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Food insecurity to improve in traditional surplus areas, but persist in marginal production areas

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • February - September 2017
Food insecurity to improve in traditional surplus areas, but persist in marginal production areas

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • National Assumptions
  • Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
  • Key Messages
    • Last season’s El Niño-induced drought has been compounded by increasing macroeconomic challenges that the country is facing. During the current 2016/17 lean season, significant populations in the south and marginal areas in the north continue to experience food gaps and face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes between February and April. For the bulk of the north, Stressed (IPC Phase 2 and IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected for February through March, both in the presence and absence of humanitarian assistance respectively.

    • The food insecurity situation is expected to improve starting in May, during the main harvest period. Despite favorable rainfall, areas in the south are expecting below-normal cereal production due to crop input shortages, pests, and low cropped area. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in the southern and marginal northern areas between May and August. These areas are then projected to deteriorate into Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in September. The north and other high maize producing areas are expected to have average production this season. So, for the bulk of the north, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected from May to September, as poor households consume own-produced cereals.  

    • All areas in the country received normal to above normal rains in January. By the third week of February, cumulative rainfall for more than half of the country was 125-200 percent above normal levels. The good seasonal rainfall has improved water availability for human, cropping, and livestock usage. However, the heavy rainfall has also contributed to soil erosion, crop damage, waterlogging, and leaching in most areas. This is compounded by a national shortage of fertilizers and an outbreak of the hard-to-control Fall Armyworm in all provinces and some peri-urban areas. 

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Rainfall and Agricultural Seasonal Progress

    By end of January 2017, the whole country had received normal to above normal rains. As of the third week of February, most areas were up to 200 percent of normal rains (Meteorological Services Department), which is atypical. From mid-December 2016 the rainfall season has been characterized by persistent and occasionally heavy rains, up to 200 mm per week in some places. In mid-February, the southern parts of the country (mainly Masvingo, southern Midlands and the Matebeleland Provinces) were hit by cyclone Dineo, after which followed uncharacteristic widespread heavy rains. This caused severe flooding and destruction to crops, livestock, property, infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams etc.), worsening the preceding damage from the persistent rains that had been received across the country. The Department of Civil Protection has reported that nationally, almost 120 lives have been lost, with close to 2,000 houses and huts destroyed due to the heavy rains and flooding since the start of the 2016/17 rainfall season. In one part of Tsholotsho district in Matebeleland North Province, almost 1,000 people had to be evacuated in February due to flooding. The Ministry of Environment, Water, and Climate has reportedly recommended a declaration of a state of disaster in the southern provinces.

    Significant rains received so far have improved water availability for human, crop, livestock and other uses across the country. This is unlike the same time in the last year when the water situation was very critical. Rivers and streams are flowing, even in the south. Several dams in all the seven catchment areas are full and spilling over. Average national dam level as of February 27th was 71.5 percent, up from 50.4 percent as of January 13th (Zimbabwe National Water Authority), a substantial increase in just a six weeks. Water levels are only relatively low in major dams in Masvingo Province.

    As of January 30th, the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanization, and Irrigation Development reported a maize cropped area of about 1,244,000 hectares, which is 7 percent above the area cropped last year, yet 18 percent below the five-year average. Reported sorghum area was about 188,400 hectares, almost like last year, but 23 percent lower than the five-year average. Groundnut area increased 11 percent compared to last year, but remained 22 percent below the five-year average.

    Zimbabwe is experiencing a critical shortage of fertilizers this season as fertilizer companies face liquidity challenges to pay for raw materials from mainly South Africa. Most communal farmers planted without basal fertilizers. Government’s crop input assistance programs: the Special Maize Program for Import Substitution (Command Agriculture), the Presidential Inputs Support Scheme, as well as the Cotton Input Scheme have availed crop inputs to targeted farmers. Unfortunately, fertilizer coverage towards communal farmers is reportedly low due to shortages of the commodity. Persistent rains are causing much soil leaching across the country, with some considerable cropped area showing evidence of nitrogen deficiency.

    Since late 2016, the Fall Armyworm which initially was reported in the western parts of the country has spread to all provinces and some peri-urban areas, attacking crops (maize, small grains and others). The worm is more difficult to control compared to the common African Armyworm. Besides, a shortage of the right chemicals and poor liquidity among farmers are making it difficult to contain the outbreak. Damage is reportedly significant (up to 10 percent) of cropped area in some places. From 14-16 February, Zimbabwe hosted the Trans boundary Pests and Diseases Meeting for Southern Africa which confirmed the pest in seven countries: Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

    The number of farmers who registered to grow tobacco went up 17 percent from last year to about 82,250 this year. Area planted to tobacco increased substantially this year compared to last year. (Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB)). Persistent rains are reportedly causing false ripening of the crop. The rains are also affecting harvesting and curing of the early planted crop. The TIMB has reported that the tobacco marketing season which typically starts mid-February will this year start in mid-March as most farmers were not yet ready with their crop. 

    Cropped area for cotton is reportedly 50 percent higher than the area planted last year. This season the government is assisting a targeted 150,000 cotton farmers with crop inputs (seed, fertilizers, chemicals) through the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe to boost production for the waning crop. The Ministry of Finance has announced plans to pay a 5 percent export incentive to cotton farmers (in bond notes), as happened with tobacco farmers last season.

    Macroeconomic Conditions

    Zimbabwe’s economy continues under stress with 0.6 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth for 2016, a progressive decline from 10.6 percent in 2011. The Ministry of Finance had to revise downwards the initial 2016 GDP estimates of 2.7 percent.The deflationary environment which started in late 2014 has continued. Annual inflation averaged -1.6 percent in 2016, closing at -0.93 percent for December 2016.

    Despite import bans and restrictions to a wide range of products through Statutory Instrument (SI) 64 of 2016, Zimbabwe continues to experience a negative trade balance. With $5.2 billion worthy of imports in 2016 (from 6 billion in 2015), exports amounted to only $2.8 billion, resulting in a $2.3 billion trade deficit. The 2016 deficit was however a reduction from $3.3 billion in 2015 (Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency).

    The foreign currency shortages and liquidity challenges which became more apparent in early 2016 still continue. Sectors across the economy are being affected, especially with respect to payments for imports. Since the end of November 2016, Government has released more than $70 million (of the planned $200 million) worthy of bond notes. The bond notes are an export incentive also meant to stem the externalization of foreign currency. Despite the bond notes, long queues are still common at some banks, with withdrawal limits continuing for individuals and corporates. The use of credit cards, mobile banking services and other non-cash forms of payments have gone up substantially since mid-2016.

    Current Food Security

    The May 2016 ZIMVAC Rural Livelihoods Assessment estimated that 42 percent of the rural population (4.1 million people) will be food insecure at the peak of the 2016-17 lean season between January and March 2017. In January 2017, the ZIMVAC conducted a lean season assessment to update the May 2016 results. The findings have not yet been released. 

    As the peak of the lean season continues, typical livelihood options remain constrained across the country. Prevailing economic hardships and liquidity challenges are affecting activities such as on-farm and off-farm casual labor availability and labor rates, remittance levels, livestock sales and petty trading. Livestock conditions have improved across the country since the start of the rainy season. However, in some areas especially in the south, prices for cattle have only marginally increased due to poor regeneration of pastures following two consecutive drought seasons. 

    Humanitarian assistance and local market purchases are the main sources of food in most communities. Most households depleted their own-produced cereal stocks several months ago and food consumption has been generally poor since that time. Many poor households are facing above average food prices and reduced livelihood options. Even though local market purchases are more common among better-off households, the ongoing liquidity challenges have on occasion constrained food access for this population as well.

    Internal trade and market functioning

    Maize grain is not readily available across most rural markets, especially in the south. Where available (even in the north), stock levels are atypically low. Maize meal is readily available across the country, even in some remote areas. Supplies of maize meal continue to be from local millers with no imported brands, except in localized border areas in the south. Small grains are available in a few markets in the south, mainly Mwenezi and Chipinge, and some main urban markets.

    Formal maize grain imports between April and December 2016 amounted to about 626,500 MT, 33 percent higher than same time last year (about 469,700 MT). Imports for December 2016 (about 41,750 MT) were 39 percent less than November (68,600 MT), though 19 percent higher than same time the previous season (about 51,780 MT) (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority).

    The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) continues to sell both maize and maize grain. In some rural communities, the GMB is the sole source of grain. Maize is sold at a subsidized $15/50 kg to registered vulnerable households, against the commercial rate of $22.25. Unfortunately, for a significant number of districts, the GMB has closed satellite selling depots due to low demand, leaving only the main district depots. Some GMB depots are not selling grain, and are instead reserving it for the Department of Social Welfare distributions.

    Average January maize grain prices ($0.40/kg) for FEWS NET sentinel markets remained stable against December ($0.41/kg), but 9 percent less than last year and 11 percent above the five-year average. Maize meal prices also remained stable relative to December ($0.60/kg) but were 9 percent above last year and 4 percent above the five-year average.

    National Assumptions

    The Food Security Outlook for February to September 2017 is based on the following national level assumptions:

    Pre-and post-harvest national maize stock availability: FEWS NET assumes that the country will be left with an uncovered national deficit by end of the consumption year in March 2017. Imports are expected to drop sharply from April to September 2017 when average national harvests are expected, following the normal to above normal rainfall and agricultural season particularly from the main maize-producing northern areas. Local markets are then expected to supply much of the maize required for household and commercial needs from April through September.

    Level of pre- and post-harvest household food stocks: Between February and March 2017, FEWS NET assumes that humanitarian assistance and markets will continue to be the main sources of cereal for a high proportion of the rural population. Anticipated normal harvests from April 2017 mainly in the north will significantly improve own-produced household cereal stocks which will become the main source of food even among poor households from April through September 2017. However, though household cereal stock levels from April to June will improve in the south, markets will play a key role from around July to September as normal production in most areas in the south averages two or three months’ supply of own-produced crop for poor households.   

    2016/17 seasonal rainfall forecast: The National Climate Outlook Forum (NACOF) last year forecasted normal to above normal rains in the second half of the rainfall season (January to March) in the northern areas, and normal to below normal rains in southern areas. However, the SADC Climate Services Centre’s (CSC) recent outlook update for February to April 2017 indicated normal to above normal rains across Zimbabwe. January is usually when mid-season dry spells are experienced in the country, especially in the south. Conditions in February and March are typically wetter than in January. Since mid-season dry spells were not experienced in January, FEWS NET assumes that the south will also experience normal to above normal rains, especially given the heavy and persistent rains received in January and February. However, of concern will be the distribution of the rainfall. Some areas in the south may experience periods of water stress that will potentially affect crop condition. 

    Seed availability and channels, access to fertilizer, stock feeds etc.: Considering input shortages and low access by poor households due to constrained livelihoods, challenges in accessing seed and fertilizers have contributed to relatively low cropped area in some areas compared to potential or average. FEWS NET assumes that though some farmers ended up using retained maize and small grain seed, the proportion was low due to the prolonged lean season following the two consecutive drought seasons. Expectations are that even though the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has indicated moves to prioritize fertilizer companies in imports payments, shortages are expected to persist for the rest of the cropping season. Besides, due to poor livelihoods and liquidity, poor households will be faced with challenges in accessing fertilizers and other inputs. The shortage and poor access to crop inputs are likely to affect overall yields and production.

    Migratory pests: Since late 2016, the Fall Armyworm (origins in the Americas) has invaded all provinces in the country, affecting mainly maize and small grain crops. The shortages and high cost of chemicals (where available) will affect poor farmers’ access to the inputs. Besides, control mechanisms are expected to only reduce the rate of breeding and rate of spread to uninfected areas, and not completely control the pest. FEWS NET assumes that left uncontrolled, the pest is expected to destroy a significant proportion of cropped areas and reduce potential production levels.

    Green harvest availability: The Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) across the bulk of the northern Mashonaland Provinces, Manicaland Province, Masvingo Province, and eastern parts of Midlands Province shows that the start of season was normal. Most of the areas received effective rains for maize planting by the third week of November. Much of the crop is already in the late vegetative to the reproductive stages. Effective rains were received later than typical (10-20 days) in the extreme northern parts of the Mashonaland Provinces. For the south and west, parts of Matebeleland North and South Provinces experienced an early start (10-20 days) of season. For the remaining areas in these two provinces, as well as western and southern parts of Midlands Province, the start of season was delayed by between 10-30 days. Given the favorable rainfall forecast for February-March, FEWS NET assumes that the northern and other high-producing areas are expected to experience normal green harvests which will improve food access for poor and other households during the peak lean season. In the northern-most marginal parts of the Mashonaland Provinces, the green harvest is expected to be lower and delayed by the same period in these areas compared to other northern areas. In parts of Matebeleland North and South, favorable rains were not matched by significant cropping as farmers lacked inputs and others were wary of dry spells that characterize the start of the season. For those areas that experienced late start of season, green consumption is expected to be delayed and be mainly around end of March into April. The green harvest is also expected to be below average due to below normal cropped area.

    2016/17 maize crop production: In the north and other high maize producing areas, maize cropped area, yield levels, and overall production will be average. FEWS NET assumes that this will result in average national production for the season. Some districts in the north are expected to have surplus stocks from their 2017 harvest which will supply markets mainly in the south and for national commercial needs during the 2017-18 consumption and marketing seasons. However, other northern districts are unlikely to produce a surplus as usual due mainly to fertilizer shortages amidst above normal rains. The southern areas are mainly expected to produce at below normal levels despite the favorable rainfall forecasts. A late start of season and crop input shortages have reduced cropped area in many areas. Some farmers were still planting as of mid-January. The overall contribution of production from Government’s Command Agriculture is expected to be significant to the national cereal output. Government has targeted high-potential farmers across all provinces to maximize production through intensive support with mechanized tillage, seed, fertilizers, chemicals and technical support. 

    2016/17 cash crop production: This season there was an increased number of farmers and cropped area for tobacco and cotton. In addition to this, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has implemented a 5 percent export incentive in bond notes for tobacco farmers (also planned for cotton farmers). The government has also recommended an increase in the cotton producer price from $0.30/kg last season. Compared to the last two seasons, FEWS NET assumes that cash crop production will improve mainly with respect to tobacco and cotton. Both tobacco and cotton are expected to enhance community livelihoods as well as disposable incomes for households. This year tobacco selling season reportedly starts in mid-March. Cotton is mainly rain-fed and harvesting and marketing starts from May/June. 

    Integrated maize price projections: FEWS NET assumes that maize grain prices are expected to remain relatively stable during the peak lean season, February through March 2017. However, prices will still remain 15-20 percent above the five-year average. Stable prices are likely to be mainly a result of subdued demand and liquidity challenges. Imports will continue between February and March. For the period April-May 2017, prices will likely start to decrease due to the anticipated average harvests mainly in the north. From June through September 2017, prices are likely to remain stable as households consume own-produced stocks, especially in the north. However, due to increased demand starting around July in the south, prices are likely to start increasing during this period as most poor households exhaust own produced stocks.  

    Maize meal price projections: FEWS NET assumes that the liquidity challenges and higher parity prices for international imports will likely contribute towards the price increases of maize meal between February and March. Availability and prices of maize meal are expected to fall starting in April due to the expected normal harvests and reduced demand. These prices will likely stabilize from the period July through September.

    On-farm labor wages, demand, and supply: 2015-16 surplus cereal stocks for in-kind payments for labor are non-existent or very low in most communities. In the north, average harvests are expected, whereas in much of the south, below-average harvests are expected. FEWS NET assumes that demand for labor will be lower than typical due to below average cropped area (partly due to delayed start of season in some places), liquidity challenges (affecting disposable incomes for middle and better-off households), as well as the contribution of humanitarian assistance towards the basic food needs of the very poor and poor households. Opportunities for weeding in February and March will be available but reduced due to fair to poor crop conditions that some better off households will face due to fertilizer shortages and the high cost of the commodity. As a result, labor rates are expected to remain below average. Labor opportunities being offered by better-off households and rates will likely improve starting in April when the harvest period begins, and most payments are expected to be in-kind. Continued depressed remittances from mainly South Africa will impact incomes in the southern areas.

    Off-farm labor wages, demand, and supply: FEWS NET assumes that from February through March, non-agricultural labor opportunities are expected to be below normal across the country. However, in the north, starting in April through September, options for payment for non-agricultural labor will improve only marginally with expected average harvests. In much of the south, normal to below normal non-agriculture labor is expected. The prevailing liquidity challenges will compound this. Though improved water availability from the current and expected good rains will enhance opportunities for activities such as brick molding and construction, vegetable production, and sales, the main constraint will be with respect to liquidity challenges. However, water challenges are expected from July in parts of the south, impacting on such opportunities. Some dams and reservoirs have been lost to heavy rains, whilst most streams will typically dry off.

    Pre-and post-harvest remittances levels: FEWS NET assumes that from February through September, remittances levels will remain below average in response to economic hardships and liquidity challenges which are expected to continue. Areas in both the north and the south will be affected, but those in the south will be more affected. The implementation of Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 is expected to continue.

    Livestock conditions and prices: Following two consecutive seasons of poor rains which negatively impacted livestock herd sizes, conditions and prices, FEWS NET assumes livestock condition recovery to normal levels mainly in the north. Water availability and pasture conditions during the Outlook period (February to September) are expected to be normal. Improved livestock condition will result in favorable livestock prices which are expected to contribute positively towards enhanced household incomes. In the southern regions, water availability is expected to be good from February through June, with marginal positive effect on prices for mainly cattle. This is mainly due to relatively below normal pasture regeneration and quality in some southern areas. It is also due to the fact that most household herd sizes would not have recovered from high cattle deaths as well as protracted sales and/or disposals. For the south, this means that this source of livelihood will remain below normal. Also, in most of the critical drought-prone areas, the pasture, and water situation may start deteriorating from July through September, affecting mainly cattle condition, prices and terms of trade. Goats will remain in good condition and prices will be stable across most parts of the country. This situation is expected for the entire Outlook period. 

    Humanitarian assistance: Between February and March, humanitarian assistance will continue with little likelihood of increase in assistance coverage. In early February, the Food Security Cluster reported that instead of ending in March as usual, humanitarian assistance from some partners is likely to extend to April. The proposed extended assistance will be in response to late start of season or planting in some areas and is meant to protect against premature harvesting and consumption of the main crop. FEWS NET therefore assumes an extension of humanitarian assistance into April for the most vulnerable districts. Government’s Food Deficit Mitigation Program (FDMP) in all rural districts is likely to continue through March. This comprises vulnerable labor-constrained households (free food assistance), as well as non-labor constrained households who engage in food-for-work activities in their local communities. Each household receives 50 kg of maize per month.

    Social Safety-Nets: The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education reported that some 1.8 million pupils from Early Child Development (ECD) to Grade 2 at targeted primary schools in all provinces are currently being covered under the National Schools Feeding Scheme. Schools are assisted with maize grain for preparation of meals taken onsite. 

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Economic and liquidity challenges, poor livelihoods, and below-average household incomes are expected to prevail during the Outlook period.

    February to May 2017: In the south and marginal northern areas, typical agricultural casual labor opportunities are likely to be constrained during this period due to prevailing economic and liquidity challenges. Also, cropped area is expected to be below average due to input shortages and a delayed onset of season. Persistent rains and shortages of fertilizers have reduced potential crop conditions and affected demand for casual labor activities including weeding. The green harvest is expected to be delayed and below-average, becoming available mainly in April. Expected main harvests will be below average, thereby affecting prospects for harvest labor. Remittances are also expected to be below-normal throughout this period. Humanitarian assistance will contribute to the basic food needs of the very poor and some of the poor households, though expected levels of assistance against high needs will still leave sections of the poor households with food deficits. Consumption may improve starting in May when the main harvest begins. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes are expected between February and April, with a few districts experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) in the presence of humanitarian assistance. Starting in May, mainly Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected, as poor households start to consume own produced crop, but remain unable to meet their basic livelihood protection needs.

    For most of the northern areas, though better than in the south, on-farm labor opportunities are expected at below average levels for the same reasons as in the south. Poor households are expected to have better access to green harvests from a wide variety of crops and vegetables between February and April. Also the main maize harvest is expected to be average, enhancing opportunities for labor harvest (payment mainly in-kind) for poor households as well as incomes from crop sales. Labor demand for tobacco harvest and curing (February to May) and cotton harvest (May-June) will also be at normal levels given the increase in number of farmers and planted area. Some sections of the very poor and poor households are expected to benefit from some humanitarian assistance activities in these areas between February and March. Given these conditions, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected between February and April. From May when the average harvest come in, most areas in the north will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes.

    June to September 2017: From June through August, most poor households in the south are expected to consume own-produced crop. However, due to expected low production, barter and purchases may be sources of cereal for some poor households. Remittances will continue to be subdued. Off-farm labor opportunities will also be limited as economic and liquidity challenges are expected to continue. Other sources of income such as self-employment and petty trading will also be affected by the prevailing economic challenges. Vegetable production and sales will be affected by reduced water availability especially between July and September, compounded by the damage to reservoirs in some communities. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected between June and August. However as more households deplete own produced stock from September, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected in much of the south, marking the beginning of the lean season, which will likely be earlier than normal in parts of the south.

    For most northern areas, own produced stock will last from June to beyond September. Some communities will even have own-produced supplies till March of next year. Crop sales are expected to ensure incomes for other food and non-food needs. Vegetable production and sales are likely to be normal given the good rains. Though other sources of income will continue to be constrained, consumption will be better in the north than in the south. As a result, the most productive areas will maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes, with the other areas mainly Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.

    Figures Current acute food security outcomes, February 2017.

    Figure 1

    Current acute food security outcomes, February 2017.

    Source: FEWS NET


    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Breached Mapati Dam earth wall, Ward 12, Gwanda District, January 2017.

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Breached Mapati Dam earth wall, Ward 12, Gwanda District, January 2017.

    Source: FEWS NET

     Figure 2. January maize prices, percent change from five-year average.

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. January maize prices, percent change from five-year average.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3. Small grains on sale, Checheche Growth Point, Chipinge District, mid-February 2017.

    Figure 5

    Figure 3. Small grains on sale, Checheche Growth Point, Chipinge District, mid-February 2017.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4. 2016/17 Start of Season for Zimbabwe.

    Figure 6

    Figure 4. 2016/17 Start of Season for Zimbabwe.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 5. Tobacco crop in Chipashu Area of Ward 4, Chegutu District, mid-January 2017.

    Figure 7

    Figure 5. Tobacco crop in Chipashu Area of Ward 4, Chegutu District, mid-January 2017.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 6. A thriving head of goats in Mangwe District, Matebeleland South, mid-February 2017.

    Figure 8

    Figure 6. A thriving head of goats in Mangwe District, Matebeleland South, mid-February 2017.

    Source: FEWS NET

    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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