29 January 1999


A joint FAO/WFP Mission has completed an on-the-spot assessment of the devastation caused by Hurricane "Mitch" which swept across Honduras between 26-30 October and of the implications for food supply and demand in 1998/99. The Mission has also made a preliminary assessment of the needs for agricultural rehabilitation. The Mission has estimated the losses to the cereal and bean crops at some 262 000 tonnes, or about a third of expected production for these crops before the hurricane struck. In addition about 40 percent of the plantain and cooking banana production was lost.

Major losses have also been incurred by cash crops, including banana, coffee and sugar cane, which are the main sources of foreign exchange earnings for the country. For all major export products combined, production losses in 1998 and anticipated losses in production in 1999 are valued at US$480 million. Damage to these products’ infrastructure is estimated at US$210 million. The livestock sector also suffered losses for over US$100 million with the cost to rehabilitate the livestock and dairy sectors estimated at some US$86 million. These estimates do not include the major damage caused to agricultural land resulting from the overflowing of the rivers, which rose to unprecedented levels and covered substantial areas of farm land with thick layers of sand, silt and rocks.

The Mission has estimated that to cope with the losses caused by Mitch and to ensure a normal level of food consumption, a total import of 570 000 tonnes of cereals and pulses will be required in the 1998/99 marketing season ending August 1999. This compares with about 310 000 tonnes imported mainly on a commercial basis in 1997/98, a normal production year. The bulk of the import requirement this year would be represented by maize, the main food staple, but larger quantities of rice and beans will be needed, while a normal level of import requirements is anticipated for wheat and sorghum. At the same time, there is a serious reduction in the anticipated export earnings and hence capacity to import food commercially. Thus the Mission has estimated the food aid requirement at some 276 000 tonnes, of which 236 000 tonnes maize and 40 000 tonnes of rice and beans. So far food aid received and firm pledges for delivery by August 1999 total 85 000 tonnes for all major foods combined, leaving a food aid gap of some 191 000 tonnes to be provided in the next few months.

Both programme food aid to compensate for the loss of food production destined for the market and emergency food assistance for improving household food security of the poorest sector of the - mostly rural – population will be required. The Mission has estimated that approximately 810 000 persons living in rural areas would qualify for emergency free distribution of food during an extended relief/rehabilitation phase. Assuming that about one half of the basic food needs will have to be covered by food aid, their total food aid needs will be approximately 66 600 tonnes of cereals and 7 300 tonnes of pulses during the 1998/99 marketing year.

The Mission has considered measures to assist the farm population to resume production activities as soon as possible. These include: i) support the main farming season starting in April-May with the provision of basic agricultural inputs; ii) increase the area cultivated, through the replacement of draught animals- implements, iii) increase availability of vegetative material for plantain production; iv) replacement of small animals stock; and v) support livestock production through supplementary feeding. Eleven project proposals for a total amount of over US$ 8.5 million have been prepared by FAO in consultation with relevant government authorities and organizations involved in immediate assistance to the affected population. These proposals would cover minimum short term needs to pave the way for medium term rehabilitation of the agriculture. Reconstruction will, however, require major and continuous investment in the coming years.


The response of the Government to the damages caused by hurricane Mitch, included the creation of a Agricultural Development Commission (CODA) and an emergency plan to supplement the basic food supply and to control prices. This includes:

In an attempt to prevent price manipulation, the Government of Honduras has established price controls in the marketing of basic grains and other products that make up a "food basket" composed of 14 items. The Mission found that the markets visited, including those located in more remote areas, such as Gracias a Dios, were well supplied with basic grains. The main problem, in the opinion of the Mission, is that being experienced by farmers in isolated areas who, because of the extensive damage to infrastructure, particularly to main and inland roads and bridges inflicted by the hurricane and the ensuring high transportation costs, cannot compete with producing areas located closer to cities and large towns. An example of this situation is Olancho, a major maize growing centre, which has been virtually cut off from the rest of the country.

Prices of some products, such as fruits and vegetables, which are not under Government price controls have increased by as much as 20 percent. Plantains, for example, are found in the market but at considerably increased prices.

The Secretary of Finance estimated that the GNP of the country would be reduced by about 2 to 3 percent as a result of the damage caused by hurricane "Mitch". In general, the financial sector is expected to be only moderately affected, as the Central Bank had international reserves of some US$580 million (equivalent to 3 months of imports) as of the end of October, and was awaiting donations of bilateral assistance and soft emergency loans from international financial institutions. The critical weakness in the financial system at this time is that smaller banks and financial credit institutions are heavily involved with lending to micro-enterprises and to small farmers who have suffered major losses from the hurricane.


3.1 Cereals and beans

There are two agricultural seasons in Honduras. In a normal weather year, planting of the first cycle, or first season cereals, starts in late April/ May, with the arrival of the first season rains (usually from May to October) and finishes in June/July. Most farmers plant maize, but beans, a staple in the population’s diet, are also grown. Planting of sorghum and paddy is small in the first season crop. Harvesting of the first season cereal crops, mainly maize, takes place between August and September, but could stretch for another two months, largely depending upon the varieties of maize used and the time of planting in the seven agricultural regions of the country. Harvesting of beans also takes place between August and September. Maize output from the first season crop accounts for about 20 percent of the annual output, while for beans, it represents some 35 percent of annual production. Paddy and sorghum from the first season crop account for about 10 per cent and 20 per cent respectively of their annual outputs.

The second season crop, also known as "postrera" is the main crop in Honduras. Planting starts late in the summer, in August/September, and finishes in October/November. Harvesting of all cereals, as well as pulses, normally starts in November/December and extends, in the case of maize, for an additional two-month period, always depending upon varieties used and the moment of planting in the various regions. Thus, when Hurricane Mitch struck in late October the main season crops were in the ground. Maize output from the "postrera" or main crop usually accounts for some 80 percent of annual output, while for beans, it represents some 65 percent of the annual production. For paddy and sorghum, output from the "postrera" represents 90 per cent and 80 per cent respectively of annual production.

The average annual production of cereals during the last 5-year period has been as follows: maize, 587 000 tonnes; sorghum, 75 000 tonnes; milled rice, 26 000 tonnes (39 000 tonnes of paddy). Average bean production is estimated at about 72 000 tonnes. No wheat is produced in Honduras and all wheat is imported.

3.2 Physical Impact of Hurricane "Mitch"

Hurricane "Mitch" became a tropical storm when it entered the territory of Honduras, from the north coast, on 26 October and left it through the south-western borders with Guatemala on 30 October. The physical effects of the hurricane were as follows:

In the first place, tropical rains of extraordinary intensity (600-800 mm of water in a few hours fell in some parts of the country) resulted in many landslides, causing major damage to the nation’s infrastructure, particularly to roads and bridges. Many of the secondary roads which provide access to the agricultural areas of the country were also disrupted. It should be mentioned that precipitation levels had been very intensive since September and had already severely affected the crops. During interviews with farmers in the major maize producing areas of Olancho, in the north-east, they complained about the incessant heavy rains and were of the opinion that they had caused more damage to crops than the hurricane itself.

In the second place, water levels in most of the country rivers rose so rapidly that river valleys were fully inundated, especially in the low lying areas of the country, including the region of Gracias a Dios, in the east of Honduras, and the littoral zone on the northern Atlantic coast which produces important export crops, such as bananas and oil palm.

3.3 Crop Losses Caused by Hurricane "Mitch"

The Mission's evaluation of crop damage was based on field visits to areas most affected by the hurricane in the southern Department of Choluteca and the Atlantic littoral in the north of the country, on discussions with concerned Government officials (Secretary of Agriculture and Livestock and Secretary of Finance), representatives of the private sector (CONNPAH), meetings with donor representatives, including USAID and EU, and contacts with non-Government organizations (CARE, CARITAS, Save-the- Children and others). The Mission also met with other UN agencies, including UNDP and UNICEF, and with associations of producer cooperatives. The Mission visited numerous public markets in different towns and villages to assess the availability of foodstuffs and examine prices.

The first assessment of losses in the agricultural sector carried out by the Government, just after the passage of the hurricane, was very high with field crop losses provisionally estimated as much as 80 percent. As often occurs in this kind of disaster, the initial estimate of losses and the number of deaths turned out to be too high and later estimates were lower. The estimates of export products and livestock were provided by private sector professional associations. Estimating the losses in basic grains was more complicated, because they were more diffuse throughout the country.

3.3.1 Food crops

Table 1 below provides a summary of losses of major foodcrops against the expected production before Mitch and in previous years. In absolute terms the largest damage was suffered by maize and by plantains and cooking bananas, but beans and rice were also severely affected.

Table 1: Production of Major Foodcrops, 1996-1998

1996 1997 1998
Pre-Mitch Est. Losses After Mitch Est.
Maize 658 610 611 200 411
Beans 81 95 96 35 61
Rice (milled) 27 34 26 8 18
Sorghum 86 96 95 19 85 1/
Plantains & cooking bananas 543 546 550 200 350

1/ Includes some 9 000 tonnes of production expected in early 1999 from replanting which took place after the passage of Mitch.
Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and Mission estimates for 1998


When the hurricane struck, most plantings of the important "postrera" crop and part of the first season maize crop were in the ground. Earlier in the year, the arrival of the rainy season had been delayed as a consequence of the tail-end effects of El Niño. The delay pushed planting of the first season crop until July, close to the time when the "postrera" crop would be normally due for planting (August/September). As a result of the delay, planting of the "postrera" crop was late and did not actually start until end-September or beginning of October. By the time the hurricane hit the country at the end of October, the bulk of the first season crop had been harvested, while the important "postrera" or main crop had just been planted and thus suffered the brunt of the hurricane.

After the hurricane, some maize planting continued in late November in those areas which usually sow their "postrera" in November/December, but the amount planted was heavily reduced mainly because of the impact of the hurricane in these areas including the delay in initiating planting. Further, those farmers located close to the river banks, whose land was covered with thick layers of sand or silt, were unable to replant and in many cases had to leave the areas which had been flooded.

The evaluation of the losses sustained by the maize crop was based on two methods:

(1) field visits and discussions with agricultural groups, field technicians and NGOs with experience in each region using as a base the 1993 Agricultural Survey data by region.

(2) the second method was to select from the 1993 survey, the villages, which were located less than 500 metres from a river, and therefore considered to have lost their entire maize crop. The remaining area in the hills was estimated to have lost an average of 20 percent of the maize crop based on data obtained from associations of farmers.

The two methods produced similar estimates of losses which are in line with revised data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. The Mission estimates that about 200 000 tonnes of maize were lost, which represents about 30 percent of annual output in a normal production year. Maize production in 1998/99 had been earlier forecast to be an average 610 000 tonnes and is estimated to have yielded only 411 000 tonnes. Details of the estimates of losses for maize and beans are presented in Table 2.


At the time of the hurricane, harvest of the first season bean crop had been virtually completed and no sizeable loss was registered. Planting of the "postrera" beans crop was underway and as a result the crop was badly affected. Bean is a weak plant which doesn't resist extreme conditions. Major losses of beans occurred mostly in the high elevation areas rather than in the lowlands because of the strong winds and the heavy rains in the former areas. Percentage of losses was higher than in the case of maize. However, bean losses are expected to be partly offset by farmers having been able to replant beans just after the hurricane. Thus net bean losses are estimated at about 35 000 tonnes, representing some 35 percent of production expected for 1998 before Mitch, or about 50 percent of the output in the previous 4 years (See Table 2 for details).


Losses in rice (milled basis) have been estimated by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock with associations of producers at 7 800 tonnes, representing 30 percent of anticipated production before Mitch. Average production (milled rice) in the last 5 years was about 26 000 tonnes. Most of the losses occurred in the northern part of the country, in the "Litoral Atlantico" region, where rice producers now face a serious problem of land rehabilitation.


Sorghum has been less damaged because the plant is more resistant to weather adversities. In addition, substantial replanting of sorghum took place after Mitch and the additional production is expected to compensate for part of the losses. The Mission estimates losses at about 19 000 tonnes, representing some 20 percent of the expected output before Mitch. However, in view of the replanting after Mitch, total sorghum production for 1998/99 is estimated at 85 000 tonnes, only 10 000 tonnes below that expected before Mitch.

Plantain and cooking bananas [ Includes only bananas used as food. Losses in bananas for exports are given below (section 3.3.2).]

It is difficult to estimate the losses in plantains, cooking bananas for internal consumption and fruit like "guineo" (a type of banana) because plantations are spread out all over the country. Major losses, however, have occurred in plantains and banana in the north of the country. About two years will be necessary for this important sector to re-establish its productive capacity. Household production has not been much affected. The overall estimates of losses are 200 000 tonnes, representing over one third of annual production and about half of the yearly food consumption of plantains and cooking bananas.

Table 2: Assessment of Losses in Maize and Pulses (by region) 1998/99
a) 1998/99 Expected production of maize and pulses before hurricane "Mitch" (‘000 tonnes)

Maize Pulses
Main crop First crop 1/ Total Main crop First crop 1/ Total
Sur 18 11 29 1 1 2
Centro Occidente 96 9 105 24 4 28
Norte 86 16 102 3 3 6
Litoral Atlantico 33 14 47 1 1 2
Norte Oriental 119 10 129 15 6 21
Centro Oriental 106 7 113 21 7 28
Occidente 81 5 86 6 3 9
Total 539 72 611 71 25 96


b) Assessment of losses due to Mitch - percent and tonnages(‘000)2/

Maize Pulses
Main crop First crop 1/ Total Main crop First crop 1/ Total
% Tonnes % Tonnes % Tonnes % Tonnes % Tonnes % Tonnes
Sur 50 9 60 7 55 16 80 1 0 0 50 1
Centro Occidente 30 29 50 4 31 33 50 12 0 0 43 12
Norte 40 34 60 10 43 44 80 2 0 0 33 2
Litoral Atlantico 50 17 80 11 60 28 80 0 0 0 80 0
Norte Oriental 20 24 20 2 20 26 40 6 0 0 30 6
Centro Oriental 30 32 40 3 31 35 50 11 0 0 40 11
Occidente 20 16 50 2 21 18 50 3 0 0 33 3
Total 30 161 54 39 33 200 50 35 0 0 36 35


c) = (a-b) 1998/99 – Expected production after hurricane "Mitch" (‘000 tonnes)

Maize Pulses
Main crop First crop 1/ Total Main crop First crop 1/ Total
Sur 9 4 13 0 1 1
Centro Occidente 67 5 72 12 4 16
Norte 52 6 58 1 3 4
Litoral Atlantico 16 3 19 1 1 2
Norte Oriental 95 8 103 9 6 15
Centro Oriental 74 4 78 10 7 17
Occidente 65 3 68 3 3 6
Total 378 33 411 36 25 61


3.3.2 Cash crops and livestock

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and associations of producers, losses in the agro-export sector amount to US$881 million. This includes the value of production lost in 1998 and expected for 1999 and infrastructure losses. The banana and coffee sectors have been more severely affected than other sectors, but oil palm, melon, sugar and shrimp export sectors also suffered. Substantial losses have also been incurred by the livestock and dairy sectors. An estimated 35 000 head of cattle were lost, representing about 2 percent of the national herd. Also cattle feed, mainly sorghum, maize and pasture have been washed away and destroyed, causing an acute shortage of feed in the affected area, mainly the north of the country.

Table 3: Estimates of losses in cash crops and livestock in value terms (US$ million)

in 1998
Production losses
expected for 1999
(. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Million US$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . )
Banana 34 243 120 397
Coffee 71 - - 71
Sugarcane 32 - 29 61
Plantain 5 17 26 48
Palm oil 7 16 15 38
Melon 5 15 12 32
Shrimps 25 10 8 43
Total cash crops 179 301 210 690
Livestock 55 0 48 103
Dairy 21 29 38 88
Grand Total 255 330 296 881

Source : CONNPAH and Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock

3.3.3 Some considerations on the Losses

i) The export sector was severely affected but is nevertheless in a position to recover quickly, possibly in a 2 to 3-year period, given its contacts with banking institutions, Government support and international assistance. In addition, the large business firms which sustained severe losses were insured and they are expecting insurance payments of around US$350 million in the near future.

ii) The rehabilitation of the export sector must be a priority, due to its importance in generating employment. Salaried employment and casual labour in various sectors (banana, coffee, sugarcane, melon, shrimp, etc.) is an indispensable source of income for small producers that do not have sufficient land to live from their own agricultural production. The loss of this source of income is an urgent problem affecting the rehabilitation of the rural sector. The number of people who have lost their jobs, permanent or temporary, is over 100 000.

iii) Small producers of agricultural products and livestock need assistance for the rehabilitation of their crops and animal herds. The bulk of the damage was very localised and in many sites, and the rehabilitation programme must be targeted and well-focused. It should be noted that, fortunately, in some of the poorest areas of the country, particularly in the western regions, there was little or no damage from the hurricane.

iv) Damage to the fields occurred mostly along the low lying river valleys, where the soils in many areas were extensively covered with thick layers of sand and silt, as well as rocks carried by the flood waters. Such areas are no longer suitable for agricultural production and can not be easily restored to being productive land. A team from Cornell University recently visited Honduras to survey the damage to the soils by the large deposits of sand and silt carried by the flood waters.

v) The damage from the hurricane was aggravated by the lack of effective soil conservation measures. Areas which have been deforested were especially susceptible to erosion and landslides. Unless this environmental issue is addressed, the productivity of the land will continue to decline. One example of effective soil conservation measures is found in the southern part of the Limpira region, where a successful FAO soil conservation project is currently being conducted.

vi) One problem of major importance for agriculture, particularly for coffee producers, is the lack of adequate transport and suitable roads to transport plantation coffee beans to coffee processing centres. Delays in timely transport to processing centres adversely affect yields and quality of the coffee beans.


The losses caused by Mitch will have severe implications on the food supply/demand balance for the country in the 1998/99 marketing season (August/ September) and, to a lesser extent, in following years assuming a rapid rehabilitation of affected areas. [ For an assessment of agriculture relief and immediate rehabilitation needs see Section 7.] . Honduras is a food deficit country even in years of normal production with substantial quantities of maize, rice and sorghum imported to supplement domestic production. All the wheat consumed is imported. In the 1997/98 marketing year, a good production year, the country imported over 300 000 tonnes of cereals and a small quantity of beans. In 1998/99 to cope with the losses caused by Mitch and to ensure a normal level of consumption, import requirements of cereals and pulses are estimated by the Mission to increase to some 570 000 tonnes. The bulk of the import requirement would be represented by maize, the main food staple, but larger quantities of rice and beans will be needed, while a normal level of imports are anticipated for wheat and sorghum (Table 4). In view of the serious reduction in the anticipated export earnings in 1999, the country’s ability to import on a commercial basis will be reduced. Thus the Mission has estimated food aid requirement of some 276 000 tonnes, of which 236 000 tonnes maize and 40 000 tonnes of rice and beans.

A detailed assessment for each major food items is given in the following sections.

Table 4: Major foods: Production, human consumption and imports actual 1997/98 and estimates for 1998/90 (‘000 tonnes)

1997/98 1998/99
Production Human
Imports Production Human
Maize 643 417 90 411 453 1/ 336
Rice 40 68 33 18 65 40
Sorghum 108 10 45 85 40 1/ 46
Wheat - 136 138 - 138 138
Beans 94 74 2 61 75 10
Total 885 705 308 575 771 570

Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock for 1997/98 and Mission estimates for 1998/99.
1/ Assumes a higher than normal per caput consumption of maize and sorghum for a total of some 54 000 tonnes to compensate for the lower availability of plantains and bananas.

4.1 Maize

In early September, at the beginning of the harvest of the 1998/99 main maize crop, stocks of maize for food and industrial use totalled about 87 000 tonnes. Maize output for the 1998/99 agricultural year, had been forecast previous to the passage of the hurricane at about 611 000 tonnes. About 200 000 tonnes are estimated to have been lost leaving a total maize output for 1998/99 of some 411 000 tonnes. White maize constitutes the bulk of the production, primarily consumed in the form of "tortillas". Yellow maize production is small and used for animal feed.

Maize supplies (production plus initial stocks) would amount to 498 000 tonnes for the 1998/99 marketing year. Against this, total domestic consumption requirements, including an allowance for closing stocks, are put at 834 000 tonnes. Of these, about 453 000 tonnes are expected to be used for human consumption, 249 000 tonnes for animal feed and 62 000 tonnes would represent seed use and post-harvest losses (see Table 5 below). The human consumption requirements for maize includes an allowance to cover the expected decrease in the availability of plantains and cooking bananas, which must be replaced by other food.

The total maize import requirements for the 1998/99 marketing year (September/August) is estimated by the Mission at 336 000 tonnes, against only 90 000 tonnes (mostly yellow maize by the agro-processing industry) in the previous year. In view of the anticipated substantial shortage in foreign exchange earnings due to the extensive damage incurred to export crops and the enormous cost involved in the reconstruction of the affected infrastructure, the Mission estimates that commercial imports would be limited to a maximum of 100 000 tonnes leaving some 236 000 tonnes to be covered by food aid. Against this requirement, pledges to date total 40 000 tonnes, including about 26 000 tonnes of maize from the World Food Programme. Thus the uncovered food aid requirement for maize is some 196 000 tonnes. The critical months for the supply of maize will be April to August , i.e. the lean period before the supplies from the 1999 first season crop, to be planted in the early spring would be ready for harvest.

Table 5: Supply/demand balance for major foods for the 1998/99 marketing year (September/August) (‘000 tonnes)

Maize Rice Sorghum Wheat Beans Total
Major foods
I. Domestic supply 498 36 95 6 82 717
- Opening stocks 87 18 10 6 21 142
- Production 411 18 85 - 61 575
II. Utilization 834 76 141 144 92 1287
- Human consumption 453 65 40 138 75 771
- Animal feed 249 - 81 - - 330
- Other uses 1/ 62 4 11 - 9 86
- Closing stocks 70 7 9 6 8 100
III. Import requirements 336 40 46 138 10 570
(II-I) of which:

- Commercial imports 100 10 46 138 - 294
- Food aid requirements
of which:
236 30 - - 10 276

- Already pledged



- Uncovered food aid requirement



Source: Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and Mission estimates.
1/ Includes quantities used for seed and post-harvest losses.
2/ Includes cereals and beans.

4.2 Beans

Domestic production was reduced by over a third (or 35 000) as a result of the hurricane. However the need for making up these losses with imports in 1998/99 will be much lower because of the availability of sizeable carryover stocks from the previous season when domestic production was well above average. Opening stocks were about 21 000 tonnes, or over 3 month normal consumption requirements for beans which added to the estimated production this year would give a total supply of 82 000 tonnes. To maintain consumption level close to previous years and to ensure a minimum carryover stock, the Mission estimates that 92 000 tonnes will be required. Import requirements in 1998/99 for beans would be 10 000 tonnes against 2 000 tonnes in the previous year which the Mission suggests should be provided as food aid. So far about 7 000 tonnes have been pledged by WFP as part of their Emergency operation and additional quantities are anticipated to be delivered by WFP as part of the PRRO emergency programme (see Section 6, below). Thus the import requirements for beans for 1998/99 appear to be almost fully covered by pledges.

4.3 Rice

Even in normal production years Honduras imports around 30 000 tonnes of rice to meet domestic consumption needs. About a third of the expected rice crop (or 7 800 tonnes, milled basis) was lost due to Mitch. However, as in the case of beans, stocks carried over from the previous above average season will compensate for these losses and import requirements are estimated by the Mission at 40 000 tonnes for 1998/99 against 33 000 tonnes in the previous year. The bulk of the import requirement of rice is expected to be covered by food aid. Some 2 000 tonnes of rice aid were immediately mobilized right after the passage of the hurricane and additional pledges of 24 000 tonnes are expected between January and May to cover the needs in the first half of the year before the new harvest becomes available. Commercial imports are estimated at only 10 000 tonnes for 1998/99.

4.4 Sorghum

The reduction in the estimated output of sorghum is relatively small (10 000 tonnes) mainly reflecting the additional production expected from the re-planting which has taken place after the hurricane. The country is a net importer of sorghum even in normal production years. Sorghum requirements for human consumption and for animal feed are expected to increase in 1998/99 because of the lower availability of plantains and cooking bananas and the damage incurred to livestock pastures. Assuming that the additional production from the replanted areas materializes, an about normal level of sorghum imports of some 46 000 tonnes will be required in the 1998/99 marketing season which are expected to be imported on a commercial basis for animal feed.

4.5 Wheat

The country is a regular importer of wheat and, with the exception of some years in the early nineties when low grade wheat was imported in substitution of yellow maize for animal feed, imports in the last 5 years have been used exclusively for human consumption. Imports in the last five years have been between 120 000 tonnes and 170 000 tonnes per year. In the 1997/98 they amounted to some 138 000 tonnes, almost entirely imported on a commercial basis. For 1998/99 the Mission estimates that a similar amount will be imported to meet domestic needs.


5.1 Justification for Food Aid and Beneficiary Profile

The hurricane has not only caused the loss of approximately 30 percent of the household food production of very poor small rural farmers, but has also reduced their essential non-farm incomes through the loss of employment in the plantations and the destruction of a large part of the social and economic infrastructure. Since most of the poor households even during normal times were only able to cover one third to one half of their basic food needs through own production or animal husbandry, they had to rely on other income sources, mainly through contractual work on larger farms and plantations. These income sources have, for at least until end of 1999, been severely reduced by the damage done to the sugar cane, banana, melon and coffee plantations as well as to shrimp farms.

Many roads leading to remote rural areas have been washed away and most likely will be the last ones to be rebuilt. This affects mobility, increases transport cost and thus directly and indirectly reduces the income of the poor. Only a smaller part of the income losses will be compensated for by an additional employment created by rehabilitation activities. These employment opportunities will be much easier to access by the town population and by the more skilled workforce.

Schools are expected to resume activities by February 1999 in very poor conditions. Child labour already has been very high in Honduras and government is afraid that many parents will no longer send their children to school out of the need to let them earn additional income.

In Honduras there are about 320 000 farms, of which about 230 000 farms have less than 5 hectares and account for only 11 percent of total farmland. The number of landless peasant families is considerable, but no reliable estimates are available. Women-led households are believed to be around 20 percent of total households in rural areas.

Most small-scale farms are located in hilly areas on land often more appropriate for forestry use. Poor soils, rudimentary farming methods and a low use of farm inputs contribute to the very low yields. Poverty is widespread in rural areas: 78 percent of the households in the poorest 30 percent of the income distribution are rural. The main characteristics of the poor are the following:

(i) their landholdings are below 4 hectares and they have little opportunities for off-farm employment

(ii) they own little or no land and have to lease land at high costs either in cash or in produce.

(iii) rural households headed by women constitute a prominent group amongst the poorest;

(iv) their highest concentration is in the north-east and western regions of Honduras.

Under a shifting cultivation systems and depending on family size and labour availability, up to 1.5 hectares of basic grains are cropped per year. This allows a production of up to 800 kg of maize and 200 kg of beans barely covering the family’s food needs. Despite this small production, urgent cash needs force many poor farmers to sell their crop shortly after the harvest. Few farmers families rear small animals (poultry, pigs) and only a few have cattle. Cash incomes to buy other household items (soap, sugar, salt, clothes) usually have to be generated through temporary off-farm works, on nearby cattle and coffee farms and/or by working on commercial farms. Some family members often have to migrate temporarily or for a longer period to towns and /or abroad in order to be able to support their family at home.

Farmer household incomes from their farms (including the value of farm-consumption) and cash incomes, are estimated to range between US$ 300-900 per year. Survival strategies of small farmers are therefore based on an elaborate balance of on-farm food production, cash income and risk avoidance. Hurricane Mitch now has severely disrupted this balance. Some farmers were able to harvest the first cycle crops, but second cycle crops were lost either by water damage (rotten stems and roots) or landslides. But, with the loss of work opportunities outside their farms, traditional coping mechanisms now have disappeared too.

At the time of the Mission market prices for basic food items were relatively stable, although there is a potential for increases to occur. It also can be expected that there will be some downward pressure on wages, because of the increased number of people seeking paid employment.

Food assistance to deficit rural areas affected by Mitch therefore will have the additional benefits of continuing to help stabilize market prices and of creating work opportunities in the vicinity of the beneficiary homes. This is of particular importance for women with small children, who cannot afford to seek employment far away .

5.2 Role of Food Aid and Estimation of Food Aid Needs

Food Aid to Honduras is required in two forms: As programme food aid to compensate for the loss of food production destined for the market and as targeted food assistance for improving household food security of some of the poorest sectors of the - mostly rural - population.

During the time of the mission, the effect of the disaster on market supplies could not be fully assessed, since on one hand the danger of large storage losses which led to increased sales from stocks contributed to an increase in market supplies in some areas and on the other hand many producing areas were facing logistical problems in either getting supplies in or out of the area. Despite these factors, market supplies and prices have generally returned close to normal levels only a few weeks after the disaster. However, in view of the large production losses this is likely to be short-lived unless a steady flow of supplies is maintained in the next few months. Total import needs of major foods are estimated at 570 000 tonnes in 1998/99, some 260 000 tonnes more than in the previous year. In view of this an amount of programme food aid between 150 000 and 200 000 tonnes seems to be appropriate.

Targeted food assistance must focus on the needs of the people directly affected by the disaster, it has to remain "people-centred". This means, food aid has to fulfil the following basic functions within those households unable to recover by their own means from the crisis created by the hurricane:

The structure of the national food economy but in particular the very weak execution capacities both at government as well as at community level do not favour the use of food aid as a primary input to finance the rehabilitation of damaged infrastructure. However, by always keeping in mind the primary objective of covering critical household deficits, the majority of the food assistance should be provided through Food for Work programmes in order to gain additional benefits from food aid. It also should target rural areas.

The vast majority of the needy households were even before the disaster very food insecure. Most of them had to deploy coping mechanisms, which were environmentally as well as socially destructive, and did not allow them to develop their economic basis. Therefore, it will be difficult to distinguish between rehabilitation and normal development needs.

The transfer value of the food aid to those households has to cover a significant portion of the losses directly or indirectly caused by the hurricane and the assistance must be provided during a relatively short period. A dilution of the ration by including an excessive number of additional beneficiaries or by spreading it over too long a time period must be avoided.

It will not be possible to fine tune the assistance programmes and set up complex implementing structures within the timeframe of an emergency assistance. The principal criteria for success, therefore, has to be the income transfer/nutritional impact on the beneficiaries and asset creation has to be regarded as an additional benefit, without applying stringent cost-benefit considerations. Longer term rehabilitation needs, especially in the sector of environmental protection and rural road infrastructure, should be taken care of by eventually enlarged development programmes using food and non-food inputs, as soon as the necessary implementing structures can be set up and when a comprehensive government rehabilitation plan is formulated.

There is strong evidence that between January to September 1999 food insecurity will progressively increase at particularly at the level of rural households living in the traditional food deficit areas. The severity of these food deficits depends on how quickly agricultural support programmes (especially seeds) can be executed and to which degree the considerable amount of already pledged programme food aid reaches rural markets in deficit areas.

One particularity of the damage caused by hurricane Mitch is that they are very localised, which makes it difficult to assess the extent of the overall damage and the number of people affected. It can, however, be said with certainty that a more than proportionate amount of the damage occurred on marginal agricultural land or in settlements in high risk-areas, which are those places where the poorest live and cultivate. The poorest, therefore, are the hardest hit.

With no reliable studies on the extent of damages to individual households yet available, only qualitative assessments carried out during field visits of the most affected and poorest rural areas could be used as a basis for the food aid needs assessment. The estimates of the beneficiary numbers and the calculation of adequate transfer values as food entitlements are based on the following assumptions :

Based on above, the priority selection criteria for individual households participating in the programme should be the following:

Based on above criteria, and not considering the immediate emergency relief assistance already provided shortly after the disaster (e.g. by WFP), approximately 810 000 persons living in rural areas qualify for food assistance during an extended relief/rehabilitation phase. Assuming that about one half of the basic food needs will have to be covered by food aid, there will be a need for about 90 kg/beneficiary of food aid during the 1998/99 agricultural year. With 90 percent of the assistance provided as cereals and 10 percent as pulses, the total food aid needs will be approximately 66 600 tonnes of cereals and 7 300 tonnes of pulses.

The targeting of food assistance will certainly be one of the major problems, as the experience from many years of food-for-development programmes clearly demonstrates. Civil society in rural areas is very underdeveloped and all help is expected to come from the authorities. It is now the policy of government to entrust the execution of relief operations to local committees composed of members of the various churches and to the local dignitaries ("patronato"). Although these institutions are still inexperienced in the handling of food and the execution of more complex projects, it is strongly recommended to use these structures for beneficiary selection and the distribution of food aid.

It will be also essential for all food aid executing agencies to provide as soon as possible guidance to these local committees on the handling of food aid, on the beneficiary selection criteria and on the entitlements through experienced field monitors. Targeting and the effectiveness of food aid also will be much facilitated if food aid can be delivered as closely as possible to the target communities as a balanced food basket.

Table 6: Honduras – Estimated target group and beneficiaries for food assistance during 1998/99

Population 96
COLON 208 680 74 154 50 77 50 39
CORTES 866 192 35 303 80 243 50 121
FRANCISCO MORAZAN 1 064 563 27 287 50 144 40 57
ATLANTIDA 321 485 100 321 50 161 30 48
YORO 447 084 68 304 70 213 60 128
VALLE 156 971 75 118 80 94 60 57
SANTA BARBARA 364 350 78 284 20 57 30 17
EL PARAISO 338 149 79 267 50 134 40 53
CHOLUTECA 386 098 75 290 80 232 70 162
GRACIAS A DIOS 49 924 82 41 90 37 70 26
COMAYAGUA 335 801 100 336 30 101 40 40
OLANCHO 396 573 79 313 40 125 50 63
TOTAL 4 935 870 61 3019 54 1 616 50 811


5.3 WFP-Food Assistance

In response to the emergency appeal of Government, the Executive Director of WFP and the Director General of FAO jointly approved an Emergency Operation (EMOP) in November 1998. The EMOP covers a period of 6 months starting November 15, 1998 and is targeting approximately 600 000 beneficiaries. WFP plans to provide a total of 62 044 tonnes of food. (see table below). Canned fish was included because of its nutritional content and advantages of being ready to eat. HPB, CSB and DSM were added for similar reasons and are used for special needs, particularly for children

Table 7: Honduras – WFP Emergency Operation: Expected Distribution Nov. 1998 May 1999

Commodity Daily Ration (g) Total Tonnage (MT)
Cereals 475 51 300
Pulses 60 6 480
Vegetable Oil 30 3240
Canned Fish
GRAND-TOTAL 565 62 044

Due to the magnitude of the destruction caused by hurricane Mitch and the consequently longer lasting impact on household food security of the affected population, WFP conducted a needs assessment mission in December 1998 in order to prepare a Protracted Relief and Rehabilitation Operation (PRRO) to be approved by its Executive Board in January 1999.

The PRRO includes the following quantities of food for Honduras. As in EMOP 6079, canned fish HPB, CSB and sugar for special needs, particularly for children, are included:

Table 8: Honduras – WFP PRRO: Expected Distribution May 1999 - May 2001

Commodity Daily Ration (grammes) Total Tonnage (tonnes)
Cereals 450 40 764
Pulses 40 3 732
Vegetable Oil 30 2 766
Canned Fish 30 2 898
1 360
6 245
GRAND-TOTAL 550 58 103

The PRRO will have a duration of two years, starting May 15, 1999 and will be carried out in two phases of 12 months each. During the first year, approximately 600 000 beneficiaries will be reached whilst in the second year, the number of beneficiaries will drop to 450 000. About two thirds of the assistance will be channelled through Food for Work Activities, supporting the rehabilitation of farms, housing and communal infrastructure. The remaining third of the assistance will be directly targeted to Vulnerable Groups, in particular to women and children through a variety of targeting structures in order to make best use of the limited absorptive capacities for food assistance in remote rural areas. Particular emphasis will be put on community decision making and on the use of local implementing structures, including NGO and church organisations.


The south of the country and the Atlantic coast have been the most hit by the hurricane. Both large modern farms and smallholders have experienced heavy damage. The latter are particularly vulnerable because of their reduced recovery, limited financial means and access to credit and low crop productivity. Damage to commercial farms would, however, negatively affect the farm labour market.

As a direct consequence, the food security of the rural communities that mainly rely on food crop cultivation and having a much reduced access to the market, is threatened.

The priority is to provide basic food to the rural population until the next harvest (August-September) and these needs have been described in Section 6. In addition, it is essential to assist the farm population to resume production activities as soon as possible.

The proposed intervention strategy is based on the implementation of short term proposals to: i) support the main farming season starting in April-May with the provision of basic agricultural inputs: seed, fertilizer and hand tools for maize, sorghum, rice, beans and vegetable production; ii) increase area cultivated, through the replacement of draught animals implements, iii) increase availability of vegetative material for plantain production; iv) replace the stock of small animals (poultry and pigs); and v) support livestock production through supplementary feeding.

Eleven project proposals for a total amount of over US$ 8.5 million have been prepared by FAO in consultation with relevant government authorities and organizations involved in immediate assistance to the affected population. The interventions aim at:

supporting the Government in coordination of emergency aid in the agricultural sector, providing technical advice to the numerous NGOs and UN agencies (including WFP) involved in early rehabilitation operations, optimising relief interventions and mitigating the effects of future disasters;

support to the rehabilitation of the basic grains production capacity of smallholders affected by the Hurricane Mitch with the implementation of Primera agricultural season in the Departments of Choluteca, Cortes, El Paraíso, Francisco Morazan, Olancho, Santa Barbara, Valle, La Paz, Atlantida, Colón, Yoro, Comayagua, Intibuca, Gracias a Dios.

restoring dairy livestock production in the regions of Choluteca, Atlantic coast, Olanchito (Alto Medio Aguan) and Bajo Aguan through support for the purchase of animal feed, fences, small equipment and support to forage production;

rehabilitating plantain production in Sula valley and La Mosquitia.

The above-mentioned interventions have been prepared to cover minimum short term needs to pave the way for medium term rehabilitation, the agriculture sector reconstruction will however require major and continuous investment in the coming years.

A report including project proposals with implementation modalities and detailed costing will be distributed soon by FAO’s Special Relief Operations Service (TCOR).


This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required.

Abdur Rashid
Telex 610181 FAO I
Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495

Mr.F. Roque-Castro
Regional Director, Latin America and Caribbean
WFP, Managua, Nicaragua
Fax: 00505-2-668043

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