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Late and below-normal rains and economic hardships expected to impact poor household food access

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • February - September 2019
Late and below-normal rains and economic hardships expected to impact poor household food access

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  • Key Messages
  • National Level Assumptions
  • Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity outcomes are expected across most typical food-deficit parts of the country from February to May and will extend through September in some areas. These outcomes are mainly due to depleted own-produced food stocks, anticipated 2018-19 poor harvests, constrained livelihoods, and high food prices. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in high-production areas as poor households may meet their basic food needs but will be unable to meet their other livelihood needs.   

    • A late start of season and below-average rains for the 2018-19 cropping season have resulted in below-normal cropped areas, significant rates of temporary and permanently wilted crop, and poor water and pasture conditions, especially in arid areas. Typical livelihood activities like casual labor have also been affected. The harvest time is likely to be delayed in most areas, starting in April compared to March. The 2018-19 crop production is expected at below-average levels across the country.

    • Economic hardships are expected to continue impacting livelihoods and the food security situation for poor and other household groups across the country. Foreign currency shortages, the parallel market, multiple-pricing systems and high and speculative pricing will likely continue during the Outlook period. The government has introduced new monetary policy measures aimed at addressing these challenges, though the effects and impacts of these measures are yet to be assessed.


    Current Situation

    2018-19 Agricultural Seasonal Update

    Below normal, highly erratic, and patchy rainfall was recorded for the first half (October to December) of the 2018-19 rainfall and agricultural season. For January and much of February, the same conditions prevailed across most of the country. The SADC February Agromet Update preliminary analysis suggests that the rainfall totals from October–January may have been among the lowest in 40 years over central and western parts of Zimbabwe. For arid areas in Matebeleland North and South, Masvingo, Manicaland, the southern parts of Midlands Province and extreme northern areas in the Mashonaland Provinces, cumulative rainfall was below the long-term average rainfall by end of February. Some areas had received just half of expected seasonal rains. In these areas, some farmers did not plant this season, others planted for the first time in February, while some replanted following the February rainfall. The only areas to receive normal rainfall this season include parts of the Mashonaland Provinces, northern Midlands Province and extreme southern areas. However, even in these areas, the rains have been poorly distributed in both space and time, affecting agricultural activities. The cropped area across the country is significantly below normal and crop stages range from germination to early reproductive stages.

    Most crops are water stressed with some already completely written off because of the prolonged dryness this season and extremely high temperatures in arid areas in Matebeleland North and South, Masvingo, Midlands, Manicaland Provinces and the extreme north. Most farmers have not been able to apply fertilizers due to the persistent dry conditions. Furthermore, fertilizers (mainly top dressing) have been largely unavailable on some markets, especially in southern and western districts. In the higher rainfall areas in the north, crop condition is fair to good. However, the Fall Armyworm is reported to have been detected and affecting crops, mainly maize, in all districts.

    Groundwater, surface water flow, and reservoirs are at below-normal levels in arid parts of the country due to the prolonged dryness. Water tables continue to recede in most areas, affecting deep well and borehole yield levels. In some communities, competition for water for domestic, livestock, and other livelihood uses at most boreholes is high, resulting in conflicts. Some irrigation schemes have been affected by the water shortages. Additionally, some urbans areas are experiencing critical water shortages with Bulawayo (the second largest city) recently announcing drastic 72-hour weekly “water shedding” schedules in all residential areas as a result of the low water levels in the city reservoirs.

    Livestock conditions in most arid areas is being affected by poor pastures and water availability. Livestock deaths due to poor water and pasture conditions were reported in some districts in Matebeleland North and South, Masvingo and parts of Manicaland and Midlands Provinces. There is a high prevalence of livestock diseases across the country, partly attributed to the high cost and shortages of drugs. For instance, the ZIMVAC (January 2019) indicated that 88 percent of households in communal and smallholder areas did not dip their cattle on a weekly basis in December (as is expected during the rainy season), a third of the households did not dip their cattle at all, and a quarter only dipped their cattle once in December, due to shortages of dipping chemicals.

    Economic Situation

    Macroeconomic hardships continue to deepen in Zimbabwe with severe effects and impacts especially on poor households’ livelihoods and food security. Foreign currency shortages still drive the parallel market where the US Dollar is trading between 1:3.5 and 1:4 against local electronic (RTGS Dollars) and mobile money transfers. However, government, through the Monetary Policy Statement announced by the Reserve Bank Governor on 20 February, officially liberalized the US Dollar exchange rate thereby ending the 1:1 official rate. The interbank exchange rate since then has averaged US$1 to RTGS $2.5. The effects and impacts of these policy interventions are yet to be assessed.  Some businesses are still charging for goods and services in the scarce US Dollars and apparently, the prices in US Dollars are also higher than normal and increasing. The multiple-pricing system and price speculations continue, with electronic, mobile money and RTSG Dollar payments charged exorbitantly at parallel market rates.

    Prices of food and non-food commodities and basic services continue to increase even after the wave of increases recorded in October 2018 and January 2019, with the latter driven mainly by a 150 percent increase in fuel prices. Shortages of basic food commodities like cooking oil, wheat flour, and bread persist. Some of the basic commodities in short supply are available on the black market at higher prices. The government intervened in early February after bakers and retailers raised bread prices by up to 70 percent, the highest increase since the introduction of the multicurrency regime in 2009. Inflationary pressures continue in the economy with official inflation in January at 56.9 percent up from 42.09 percent in December. Most independent analysts indicate that inflation levels are much higher.

    Trade and Market Functioning

    Staple maize grain and maize meal prices continue to increase across the markets. The main drivers of cereal price increases include the prevailing macro-economic pricing trends and above-average lean season demand. Cereal prices have more than doubled in some markets in the past two months. The February maize grain prices averaged $0.64/kg across FEWSNET sentinel sites which was stable against the previous month’s price but remained over 100 percent above the same time last year and 70 percent above the five-year average. A similar trend was noted for maize meal which cost an average of $0.81/kg in February and was stable against the previous month price, yet 65 percent above the same time last year and at least 40 percent above the five-year average. Following the recent fuel price hikes and shortages, commodity availability in most rural markets has been poor and erratic due to the increased transport costs and availability challenges. Some traders and retailers unable to cope with the increasing operational challenges have closed their businesses, further affecting poor households’ access to commodities.  

    Food security

    Since the availability and magnitude of agricultural and non-agricultural casual labor and livelihood activities like self-employment, petty trading, livestock selling, and remittances among others this season is low, incomes that poor households typically earn during the season have been progressively eroded by the increasing food prices. In-kind payments for labor are significantly below normal due to the high cost and shortages of basic commodities like cooking oil, sugar, wheat flour, and washing soap, in addition to the depleted maize grain stocks for middle and better-off households.

    The green harvest which is typical during February-March will not be available across most parts of the country (especially in the food deficit areas) due to late start of season and dryness.  Key informant and focus group discussions during FEWS NET’s February field assessment indicated a significant proportion of households employing “stressed” and “crisis” livelihood coping strategies such as spending on savings and disposal of productive and non-productive assets. Food consumption is also poor across most areas especially among poor households. A significant proportion of poor households are receiving humanitarian assistance from the government and partners.

    National Level Assumptions

    From February to September 2019, the projected food security outcomes are based on the following key assumptions:

    Humanitarian Assistance: For February to March, the government plans to assist approximately 600,000 households in targeted wards across all 60 districts through the Food Deficit Mitigation Strategy.  Each household will receive a 50 kg bag of maize per month. WFP and partners under the Lean Season Assistance Programme plan to target up to 30 rural districts between February and April. The extension to April from the normal termination period in March is due to anticipated delayed harvests. The food basket comprises 7.5 kg cereals, 1.5 kg pulses, and 0.75 kg vegetable oil per person per month or cash equivalent. Cash-based transfers will be in US Dollars to maintain transfer value given the volatile economic environment and these will be implemented in districts with functional markets based on outcomes of market assessments. WFP reports that 23 percent of targeted households will receive in-kind food commodities, 63 percent a mix of in-kind and cash, and 14 percent of households will receive cash only (US $9 per person per month).

    National cereal availability: FEWS NET anticipates that the 2018-19 national crop production for Zimbabwe is likely to be below average. For some provinces like Masvingo, Matebeleland North and South, Manicaland and Midlands, production is expected at significantly below-average levels. The carryover stock from the 2018-19 marketing season is expected at below normal levels, noting also that imports were very minimal during the 2018-19 marketing year due to a standing maize import ban. A higher than normal 2019-20 national cereal deficit is anticipated which will necessitate above normal imports. Significant maize imports will impose additional strain on the critical foreign currency shortages.

    Prospects for 2018-19 main season production, maize grain

    • Seasonal rainfall forecast: According to leading international climate forecasting agencies, cumulative rainfall for the October 2018-March 2019 period is most likely to be below-average in Zimbabwe, while cumulative rainfall for the February to March 2019 period is most likely to be above-average across the country. However, above average rains towards the end of the rainfall and agricultural season may be too late and will likely have minimal effect on crop, water and pasture conditions in most areas.
    • Availability of and access to inputs: Crop input prices have increased significantly since the start of the 2018-19 rainfall and cropping season affecting access by poor farmers. Some commodities like fertilizer and chemicals are either in short supply or being charged in scarce US Dollars. Some targeted communal and other smallholder farmers received maize crop assistance for the 2018-19 season through the national Presidential Inputs Support Scheme. The scheme had planned to reach 1.8 million households with maize inputs (10 kg maize seed and 50 kg each for basal and top-dressing fertilizer). Targeted farmers in cotton growing areas also received cotton inputs from the government, while some cotton farmers received inputs from contracting companies. However, due to ongoing economic and resource challenges some farmers were not reached or received incomplete input packages from either the government or contracting companies.

    Fall Armyworm: The Fall Armyworm poses a significant threat to crop production during the 2018-19 production season. The pest has been detected in all 60 rural districts and most urban and peri-urban areas. Most at risk is the maize crop and to a smaller extent small grains. Rainfed and irrigated maize crops are being affected alike. Despite awareness and training activities for extension workers and farmers, scouting for pests remains an uncommon practice among farmers and detection of the pest is usually late after crop damage has already occurred. 

    Livestock conditions: The condition of large stock (especially cattle) is expected to remain poor for much of the outlook period, especially in typical arid areas. Some cattle had not recovered from the 2017-18 lean season following below-average seasonal rains, and poor rains during the 2018-19 season will serve to worsen their conditions. Water and pastures are likely to quickly deteriorate soon after the rainfall season starting in April/May in critical areas. This will be worsened by the high cost of livestock supplementary feeds, as well as shortages on the markets. The high prevalence of livestock diseases such as anthrax and tick-borne diseases including the January disease (Theileriosis) will affect livestock condition and sales especially with ongoing high cost and shortages of drugs against poor household incomes. The Ministry of Agriculture has reported that in 2018 some 50,000 cattle were lost countrywide due to January disease. The fatalities are likely to be higher over the same period this year due to deteriorating economic conditions. Besides shortages of dipping chemicals, water shortages for dipping services in some communities will compound the situation. Small stock is however expected to remain in fair to good conditions.

    Macroeconomic conditions: FEWS NET anticipates that for the outlook period February to September 2019, prevailing macro-economic challenges are likely to persist in the country. These include foreign currency shortages, the parallel market for foreign currency and bond notes, the multiple pricing system, high and increasing basic food and non-food commodity prices and shortages. Marginal relief in foreign currency earnings and availability is anticipated in the economy with the anticipated opening of the 2019 tobacco selling season in March. Last season, the cash crop earned close to US $800 million. The full effects and impacts of the new monetary policy measures introduced by the government in February are yet to be appreciated with regards to rural and urban livelihoods and food security. Furthermore, the announcement by the government in January that it will introduce an official Zimbabwean currency within 12 months will likely serve to increase uncertainty in the economy and on the markets over the outlook period, helping to fuel the current challenges. High and increasing transport costs will affect commodity availability and access in rural markets. The following are some of the impacts that macroeconomic hardships will have on livelihoods and income sources:

    • Agricultural and non-agricultural labor availability and rates: These are expected to be at below-normal levels for the whole outlook period (February to September). Depleted own-produced 2017-18 food stocks among middle and better-off households will mean constrained labor opportunities and in-kind labor payments using grain. Below-normal rains across most parts of the country have affected agricultural activities including weeding and fertilizer applications which are the typical forms of casual labor between February and March. Anticipated poor crop production will also reduce harvesting labor opportunities between April and June and after that in-kind payments for labor and incomes from crop sales. For the entire outlook period, ongoing economic and liquidity challenges are expected to continue impacting on the capacity of middle and better-off households to provide labor opportunities to poor households. Besides, the high cost and unavailability of basic food and non-food commodities (e.g. cooking oil, wheat flour, washing soap) commonly used for in-kind labor payments will also affect the availability of agricultural and non-agricultural labor and labor rates and terms of trade. 
    • Remittances: Incomes from both domestic and international remittances are also expected to remain below normal for the entire outlook period. Prevailing macro-economic and liquidity challenges in the country are expected to continue impacting urban and rural livelihoods and cash and in-kind remittances. Besides, the shortages and high cost of basic commodities will likely continue in the economy resulting in reduced in-kind remittance flows. Remittances from mainly South Africa will also be at below normal levels as most remitting emigrants are reported to be facing economic and emigrant legality status challenges in that country. More in-kind than cash remittances are expected from neighboring countries, especially following the October 2018 suspension of import ban on a wide range of products.
    • Livestock-to-grain terms of trade: Livestock-to-grain terms of trade are likely to not favor households disposing of their livestock for the purchase of grain. Livestock prices have not increased in tandem with the general price increases in the economy with livestock buyers/traders largely determining and influencing prices amidst cash shortages. Some desperate households will lose out through mobile money payments for which they are charged high rates when paying for goods and services or when accessing cash on the black market.
    • Other livelihoods: Prevailing economic hardships and the poor progression of the 2018-19 rainfall and agricultural season will affect other livelihoods and coping options across most parts of the country. Activities such as self-employment (including brick molding and construction), petty trading, vegetable production and sales, consumption and sale of wild products will be among those affected. 

    Integrated price projections for maize grain:  In many communities, households are already resorting to maize meal purchases due to high and increasing maize grain prices on the markets as well as increasing milling costs. Milling services have recently increased by between 100-200 percent from $1 per 17.5 kg bucket of grain to $2 or $3 per bucket, which are exorbitant additional costs to the high grain prices for poor households. Unlike the situation last year, maize grain prices across most markets are above average. Besides responding to increased lean seasonal demand, the high and increasing grain prices have also been driven by the current volatile price trends in the economy. The 2018-19 crop production is expected at below normal levels across most parts of the country, which will impact supplies and availability on markets, as well as prices. Maize grain prices are therefore expected to remain above average for the entire outlook period (February to September). Between February and May 2019, prices for Mbare Market in Harare are likely to be about 60 percent above the same time last year whilst almost 40 percent above the five-year average. From June through September, prices will likely continue to be above both the previous year and the five-year average, by about 70 and 55 percent, respectively. The ceiling to potential maize grain price increases will be the relative prices of maize meal. 

    Integrated price projections for maize meal: The government will likely continue to subsidize maize grain to commercial private millers over the outlook period. Private millers are accessing grain at between $240-270/MT from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) compared to $390/MT at which the GMB purchased maize from farmers. Expectations could have been that maize meal prices would stabilize, but instead, prices are likely to remain high and even increase further due to general price increases in the economy. In mid-February the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe published maximum recommended miller exit prices ($7.03/kg) and maximum retail prices ($7.94/10kg) for unrefined maize meal after widespread price increases of the product. Some millers have however indicated these are unviable prices if they account for other input costs (e.g. equipment maintenance, packaging, transport) whose prices keep rising. The high demand for maize meal during the peak lean season period February to March and even April will help sustain high prices. Prices are expected to marginally fall during and soon after the harvests between May and July, when own-produced crop will be consumed. However, due to anticipated poor harvests following a forecasted below normal rainfall season, demand for maize meal will quickly increase starting around August thereby increasing the prices of maize meal through September. Some areas close to the national borders may access imported maize meal which could be cheaper than local brands.

    Acute malnutrition: Based on the historical SMART surveys conducted in the country from 2010, the national median prevalence of acute malnutrition is 3.3 percent, which is “Acceptable” according to the WHO Classification.

    • February through May 2019: The national prevalence of acute malnutrition is expected to remain stable and below 5 percent. However, the overall prevalence is likely to be higher than 2.4 percent recorded at the same time last year. The acute malnutrition levels during this period are likely to be influenced by increasing economic challenges which the country is facing which will affect households’ ability to access food and non-food needs. Hence the level of acute malnutrition is likely to worsen due to the deteriorating food access situation.
    • June through September 2019: The National GAM prevalence is likely to remain within the “Acceptable” range (GAM by WHZ <5 percent) during this period but will however increase from the average level of 3.3 percent. Anticipated below average production is likely to affect food consumption patterns in most areas. This will be compounded by the effects of macro-economic challenges which have affected household incomes and purchasing power. Hence, the acute malnutrition may increase to higher than average levels but remain within Acceptable levels (<5 percent percent).  Malnutrition levels are likely to be seasonally influenced also by diseases, but illnesses are unlikely to reach epidemic proportions. Cholera and typhoid incidences in some areas are possible but will likely remain under control during the scenario period.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    February – May 2019: Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes are expected between February and May, marking the peak lean period for the 2018-19 consumption year in typical food deficit areas in the south, west, east and extreme north of the Mashonaland Provinces. The 2017-18 own-produced stocks will not be available across all household groups in most areas. Seasonal green harvests which are typical between February and March will be delayed and likely start in March in most areas and are expected to be below average across most parts of the country due to a poor rainfall and cropping season. The late start of rains and delayed planting across parts of the country are expected to delay harvests this season. Instead of harvests beginning in March/April, they will likely start in April/May.  As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to extend into April and May as poor households continue to apply “crisis” livelihood strategies and expand coping measures to access food. Typical sources of livelihoods including agricultural casual labor for weeding (between February and March) and harvesting (April/May) are expected at below-normal levels. Labor rates (both cash and in-kind) will also be below normal due to anticipated poor harvests and macro-economic challenges. Some high surplus-production areas will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes during this period because poor households may be unable to meet their basic non-food needs.

    June - September 2019: In typical deficit southern, eastern, western and extreme northern areas, most poor households will produce enough crops for 2-3 months of food supplies (up to July/August). Typical sources of income from on-farm and off-farm labor opportunities, remittances, petty trade, livestock sales are expected to be below normal. Cereal purchases will be atypically early for these areas, likely starting during the months of July and August. The prices of grain and maize meal are expected to remain above average during this period, decreasing poor household purchasing power. Seasonal activities like gardening will be affected by anticipated water shortages. Most households are expected to engage in livelihoods and consumption coping strategies in response to food gaps experienced. Whereas Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes are expected between June and August due to consumption of limited own-produced crop, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will increase starting September and humanitarian assistance will be required to improve food consumption and protect livelihoods across most areas. For northern and other surplus-producing areas, anticipated below-normal crop harvests will result in limited own-produced stocks, especially for poor households. Constrained household incomes from crop sales and below-average casual labor opportunities are expected to result in significant livelihoods protection deficits. Most areas are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during this period as poor households may afford to meet their basic food needs but will experience difficulties meeting other basic non-food needs.

    Figures Current food security outcomes, February 2019

    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, February 2019



    Figure 2


    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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