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Significant food gaps expected in southern parts of the country due to drought conditions

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • April - September 2015
Significant food gaps expected in southern parts of the country due to drought conditions

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Based on unofficial 2014/15 second round crop estimates, national projected cereal production are approximately 48 and 39 percent lower than last year and the five-year average, respectively. Maize production, the preferred staple by most rural households, decreased by approximately 49 percent from last year and by 32 percent from the five-year average. Based on these estimates, the country is expecting a 990,000 MT cereal deficit during the 2015/16 consumption year.

    • Most households in the cereal surplus areas in the north are currently experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes and this is expected to continue through September. However, rural households in the south produced next to nothing this season, so they continue to rely on market purchases for their basic food needs and are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2). In the absence of any assistance, households will likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from July through September. 

    • Very poor households in the south typically receive large assistance flows, however if this assistance does not occur Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food security outcomes are expected between October 2015 and March 2016 in the southern region. Even in the presence of assistance, households would still be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to the above-average retail maize prices expected in the southern areas. 

    2015/16 Cereal Production Estimates

    Based on the unpublished results of the 2015/16 second round crop production and livestock assessment, the total cereal production for the season is estimated to be 810,000 MT, which is approximately 48 percent lower than the previous season production and 39 percent below the five-year average. Production for maize alone decreased by approximately 49 and 32 percent from last year and the five-year average, respectively. With annual domestic cereal requirements for both humans and livestock estimated at 1.78 million MT, the country is likely to face a cereal deficit of about 990,000 MT during the 2015/16 consumption year. The factors affecting this year’s production include, a delayed start to the season by 10- 40 days in most northern areas, flooding, poor distribution of rains, and prolonged dry spells in the southern districts (especially from mid-January through the end of March). Government stocks through the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) are very low; however, plans for imports by both government and private traders will likely cover most of the cereal production gap this consumption year.

    2015/16 Cash Crop Production Estimates

    Tobacco production for 2015/16 is estimated to be around 160,000 MT or 26 percent below production last year. The current seasonal average price for tobacco is around $USD 2. 64 per kg and although steadily increasing, the price remains more than 14 percent lower than average prices during this same period last year. Sales this year will likely be lower than both the previous year and the two-year average. This decline in tobacco prices is attributed to the poor quality of the crop due to the effects of poor rainfall, along with an increase in the number of inexperienced farmers growing the crop without adequate inputs. Cotton production also declined by 41 percent in comparison to the previous year. This decline has been occurring for consecutive years now due to poor rainfall and low marketing prices, but this season reductions in the areas cropped also contributed to the lower production levels.

    2015/16 Livestock Estimates

    Cattle census figures estimate that national holdings decreased by two percent when compared to last year. This slight decrease is attributed to reduced pasture conditions and the increased prevalence of diseases, including those that are tickborne.                           

    Current Situation
    • Most rural households, including the poor in the northern districts, are experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. Household access to cereals in these northern areas is mainly own production from the ongoing harvest and carryover stocks from the previous season. Markets in these areas are also fully stocked and maize prices are averaging approximately 41 percent below ($0.36/kg) the current national average.
    • The southern half of the country has been severely affected by drought conditions and most households continue to access their staple foods through market purchases. Most crops, including maize and small grains, wilted beyond recovery. Based on a recent FEWS NET field assessment in Matabeleland South, most households will produce next to nothing this harvest, and the few who planted small grains may have an equivalent of one month’s harvest to consume.
    • The tobacco curing and selling season is currently at its peak in most areas in the northern half of the country and sales are expected to provide rural households income for food and other basic requirements. However, the 26 percent reduction in production volumes and the lower market prices will reduce the overall levels of income received by poor households after costs incurred by curing, processing, transporting, and marketing the tobacco.
    • In the southern region, harvest labor (paid in-kind) is typically a source of food/income in April and May, but because of the poor seasonal rains and crops this season, this source of income has been significantly reduced. In the northern region, the reduction in production levels has also resulted in the reduction of agriculture related causal labor.
    • Overall most households in the areas of concern in the southern region of the country are currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity outcomes.
    • Nearly all households across all wealth groups in the south, are accessing cereals through market purchases. Currently most markets have locally produced supplies of maize grain, small grains, and maize meal. Supplies from Botswana are available in markets in the Mange and Plumtree areas. However, since March prices have started to increase. Maize grain prices in Gwanda, Beitbridge, Mangwe, and Matobo is averaging $0.46/kg, which is a 44 percent increase from February prices. However, these prices are still below those last year and the five-year average.
    • The government is providing $15-25 per month for 10 – 20 percent of vulnerable and labor constrained households in 21 districts through the harmonized social cash transfer program. Save the Children is also implementing a cash transfer program targeting about 6,400 households in Binga, and Kariba districts through the USAID Emergency Food Security Program.
    • Livestock is still in good to fair condition across the country, but based on the second round crop and livestock report the cattle population has decreased by about two percent due to the poor quality of pasture and outbreaks of diseases. A recent FEWS NET assessment found that prices for livestock in Matabeleland South were still high (24 – 66 percent above the reference year).
    National Assumptions

    The analysis for the April-September 2015 period is informed by the following national assumptions:

    • Cereal production: Based on unofficial 2015/16 second round crop estimates, FEWS NET is assuming that maize production is 49 percent lower than the 2013/14 season and 39 percent lower than the five-year average. This reduced production is more severe in the southern districts and some of the northern areas (Chegutu, Kariba, Mhondoro- Ngezi, Mudzi, Murehwa, Mutoko, and Mbire districts). Overall, households in surplus areas in the north are likely to meet their cereal consumption requirements through their own production, while households in the southern parts are likely to continue depending on market purchases throughout the consumption year.
    • Maize meal and grain: Availability at the national level will remain relatively stable from May to September due to the ongoing harvests. Imports by the government and private traders from Zambia and South Africa are likely, as well as the normal flow of food supplies from surplus to deficit areas in the southwestern parts of the country from May-June. The role of private traders in importing GMO free maize grain from neighboring countries, especially Zambia, will be important during the outlook period. The lifting of Government cereal import restrictions will help to improve cereal availability in the southern deficit areas.
    • Staple food prices: Due to poor staple production in the south and seven northern districts, national staple food prices began increasing in March. Between April and June, these prices are likely to remain stable due to the effect of cereal flows from the northern areas to the southern parts of the country. GMB supplies, though limited, will also help to stabilize national staple prices. Nonetheless, in the south prices are expected to remain higher than the five-year average due to rising prices in source markets. With the anticipated early start of the lean season in the southern deficit districts, staple prices in this region are likely to increase significantly during the July-September period. Demand for maize grain and maize meal through market purchases is expected to increase during this period. Supplies will probably be low towards the end of this period, and this is when imports by private traders will be the most important. Average national maize prices this marketing season are projected to remain 10-30 percent higher than the 5-year average.
    • Harvest-labor availability and rates: Between April and June, most households typically engage in harvest-labor that is in-kind and later switch over to construction labor and gardening activities from July through September. However due to this year’s poor and below-average cereal and cash crop production, opportunities for harvesting between April and June are reduced this year. This reduction in labor opportunities will likely result in an over-supply of laborers, followed by subsequent decreases in harvest-labor rates.
    • Construction-labor availability and rates: Most households switch over to construction-labor and gardening activities from July through September. Construction labor is likely to reduce during these months because it is assumed that the better-off households (that normally provide this labor) will instead need to use that cash on cereal purchases.
    • Livestock: Livestock conditions are expected to be fair to good during the outlook period. The rainfall received at the end of March will likely improve pastures and water sources. Marginal livestock price decreases are likely to occur when the quality of livestock deteriorates around September when pasture conditions begin to deteriorate and water becomes scarce. Some households will also start making distress sales in order to raise incomes for cereal purchases.
    • Self-employment: Activities such as natural resources exploitation or mining are expected to remain at normal levels. Income through precious mineral panning is also expected to be ongoing throughout the outlook period.
    • Assistance: Although food assistance and cash transfers by the World Food Program (WFP) and the government are expected to begin during the outlook period, the Conditional Lean Season Assistance (STA) is unlikely to start between May and September. The WFP productive asset creation activities for non-labor constrained households will take place from June to October, targeting around 200,000 beneficiaries. The Ministry of Social Welfare will likely continue to support vulnerable households through providing monthly cash transfers, but the coverage of the program is likely to be extremely limited. 
     Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The majority of very poor households in the northern areas will be able to meet most of their food needs from own production and will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes from April through September. However most very poor and poor households in southern areas including districts in Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South, parts of Midlands, and Manicaland and selected northern districts of Mbire, Chegutu, Mhondoro-Ngezi, parts of  Murehwa, and Mutoko will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes from April through June. These outcomes are caused by drought in these areas, which has left households with no meaningful harvest, labor, and entirely dependent on market purchases. In the absence of assistance, the food security situation in these areas is expected to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from July through September and most households will start experiencing both survival and livelihood protection gaps. Markets will continue functioning but prices in the projected deficit areas are expected to increase above the five-year average, especially from July through September. Private traders are likely to play an important role in supplying markets in the southern areas, and most of their maize meal will be imported from neighboring South Africa and Botswana. Both harvest and construction labor opportunities are projected to decrease across the country owing to the effects of poor production. In the northern tobacco growing areas, poor households may find additional labor opportunities through curing, processing, marketing, and transportation of tobacco crops; however, incomes will likely be reduced due to the decrease in tobacco volumes. 



    Figures Current food security outcomes, April 2015.

    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, April 2015.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Seasonal Calendar

    Figure 2

    Seasonal Calendar

    Source: Fews Net

    Figure 3


    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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