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Large scale-up of humanitarian assistance to improve food security through the peak of the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Zimbabwe
  • December 2019
Large scale-up of humanitarian assistance to improve food security through the peak of the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook Through May 2020
  • Key Messages
    • Large-scale humanitarian food assistance is anticipated to improve the food security situation across the country from January through April. As a result, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) food security outcomes are expected until the harvest in April 2020. Currently, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist across much of the country as a result of long-depleted own-produced stocks, below normal household incomes, and above normal market prices. Atypical food security outcomes are expected with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) present in the post-harvest period in high production areas and in typical deficit production areas Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected.

    • Erratic and poorly distributed mid-November rainfall marked the start of the 2019/20 season. The poor rainfall was followed by three weeks of very high temperatures and dryness through the first week of December. This affected agricultural activities and other livelihoods across the country. Despite rainfall resuming during the second week of December, area planted for the 2019/20 season is expected to be significantly below average. The poor rainfall performance during the first half of the season will be compounded by the forecasted below normal rainfall during the second half (January to March 2020) of the rainy season.

    • Inflationary pressures continue as prices of most commodities and services increase; further reducing poor households’ purchasing power. The government re-introduced the maize meal subsidy following the near doubling of prices at the end of November after the government had indicated plans to remove the subsidy in January 2020. Maize meal shortages are being experienced across most areas following the announcement with prices yet to return to levels prior to the subsidy announcement in most areas. Most markets, even in typical surplus production areas, are without maize grain, increasing demand for maize meal and contributing to the high maize meal prices.

    • Seasonal livelihood activities such as casual labor for land preparation, planting, and weeding are significantly below normal. Drought-related cattle deaths continue due to poor livestock conditions, affecting incomes and draught power. Distress livestock sales are common as households seek to earn some income instead of losing their stock. Other livelihood activities such as remittances, petty trade, and self-employment remain subdued due to on-going economic challenges. 


    Following erratic and poorly distributed rains, cumulative rainfall through early December was generally below average. Mid-November rains were followed by three weeks of little to no precipitation accompanied by very high temperatures, affecting agricultural activities, other livelihoods activities such as casual labor, self-employment, sale of wild products, and resulted in water stress in some planted crops. Moderate to heavy rainfall during the second week of December decreased rainfall deficits with average to above average cumulative rainfall as of mid-December in areas of the country. This slightly increased agriculture activities; however, cropping activity, mainly land preparation, planting, fertilizer application, and weeding remain below average. Dry and hot conditions again set in after the short rains. As a result, area planted for the 2019/20 season is expected to be substantially below average, also in part due to widespread crop input and draught power shortages. Livestock conditions, especially for cattle, remain poor as water and pasture availability and access challenges continue. As of early December, nearly 21,000 drought-related cattle deaths have been reported in Matebeleland North and South Provinces this year, which is above normal levels. Additionally, atypically high numbers of livestock deaths have been reported in other parts of the country. Incomes from livestock sales are also below average given the poor livestock conditions and erosion of herd sizes due to consecutive poor seasons.

    Typical livelihood activities for this time of the year are severely being impacted by the negative macroeconomic environment, last season’s below normal harvests, and poor progression of the 2019/20 rainfall season. On- and off-farm cash and in-kind casual labor opportunities are very limited and payment rates are below normal, taking away a significant seasonal income source. Petty trade has increased; however, household incomes are very low and unpredictable due to poor demand as a result of poor disposable incomes on the markets. Bartering for grain or other basic food commodities is being reported in some communities, involving for instance livestock (large and small), household assets and garden produce. Some household members are migrating for labor as a coping strategy to purchase food and other basic needs.

    Inflationary pressures continue as prices of most goods and services further increase, some in US Dollar terms, as the end of 2019 approaches. The new Zimbabwe Dollar (ZWL) notes and coins as well as bond notes and coins remain in short supply in the formal markets. Parallel market exchange rates and interbank market rates for the US Dollar increased by about 10 percent in December from the November rates, averaging ZWL $21.0 and ZWL $16.5 (electronic or mobile transfers) to the US Dollar, respectively. The ZWL in the parallel market is selling between 40 and 55 percent, affecting most poor households whose incomes are very low and quickly depreciating.

    The demand for cash is high as cash payments for goods and services are generally cheaper than electronic and mobile money payments (especially in the informal markets). Some goods and services are only available for cash, which is very scarce. Coins less than ZWL $1 are increasingly being rejected in the formal and informal markets as inflation increases. Fuel and electricity shortages continue, contributing to the high pricing of goods and services. The government re-introduced the maize meal subsidy in early December following the near doubling of prices at the end of November after the government had indicated plans to remove the subsidy starting January 2020. Though some outlets have reduced maize meal prices, others have not yet done so in response. Maize meal shortages are being reported across most markets following the announcement to remove the maize grain subsidy. Most markets are without maize grain and imports are slow as a result of foreign currency shortages.

    Currently, most of the country is experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes, with some areas of the country in Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) as humanitarian assistance is improving outcomes.   


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook for October 2019 to May 2020 remain unchanged, except for the following updates:

    • WFP along with other humanitarian partners have plans to reach nearly 4.0 million people at the peak of the lean season, January through April across the country. Detailed plans for assistance from government were not available.


    Planned and likely humanitarian food assistance is expected to lead to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) food security outcomes across the country from January through April 2020. Despite the large-scale assistance, some poor households are still expected to rely on markets as their main food source and experience challenges accessing food due to significantly below average incomes. As a result, FEWS NET anticipates there will still be some households in both rural and urban areas that will likely face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.   

    The green harvest around February/March is likely to be below average as will be the main harvest, which is anticipated to start in late-April/May. The main harvest will likely lead to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in high-production areas; however, in most typical deficit-producing areas in the south, west, and extreme north of the country, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to remain after the harvest in May as humanitarian food assistance is only planned up to April.


    Figure 1


    This monthly report covers current conditions as well as changes to the projected outlook for food insecurity in this country. It updates FEWS NET’s quarterly Food Security Outlook. Learn more about our work here.

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