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Above-average harvest expected to drive widespread Minimal (IPC Phase 1) beginning in May

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Zimbabwe
  • April 2021
Above-average harvest expected to drive widespread Minimal (IPC Phase 1) beginning in May

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The 2021 harvest has started across the country and is improving access to own foods and agricultural labor. As a result,  widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are present. In areas where humanitarian assistance continues, and the harvest is yet to be fully available, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes persist. During the post-harvest period from June to September, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected across the country.  Urban areas are expected to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through at least September as poor households are likely to have below-average purchasing power primarily due to low income and high food and non-food prices.

    • The government reported 2.7 million MT of maize production for the 2020/21 season, nearly 200 percent higher than last year and 130 percent above average. The tobacco marketing season opened in early April, with cotton sales expected to start in mid-May. With above-average river flow and interior dam levels, the latter averaging over 90 percent full nationally as of mid-April, above normal water availability for winter cropping and other agricultural, urban, and livelihood uses is expected. This is expected to improve income sources.

    • Though most COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, residual impacts of the lockdown continue on top of the macroeconomic challenges, driving continued below-average food access, mainly among poor urban households. As land borders remain closed to non-essential goods and services, a high proportion of households and small-scale businesses in the informal sector continue to be impacted due to the limited supply of cheaper imported goods and below-average income from sources such as remittances, informal transport and courier services, and petty trade. Though COVID-19 infections are low and recovery rates high, the recent upward trend in cases predominately from schools could spark a third wave of nationwide cases.

    • As the cost of living increases, this is driving below-average purchasing power for many households due to low income. While the official inflation rate shows a downward trend, fuel price increases and high parallel market exchange rates continue to drive general price increases. High transport costs, poor transport services, and rainfall-damaged roads continue to negatively impact household access to markets and some livelihood activities across parts of the country.


    The 2021 harvest started in April across many areas of the country and is expected to peak in May. The Second Round Crop and Livestock Assessment estimates 2021 maize production at 2.7 million MT, almost 200 percent and 130 percent above last year and average, respectively. Traditional or small grain production is estimated at 348,000 MT, 130 percent above 2020 production. The above-average harvest is driving increases in agricultural labor opportunities, especially in typical surplus producing areas. With a target of 1,800 grain collection points, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) had established nearly 1,400 points as of early April to ensure ease of grain delivery to depots. The government continues to reiterate that all maize grain should be sold to the GMB and not to private buyers.

    In early April, the 2021 tobacco marketing season began, with more decentralized contract sales floors than typical, reducing transportation costs for farmers. Nearly 95 percent of tobacco is sold through contract floors. The cotton marketing season is set to start in mid-May. To avoid side marketing and low prices offered by private buyers, the government announced measures restricting raw cotton and soya bean sales to only the government and contractors. Most rural roads were damaged by heavy rainfall across the country and remain in poor condition, impacting the movement of goods and people. Transport services in most areas are generally poor, and transport fares and costs have increased substantially due to poor roads and macroeconomic conditions.

    The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) reported, as of mid-April, that the average national dam level was over 90 percent, ensuring sufficient water supply for human and livestock consumption as well as agricultural activities for nearly two years. The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) has indicated that due to high rainfall during the 2020/21 season, the well-above-average vegetation and crop residue pose an extreme fire risk in the Mashonaland and Manicaland Provinces and high risk in the Matabeleland, Midlands, and Masvingo Provinces. 

    Pasture conditions are fair to good across most areas. However, the Ministry of Agriculture indicates that pasture availability in some areas is somewhat low due to overgrazing in past seasons, invasion of non-palatable species, bush encroachment, and poor soil and water conservation. Additionally, grazing areas are reportedly decreasing due to settlements moving into areas previously dedicated for grazing. Livestock diseases are a concern for most farmers across the country, given the high and unaffordable prices of veterinary drugs on the market.

    The macroeconomy continues to be volatile, impacting poor household food and non-food access, especially among market-reliant households. Despite some stability in the official market rates, parallel market exchange rates are over 30 percent higher. This continues to drive increases in most food and non-food prices. Most goods and services are increasingly priced in USD, yet most income is still earned in ZWL. The shortage of ZWL notes further decreases household purchasing power as mobile money and electronic payments have high premiums above ZWL note prices in the formal and informal sectors. The almost monthly fuel price increases are also putting pressure on prices. This is compounded by high and increasing transport fares, driven by a transport crisis following restrictions on public transport operators and the poor road network.

    Despite the progressive decline in annual inflation since mid-2020, the official inflation rate remains very high at 194 percent in April. This is driving a continuous increase to the cost of living, leaving a high proportion of the population subsisting below the poverty lines. ZIMSTAT reported a 1.7 percent and 6.8 percent increase in the food poverty line and total consumption poverty lines, respectively, for April compared to March (Figure 1). Although there has been some increase in income access due to the increase in agricultural activities, earnings from most other income sources remain below average.

    Even with most COVID-19 restrictions lifted, the residual effects of the measures and the larger global economic slowdown continue to impact income-earning opportunities for poor households who predominately rely on the informal sector. A high proportion of informal activities such as cross-border trade, petty trade, remittances, small-scale industries are ongoing though at below-normal levels, especially as land borders remain closed. In early April, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported over 200,000 returnees from mainly South Africa and Botswana due to job losses and deportations since March 2020. These populations are likely putting further pressure on already weak labor markets in areas where they return to. The rate of infections of COVID-19 continues to be relatively low, with very few associated deaths. However, there are concerns that infections are likely to increase associated with relaxed public compliance and reported infections in some schools, which could trigger a third wave of infections.

    WFP scaled up the 2020/21 Lean Season Assistance to reach 1.5 million rural people in 29 districts in April with humanitarian food assistance. The government reported that seasonal food distribution activities would end in April. As the harvest is available in many areas and household income is still generally below average, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are widespread. In areas where assistance is ongoing for April, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are present.  


    Most of the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook for February to September 2021 remain unchanged except for the following:

    • Despite post-harvest losses, which are likely to occur given poor storage facilities and poor access to treatment options, especially among poor households, household food stocks are expected to be above average.
    • The extreme and high fire risk will likely cause some danger to pastures, forests, property, crops, income-earning activities, and food sources, such as harvesting and the sale of wild products. The veld fire season officially stretches from July 31 to October 31.
    • Given that most recent trends in COVID-19 infections are from local transmissions, the government will most likely continue land border closures to the general public to prevent imported transmissions of COVID-19, mostly from South Africa.


    Most poor household access to food and income is expected to increase through own-produced crops, seasonal labor, crop sales, and bartering food for goods. Higher than normal vegetable production sales and access will likely further improve food consumption and income.  

    All surplus-producing areas are expected to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes throughout the outlook period due to anticipated above-average household food stocks and income-earning opportunities. Urban areas are expected to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households may meet their basic food needs but fail to meet their other non-food needs.

    Due to somewhat lower cereal production, compounded by crop sales, own-produced food reserves in some typical deficit areas are expected to start dwindling around August. As a result, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are anticipated in most areas with an increasing number of poor households experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3).


    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: ZIMSTAT

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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