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Widespread February rains improve conditions among late-planted crops, but most early-planted crops in the south are lost

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • February 2018
Widespread February rains improve conditions among late-planted crops, but most early-planted crops in the south are lost

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • National Level Assumptions
  • Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
  • Key Messages
    • Following below-normal rains during the first half of the cropping season, as well as a prolonged and abnormally dry and hot spell in January, widespread rains were received in February. The rains have resulted in the recovery of some late-planted crops which were at a critical wilting point. Unfortunately for most areas in the south and other parts of the country where crops were planted earlier, much of these crops had permanently wilted. The rains have also improved water and pasture conditions in most areas. National maize production for 2017-18 will most likely be below-average.

    • National maize supply is atypically above-average and is expected to remain so until the end of the current marketing year in March. This is mainly due to high crop production from last season. Significantly above-average national maize carry-over stocks are expected into the next marketing year (2018-19). After experiencing relatively stable prices during most of the current consumption year, maize grain price increases became notable in late January. This has been attributed to the dryness and anticipated poor harvests. However, maize prices continue to be below last year and the average, a trend that is expected to persist.  

    • Most typical surplus-producing areas are expected to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes during the outlook period. Carry-over stocks from the previous season, as well as stocks from the 2018 harvests, though expected at below-average levels, will ensure maize availability. Some poor households will face challenges meeting non-basic food and other needs due to poor livelihood options. For southern and other typical deficit areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will continue for the remainder of the peak lean season (February-March). Consumption of own-produced stocks from anticipated poor harvests will marginally improve the situation between April/May and June resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. From July through September, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected as poor households begin to exhaust their own produced food stocks.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Agricultural Seasonal Progress Update

    Up until late January, rainfall across the country was below normal and temporally and spatially distributed poorly. Cropped area was also below average in parts of the country because of the dryness. A significant proportion of farmers in some districts, especially in the south, had not planted at all. Crop germination was poor in some areas, resulting in below average crop stands. For the planted crop, widespread dry conditions coupled with very high temperatures resulted in severe crop moisture stress. Crops in typical arid areas reached permanent wilting point. In locations where the crop has not permanently wilted, seasonal cropping activities such as weeding, and fertilizer application were not taking place. Even though the Fall Armyworm had been detected in every province, the intensity of the infestations and spread of the pest was believed to be generally lower than last season. Livestock herding stopped in some areas because there were no more crops to protect.

    Most seasonal streams, rivers, and ponds were also atypically dry and perennial streams and rivers were in very low flow or also dry. As of 24 January, all except one of the 24 major dams reported by the Zimbabwe National Water Authority were experiencing decreasing water levels. Some communities in both typically arid and high rainfall areas were experiencing increasing challenges in accessing water with mounting pressure on functional boreholes. Rapidly deteriorating pasture conditions were affecting livestock (mainly cattle) body conditions, especially in the arid southern, western, and extreme northern areas.

    During February crop conditions improved dramatically across the country as rainfall increased. However, in the south improvements in crop conditions were less pronounced than in the northern region because most crops were planted earlier in the season and experienced dryness during the critical late vegetative and early reproductive stages. February rains improved water availability and access for human, livestock, and other uses. The heavy rains even resulted in leaching and yellowing of crops in some areas. Ultimately, the number of farmers and area cropped for tobacco and cotton recorded an increase this season.

    Economic Situation

    As the liquidity crisis continues, there is increased use of credit and debit cards, mobile money transfers, and electronic payments. Some rural households are using barter trade to acquire food. The Government of Zimbabwe continues to monitor the availability and prices of 16 basic commodities including maize meal, bread, cooking oil, sugar and salt (Figure 3). Official (ZIMSTAT) annual inflation continues to increase and has been progressively so since July 2017 (0.14 percent). The January 2018 year-on-year inflation stood at 3.52 percent, the highest since February 2017 when the economy moved out of deflation.  Independent sources are suggesting higher inflation estimates.

    Internal Cereal Trade and Market Functioning

    National maize supplies remain above-average following a significantly above-average 2017 harvest. Maize grain supply by farmers and traders has decreased on most markets because of the poor and erratic seasonal rainfall. Despite this, maize grain prices continue to be low and below last year’s and the five-year average price. Following a prolonged period of stable prices for much of the 2017-18 marketing season, cereal prices started increasing from end of December into January. Typical maize deficit areas have started sourcing from relatively distant markets, pushing up prices. In January, maize grain prices in FEWS NET sentinel markets averaged $0.35/kg. Maize meal availability is not uniform even across cereal-deficit areas. Most retail outlets are out of stock, a development partly attributed to low demand because households cannot afford to purchase the maize. The increasing use of mobile money transfers to pay for goods and services is costing buyers more because of the high premiums associated with these modes of payment.

    Food Security

    By end of January, typical green crop consumption was not available across most parts of the country due to poor rainfall. Sources of income through on-farm casual labor was adversely affected and continue to be. Some poor households are relying on bartering to access food. Unfortunately, the terms of trade are largely unfavorable for poor households.

    Most poor households are relying on government and partner agency humanitarian assistance for food. An estimated 300,000 households are receiving 50 kg of maize monthly under the government’s Drought Mitigation Food Programme. The Lean Season Assistance programme planned to reach approximately 482,000 people in 31 districts in January and February. This is an increase from 206,000 people in 13 districts in December. In anticipation of the below-average 2018 harvest, poor households are beginning to engage in typical coping strategies. Most meals are mainly cereal, and vegetable based, with some pulses from humanitarian assistance programming. However, consumption patterns for most poor households remain poor as they engage typical consumption coping strategies in view of anticipated poor harvests. Most meals are mainly cereal- and vegetable-based, with some including pulses mainly from humanitarian assistance. The ZIMVAC estimates that from January to March, approximately 11 percent of the rural population or 1.1 million people will be food insecure during the peak lean season.

    National Level Assumptions

    National cereal availability: National maize production from the 2016-17 cropping season was estimated at 2.16 million MT or 140 percent above the five-year average. As a result, national cereal stocks are expected to be atypically above-average for the remainder of the marketing year and into the 2018-19 marketing and consumption year. Formal maize imports will likely be minimal during the February to September period. The government has assured the nation that despite anticipated poor harvests this season, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has sufficient stocks to meet domestic demand until the 2019 harvest. This has been supported by the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe, though FEWS NET anticipates some cereal gap that may necessitate government considering lifting the import ban. FEWS NET’s February Regional Maize Supply and Market Outlook Report contains additional information on estimated maize stock levels and projected trends. 

    Prospects for 2017-18 main season production, maize grain: National maize production from the 2017-18 production season will most likely be below-average. The following factors will impact on maize production during the cropping season:

    • Seasonal rainfall forecast: The bulk of the country, including the most productive Mashonaland West Province, received below-normal rains during the first half (October-December 2017) of the rainfall season up to the end of January 2018. This affected cropping activities and other livelihoods in most areas. The Meteorological Services Department revised its rainfall forecast for the second half of the rainfall season (January-March 2018) from “normal to above normal” to just “normal” across all regions of the country. International (NOAA and USGS) forecasts indicate average tending to below-average rains during the remainder of the second half across Zimbabwe.
    • Availability of inputs: Shortages of crop inputs (mainly fertilizers and chemicals) are expected to continue due to foreign currency shortages. The government responded by importing fertilizers, increasing foreign currency allocations to the main fertilizer manufacturing company in the country, and relaxing import restrictions to allow holders of free funds to import fertilizers. However, demand which was expected to outstrip supply for much of the cropping season is likely to be significantly below normal due to a significant proportion of crops affected by poor rains up to January.
    • Access to crop inputs: For areas where crops survived the dry spell, some poor households will face challenges accessing inputs on the markets given low household incomes and high costs. Farmers in some areas are still to receive crop input assistance, especially top-dressing fertilizer. Some crops are expected to experience heavy leaching and nitrogen deficiency due to widespread rains. These factors are likely to result in below-average yields this season.
    • Fall Armyworm: Fall armyworm (FAW) infestations have been reported in all provinces during the current 2017-18 cropping season and the pest is expected to be a threat to some surviving crops for the remainder of the cropping season. Knowledge gaps exist about the estimated rates of infestation in areas affected by FAW. Government and partners are implementing interventions including the training of agriculture extension staff and farmers on the scouting, identification, and management of the pest, but these activities have been late in some areas. However, FAW infestation levels are expected to be significantly lower this season compared to the last.

    Livestock conditions: Small livestock conditions are expected to be good across the country for much of the outlook period. In typically high rainfall areas where pasture regeneration has been fair, cattle conditions are expected to be fair to good up to around August. Conditions normally deteriorate around September and that is expected this year as well. In typical arid areas in the extreme north, southern, and western areas, cattle conditions are fair but likely to deteriorate early due to early season dryness. Supplementary livestock feeding is expected to take place in some areas to save cattle heads during the dry season

    Macroeconomic conditions: Even under the new government, constrained economic activity, foreign currency shortages, high parallel market rates, multiple-pricing systems, and poor livelihoods for households will likely persist during the outlook period. Price increases for basic and other commodities and services are likely to continue. Annual inflation which averaged 1.0 percent between January and December 2017 is likely to rise significantly. Macroeconomic conditions will also have an impact on the following livelihood activities and income sources:

    • Agricultural labor availability and rates: These are likely to be below average throughout the outlook period due to crops affected by the dry spells, anticipated below average crop production, and incomes from crop sales. Terms of trade (for in-kind payments) will be unfavorable for poor households.  Continued cash shortages are also expected to constrain the availability of opportunities and labor rates.
    • Non-agricultural labor availability and rates: The availability and rates for non-agricultural labor (e.g. construction) and other self-employment activities are expected to be below average throughout the outlook period. Constrained incomes to middle and better-off households will impact on opportunities for labor for very poor and poor households. Increased labor supply will also impact on labor rates. The expected increase in the proportion of payments through mobile money transfers will result in high premiums when making payments or accessing cash.
    • Remittances: Remittances are expected to be below average across the country for the outlook period. National economic challenges as well as depressed Rand to the US Dollar exchange rates will affect remittances from mainly South Africa. Local remittances from within the country will remain below average due to prevailing economic challenges.
    • Livestock prices and terms of trade: This is likely to be below average for the entire outlook period due to low demand and ongoing cash shortages. For cattle, poor body conditions will additionally affect prices (especially in typical arid and cereal-deficit areas) from May onwards. The terms of trade will most likely always disadvantage households disposing of their stock. Payments using mobile money transfers will also result in households having to pay high premiums applied when they either access cash through dealers or when making payments for goods and services.
    • Petty trade: Petty trade activities will also likely be below average throughout the outlook period owing to low demand (due to poor livelihoods and household incomes) and cash shortages.

    Other livelihoods: Gardening activities during the April to September period especially in typical arid areas will likely be affected due to expected water challenges. Below average rains will impact on the sale of wildlife products (e.g. mopane worms, grass, seasonal fruits etc.). Informal mining activities (e.g. gold panning) are also likely to be affected by water shortages in some southern areas.

    Non-cereal food prices: Continued price increases are expected for non-cereal food commodities during the outlook period due to expected continued foreign currency shortages affecting access by poor households. On the other hand, given government engagement with stakeholders in industry, prices may stabilize, but remain at high levels.

    Integrated maize grain price projections: Marginal maize grain price increases are expected between February and March and prices are likely to continue at levels below same time last year and the average. Prices at Mbare (Harare) are expected to be 10 percent less than last year and 15 percent below the average. For some cereal-deficit areas, local suppliers will likely hold on to grain due to anticipated poor harvests, so distances to source markets will likely increase. However, prices are expected to trend towards average from harvest time in April to September.

    Integrated maize meal price projections: Maize meal prices will likely trend towards average from February through July-August. Millers are likely to continue to access subsidized maize grain from the Grain Marketing Board. With the anticipated below-average 2018 harvests, and despite a significant carry over stock, the government may review current import restrictions to allow the private sector (including millers) to import maize.

    Humanitarian assistance: The 2017-18 Lean Season Assistance (LSA) by both the government and partners (the latter mainly through the WFP pipeline) will likely last till March 2018. The government plans to assist about 300,000 households monthly between February and March, each household receiving 50kg of maize. WFP plans to assist some 481,000-rural people monthly in 31 districts in February and March with in-kind distributions and cash transfers.

    Acute Malnutrition: The national Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence is likely to remain within the Acceptable range during the outlook period. Anticipated below average crop production will likely impact on consumption patterns from harvest through September. Some localized diarrheal cases are expected in parts of the country mainly in Matebeleland North and South, Masvingo and Manicaland Provinces due to high prevalence of poor sanitation facilities and unsafe or unimproved sources of drinking water in these areas. Malnutrition levels are likely to be seasonally influenced by diseases, but illnesses are unlikely to reach epidemic proportions.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    February to May: Above average 2016/17 crop production in some northern and other surplus-producing areas will continue to ensure household access to own-produced food stocks between February and March. However, poor households in these areas would have exhausted own-produced stocks and will either rely on humanitarian assistance or purchases as well as facing livelihoods protection deficits. Below average green consumption is expected between February and March due to the impact of poor rains experienced up to the end of January. These areas will therefore be characterized by a combination of Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes. These area outcomes are expected to continue between April and May, even as below normal harvests are expected.

    In deficit southern, western and extreme northern areas Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will be experienced as very poor and poor households have long since exhausted own-produced stocks and are experiencing constrained livelihoods worsened by prevailing cash shortages. In a few districts, humanitarian assistance will be significant enough to change the food security outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) between February and March. Little to no green consumption is expected in these areas in February and March. Significantly below normal harvests are expected between April and May. Compounded with poor livelihoods and household incomes, food security outcomes are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from April through May in most areas, especially after humanitarian assistance ends in March.

    June to September: Anticipated below normal harvests in northern and other surplus-producing areas will result in limited own-produced stocks especially for poor households. Cereal purchases will be atypically early for these areas. Constrained household incomes e.g. from crop sales and below average casual labor opportunities are expected to result in significant livelihoods protection deficits. Only a few areas will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. Most areas are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) especially between August and September.

    In deficit southern, western and extreme northern areas, most poor households will not have any own-produced food stocks. Typical livelihood sources such as on-farm and off-farm labor opportunities, remittances, livestock sales will be constrained. Prices of grain and probably maize meal as well are expected to increase, affecting poor household purchasing power. Seasonal activities like gardening will be adversely affected by anticipated water shortages. Most households are expected to engage in adverse livelihoods and consumption coping strategies. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected during this outlook period and immediate food assistance will be required to improve food consumption and protect livelihoods.

    Figures Current food security outcomes, February 2018

    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, February 2018


    Figure 1.  Percent Anomaly Rainfall (Oct. 2017 – Jan. 31, 2018)

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Percent Anomaly Rainfall (Oct. 2017 – Jan. 31, 2018)


    Figure 2.  Percent Anomaly Rainfall (Oct. 2017 – Feb. 10, 2018)

    Figure 3

    Figure 2. Percent Anomaly Rainfall (Oct. 2017 – Feb. 10, 2018)


    Figure 4

    Figure 3. Average cooking oil price trends in selected markets, August-December 2017

    Source: ZIMSTAT

    Figure 4. Widespread wilting maize crop based on Soil Water Index for maize, January 20, 2018

    Figure 5

    Figure 4. Widespread wilting maize crop based on Soil Water Index for maize, January 20, 2018

    Source: USGS

    Figure 5.  A critically wilted maize crop, Matobo Ward 21 (Maphisa), mid-January 2018.

    Figure 6

    Figure 5. A critically wilted maize crop, Matobo Ward 21 (Maphisa), mid-January 2018.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 6.  Mbare, Harare maize grain prices and projections.

    Figure 7

    Figure 6. Mbare, Harare maize grain prices and projections.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Table 3. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.

    Figure 8

    Table 3. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.


    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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