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Food security conditions remain stable as the lean season ends

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Zimbabwe
  • March 2012
Food security conditions remain stable as the lean season ends

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  • Key Messages
  • Update to the most likely scenario through June 2012
  • Areas of Concern
  • Key Messages
    • Foodstuffs continue to be available in most rural and urban markets at generally stable prices. The green harvest since early March, particularly in the northern half of the country, is increasing food availability to both rural and urban households. 

    • Food assistance programmes by Government and the World Food Programme (WFP) continue to provide basic foodstuffs to over 1 million people, mainly the chronically poor.

    • Crop performance was poor in southern half of the country, particularly in Masvingo and Matabeleland South and parts of Midlands and Manicaland provinces. Though this is frequent, it may contribute to above-average food insecurity during the 2013 lean season. 

    Update to the most likely scenario through June 2012

    The food security situation at national level has generally remained stable. In March, the majority of households are, as normal, dependant on the market for most of their food supplies, including staple cereals. Basic food stuffs are generally available on the market at relatively stable prices. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat), the year-on year inflation rate averaged 4.4 percent between September 2011 and January 2012. Over the past twelve months the trends in the value of food items in the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe’s minimum basket for a low-income urban household in Zimbabwe are also stable.

    The green harvest began in the northern half of the country in mid-February. Green mealies, groundnuts, pumpkins and melons are forming a significant share of the daily diet for the majority of rural and urban households in this region. From April onwards, the dry harvest of maize from the northern half of the country is expected to increase food supply on the markets throughout the country through June 2012. Staple cereal prices are expected to decline seasonably nationwide through June, though the likely below average national harvest, coupled with recent increases in fuel prices may keep 2012 cereal prices at levels higher than last year’s.

    Tobacco marketing started in February and about 15 million kg of tobacco had been sold at an average price of USD 3.64/kg by mid March 2012. Both sales the sales volume and unit price were about 20 percent higher compared to the same period last year. Tobacco production has been on an increase for the last four years and tobacco sales are an important indication of the capacity of the tobacco farmers to pay for casual labour, which is provided by the rural poor.

    Many maize producers delivered their grain to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) last season but were not paid for their crop then. GMB made the grain payments in early March 2012 to the tune of about US$22million. This injection is expected to bolster farming households’ incomes, particularly in the surplus producing areas of Mashonaland, Midlands and Manicaland provinces. The delayed payment could, however, have resulted in inadequate preparations for the current cropping season by many farmers.

    Despite the generally stable food security conditions, the food-insecure population was estimated by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac) to have peaked around mid-February 2012 at 1.4 million people. Less than 30 percent of the food insecure households are estimated to be in the urban areas. The majority of the assessed food insecurity is as a result of chronic poverty and not recent shocks to livelihoods. Less than 20 percent of the total population of mapped areas faces deficits in meeting minimum non-food (livelihood protection) needs; of these, fewer face food deficits. Consequently, the country is currently classified to have minimal levels of acute food insecurity (Figures 1 and 2).

    Government and WFP food assistance programmes are currently reaching out to more than 1 million food-insecure households in the rural areas, mostly. However, the urban poor and food-insecure households in districts with less than 10 percent food-insecure population continue to be largely unattended due to the existence of poorly resourced national social protection programmes.

    Areas of Concern

    The southern districts covering most of Masvingo and Matabeleland South, parts of Midlands and Manicaland provinces are going to have a poor crop harvest (Figures 3 and 4). Note that southern areas showing “No start/Late start” cultivate a higher proportion of millet and sorghum, for which water requirements are relatively less than for maize, for which the model is calibrated. It is still likely that crop performance in this area is poor. In fact, recent assessments indicate that some areas may face complete crop failure. While crop failure is common in some parts of the south, whenever they occur, they retard and sometimes reverse household asset accumulation and resilience to shocks. In general, sources of food among households in southern districts are similar to what they were same time last year. However, crop production is a significant source of food for households in these areas. Households are likely to reduce both green-harvest consumption and dry-harvest stocks. These own-produced green and dry stocks typically last between mid-March and July/August. Instead of relying on own stocks for food, households will increase purchases by intensifying livestock and labor sales.

    In February 2012 maize was going for between 0.39 and 0.56 USD/kg in the southern districts. This price range is similar to what it was in February 2011 for the same districts. Common sources of household income for rural areas in the areas of concern included casual labour, petty trade, gold panning, vegetable sales and livestock sales, particularly small stock like chicken and goats. In some districts mopane worms were both a source of cash income as well as that of protein. Staple cereals prices, wages, remittances, and livestock-to-cereal terms of trade will need to be monitored closely.

    While the rainfall season quality was poor for crop production, it was generally adequate for livestock watering and grazing condition. Consequently, grazing animals (cattle, goat, and donkeys) were in a generally fair to good condition. These will help better-off households to make up for the poor crop condition, but the poor households with low or no livestock will face food challenges they may have difficulties in addressing without external support. The Ministry of Agriculture Crop and Livestock Assessments as well as the ZimVac assessments in April and May/June 2012 will shade more light on the national and sub-national crop production forecast as well as the food security situation in the coming consumption year.

    With better crop performance last season, the southern districts were assessed to have some of the highest prevalence of food insecure households. It is therefore most likely that higher food insecurity prevalence will prevail in these districts in the current consumption.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events Timeline

    Source: FEWS NET

    Water Requirement Satisfaction Index model showing estimated maize crop conditions as of 10 March 2012.

    Figure 2

    Water Requirement Satisfaction Index model showing estimated maize crop conditions as of 10 March 2012.

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Water Requirements Satisfaction Index Anomaly (based on 1996-2011 average) for maize showing estimated maize crop conditions

    Figure 3

    Water Requirements Satisfaction Index Anomaly (based on 1996-2011 average) for maize showing estimated maize crop conditions as of 10 March 2012

    Source: USGS/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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