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Imminent damage to Primera crops from rainfall anomalies

  • Remote Monitoring Report
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • June 2015
Imminent damage to Primera crops from rainfall anomalies

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  • Key Messages
  • Progress of the Primera Growing Season
  • Regional Staple Food Markets
  • Coffee Sector
  • Food Security Programs
  • Projected Regional Outlook Through September 2015
  • Key Messages
    • The irregular pattern of rainfall (spatial and temporal) between April and June is adversely affecting subsistence crops across the region, with losses of newly planted crops, replanted areas and areas under development (delayed), and some areas not planted due to the proximity of the canícula (the break in the rains during the rainy season). Damage to crops could be extended if the canícula begins earlier than usual or is prolonged.  

    • As of June, poor households have depleted their food reserves, sources of employment are extremely limited, wild foods are in the developmental stage, and grain prices have begun to rise, adding to the numbers of households with difficulty meeting their food needs.

    • As of June, poor households have depleted their food reserves, sources of employment are extremely limited, wild foods are in the developmental stage, and grain prices have begun to rise, adding to the numbers of households with difficulty meeting their food needs.

    • Based on forecasts for an earlier than usual canícula beginning by the end of June and extending through the end of July and for a continuation of El Niño conditions through at least the end of 2015, there is a high likelihood of damage to or losses of Primera, Postrera, and Apante crops for the 2015/2016 growing season, as well as problems maintaining access to a safe water supply for human consumption.





    Basic grain inventories on regional markets are tightening in line with seasonal trends in production, causing prices to rise.


    The irregular spatial and temporal pattern of rainfall is adversely affecting basic grain production (with losses of newly planted crops, replanted areas and areas under development, and some areas not planted).

    Rises in basic grain prices with the tightening of trader inventories in early July.


    An earlier than usual and extended canícula could trigger heavy losses by delaying crop planting activities, even in the case of short-cycle crops, and could preclude the cultivation of Postrera crops.


    According to forecasts, El Niño conditions will continue for the entire 2015 growing season (Primera, Postrera and Apante), which could cause damage to and losses of crops across the region, with social and economic impacts, mainly for highly vulnerable groups.

    Progress of the Primera Growing Season

    Cumulative rainfall totals for the Primera growing season across the region through June 20th were average to below-average, depending on the specific area, with the rains starting late in certain areas, delaying the planting of crops (Figure 3). ENSO forecasts by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) as of the middle of June show a 95 percent probability of El Niño conditions between July and September, which could cause damage to Primera crops and would likely preclude or delay the planting of Postrera crops, exacerbating the food crisis for subsistence farming households and very poor populations in affected areas.

    The region saw its first widespread rainfall activity in the first week of June. However, high-risk areas have been identified in different parts of all three countries based on reports of crop losses from rainfall deficits in the month of May. The June rains triggered sowing of crops in most areas. As of June 22nd, crops were reportedly in the ground for 10 to 15 days (in phenological development stage V-6), which puts them at high risk in the event of the materialization of forecasts for an earlier than usual and extended canícula.

    In spite of the rainfall activity in the first half of June, the level of the water table is still reportedly lower than usual due to insufficient groundwater recharge, which could lower the levels of or completely dry up water sources used for human and animal consumption. The result could be an even bigger humanitarian crisis than last year, particularly in Nicaragua, which was the only country in which there were reports of cattle deaths and the drying up of wells used as sources of household drinking water this past year.

    In El Salvador, crop losses due to rainfall deficits have been reported in the eastern zone, including La Unión, San Miguel, and Morazán departments and coastal belt areas as far as central Sonsonate. This has been the pattern for the last few years in the country’s eastern zone, which has had the most severe rainfall deficits. As a result, a large percentage of farmers in this zone are planting their crops at the beginning of July. However, there is no such regular pattern in coastal areas. Farmers who planted in these areas (in San Salvador and Acajutla, for example) are likely to experience crop losses.

    In Honduras, most crop losses from rainfall deficits are concentrated in Choluteca, Valle, the southern and western areas of El Paraíso, the southern parts of La Paz, Intibucá, and Lempira departments, the southern, central, and western reaches of Francisco Morazán, the western, northern, and central parts of Olancho, and southwestern Yoro. The southeastern part of the country (Choluteca, Catacamas, and Amapala) is most affected by recurrent rainfall deficits, as is once again apparent this season. Rainfall anomalies in the country’s western zone are expected to extend into crop-producing areas of Lempira, as was the case last year.

    The population at high risk of experiencing damage to their crops from rainfall anomalies includes small hillside farmers in semi-arid drought-prone areas with degraded soils, who account for approximately 70 percent of all basic grain farmers. Yields from their crops are normally low and, during a dry spell, they can lose anywhere from 35 to 100 percent of their crops.

    The Honduran government has a strategic grain reserve of 70,000 quintals of locally-grown red beans and 160,000 quintals of locally-grown white maize to ensure short and medium-term market supplies.

    In Nicaragua, crop damage is reported in the western Pacific area (Chinandega and León), central Pacific area (Managua and Boaco), and Northern Region (Estelí, Madriz, Nueva Segovia, and southern Matagalpa). Rainfall was concentrated at the end of April and the beginning of June in Ocotal, Nueva Segovia,  as well as in Jinotega and Chinandega.

    The lack of rainfall throughout the country in the month of May began to raise concerns. However, the rains began to fall at the beginning of June and, by the second week of the month, approximately 45 percent of the country’s arable land had been planted with Primera crops. According to the National Farmers’ and Cattlemen’s Union (UNAG), expectations for area sown for the Primera season are 42,000 hectares of red beans, 2,380 hectares of black beans, 140,000 hectares of white maize, and 43,400 hectares of upland rice, which are well below official planting targets for last year. 

    Regional Staple Food Markets

    HONDURAS: Prices for maize and red beans showed somewhat different trends between April and May. Red bean prices trended upwards, with San Pedro Sula reporting the sharpest rise in prices at nine percent, but with prices still below figures for last year due to the remaining inventories in crop-producing areas and stocks held with the expectation of increasing prices. This pattern could continue through the end of June. In contrast, maize prices declined, but stayed above figures for last year due to the production deficit from the 2014 harvest.

    EL SALVADOR: Wholesale prices for maize and beans were stable between April and May 2015. However, a comparison with the average for last year shows a different pattern. More specifically, bean prices are down by five to six percent, driven by regional trade flows, while maize prices are up by 39 to 41 percent with the carry-over production deficit from the losses of last year’s Primera crops across the region.

    NICARAGUA: The highest domestic prices for red beans are in Estelí and Managua (at NIO 1,750 / 1,800 per quintal), due to high dependence on crop production from other departments at this time of year. However, prices have been stable since last month and are down by 16 percent from last year. The sharpest rise in prices was in Ocotal, in Nueva Segovia, with the depletion of supplies of locally-grown crops as a result of its proximity to the Honduran border. Should this trend continue, this part of the country could be facing the largest shortages and, thus, the highest prices. Maize prices on the Estelí and Managua markets are following the same trend as bean prices, but are above May 2014 prices by 14 and 17 percent, respectively, most likely due to the carry-over deficit from last year’s crop losses.

    The government has proposed taking measures such as raising the duty-free import quota for staple foods and strengthening the grain collection process by the National Supply Company (the Empresa Nacional de Abastos) to prevent price speculation as part of its strategy for managing a possible staple food marketing crisis due to rainfall anomalies triggered by El Niño conditions.

    Coffee Sector

    HONDURAS: The Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) puts coffee exports as of June 12, 2015 at 5.56 million bags (46 kg), up 24 percent from export figures for the same time last season, with a total value of USD 878.48 million based on an average price of USD 157.98/bag.

    EL SALVADOR: According to the Salvadoran Coffee Council, the country had exported 616,548 quintals of coffee as of May 31st, 23 percent more than between October and May of last season, with a total value of USD 122.87 million based on an average price of USD 199.30/bag.

    NICARAGUA: Coffee production for the 2014/2015 season is believed to be consistent with the initial estimate of two million quintals, which is 66 percent above estimates for last year. Area affected by the rust outbreak held steady at eight percent and only an estimated six percent of coffee-growing areas have been re-populated as part of the national plan for the rehabilitation of coffee plantations due to problems with its implementation.

    See the March 2015 Special Report for more information on the region’s coffee sector. 

    Food Security Programs

    HONDURAS: The World Food Program (WFP) has received USD 2 million in funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). This grant will be used to provide food assistance to 34,000 people affected by last year’s drought and help them recover from its lingering effects. The assistance will be delivered in the form of cash and vouchers for purchasing food on local markets.

    The European Union’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO) has mounted an emergency food assistance program through WFP for at-risk populations for food insecurity due to the threat of drought and the effects of the coffee rust outbreak in the municipalities of San Manuel de Colohete, Valladolid, and Tomalá in Lempira department, in coordination with COPECO (the Standing Contingency Commission), OXFAM, and local NGOs. It is expected to serve approximately 4,100 households between March and August 2015.

    Projected Regional Outlook Through September 2015

    In Honduras, the repeated losses of staple crops for the last three years, the seasonal rise in food prices (which are at or above figures for last year), and the damage to 2015 Primera crops will translate into Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) food security outcomes for the highest-risk households in livelihood zones 7 (subsistence grains and remittances) and 5 (mountainous coffee-growing zone) between June and September 2015, mitigated by humanitarian assistance. However, the lack of food reserves and assistance, combined with shortages of cash income and seasonal rises in staple prices, could put at-risk households in the southern and western reaches of the country in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as of July. Moreover, anomalies in the spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall in 2015 have already affected a certain portion of the Primera crops of subsistence farmers and could affect an increasingly large area over the next 30 days, which could add to the size of the food-insecure population. 

    In El Salvador, households of small farmers in livelihood zones 2 and 3 in the eastern and western reaches of the country will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes as of July due to the lack of reserves, damage to 2015 Primera crops, seasonal rises in staple food prices, and limited employment opportunities in rural areas. In addition, there will be small pockets of households classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2!), whose situation will be mitigated by government-operated food assistance programs. As of September, this population will face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes, mitigated by the availability of crops harvested towards the end of August.

    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 period between June and September due to the heavy losses of 2014 Primera crops, high staple food prices across the country, and limited employment opportunities, particularly in coffee-growing and livestock-raising activities. With their limited food reserves, depending on prevailing conditions during the rainy season beginning the second half of June, the poorest households in these areas could be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes between July and September, fueled by their limited access to a safe water supply for human consumption, their lack of maize for consumption, and shortages of seasonal wild foods.

    Figures Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Figure 3. Rainfall anomalies for the period from March 23 through June 20, 2015 (%)

    Source: NOAA

    Figure 2


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