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Food security improved following harvests

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • April - September 2012
Food security improved following harvests

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  • Key Messages
  • Most Likely Food Security Scenario, April to September 2012
  • Key Messages
    • The southern half of the country was most affected by the 2011/12 seasonal drought. The national cereal production estimate for the 2011/2012 season is 1.1 million MT, which is 33 percent less than the 2010/11 season harvest and 15 percent below the 2006-2011 average of 1.3 million MT. The reduced harvest was mainly due to a poor rainfall and fertilizer shortages. 

    • Assuming a national cereal annual requirement of about 2 million MT, Zimbabwe is expected to face a domestic cereal deficit of approximately 440,000 MT after considering the Government stocks of about 311,000 MT, along with private stocks of about 200,000 MT. 

    • The country experienced a drought of similar severity and location during the 2009/10 season. In the subsequent consumption year (2010/11) the Zimbabwe National Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVac) estimated that 10-15 of the population was food insecure the worst affected areas during the April to September period. A similar level of food insecurity is anticipated in the drought affected areas during current the outlook period.

    Most Likely Food Security Scenario, April to September 2012

    Current food security conditions

    The national food security situation has generally improved in both rural and urban areas following the 2011/12 harvests. Most farming households in the northern half of the country continue to enjoy varied a green harvest of green mealies, groundnuts, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. In the low lying vlei areas, some households are already in the process of drying harvests since they managed to have an early crop. Tobacco farmers, mostly concentrated in some districts of Manicaland and the three Mashonaland provinces, are at the peak of reaping, curing and selling. These cash crop activities are increasing casual labor opportunities for many poor households. The seasonal reduction in cropping activities combined with recent rainfall has also created conditions favorable for gold panning in several rural districts. Many middle income and poor households are participating in gold panning activities in many districts across the country.

    Food markets throughout the country continue to be well supplied with basic foodstuffs at generally stable prices. Households in the southern half of the country are mostly dependent on the market for their staple cereal needs and these markets are mostly supplied from sources outside of their region. The drought conditions experienced in the southern part of the country have reduced seasonal crop harvests and resulted in higher grain prices.

    Seasonal food aid distributions by the World Food Program (WFP) are currently tapering off as the main harvest arrives in local markets.  Food assistance activities have contributed significantly to the food security of households in the southern drought-affected rural areas of the country. The country is currently classified as having minimal levels of acute food insecurity (Figure 1).

    Projected food security scenario, April - September 2012

    Zimbabwe experienced drought during the 2007/08 and the 2009/10 cropping seasons. The 2007/08 drought affected most parts of the country and severely affected crop production. Crop production estimates during the 2007/08 season by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) and the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) put the maize and total cereal harvests at about 471,000 MT and 563,000 MT, respectively. The 2009/10 drought was mostly experienced among eastern districts and in the southern half of the country. Crop production estimates for the 2009/10 maize and cereal harvests were 1.3 million MT and 1.5 million MT, respectively. National cereal harvests have averaged about 1.3 million MT in the recent past five years against a national cereal requirement of about 2 million MT (Figure 2). The resultant cereal deficits have been met through imports by the government, private sector and the humanitarian community.

    The national cereal production estimate for the 2011/2012 season is 1.1 million MT (968,041 MT of maize), 33 percent less than the previous season (an above average harvest) and 15 percent below the recent six-year average of 1.3 million MT. The reduced harvest was mainly due to a poor rainfall and fertilizer shortages. The provinces most affected by the 2011/2012 season drought in the southern half of the country include most of Masvingo, the central and southern parts of Manicaland, Matabeleland South, and the southern parts of Matabeleland North.

    Assuming a national cereal annual requirement of about 2 million MT,  the country is expected to face a deficit of about 440,000 MT after taking into consideration the Government Stock of about 311,000 MT, and private stocks of about 200,000 MT (Table 1). In recent years, cereal imports have able to cover greater harvest deficits. Hence, cereals are expected to be generally available in markets during this Outlook period.

    The two major cash crops produced during the summer season are tobacco and cotton. Cotton is grown by smallholder farming households in the Mashonaland, Midlands, Masvingo and southern parts of the Manicaland provinces. Most of these areas, with the exception of Masvingo, did not suffer much from moisture deficits during the 2011/12 cropping season. Both cash crops were planted on about 500,000 ha during the 2011/12 season. The land area for tobacco and cotton has increased by about 7 percent. Cotton and tobacco production averaged 238,000 MT and 103,000 MT, respectively, in the recent past five years.  The Ministry of Agriculture estimates tobacco production for the 2011/12 season to be 133,600 MT or 2 percent greater than last year’s harvest. Tobacco harvesting, curing and marketing are currently at peak and these activities are generating significant casual labor opportunities for the poor in these provinces. Cotton is currently in the flowering and ball formation growth stages. Ball picking and marketing is expected to occur, seasonally, from June to August 2012. These activities will also result in increased cash flows into the rural areas growing the crop through to September 2012.

    Markets and Prices

    Maize prices show a seasonal pattern of decreasing from April to June through to August and then increasing from September through to the end of the consumption year. The decrease in maize prices from April is influenced by the producers’ marketing of the harvest from the summer cropping. The increase from July onward is a result the gradual reduction in maize inflows onto the market. A similar pattern is expected in the current consumption year, albeit at higher price levels due to the reduced harvest and increases in oil prices. According to data collected from the Mbare Musika market in Harare, maize prices have been relatively stable over the past twelve months.  The regional maize harvest deficit is likely to increase dependence of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region on international grain markets. These influences are likely to be felt from September onwards as the lean season begins and when maize prices typically rise.

    The annual reduction of food assistance distributions in late March within the southern districts is likely to result in worsening food security conditions for poor households in these areas from April onwards as these households have chronic difficulty meeting livelihoods protection needs. However, this might be offset by the anticipated grain price decrease from April through to July/August. During this period harvest from the surplus regions of the country is expected to seasonally ameliorate the impacts of the drought in the southern region of the country and the affected households’ food security conditions.

    While all smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe practice mixed farming (crop and livestock production), the importance of livestock production is relatively greater in the drier agro-ecological regions covering most of the southern districts and the northern fringes of the country. Grazing lands and livestock conditions were found to be in fair to good condition by the Ministry of Agriculture’s second round crop and livestock assessment conducted in April 2012. Subsequent rainfall developments throughout the country suggest a continuation of fair to good grazing and livestock conditions from April through to September. Grazing conditions and water availability in communal areas is normally poor and inadequate from September until the end of November, when the next rainfall season begins.

    Additionally, the following general key assumptions will apply for the April-September most likely scenario:

    • Global and regional maize prices will remain stable or decline during the harvest season until September
    • The currently prevailing stable macroeconomic conditions persist throughout the Outlook period
    • Trade in maize will remain liberalized with private sector traders finding it viable

    Comparing current conditions to past years, Zimbabwe experienced a drought of similar severity and location during the 2009/2010 season. During this analogue year, 5-10 percent of the population in the major maize-producing areas in the northern half of the country were considered food insecure as were more than 20 percent of the population in the traditionally cereal deficit districts in the southern half of the country. These needs were most apparent after September. In addition, over the past five years, data from the ZimVac and MoA suggest a strong relationship between national cereal production and the size of the food insecure population during the lean season (December-February), when rural acute food insecurity usually peaks (Figure 4).

    This year, the lean season is likely to begin 1-2 months earlier than usual. Once the main harvest runs out in September, households in the southern region will be market dependent. Since maize prices are likely to be higher and poor household employment opportunities are likely to remain low due to decreased crop yield in the region, household purchasing power in these areas will likely be reduced. Levels of malnutrition are expected to remain stable at levels similar to those reported in 2010 and 2011 (Figure 5). Acute food insecurity during the April – September 2012 period is expected to remain minimal (IPC Phase 1), though conditions are expected to deteriorate later in the consumption year (Figure 6 and 7).

    Table 1. Less likely events over the next six months that could change the above scenario



    Impact on food security outcomes

    The southern districts of the country

    Increase in international  maize prices

    Restricted food access by poor households to imported grain on the market resulting from high prices

    The cereal deficit districts in the southern region

    Inadequate staple cereal imports due to negative domestic food trade policies

    Market maize shortages resulting in sharp retail maize price increases

    The entire country

    Intensification of election campaigns

    In the past Presidential and Parliamentarian elections have be associated with violence that has lead to serious disruptions of some households’ livelihoods  through displacements rendering these household food insecure.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current estimated food security conditions, April 2012

    Figure 2

    Current estimated food security conditions, April 2012

    Source: FEWS NET

    2006-12 Staple Cereal Production

    Figure 3

    2006-12 Staple Cereal Production

    Source: MoA

    National Cereal Balance sheet 2012/13

    Figure 4

    National Cereal Balance sheet 2012/13

    Source: MoA and FEWS NET

    Food Insecure Population Trends Compared to Cereal Production Trends

    Figure 5

    Food Insecure Population Trends Compared to Cereal Production Trends

    Source: ZimVac and MoA

    Child Malnutrition Trends, 2003-2007

    Figure 6

    Child Malnutrition Trends, 2003-2007

    Source: Zimbabwe Health and Demographic Survey and Ministry of Health

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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