5 February 1999


A joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited Nicaragua from 23 November to 14 December 1998 to assess the food supply/demand outlook for 1998/99 in the country in the aftermath of hurricane Mitch and to make a preliminary assessment of the needs for agricultural rehabilitation. The evaluation was mainly based on discussions with Government officials and with farmers during visits to the field. Discussions were largely focused on food and export crop losses, production trends, trade, food market prices and stocks, as well as food import requirements to meet the losses incurred. The Mission also held a series of interviews with donor representatives, non-governmental organisations and other institutions which were well informed of the situation and took into account the findings of the survey teams deployed by the Government, shortly after the Hurricane Mitch, which carried a sampling survey of 1 200 farmers in the affected areas.

A significant proportion of maize, rice, sorghum and pulses of the 1998/99 second season or "postrera" crops, normally representing about 38 percent of annual production, and some first season crops, mostly grown by small farmers, were washed away by the heavy floods. Losses incurred represent about 35 percent of the expected "postrera" output of cereal and pulses before the passage of the hurricane, and about 16 percent of the total output that was forecast for 1998/99. The most affected areas were in Region I (particularly the Departments of Nueva Segovia, Madriz and Estelí, in the centre of the country), Region II (Departments of León and Chinandega, on the Pacific side of the country), Region III (the capital of Managua and surroundings), Region IV (Departments of Masaya, Granada, Carazo and Rivas, also part of the Pacific area), Region V (Departments of Boaco and Chontales, in the central parts), and Region VI (Departments of Jinotega and Matagalpa, in the north-central parts).

The Mission estimates that about half, or 24 500 tonnes, of the anticipated 1998/99 second season or "postrera" maize crop was lost, as well as some 7 percent or 6 400 tonnes of sorghum, 19 percent or 31 600 tonnes of rice from both the first and second season crops, and 71 percent or 37 000 tonnes of beans. Export crops have also been affected. It is estimated that about 6 percent of the coffee (4 300 tonnes) and 7 percent of the sugar cane (26 500 tonnes) crops have been lost, some 69 percent of sesame (5 100 tonnes), 27 percent of groundnuts (11 600 tonnes), 18 percent of bananas (18 000 tonnes), 10 percent of tobacco (500 tonnes) and 33 percent of soybeans (15 400 tonnes).

The Mission’s assessment of the national cereal and pulses supply/demand balance for the marketing year 1998/99 indicates that prospects for food supplies until the next harvest become available in the second half of 1999 are more favourable than earlier expected. This reflects the measures taken by the Government to boost production of the "apante" crop and the prompt response by donors with the supply of food aid to cover most of the deficit. Assuming a satisfactory "apante" crop, in line with production targets of the current recovery programme, and taking into account stocks carried over from the previous season and supplies available from the above-average first season crop harvested before the hurricane struck, the Mission estimates the cereal and pulses import requirement for the 1998/99 marketing season at 193 000 tonnes, of which 50 000 tonnes of maize, 26 000 tonnes of rice, 15 000 tonnes of beans and 102 000 tonnes of wheat.

In recent years Nicaragua has been a regular importer of maize and wheat mostly on a commercial basis. This year, however, the country would have faced great difficulties in financing food imports in view of the enormous cost involved in salvaging the country, aggravated by the shortage of anticipated foreign exchange earnings resulting from the hurricane damage to export crops. The Mission therefore fully supports ongoing arrangements to supply all the maize and beans required as food aid. For rice the deficit has been partly covered by commercial imports already received and there remains an uncovered requirement of some 6 000 tonnes. Concerning wheat, Nicaragua has signed a PL/480 Title I food aid agreement to receive 50 000 tonnes of wheat, equivalent to about 50 percent of annual domestic demand, in the first half of 1999. The other 50 percent of requirements were covered by commercial imports received during the second half of 1998. Thus, the bulk of the import requirement for cereals and beans for the 1998/99 marketing season is already covered by food aid received or pledged and by commercial imports.

Emergency food assistance provided by WFP will target 400 000 beneficiaries, with the distribution of approximately 41 500 tonnes of food, including 34 200 of cereals and 4 300 tonnes of pulses, for a six-month period which started on 15 November and should extend to 15 May. From this date, PRRO would enter into operation for the duration of two years, benefiting 390 000 persons in the first year and 340 000 persons during the second year of activities, with the distribution of almost 39 600 tonnes of food, including 27 850 tonnes in cereals and almost 2 550 tonnes in pulses during the two year period.

Hurricane Mitch affected mostly small farmers, often living below the poverty line. The Mission has proposed an agriculture relief and emergency intervention programme including six projects for a total of US$13.9 million. These proposals have been prepared in consultation with relevant government authorities and organizations involved in immediate assistance to the affected population. These interventions aim at: supporting the Government in the coordination of emergency aid in the agricultural sector; supporting the national production of improved seeds of basic grains, horticultural and forage crops; contributing to an increase in food production and availability at farm level; setting up micro-projects to rehabilitate part of the farm infrastructure, agricultural equipment and small animal stock; increasing food availability through the support to draught animal development; and disseminating information on emergency interventions and rehabilitation of the agricultural sector.


Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with a 1997 per caput GDP of US$ 410. [ World Bank, December 1998] Nicaragua was on a path of modest, but steady economic growth before Mitch struck. Between 1993 and 1997 total GDP grew at an average annual rate of 3.4 percent (at constant 1980 prices), slightly ahead of the estimated population growth rate of 3.1 percent.

Table 1: Key Economic and Agriculture Indicators

1993 1994 1995 1996 1997
GDP per capita, annual growth rate, % (3.4) 0.2 1.2 1.5 2.1
Annual growth rate of total GDP, % (0.4) 3.3 4.3 4.7 5.1
Debt billion US$ 10.9 11.7 10.3 6.0 6.0
Debt service million US$ 231.1 309.6 405.5 316.8 410.6
Foreign reserves, million US$ 87.7 172.3 160.8 213.9 387.1
Agricultural GDP as % of total GDP 25.0 26.8 26.7 27.6 28.5
Agricultural GDP real growth rate, % 1.8 10.9 5.0 6.6 8.5
Agricult. Export, annual growth rate (value) (5.5) 47.3 22.5 (3.6) 11.2
Agricultural exports as % of total export 58.4 65.4 55.2 40.0 40.0

Source: Central Bank of Nicaragua, September 1998

After below-average growth rates in 1993-1994, growth recovered in 1995 and reached 4.3 percent, 4.7 percent and 5.1 percent in 1995, 1996 and 1997 respectively. Inflation in 1997 was 7.2 percent, an 18-year record low. While external debt has been reduced from US$11 billion to US$6 billion during the period of 1993-1997, the debt service charge has increased from US$231 to US$ 411 million. Because of the effects of the hurricane on the national economy, several European countries have written off Nicaraguan debts. Structurally, the economy continues to depend heavily on agriculture, whose contribution to total GDP has been around 27 percent in the past five years.

Agricultural GDP growth has been between 1.8 and 10.9 percent over the past five years. Before the hurricane, it had been forecast to grow at 15 percent in 1998-99. In 1997, growth of agricultural employment was more dynamic (6.5 percent) than total employment (5 percent), and represented as much as 41 percent of total employment. Pulses, maize and coffee crops absorbed 79.3 percent of the employment generated in the agricultural sector [Nicaragua Central Bank data] . The rapid growth of agricultural exports (annual average of 29 percent over the past 5 years) has significantly contributed to reducing the current account deficit.

The consequences brought about by hurricane Mitch pose a number of major challenges to the Government. An agricultural recovery programme has been prepared to guarantee the availability of food, particularly basic grains in the critical months of April through June 1999, during planting of the first season crops; increase farmers’ incomes; improve technologies through the use of high-performance seeds. The programme finances small producers with agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and planting materials like working tools for pulses and hybrid maize.

2.1 Crop Losses

Plantings of the 1998 second season "postrera" cereal and bean crops were still in the ground and/or ready for harvest when the hurricane struck at the end of October. These crops represent respectively 15-20 percent and 80 percent of the expected total maize and sorghum outputs in 1998, and more than 50 percent of the important staple red bean crop. The winter or second season paddy crop (irrigated and non-irrigated) was also still growing. Export commodities, such as the important foreign exchange earners coffee, banana and sugar cane crops, as well as other cash crops, were also waiting to be harvested.

Losses inflicted to crops by the sustained high-force winds and the continuous heavy rains and flooding are shown in Table 2 below. About 84 000 hectares of "postrera" food and export crops were adversely affected by the hurricane. Actual losses to cereals and pulses together (83 200 tonnes) represent about 35 percent of the output that was expected from the 1998/99 second season crop before the hurricane struck. Export crop losses totalled 81 400 tonnes or 12 percent of expected production.

Table 2: Second season crop ("postrera") losses caused by hurricane Mitch (‘000 ha/tonnes)

Before Mitch
As % of expected prod.

Maize 34.0 48.0 14.7 24.5 43.2 51.0
Sorghum 39.5 89.7 8.0 6.4 20.0 7.1
Rice (milled) 1/ 18.2 50.9 3.6 15.7 19.8 30.8
Pulses 73.7 51.6 37.1 36.6 50.4 71.0
Total foodcrops 165.4 240.2 63.4 83.2 38.3 34.6

Sugar 52.9 397.9 3.9 26.5 7.4 6.7
Banana 2.0 98.3 0.2 18.0 10.0 18.3
Coffee 90.3 68.0 1.2 4.3 1.3 6.3
Groundnuts 15.3 43.0 2.4 11.6 15.7 27.0
Soybeans 21.1 46.4 3.4 15.4 16.2 33.1
Sesame 14.3 7.4 9.2 5.1 64.3 68.9
Tobacco 3.5 4.8 0.3 0.5 8.6 10.4
Total export crops 199.4 665.8 20.6 81.4 10.3 12.2

1/ About 15 900 tonnes from the first season crop were also lost due to the tail-end effects of El Niño. Total losses to 1998/99 rice crops were therefore about 31 600 tonnes.
Source: Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería and Mission estimates.

About 86 000 small farmers were seriously affected, most of whom depended on their small and low yielding crops for their livelihood. Besides the crop losses, considerable damage was sustained by farm infrastructures. Access to production areas has been reduced considerably, with a consequent negative effect on marketing. In addition, degradation of land was also significant. A considerable part of the rural population would probably have to resettle in other areas or migrate to the main cities or even neighbouring countries.

2.2 Cereal and bean crop production in 1998/99

There are two clearly defined farming seasons in Nicaragua: the first season and the second season, known as "postrera", and a third minor season, known as "apante", limited to only certain regions in the country. Planting of the first season crop normally takes place in May/June, with the start of the rainy season, which usually extends from May/June to December, with some brief interruption in July known as "la canicula". Harvesting starts in August/September and is normally completed by end-October. Between 75 and 80 percent of the annual maize output, the main cereal, is collected from the first season crop, as well as some 20 percent and about 30 percent respectively of the sorghum and beans production. In addition, all of the rainfed rice output and part of the irrigated crop are grown during the first season crop.

Table 3: Cereal and Bean Production: Share of Output Produced by Season in 1996 (normal year) (percent)

Crop First Season "Postrera"
"Apante" Total
Maize 77 18 5 100
Rice 70 30 - 100
Sorghum 20 80 - 100
Beans 30 53 17 100
Total 57 38 5 100

Source: Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería and Mission estimates.

By the time the hurricane struck, the bulk of the first season crops had been harvested. Average to above-average results were obtained from the first season crops, despite the incessant heavy rains that had been falling all over the country since early October, with consequent damage to crops. In the case of maize, for instance, some 15 percent of the plantings were affected by the combined effect of the previous incessant rains and the hurricane, but the harvest (217 500 tonnes) was nevertheless larger than anticipated earlier in the year. It also represented a significant recovery from the previous year’s El Niño affected crop, when only 167 000 tonnes were obtained from the first season crop.

The second season cereal and bean crops are normally planted during August/September and harvested from November until January. These crops were in the ground and suffered the brunt of the hurricane. The second season or "postrera" sorghum and pulses crops are important as they represent about 80 percent and more than 50 percent respectively of annual production. Losses of beans were particularly significant.

The third season crops referred to as "apante" are planted in December and harvested from February to April. About 15 percent of the annual production of beans is normally harvested from the "apante" season crop. Some minor amounts of maize are also produced. The "apante" crops are grown particularly in the east areas of Region I (Department of Estelí), Region V (Department of Chontales), Region VI (Department of Matagalpa) and some parts of the Atlantic coast. In an attempt to make up some of the losses of the "postrera" crop, the Government has launched an important emergency rehabilitation programme, with the participation of the international community to boost production in the "apante" season. The programme plans to increase maize production to 54 500 tonnes, against only 12 000 tonnes earlier planned and bean production to 37 000 tonnes against 23 500 tonnes earlier anticipated. Because of the anticipated increases, the share of the total annual production of beans and maize from the 1998/99 "apante" crop will be substantially higher than in a normal year.

Table 4: Estimated cereal and bean production in 1998/99 (in ‘000 tonnes)

Crop First Season "postrera" "apante" (expected) Total Output
Maize 217.5 23.5 54.5 295.5
Rice 96.3 35.2 0.0 131.5
Sorghum 27.8 83.3 0.0 111.1
Beans 32.6 15.0 37.0 84.6
Total 374.2 157.0 91.5 622.7

Source: Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (MAG) and Mission estimates.

Assuming that current expectations for an increased "apante" crop materialize, and taking into account the first season crops already harvested, aggregate cereal and bean production in 1998/99 would amount to some 622 700 tonnes (Table 4).

A comparison between the expected production of food and export crops in 1998/99 with an average production and a below-average production years, such as 1996/97 and 1997/98 respectively, is shown in Table 5. For 1998/99 production, the pre-Mitch production estimate includes output actually collected from the first season crops and early forecasts for the "postrera" and "apante" crops. The post-Mitch forecast for aggregate cereal and beans production for 1998/99 (622 700 tonnes) would be only some 5 percent below the pre-Mitch forecast of 655 800 tonnes. This reflects the expectation of a sharp increase from the "apante" crop as a result of the Government rehabilitation programme. It should be noted that maize and pulses are the only food crops grown during the "apante" season. Despite the hurricane losses, the post-Mitch aggregate cereal and beans output would be an improvement over the low output of 588 000 tonnes in 1997/98, when crops were severely affected by El Niño-related adverse weather conditions.

For export commodities, the losses sustained by bananas, coffee and sugar, as well as by the other export crops, are a significant blow to the economy of the country. The aggregate value of the losses incurred is estimated at over US$37 million or 13 percent of the expected value of these commodities before the hurricane.

2.3 Livestock losses

Livestock losses occurred primarily in Regions I, II, III and VI. Particularly affected were the Departments of in El Sauce, El Jicaral, Esteli, San Isidro, Sebaco, San Francisco Libre y Villanueva. According to official estimates, losses in the livestock sector amounts to US$14 million. Some 77 000 bovines, 22 000 horses, 97 000 pigs and 222 000 hens and chickens were lost due to the hurricane. Cattle feed was washed away or spoiled causing acute shortage of feed in the affected areas. The Mission considers the amount of the losses as underestimated.

Table 5: Nicaragua. Total 1998/99 Crop Production - Estimates Pre- and Post- Hurricane Mitch with Comparisons for Previous Years

  1996/97 Annual
1997/98 Annual
1998/99 Estimated Total Annual Production
Forecast 1/
Forecast 2/
Net Losses with respect to
the Pre-Mitch forecast
(a) (b) (c) (d) (e)

(. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . thousand tonnes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ) (percent)
Cereals/Pulses 659.9 588.0 655.8 622.7 (33.1) (5.0)
Maize 322.1 263.5 277.5 295.5 18.0 6.5
Sorghum 120.3 86.7 117.5 111.1 (6.4) (5.5)
Rice (milled) 142.8 166.4 163.1 131.5 (31.6)3/ (19.4)
Beans 74.7 71.4 97.7 84.6 (13.1) (13.4)
Export Crops 560.3 565.6 665.8 584.4 (81.4) (12.2)
Sugar 348.2 350.7 397.9 370.2 (26.5) (6.7)
Bananas4/ 96.8 73.4 98.3 80.3 (18.0) (18.3)
Coffee 49.9 64.8 68.0 64.0 (4.3) (6.3)
Groundnuts 30.7 36.6 43.0 31.4 (11.6) (27.0)
Soybean 21.7 28.9 46.4 31.0 (15.4) (33.1)
Sesame 10.1 6.7 7.4 2.8 (5.1) (68.9)
Tobacco 2.9 4.5 4.8 4.3 (0.5) (10.4)
Total 1 220.2 1 153.6 1 321.6 1 207.1 (114.5) (8.7)

Source: Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (MAG) and Mission estimates.
1/ Based on output actually collected from first season cereal and bean crops and pre-Mitch forecasts for "postrera" and "apante" crops.
2/ Based on output actually collected from first season crops, plus estimates of "postrera" collected outputs and expected outputs (maize and pulses) from the "apante" crop following implementation of recovery programme.
3/ Includes about 16 000 tonnes of rice lost during the first season crop due to reduced rainfall because of the tail-end of El Niño.
4/ Calculated on the basis of crates of 42 pounds each.


3.1 Trade and access to food

In recent years, the main food import commodities in terms of volume have been wheat, followed by rice, maize and pulses, as well as vegetable oils. Nicaragua has been a net importer of these commodities mostly on a commercial basis in the last 5 years. Food aid dependency has been reduced in recent years as the Government has set out a policy to target food aid and reduce any negative impact on national production. In 1990, all food imports to Nicaragua were food aid, while in 1997 the country bought 85 percent of its food imports. [ Lenox, Julie "Food Aid and Food Security in Nicaragua", prepared for Programme Support Unit CIDA/ACDI, Nicaragua, February 1998.] / In the new policy context, the Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (MAG) has moved to control food aid. It has clearly indicated that it accepts food aid, such as wheat and vegetable oil, which does not compete with local production, but will scrutinize maize, pulses, rice and milk food aid; however, the Government is supportive of direct feeding programmes for the extremely poor and people affected by hurricane Mitch.

Monetization of imported food aid is possible for unrefined vegetable oil and wheat. For the latter, the governments of the United States and Nicaragua have recently signed an agreement to import 50 000 tonnes of wheat, equivalent to about 50 percent of yearly imports, under PL/480 Title I for shipment in the first half of 1999. Local production of wheat is not possible and vegetable oil output is small, although cotton seed once covered national demand and soybean production could expand.

3.2 Trends in food prices

The effect of the hurricane on prices of major foods has been most pronounced for beans. Between January and mid-October 1998, only moderate changes were noted in retail, wholesale and prices at the farm gate for this commodity. During this period, prices reached their peak only in June/July, at the end of planting of the first season crop and some weeks before the start of the harvest. However, only two weeks after the hurricane struck, average wholesale prices for beans climbed to US$64/quintal (46 kg), compared to US$34/quintal a month earlier, an 88 percent increase largely reflecting the tight supply of this commodity in the market and the strong demand for this important staple in the population’s diet. Post-Mitch price increases for beans varied from region to region, but increases have been most pronounced in the affected areas. (It is to be noted that prices of beans were also high in October 1997 when supplies were scarce due to the adverse El Niño-related effects on the first season crops in particular).

By contrast, prices for other important food crops, such as maize and rice, remained almost unaltered after the hurricane. From mid-October to mid- November, average wholesale prices for rice were unchanged at US$31/quintal, and rose only slightly to US$33/quintal by the end of November. During the same period, average wholesale prices for maize increased from US$9/quintal to US$11/quintal and went back to US$8/quintal by the end of November. (Prices for these two commodities, as was the case of beans, were higher in October 1997 than in October 1998 because of El Niño).

Prices for vegetables, and other food products in general, increased all over the country right after the hurricane, as the output of these products suffered heavily and access to markets was difficult because of road conditions; however, price controls imposed by the Government have prevented further price rises.

3.3 Food supply/demand balance for 1998/99

The Mission used the following assumptions in developing the supply/demand balance for major foods for the country in 1998/99:

Table 6: Nicaragua. Food Balance Sheet, July 1998 – June 1999 (‘000 tonnes)

Maize Sorghum Rice Beans Wheat
TOTAL DOMESTIC SUPPLY 326 126 172 85 5
Opening stocks 301/ 15 40 0 51/
Production 296 111 132 85 0
TOTAL UTILIZATION 376 126 198 100 107
Food Use 226 7 149 63 99
Feed Use 15 62 0 0 0
Other Uses/Losses 75 24 9 27 3
Exports 0 0 0 0 0
Closing stocks 60 33 40 10 5
of which:

- Commercial imports 0 0 202/ 0 52
- Food Aid received and pledged 75 0 0 15 50
Remaining deficit 0 0 (6) 0 0

Source: Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería (MAG) and Mission estimates.
1/ Mission estimates.
2/ Received in August and December 1998.

Based on the above assumptions, the Mission's assessment of the national cereal and pulses supply/demand balance for the marketing year 1998/99 is presented in Table 6. The assessment indicates that prospects for food supplies until the next harvest become available in the second half of 1999 are more favourable than earlier expected. This reflects the measures taken by the Government to boost production of the "apante" crop which is expected to offset part of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Mitch and the prompt response by donors with the supply of food aid to cover most of the remaining deficit.

The Mission forecast that to cover consumption needs in the 1998/99 marketing season and to ensure a minimum level of carryover stocks, imports of some 178 000 tonnes of cereals (mainly maize, rice and wheat) and 15 000 tonnes of pulses would be required. Of the cereals total, 50 000 tonnes would be maize, 26 000 tonnes rice and 102 000 tonnes wheat. In view of the serious difficulties in financing these imports on a commercial basis this year because of the reduced foreign exchange earnings expected because of the damage to export crops, the Mission supports arrangements currently being made to supply the bulk of the imports required in the form of food aid.

The deficit in maize is expected to be fully covered by food assistance being provided by the World Food Programme and the United States through NGOs. About 34 200 tonnes will be delivered by 15 May 1999 by WFP as part of Emergency Operation Nicaragua 6079, and additional supplies are expected from the WFP Protracted Rehabilitation and Relief Operation 6089 (see section 4.1 below). The deficit in rice has already been largely covered by commercial imports and it is expected that the remaining deficit will be covered by additional commercial imports.

Beans are the main source of protein in the population’s diet. In view of the high prevailing prices and the tight supplies a small decrease in the per caput consumption of beans is anticipated. Some of the population in the aftermath of the hurricane, have started to replace the consumption of beans with rice mixed with bananas "de rechazo", that is, those bananas not suitable for export. The beans shortage situation is expected to ease in January when about 11 000 tonnes of beans are expected to be delivered as food aid by the United States and some 4 300 tonnes from EMOP 6079 is to be delivered by15 May 1999 by WFP. These quantities would fully cover the estimated deficit of 15 000 tonnes.

The import requirement for rice, based on a level of monthly consumption of 12 400 tonnes, is some 26 000 tonnes, which has been already partly covered by 9 000 tonnes and 11 000 tonnes of commercial imports respectively delivered in August and December 1998. The Mission anticipates that the remaining deficit of 6 000 tonnes would be covered by additional commercial imports. However, there are indications that consumption may be underestimated. If these indications prove to be correct, the rice deficit could be higher than currently estimated and therefore the Mission suggests a close monitoring of the situation. The Mission also suggests that a study be made to re-assess the consumption levels for rice, as well as for other products included in the "food basket".

Wheat is consumed as bread, and is all imported. The country has imported between 90 000 to 100 000 tonnes of wheat in recent years, mostly on a commercial basis, with some occasional food aid received. This year, wheat import requirements are estimated at some 102 000 tonnes. About 50 percent of requirements, or 52 000 tonnes, were imported on a commercial basis in the second half of 1998. In November, right after the passage of the hurricane, the country signed a PL/480 Title I food aid agreement with the United States for the delivery of another 50 000 tonnes in the first half of 1999, which is expected to cover the remaining deficit for 1998/99.


Nicaragua is one of the world’s 14 most food-insecure countries and the second poorest nation in the Latin America and Caribbean region. The passage of hurricane Mitch at the end of October affected more than 860 000 people (18 percent of the total population), leaving almost 370 000 homeless.

In a country where over 70 percent of the population lives in poverty and 40 percent earn below US$200 a year, the hurricane hit the areas of the country where the highest concentration of poor people live: León, Chinandega, Esteli, Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Matagalpa y Jinotega.

In the aftermath of the catastrophe, poor housing, sanitary and health conditions - 32 percent do not have access to health services, and over 82 percent do not have basic sewage systems, - contributed to outbreaks of diseases and placed the already vulnerable population in an additional nutritional risk situation.

The damage caused by the hurricane was exacerbated not only by the state of poverty in which the victims live, but also by the general environmental degradation such as advanced deforestation. Most landslides, resulting in a death toll of 2 515 people, were a consequence of prolonged agro-pastoral malpractice on marginal, steep slopes.

Losses to the agricultural sector were considerable and small producers have been mostly affected. As indicated earlier some 75 000 tonnes of maize, beans, rice and sorghum were lost These losses were aggravated by the problems to reach markets as 8 000 kilometres of roads were damaged and 29 bridges destroyed and another 42 were damaged. Although the government relaxed its policies on import of rice and beans and prohibited exports of basic grains, immediate rises in retail prices took place for certain commodities (see Section 3.2 above).

Because of the damage to the infrastructure and the fact that most of the schools are being used as shelters, the school year ended a month and a half earlier than planned. Works on all damaged school buildings are in progress. However, as repairs are being financed by reprogramming of funds, the construction of new classrooms was delayed.

About a month after the tragedy, the Government dissolved the National Emergency Council and established a Reconstruction Commission with a in order to address six key areas: agricultural production, social sector, environment, infrastructure, work with the civil society and coordination of international cooperation.

The international community reacted promptly to help reconstruct the country – works on main roads and bridges started immediately, as well as rehabilitation of the human environment through public works involving street and housing cleaning and minor repairs of roads. The Government is also actively seeking solutions to rebuild homes for some 35 000-50 000 families.

4.1 Role of food aid and food aid needs

Food assistance has to focus on the needs of the people directly affected by the disaster. It will remain "people-centred". This means that food aid has to fulfil the following elementary functions within those households unable to recover on their own from the crisis:

During the emergency phase the immediate needs of rural families who have lost their crops are being covered by the on-going WFP emergency operation expected to be concluded in May 1999. Thereafter the bulk of the food assistance will be targeted to rural areas through the WFP Protracted Rehabilitation and Relief Operation (PRRO) (for details see Section 4.2 below) as Food for Work programmes in order to gain additional benefits from food aid.

Before any development activities can be resumed, agricultural land needs to be rehabilitated and brought to pre-Mitch conditions. Throughout 1999, food insecurity of small farmers will be progressively increasing and will reach its peak just before the next harvest, which is due in August/ September. Assistance is needed to cover the food deficit of these farmer families until they can generate their own on-farm income.

In the hurricane-affected areas chronic malnutrition had been affecting some 25 percent of the children. After the disaster, assisting the malnourished remains a priority, especially in the case of pregnant and lactating women and children who find themselves at a high nutritional risk due to inadequate and insufficient dietary intake. WFP assistance during the rehabilitation phase will focus on providing specific vulnerable groups in the most affected rural areas with a complementary ration at schools and health centres, in order to avoid further deterioration of their nutritional status and decrease their vulnerability to diseases.

In the hurricane-affected areas, the Ministry of Health has identified about 140 000 pregnant and lactating women and 110 000 children between 6 months and two years of age at some degree of nutritional risk. The Ministry is currently carrying out surveys to establish the actual prevalence of malnutrition among this population.

4.2 WFP-Food Assistance

On 5 November 1998 the Government of Nicaragua requested assistance from WFP for Hurricane Mitch victims. The Executive Director of WFP and the Director General of FAO jointly approved an Emergency Operation (EMOP) on 10 November 1998. Emergency Operation Nicaragua 6079 "WFP Regional Emergency Operation for Hurricane Mitch Victims in Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador" covers a period of six months starting 15 November 1998 and targets 400 000 beneficiaries in Nicaragua. WFP plans to provide the following quantities of food:

Commodity Daily Ration (g) Total Tonnage (MT)
Cereals 475 34 200
Pulses 60 4 320
Vegetable Oil 30 2 160
TOTAL: 565 40 680


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.

Canned Fish 178
HPB 30
CSB 356
DSM 50


As a continuation of WFP's assistance to Hurricane Mitch victims and due to the magnitude of the destruction caused and the consequently longer lasting impact on household food security, a Protracted Rehabilitation and Relief Operation (PRRO) proposal was approved by the Executive Board in January 1999. This proposal was the result of a joint effort of the Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala Country Offices, two WFP assessment missions that visited those countries in December 1998, and the Regional Bureau in Managua.

The PRRO includes the following quantities of food for distribution in Nicaragua during two years:


Commodity Daily Ration (g) Total Tonnage (MT)
Cereals 450 27 851
Pulses 40 2 548
Vegetable Oil 30 1 889
Canned Fish 30 1 977
TOTAL 550 34 265

As in EMOP 6079, canned fish HPB, CSB and sugar for special needs, particularly for children are included:

HPB 1 120
CSB 3 910
Sugar 268
TOTAL 5 298

The PRRO will last two years, starting in 15 May 1999. During the first year, about 390 000 persons will benefit from this Operation, while this number will decrease to 340 000 during the second year. 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 in order to make best use of the limited absorptive capacities for food assistance in remote rural areas. Particular emphasis will be given to community decision making regarding the use of local implementing structures, including NGO and church organisations.

The PRRO will contribute to improved household food security in communities most severely affected by Hurricane Mitch. The primary objectives will be to:

An array of soil conservation and rehabilitation activities for community socio-economic infrastructure has been identified as preliminary activities for the rehabilitation of farms.

The range of activities may be modified at a later date, in accordance with beneficiaries’ priorities.

The following are indicative results for the participating families over the two-year duration of the project:



Hurricane Mitch had the most effect upon the poor. In Nicaragua small farmers often live below the poverty line. They cultivate small plots of marginal land with rudimentary techniques and lack the food reserves and capital necessary to face recurrent natural disasters such as drought, hurricane and earthquake. Under normal circumstances, these families face food insecurity and often have to work elsewhere to provide sufficient income to their families.

Interventions proposed are tailored to respond to some of the most immediate needs of the affected population, and to provide a sound base to resume agricultural activities and to contribute to the social and economic development of the population.

Six project proposals, for a total of US$13.9 million have been prepared by FAO in consultation with relevant government authorities and organizations involved in immediate assistance to the affected population.

The interventions, in line with the government policies and strategies, aim at:

  1. Supporting the Government in the 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;
  2. supporting the national production of improved seeds of basic grains, horticultural and forage crops;
  3. contributing to an increase in food production and availability at farm level, supporting 85 600 most vulnerable small farmers with the delivery of basic agricultural inputs for the main agricultural season starting in April/May 1999;
  4. setting-up micro-projects to rehabilitate part of the farm infrastructure, agricultural equipment and small animal stock;
  5. increasing food availability through the support to draught animal development;
  6. disseminating information on emergency interventions and rehabilitation of the agricultural sector.

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 for the coming years.

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


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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