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Below-average harvests and above-average prices likely to result in an early onset of the next lean season

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Zimbabwe
  • April 2022
Below-average harvests and above-average prices likely to result in an early onset of the next lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Although the harvest of early planted crops has begun in most areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes still persist in a few deficit-producing areas as most plantings were significantly delayed and many farmers experienced crop write-offs during the season. The 2022 harvest is expected at below-normal levels, limiting seasonal improvements and driving Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in most deficit- as well as in some surplus-producing areas from late April to September, with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes emerging in worst-affected areas by July. Other surplus-producing areas will have sufficient current harvests and reserves from the above-average 2021 season to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. Meanwhile, urban areas are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the outlook period given continued below normal income and above-average prices.

    • Rainfall received in March and April came too late in the production season to have a positive impact on crops in most parts of the country. The incoming harvest is expected to improve dietary diversity and household consumption; however, crop losses have been significant in most eastern, southern, and western districts. Households in these areas are likely to see only minimal seasonal improvements with some seeing none at all after total crop write-offs, especially for cereals. An early start to the 2022/23 lean season is expected in worst-affected areas.

    • On-going macroeconomic challenges, compounded by increasing prices of basic food, fuel, and fertilizers, as well as disruptions in global supply chains are expected to negatively impact low-income households in both rural and urban areas. Spiking parallel market exchange rates will continue contributing significantly to the rising cost of goods and services. Maize meal and bread prices in ZWL increased by approximately 50 and 30 percent, respectively, between March and April. Below-average income with which to purchase foods and other basic needs will continue to limit household access to these items.

    • Demand for seasonal agricultural casual labor continues to be below normal and is expected to remain so throughout the outlook period. Income from crop sales is also expected at below normal levels in deficit- and surplus-producing areas alike, given poor harvests. Income from livestock sales is likely to be negatively affected by poor demand in most areas. Typical livelihood strategies such as informal cross-border trade and remittances are recovering, but have yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. Petty trade and informal mining are therefore expected to increase as coping strategies.


    Rainfall was received in late March and into April across parts of the country following extensive dryness in February and early March. This brought some relief to farmers but, in many cases, it came too late to positively impact crop development given that a significant portion of cropped area had already been written off in eastern, southern, and western districts and other parts of the country.  Across the country, the April rains reportedly have spoiled some to-be-harvested or already harvested crops. However, the Zimbabwe National Water Authority reports that the rains improved national dam levels, which stand at an average of 92 percent as of the end of April.

    The consumption of green harvests, such as maize, is ongoing in most areas, but at markedly below normal levels as households are only able to access green harvests from early planted crops. Most plantings were much later than usual this year, delaying green consumption. Households in worst-affected areas have little to no own-produced green harvests for consumption given the delays and poor progression of the season.

    Harvesting and drying of the early planted 2021/22 cereal, pulses, legumes, and other crops has started in most parts of the country. Some households are being forced to prematurely harvest crops they planted late, especially maize, due to household cereal stocks having run out, poor access to cereal on the markets, and the end of humanitarian assistance in March. These developments extended the lean season for weeks.  

    As of early April, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) started buying grain from the 2021/22 harvests using the producer prices announced in December 2021. On 26 April, the government increased the ZWL producer prices for maize and small grains by 28  and 7 percent, respectively, considering high inflation rates. Last marketing season, farmers were required to sell grain only to the GMB and contractors. There has been no policy pronouncement yet by the government regarding the 2022/23 grain marketing season with respect to the GMB.  

    Despite the lifting of the maize import ban in March, no maize imports have reportedly yet arrived in the country as of mid-April. Cereal grain availability remains below normal levels across markets in surplus- and deficit-producing areas. WFP’s monthly markets monitoring system reports that, in March, maize grain was available in only 4 and 12 percent of rural and urban markets, respectively, whereas maize meal was available in 67 and 76 percent of rural and urban markets, respectively. Speculation is playing a role in the low supply of maize grain as some farmers who still have carry-over stocks from the 2021 harvests are withholding supplies from the market in anticipation of below normal 2022 harvests and even higher prices in the coming months. 

    Maize grain prices are significantly above average for this time of the year mainly due to poor market supplies and delays in harvesting. Maize is selling up to 8 USD per 17.5 kg bucket in some deficit-producing areas, though farm gate prices are as low as 3 USD per bucket in some surplus-producing areas. Following the 10-40 percent price increases between February and March across the country, maize meal prices continued to increase in April. In mid-April, the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe –  which represents commercial millers and regulates pricing – increased maize meal and wheat flour prices by 52 and 31 percent respectively citing increased prices of commercial maize by the GMB, and the rising cost of fuel and packaging, among other reasons. As a result, ZWL bread prices have risen by 30 percent between March and April. April prices in ZWL for maize meal, vegetable oil, and bread are about 175, 195, and 260 percent above April 2021 prices. Petrol and diesel prices went up by about 2.5 and 7.0 percent, respectively, at the end of April as crude oil prices increased on international markets. Fuel prices in Zimbabwe are the highest in the Southern African region, resulting in high production and transportation costs. To mitigate the economic impact, the Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority announced at the end of April the resumption of petrol blending with ethanol, which is locally produced, at a 90/10 mixture.

    The tobacco marketing season started at the end of March. The government increased the forex retention level such that tobacco farmers will retain 75 percent of their foreign currency earnings this year, compared to 60 percent last season. This development is expected to enhance household incomes in the face of inflation. The cotton marketing season is yet to begin, though the foreign currency retention levels are set to be similar to those for tobacco.

    Significant disruptions of supply chains and global trade due to the war in Ukraine have increased production and transportation costs and commodity prices at both global and national levels. Basic commodities such as fuel, fertilizer, wheat, maize, and crude (cooking) oil, among others have all seen rising prices since the Ukraine crisis began, negatively impacting household purchasing power.

    In addition, the macroeconomic situation remains volatile, marked by the continued depreciation of the local ZWL currency. By end of April, though official exchange rates increased by 12 percent to 159  ZWL to USD compared to the end of March, parallel exchange rates went up nearly 50 percent during the same period to around 380 ZWL to USD. These increases are nearly 90 percent and over 220 percent above the April 2021 levels, respectively. Some businesses are even pegging prices above the prevailing parallel market rates. A new 100 ZWL bill was introduced in early April partly in response to the devaluing local unit. Meanwhile, reports indicate an increasing number of wholesalers and retailers are accepting only USD in payment for certain commodities such as cooking oil, maize meal, rice, and sugar, among others.

    The April monthly and annual inflation rates, according to ZIMSTAT, stood at 15.5 percent (up from 6.3 percent in March) and 96.4 percent (up from 72.7 percent in March), respectively. The monthly increase represents the highest increase in almost a year and inflation in Zimbabwe is among the highest globally. In April, the cost of basic food and the total cost of food and other basic family needs increased by 18.5 and 17.1 percent, respectively, compared to March, according to ZIMSTAT.

    Most typical livelihood strategies continue at below normal levels. These include agricultural labor (cash and in-kind), which has been negatively affected by the poor progression of, and harvest for, the 2021/22 agricultural season. Livestock sales are negatively impacted by continued below-average disposable income, among other factors. Cross-border trade has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels despite the long-awaited reopening of land borders in March of this year. Limited capital is constraining some households to restart their informal businesses. Local and international remittances, especially from South Africa where the majority of the Zimbabwean diaspora reside, work, and operate businesses, remain below normal levels, partly due to the protracted economic impacts of COVID-19. Multiple attacks on foreigners and foreign businesses in South Africa as well as the non-renewal of work permits for many Zimbabweans have been reported recently, further dampening remittance inflows to Zimbabwe.

    COVID-19 infections and deaths continue to be minimal in Zimbabwe, with record recovery rates of up to 97 percent over the past weeks. Following the easing of most restrictions in February, authorities are still encouraging the public to remain cautious, especially as the winter season approaches. Throughout the pandemic, most imported transmission cases in Zimbabwe have been linked to South Africa, where, in early April, the two-year-long COVID-19 national state of disaster was ended due to significantly reduced infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Similar to Zimbabwe, only minimal measures remain.   

    With the start of the main harvest period, food consumption is improving, but remains poor in most areas, especially in typical deficit-producing areas, where green harvests are minimal and some households are prematurely harvesting and drying their cereals to meet urgent food needs. Most poor households are reportedly consuming two or fewer meals per day, mainly comprising of cereal-based meals especially sadza, and vegetables. Consumption is fair to good for some households in surplus-producing areas who have carry-over stocks and are anticipating near-average harvests. 

    Currently, the gradual arrival of main harvests is improving food security outcomes across much of the country. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in several deficit-producing areas due to a lack of own-produced food reserves, high levels of crop write-offs, limited green harvests, delayed main harvests, and low income. Other deficit-producing areas where seasonal improvements are significant have improved to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. In contrast, reserves from above-average 2021 harvests and incoming harvests are currently resulting in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in most surplus-producing areas. Meanwhile, the pressure of price increases on household budgets and below normal income as formal and informal employment opportunities remain below average are resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in urban areas. 


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook for February to September 2022 remain largely unchanged except for the following:

    • Formal maize imports are expected to increase although at below normal levels during the course of the outlook period as a significant 2022/23 national cereal deficit is anticipated.
    • The government is expected to continue the upward review of grain producer prices to the GMB during the marketing season, in line with inflation. Maize grain and maize meal prices are expected to remain above last year’s prices and the five-year average throughout the outlook period due to below normal national supplies and anticipated below normal imports.   
    • Global price increases related to the Ukraine crisis as well as domestic inflationary pressures are expected to continue driving prices significantly above average for fuel, grain, fertilizer, and other commodities during the outlook period. Above normal production and transport costs are expected to further increase the prices of goods and services, including food prices.
    • Above normal prices and likely shortages of fertilizer are expected to negatively impact winter cropping and preparations for the 2022/23 cropping season both at large-scale commercial and smallholder subsistence levels.
    • COVID-19 transmissions are likely to increase during winter (May - July), similar to last year. However, it is unlikely the government will re-impose strict COVID-19 restriction measures, partly due to increased vaccinations and awareness.


    Dietary diversity and consumption are expected to improve only marginally following the 2022 harvests in deficit-producing eastern, southern, and western areas worst impacted by the poor progression of the agricultural season. Own-produced stocks for the majority of poor households are expected to last less than four months in most deficit-producing areas. Production is likely to be insufficient to allow for crop sales and reduced income across the board will limit household purchasing power amidst above-normal prices. This will result in limited seasonal improvements to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes across these households through September as they continue to adjust the quality and quantity of their diets to manage these shocks. Seasonal improvements are also likely to be constrained by ongoing price shocks as already low income falls well behind persistently high, and rising, inflation.

    In areas where crop damage was significant, up to total write-offs, some households anticipate little to no harvests at all. For worst-affected households, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist even after the harvest. Meanwhile, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to begin emerging at the area level by July as more and more households deplete their own-produced food stocks. Access to food from market purchase will be restricted by anticipated above-average prices and below normal income (including that from casual labor, crop sales, livestock sales, vegetable production and sales, and self-employment).  In order to manage, households are expected to increasingly employ Crisis coping strategies, such as petty trade, informal mining, and labor migration.

    In several surplus-producing areas, especially the highly productive resettlement areas, near-normal harvests and income from crop sales will enhance food diversity and consumption and improve outcomes to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) through September. However, surplus-producing areas more negatively impacted by the poor progression of the season, especially the communal areas, anticipate below-average production and limited crop sales and other income, resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) conditions through September.

    Urban areas are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) throughout the outlook period. Poor households may meet their minimum food needs but will continue to experience difficulty accessing other foods and non-food needs mainly due to below normal income, above-average prices, and the increasing cost of living.


    Figure 1

    Figure 1

    Source: RBZ, FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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