The 2017 spring agricultural season was characterized by unfavourable distribution and quantity of rainfall, making it the fourth consecutive season since 2014 that significantly deviates from the long-term precipitation pattern.
Domestic food availability in 2017 is estimated at 550 000 tonnes, about 3.5 percent less than in 2016 and almost 6 percent below average. The decline is essentially due to lower outputs for both maize and sorghum.
Cereal import requirements for the 2017/18 marketing year, mainly wheat and rice, are forecast at 703 000 tonnes, about 20 percent above 2016.
As official early assessments point to no significant damages from Hurricane Irma, domestic food availability is anticipated to be reduced only by some 23 000 tonnes.
In August, food prices were at relatively high levels and similar to the critical period of 2014-2016, when the country was affected by the El Niño-induced drought. The cost of a representative food basket was still higher in May-September 2017 than at the same period a year earlier.
According to the Emergency Food Security Assessment (EFSA) published in May 2017, about 3 million people were considered to be food insecure. This was the food insecurity situation at the peak of the lean season and the 2017 spring season harvest.
The Mission estimates that the number of food insecure has slightly decreased since January 2017, but targeted assistance needs remain, particularly where livelihoods and housing have not been fully restored after Hurricane Matthew in late 2016.
An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) visited the country from 2 to 26 August 2017 to evaluate the food production for the 2017 spring season, which extends from March to August, and assess the food security situation. The spring season represents some 60 percent of the annual cereal output and is very important in determining food availability and food security during the upcoming 2017/18 agricultural year. The Mission was comprised of staff from FAO, WFP and the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development of Haiti (MARNDR) which was represented by the National Coordination for Food Security of Haiti (CNSA) and the Agricultural Statistics and Informatics Unit (USAI). Staff from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) and the European Union’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) collaborated closely with the Mission as observers.
The Mission interviewed farmers about their perceptions regarding the harvest of the spring agricultural season. This was accomplished through focus group interviews across 70 communes, of 140 communes in total, across the ten departments of the country (Table 1). After three consecutive years, from 2014 to 2016, of severely reduced outputs due to drought conditions brought on by the El Niño phenomena and then the damages of Hurricane Matthew in late 2016, it was essential to evaluate production of the 2017 spring crop and how this would affect the country’s food security situation.
Erratic precipitation patterns characterized the 2017 spring season which goes from March to August. Rainfall started earlier than the historical trends, peaking in late April instead of the end of May. Then the dry period that usually occurs before the first harvests in June extended itself by more than ten days. The early and intense rains in April affected the yields of the pulse crop, which is succeptible to excess precipitation and humidity. The prolonged dry weather in June affected the maize yields as it coincided with the period of tasseling or filling of the grain. Relative to the same season last year, production for the spring 2017 season is anticipated to be 15 percent lower for maize, 18 percent lower for sorghum and 6 percent lower for pulses. However, if the upcoming autumn and winter seasons, to be harvested from December 2017 and March 2018, respectively, remain unchanged from 2016, production for 2017 agricultural output is anticipated to increase 7 percent from a year ealier. These estimates assume no significant crop losses due to Hurrican Irma, which affected the northern departments between 8 and 9 September 2017, causing excess precipitation and high winds. If real damages are in line with the early estimates done by a rapid assessment carried out by the MARNDR, the estimate of aggregate 2017 production of cereals, starchy roots and pulses may be slightly revised downward and still be anticipated above the El Niño-affected 2014-2016 average level. However, the 2017 output remains significantly below the pre-El Niño period and food availability in the country continues to be sustained by imported goods and reductions of household stocks.
Despite an easing of the prices due to an appreciation of the Gourde and seasonal patterns in August, prices for locally-produced staples remained above, or close to, their levels of 2014-2016 across the main markets. The stability and appreciation of the Gourde in 2017 has helped improve the access to imported foodstuffs, although the cost of the food basket remained high.
After three years of erratic agricultural production, the high level of household debt and the depletion of assets continue to augment the number of structural issues that prevent the growth of the agricultural sector. In particualr, the Mission found three main issues cited by farmers across the country. The first is seed distribution and its general availability, including timeliness of distribution as well as suitability of genetic material delivered to the zones of its intended use. A second constraint is the state of disrepair of irrigation infrastructure and equipment. For existing irrigation infrastructure, farmers mention the need to refurbish canals as well as repair pumps. Finally, a third and surging structural issue is the decline in availability of agricultural labour in the past few years. The low return to agriculture and the volatile harvests of the last few years has caused people to immigrate out of their communities, either to urban centres or out of the country, in search of other income opportunities.