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Household food access is improving with the ongoing harvests

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Zimbabwe
  • April 2023
Household food access is improving with the ongoing harvests

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through September 2023
  • Key Messages
    • The start of the 2023 harvests in April is improving food access and dietary diversity across Zimbabwe, driving widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in deficit-producing areas and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in surplus-producing areas. However, anticipated below-average harvests due to poorly distributed rainfall will likely result in most households depleting their food stocks earlier than normal in some southern and other deficit-producing areas, resulting in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes emerging by August/September. In the typical surplus-producing areas, communal areas with lower crop production will likely experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes by September, while resettlement areas will continue to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

    • Market supplies of staple grains are still below average as the harvest begins. However, market demand for maize and other staple grains is reducing as most households begin consuming cereals from their harvests. In most markets, staple grain prices in USD have remained unchanged since prices peaked in February and March. Significant seasonal price drops are expected to begin in May, particularly in the northern areas. Market supplies in the south will likely be near-normal as the government now allows self-financed farmers to sell openly on the markets.

    • Headline inflation remains high, compounded by high production, fuel, and transportation costs. In April, the local ZWL further depreciated as the parallel market and official exchange rates increased by about 70 and 20 percent compared to February, respectively. Between February and April, bread, sugar, and wheat flour prices increased by about 40 percent, with maize meal prices increasing by nearly 60 percent. Rice and vegetable oil prices increased by about 20 percent. The high and increasing food prices are lowering household purchasing power and limiting market purchases.

    • Household access to income from agricultural labor remains lower than normal, particularly in southern and central areas where the prolonged dry spells have impacted crop production. However, in the northern areas, opportunities for harvesting labor are improving but at below-normal levels. Following the end of the rainy season, artisanal mining activities are increasing across the country. Some poor households are also slowly engaging in or have begun preparations for typical off-farm activities such as brick molding, crafting, grass cutting and sale, and other self-employment activities to earn additional income.

    Current Situation

    A prolonged dry spell in March and April marked an early cessation of the 2022/23 rainfall and agricultural season across the country. This follows erratic rainfall and mid-season dry spells earlier in the season, especially in southern areas. The prolonged dryness and erratic rainfall throughout the season will likely reduce potential yields and production in some areas, especially in the south. However, the northern and other high-production areas recorded a comparatively favorable rainy season and are expected to have relatively higher crop yields. However, even in some of these areas, limited access to crop inputs and persistent rainfall in February that resulted in leaching, waterlogging, poor weed control, and poor chemical application will likely impact some farmers' production.

    Figure 1

    Soil moisture index for maize, March 30, 2023
    Map showing soil moisture index for maize. Widespread Stress outcomes across much of Zimbabwe. Wilting along the southern and eastern border.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    The consumption of green harvests from late-planted crops is tailing off as the main harvest begins. However, the late-planted crops in some areas faced severe water stress with reduced chances of maturing well due to the prolonged dryness experienced in March and April. The harvesting of the early planted matured cereals, legumes, and pulses increased in April across the country, improving household food access. However, some farmers have resorted to pre-mature harvesting the early planted grains with high moisture content and sun drying them for milling to cover food gaps from the lean season. The ongoing harvests have improved household food access and dietary diversity, reducing food gaps nationwide.

    Market demand for grain and other food items is reducing as households consume cereals, legumes, and other crops from their own production. However, most farmers are still harvesting and drying their grains, while others are yet to start harvesting, keeping local market staple grain supplies and household income from crop sales low.  Market supply and household access to income from crop sales are expected to improve as the harvest continues, particularly in the northern areas. Some markets, mainly in the northern areas, had an early supply of non-staple foods such as ground nuts, round nuts, and sweet potatoes, with market supply across the country expected to improve as the harvest continues. Maize grain prices in USD remain unchanged in most markets. However, in a few markets in some northern areas, prices seasonally and marginally declined from the peak in February and March, partly due to reduced demand and the start of the harvest. In the deficit-producing areas, staple grain prices remain relatively higher than in the surplus-producing areas. However, ZWL prices for maize continue to increase, driven by changes in the parallel market exchange rates.

    In April, the government relaxed grain trade restrictions that required farmers to mainly sell their harvest to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB). Now, farmers can sell their grain to the GMB or contractors who support the farmers with crop inputs, while self-financed farmers can sell openly on the markets. The government has also introduced new payment modalities for most crops. The GMB will buy maize and traditional/small grains at the new producer price of 335 USD per MT, paying 200 USD per MT, with the balance payable in ZWL at the prevailing interbank exchange rate. The GMB will then sell maize and traditional grains to commercial millers and other buyers at 368 USD, requiring payments of 200 USD and the remaining balance at the prevailing interbank rate. This marks a significant increase in payment in foreign currency since the end of the 2022-23 marketing season when the GMB paid 100,000 ZWL and 90 USD per MT. Increased access to markets and higher grain prices will likely support farmers' access to income.

    The harvesting and curing of tobacco are complete across most tobacco-producing areas of northern and eastern Zimbabwe, and marketing at contract and auction floors is in progress. This is improving incomes for tobacco farmers and respective communities. By mid-April, farmers had reportedly sold 62 million kilograms of tobacco, worth around 185 million USD, compared to 57 million kilograms (~169 million USD) during the same period last year. Cotton harvesting has reportedly started in cotton-growing areas, although marketing is yet to start.

    Pastures are fair to good across the country. However, the southern and other arid areas are experiencing an atypically early deterioration in pasture quality and quantity due to the early cessation of rainfall and prolonged dryness experienced during the season. Although drinking water for livestock is generally available, some seasonal streams and water reservoirs in some typical low-rainfall areas are running low while others are already dry, resulting in livestock trekking further distances to access reliable water sources. Nevertheless, livestock conditions are still fair to good across most areas, although poor access to veterinary drugs remains widespread.

    In April, the ZWL further depreciated, with the official and parallel market exchange rates rising. The parallel market exchange rates increased by about 70 percent, trading at around 2,000 ZWL per USD in April compared to 1,200 ZWL per USD in February. Both auction and interbank exchange rates increased by about 20 percent by the end of April from February. The depreciation of the ZWL is limiting household purchasing power. In response to the depreciation of the ZWL, households are increasing their preference to conduct transactions in USD or South African Rand (ZAR).

    Food prices have generally increased across the country, mainly in ZWL, following the continued depreciation of the ZWL. Wheat flour, bread, and sugar ZWL prices increased significantly by about 40 percent, while maize meal prices increased nearly 60 percent in Harare since February (Figure 2). Vegetable oil and rice also increased by about 20 percent. Relatedly, prices of wheat flour, maize meal, sugar, and rice are over 400 to nearly 545 percent higher than last year in ZWL, with bread and vegetable oil prices increasing by around 240 to 300 percent in ZWL compared to prices last year. The high and increasing food prices continue limiting household purchasing power, particularly households dependent on market purchases for food. Relatedly, in April, ZIMSTAT reported 11 percent and 11.6 percent increases in the food poverty and total consumption poverty datum lines (ZWL), respectively, compared to March.  

    Cash and in-kind grain payments for the labor associated with harvesting have started mainly in surplus-producing areas, although at below-normal levels due to low liquidity and limited harvested stocks to date among better-off households. However, harvesting labor opportunities and incomes remain below normal in typical deficit-producing areas due to reduced crop production potential. Some poor households with little or poor crop production prospects are beginning to increase their engagement in off-farm income-earning activities such as brick molding, crafting, grass cutting and sale, and vegetable production in the dry winter season. Informal artisanal mining activities are also increasing with the end of the rainy season. Petty trade activities remain above average in rural and urban areas, although income levels remain low due to increased competition and lower-than-normal demand.

    Figure 2

    Basic food commodity price (ZWL) increases, Harare, February to April 2023
    Chart showing Basic food commodity price (ZWL) increases, Harare, February to April 2023. Prices are around 20-60 percent higher in April than in February 2023.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Commercial winter wheat production preparations are ongoing, with farmers preparing the land for planting and procuring inputs. Farmers are likely to plant wheat from April to the end of May. The government is targeting to plant around 85,000 hectares of wheat, a 5 percent increase from last year.

    Across Zimbabwe, acute food insecurity is declining as household food access and availability improve with the start of the 2023 harvest. The increased availability of own-produced crops supports Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in all typical deficit-producing areas with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in most surplus-producing areas. However, the continued macroeconomic shocks characterized by increasing and high food prices, low incomes, and increasing parallel market exchange rates maintain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in urban areas.

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for Zimbabwe

    Source: FEWS NET

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET's most likely scenario for the Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook for February to September 2023 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • Some deficit-producing areas will likely have an earlier-than-normal start of the lean season due to the anticipated early depletion of harvested food stocks, high prices, and below-normal incomes.
    • The government relaxation of grain trade restrictions is expected to increase maize grain flows and availability in deficit-producing areas compared to the past few years. Increased maize supply will help moderate maize prices in deficit-producing areas.
    • Households in areas impacted by below-normal or poor harvests are expected to intensify their engagement in petty trade, cross-border trade activities, vegetable production, artisanal mining, livestock sales, the sale of wild produce, among other strategies, to earn income. However, incomes will likely be lower than normal due to increased competition and low demand. High food prices and lower-than-normal income will likely negatively impact household purchasing power, particularly as households increase their dependency on market food purchases.

    Projected Outlook through September 2023

    Following the start of harvests in April, household food consumption, dietary diversity, and food security outcomes are expected to improve. However, production is expected to be lower than normal in some southern, eastern, and western parts of the country that recorded poor rainfall distribution. Own-produced crops in some deficit-producing areas are expected to last up to four months after the harvests are complete, compared to six to seven months normally. Also, crop sales will likely be significantly below average for some farmers and areas due to a lack of a harvest surplus to sell on the market, negatively impacting household access to income from crop sales. Due to the limited production, households will likely rely on food purchases from the market, support from remittances, and engage in typical coping strategies to meet their food needs. However, incomes from other income-earning activities will likely remain below average due to increased competition and low demand. As the winter season progresses, high and increasing food prices and low incomes will likely continue reducing poor households' purchasing power. Affected households are expected to have an earlier start of the lean season, with some areas likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) starting in August/September.

    Typical surplus-producing areas (communal and resettlement areas) with relatively higher crop production for consumption and sales are expected to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes after the harvests. Cash and in-kind payments from harvesting labor will supplement food and incomes for poor households. Grain prices are expected to drop from the peak lean season prices due to increased availability and lower demand. However, some households in the lesser productive communal areas will likely deplete their own-produced stocks earlier than normal, resulting in the emergence of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes around September. Urban areas are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through the outlook period, driven by low incomes and increasing food and non-food prices.

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook Update, April 2023: Household food access is improving with the ongoing harvests, 2023. 

    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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