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Reinstated strict COVID-19 measures limit food and income access mostly for poor urban households

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Zimbabwe
  • July 2020
Reinstated strict COVID-19 measures limit food and income access mostly for poor urban households

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Due to the reinstated strict COVID-19 measures, household income and access to food mainly among low-income urban households are again limited with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes expected in urban areas through September. Most deficit-producing areas across the country are expected to continue experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with some worst-affected households in these areas likely to be in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Most surplus-producing areas will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) through September as poor households consume own-produced foods. However, as own-produced stocks are depleted in these areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to emerge.

    • Associated with the significant increase in COVID-19 cases in July, the government announced strict COVID-19 measures on July 21. Now, movement is mainly restricted except for essential services. In the informal sector only registered small and medium businesses can operate as well as food markets. This has reversed improvements in income, especially for low-income urban households, that was observed following the progressive relaxation of COVID-19 measures in May/June.

    • The volatile macroeconomy continues to drive high prices on the market. The official annual inflation rate in June was reported at 737 percent. Despite continued volatility in the market, the depreciation of the local currency on the parallel market has relatively stabilized. However, the parallel market exchange rate remains at least 20 percent above the official exchange rate, continuing to influence pricing on the markets. Maize grain and maize meal remain largely unavailable on most markets, especially in deficit-producing southern, western, and extreme northern areas. 

    • Livelihoods and household income across most parts of the country continue to be restricted. Crop sales in surplus-producing areas are somewhat limited and largely unavailable elsewhere. Labor opportunities are generally below average following the poor harvest and prevailing macroeconomic challenges. Incomes from livestock sales remain poor due to low demand as well as poor livestock conditions in traditional low rainfall areas where water and pasture conditions are quickly deteriorating.  


    As of July 30, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increased by about 420 percent to 3,092 cases compared to June 30. Of the confirmed cases, 2,115 were active, with 53 deaths. Most of the recent infections are reported to be through local transmissions. However, the number of cases among returnees from mainly South Africa remains high especially given spiking cases in South Africa, now the fifth-worst affected country globally. Harare accounted for nearly 39 percent of the local cases followed by Bulawayo at 37 percent. As a result of the spike in infections, the government re-introduced stringent measures to curb the rapid spread of the virus as of July 22. As part of these measures, only essential services, including registered small and medium enterprises and food markets, can operate. Although, business hours are restricted from 8 AM to 3 PM. The rest of the population is required to stay at home except for emergencies and purchasing food. A night curfew is being enforced across the country. National borders remain closed except for essential goods and services and rural-urban and inter-city transport services remain banned. Localized stricter lockdown measures are planned for some hotspot areas.

    Macroeconomic conditions continue to be generally volatile, impacting poor households’ livelihoods and access to food and income. ZIMSTAT reported the June annual inflation rate at 737 percent, remaining very high despite a slight decrease from 786 percent in May (Figure 1). However, monthly inflation increased to 32 percent in June from 15 percent in May. From July 28, following the sixth weekly foreign currency auction, the USD was officially exchanging at 76.8 ZWL/USD, a 35 percent increase from June 23, after the first auction. The depreciation of the ZWL to USD exchange rate on the parallel market slowed following the introduction of the auction system; however, the parallel market rate remains at least 20 percent above the official rate. The use of the USD is increasing across the markets, with some businesses, mostly in the informal sector, now requiring only the USD for payment. This is disadvantaging mainly poor households with low incomes earned in ZWL. The government now requires all providers of goods and services to display prices in both the USD and ZWL at prevailing official exchange rate. However, the government has indicated there are no plans of abandoning the ZWL even as the use of the USD increases.

    Prices of most staple foods and non-food items remain significantly above average and continue to increase in local currency although at a slower rate. Stable prices were observed for some commodities during the month. Bread prices decreased by around 30 percent in early July compared to the end of June as the government assured millers of access to foreign currency at the official exchange rate. Maize grain and maize meal continue to be in short supply especially in typical deficit-producing areas. Subsidized maize meal remains unavailable. Fuel availability priced in ZWL has worsened compared to recent months with available stocks selling mainly sold in USD.

    Due to below-normal grain supplies, formal and informal imports continue, which is atypical in the post-harvest period. Some farmers mainly from surplus-producing areas continue to deliver grain to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB). On July 21, the government further increased maize and traditional (small) grain producer prices by 31 percent to 21,000 ZWL and 21,913 ZWL, respectively. This is the third increase since April when the 2020/21 marketing year started. Tobacco sales continue, with reports of deliveries increasing since the end of June following the introduction of the foreign currency auction system, enhancing incomes for households in tobacco-producing areas. A high proportion of cotton farmers have reportedly not been paid for their sales, following the end of June government ban on merchant and agent mobile money transactions, which most companies use to pay farmers. This is restricting cotton farmers’ income.

    Water availability and access are fast deteriorating most notably in typical low rainfall areas. In some communities, households have resorted to sand scooping for water on dry riverbeds or traveling very long distances to water points. This is impacting typical livelihoods such as vegetable production and sales as well as casual labor and self-employment opportunities, most of which are also being affected by the poor macroeconomic environment. Pastures are poor to very poor in such areas and so are livestock (mainly cattle) conditions. 

    Swarms of African Migratory Locusts were detected at the end of June and early July in Chiredzi District, southeastern Zimbabwe. The locusts are believed to be breeding in the game reserves and sugar cane fields. The government, FAO, and other partners are working on identifying nesting and breeding sites for implementing control measures. Some villagers have been reported harvesting locusts for consumption. 

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes continue across deficit-producing areas in the south, west, and extreme north of the country due to below normal access to both food and income. With the introduction of strict COVID-19 restrictions during the third week of July, there is an increase in urban households experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) given the disruption to livelihood activities and incomes, as well as little to no savings among low-income households. Outcomes in some typical surplus-producing areas in the north continue to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) as even poor households rely on own-produced crops and can meet most of their non-food needs through crop sales, labor, and vegetable production and sales.


    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook for June 2020 to January 2021 remain unchanged except for the following:

    • Given the recent trend, COVID-19 transmission and confirmed cases are likely to continue to increase in the near to medium term. The situation will likely be compounded by continuing labor unrest by nurses and doctors in public health institutions, affecting national response systems to manage and contain the pandemic. 
    • The re-introduction of stringent anti-COVID-19 measures is expected to impact formal and informal sectors but mainly the latter. This is expected at least through September.
    • In a bid to balance COVID-19 control and economic considerations the government is likely to relax some strict COVID-19 measures in the near term (2 to 3 months).
    • Parallel market exchange rates will likely continue to stabilize but remain above the official rates. Despite this, prices of basic commodities will remain above average with price increases for some commodities mainly in ZWL terms anticipated across markets.
    • Control measures by government and partners are likely to be implemented against the spread of the African Migratory Locusts in the southeastern Lowveld, which may help limit the spread of locusts. 


    Across most deficit-producing areas of the country, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist throughout the outlook period due to reduced/depleted own-produced stocks and reliance on markets where access will be poor due to below-average purchasing power. Households are expected to engage in consumption-based coping including limiting the frequency and quantity of meals as well as livelihood coping such as the atypical sale of livestock and labor migration. In the worst-off districts, some households are expected to experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

    Poor households in most surplus-producing areas are expected to meet their minimum food needs from own-produced stocks through at least late-August/September. They are also expected to have some income from crop sales as well as labor, self-employment, and petty trade. As a result, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in these areas through September. Starting in October, poor households in most surplus-producing areas are expected to rely mainly on markets for food as own-stocks deplete with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes expected at least through January.

    The strict COVID-19 measures are likely to continue to impact predominately low-income urban household access to income and markets. As a result, from August through September, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated. However, incomes are expected to improve with the easing of restrictions in the medium term, which is likely to lead to Stressed (IPC Phase 2).



    Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Wider spread of COVID-19 infections across the provinces

    The government will likely enact more stringent national lockdown measures further worsening poor households’ and other households’ livelihoods and access to food and income across the country

    South-eastern regions and other areas

    Widespread locust occurrences

    If left uncontrolled, the locust outbreak in southeastern Zimbabwe may escalate during the coming rainfall season when more conducive breeding conditions become available, posing a serious threat to crops and livestock



    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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