the community and personal services, trade, and hotel and restaurant sectors. This figure is up by 10.8 percent from the same time in 2015.

    Coffee sector

    Export records at the Export Processing Center (CENTREX) put coffee exports for the period from October 2016 through March 31, 2017 at 1.047 million quintals, which is a 25 percent gain from the volume of exports at the same time last season (834,509 quintals) and equivalent to 42 percent of the estimated volume of production for the 2016/2017 season, namely 2.5 million quintals. Thus far, the average export price is similar to the figure for last season as a whole, or close to USD 160 per quintal.

    According to official statements, coffee processing plants reported the harvesting of 2.4 million quintals of green coffee as of the end of February 2017, meeting expectations of a 10 percent boost in output from last season’s harvest of 2.2 million quintals, with a chance of harvesting as much as 2.6 million quintals by the end of the season. This production gain is attributable to the rehabilitated coffee-growing areas which have begun to bear fruit, including the areas planted in coffee as part of the CRISSOL Café program.

    Food security outlook

    Small-scale staple grain farmers (growing maize, beans, and sorghum) in northern Pacific and northwestern areas of the country in livelihood zones 3 and 12 lost part of their crops for the 2016 Primera and Postrera growing seasons to rainfall anomalies in these arid areas with degraded soils, as well as to pest infestations, particularly yellow aphid infestations. With the depletion of their food reserves, the belief is that these households will remain in the Stressed (IPC Phase 2) phase of food insecurity until the harvest of Primera crops in August 2017. Communities in especially arid areas of these regions with no access to employment opportunities could be facing a Crisis (IPC Phase 3) situation before the next staple grain harvest, which could be prolonged by rainfall anomalies affecting the planting of crops for the 2017/2018 season.


    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1.

    Source: LII Central American Climate Forum, CRRH

    Figure 3

    Figure 2.

    Source: NOAA CPC - NMME

    Figure 4

    Figure 3.

    Source: FEWS NET, based on market information system data from each country

    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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