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The anticipated above-average 2021 harvest to significantly improve access to food

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • February - September 2021
The anticipated above-average 2021 harvest to significantly improve access to food

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Favorable rainfall for the 2020/21 season facilitated above-average area planted and significant improvements in water, pasture, and livestock conditions. While cropping conditions across the country are generally fair to good, persistent heavy rainfall has negatively impacted crops in some southern, eastern, and central areas where heavy leaching, waterlogging, and weed pressure amidst fertilizer shortages will likely somewhat reduce yields. Despite this, above-average national 2021 production is expected.

    • Macroeconomic conditions remain poor, characterized by an annual inflation rate in the triple digits, high parallel market exchange rates, increasing basic food and non-food prices, and local currency shortages. Extensive damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure is also impacting access to some areas and markets, further increasing prices. While many households are currently market reliant, especially in urban areas, food access for many poor households is also being impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, constraining income-earning activities, mainly in the informal sector, driving below-average purchasing power.

    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to prevail in the southern, western, and extreme northern areas as the 2020/21 lean season continues through March, with Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes where humanitarian assistance is significant. Typical surplus and urban areas are expected to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during this period, with some households likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Food security is expected to significantly improve as food access increases with the harvest in April/May, resulting in widespread Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. However, some typical deficit areas are expected to be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households are likely to continue to have difficulty meeting their non-food needs due to lower than average purchasing power.


    Current Situation

    Poor macroeconomic conditions coupled with the continued impacts of consecutive droughts and COVID-19 restrictions continue to drive poor food access among many urban and rural households as the 2020/21 lean season peaks. However, the 2020/21 rainfall season has been favorable for agricultural and other food and income-earning activities.

    Widespread and persistent rainfall between December and February resulted in above normal seasonal rainfall across most of the country, with average rainfall in the Mashonaland Provinces (Figure 1). As of mid-February, some areas had almost doubled their average seasonal totals with nearly one and half months left in the season. Further, the season has been among the wettest on record across much of southern and eastern Zimbabwe. In January, heavy rainfall was also associated with the passing of Tropical Storm Chalane and Tropical Cyclone Eloise in some eastern, southern, and western areas. Only the extreme northeastern areas covering parts of Rushinga, Mudzi, and Nyanga Districts experienced dry spells in February, which somewhat impacted cropping conditions.

    The heavy and continuous rainfall has resulted in extensive damage to roads, bridges, and other infrastructure countrywide, notably in eastern and southern areas. This is impacting access to some areas and markets, especially in rural areas, increasing transport costs, limiting market supply, and increasing prices of goods and services. Furthermore, some humanitarian food assistance and crop input distribution activities are being affected. With the current status of roads throughout the country, the government has declared a national disaster to facilitate the mobilization of resources for road repair and rehabilitation.

    Favorable rainfall resulted in above-average area planted for most staple food crops and some cash crops. Many households engaged in the government’s Conservation Agriculture (CA) initiative (Pfumvudza/Intwasa) under the Presidential Input Scheme. The CA initiative provided mainly seed and fertilizers to farmers that had prepared conservation agriculture plots. Access to crop inputs from markets has been constrained by high prices, limited market supply, and below-average household income.

    While the bulk of crops are in the late vegetative to reproductive stages and in fair to good condition, extensive soil leaching and waterlogging are common across some farming areas. This, coupled with the difficulty in applying fertilizers due to continuous rainfall, high fertilizer prices, continued shortages of top dressing fertilizer, and weed pressure in some areas, has resulted in nitrogen deficiency and yellowing of some crops, especially in the southern and eastern districts. The persistent rainfall reportedly suppressed Fall Armyworm infestations to below normal levels. A few farmers who planted early with the October rainfall are already harvesting their crops.

    While the harvest of early planted irrigated tobacco is reportedly complete, harvesting of rainfed tobacco just started. The very wet conditions are causing false ripening of tobacco and delaying harvesting activities and curing in some areas. Additionally, poor cotton ball formation is reported for some cotton farmers due to the heavy rainfall.

    Normal to above-average rainfall has improved the availability of water for domestic, livestock, and other uses. Most streams and rivers are in flow, with deep wells and boreholes having abundant supplies of water. More than half of the national dams are spilling over. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) reports that as of February 15, the average national dam level was 89 percent, a 50 percent improvement from October when the season started, making it the second-highest average dam level in more than 50 years.

    Pasture availability is well above normal and significantly better than the same time last year (Figure 2). The above-normal pasture availability has improved livestock conditions across most of the country; however, access to veterinary drugs remains poor due to high prices and low incomes, impacting some livestock. Official reports indicate lower tick-borne infections and death rates among livestock this year compared to recent years following government distribution of tick grease in some targeted areas. Cattle dipping services have been somewhat negatively affected by heavy rainfall and lack of dipping chemicals in some areas.

    Poor macroeconomic conditions continue to impact access to income and food, especially among poor urban and rural households. While declining in late 2020, the official annual inflation rate showed an uptick in January to 363 percent, only to drop in February to 322 percent, yet annual inflation remains very high (Figure 3). The monthly inflation in February reduced to 3.5 percent from 5.4 percent in January. Since August last year, the official exchange rates for the ZWL to USD have remained relatively stable, currently trading at around 83 ZWL/USD; however, the parallel market exchange rates continue to increase, trading at 110 ZWL/USD and higher. The parallel market exchange rates continue to be the chief driver of price increases for most goods and services. In the face of continuing local currency shortages, mobile money transfers in ZWL continue to attract high premiums above cash purchases, up to 40 percent.

    Petrol and diesel prices in ZWL and USD terms increased by around five percent in February after a series of increases in December and January. From December to January, diesel and petrol prices had increased cumulatively by 23 and two percentage points, respectively. Toll and transport fares also increased substantially in both ZWL and USD terms, contributing to general price increases on the market. The cost of government-subsidized public transport fares increased by between 90 and 100 percent in January. Electricity and other utility tariffs have also gone up, impacting mostly the urban poor, some of whom are now forgoing these expenses to focus on food purchases.

    As the 2020/21 consumption year draws to a close in March, the annual grain deficit estimated at one million MT remains unclosed as maize imports continue to be low relative to demand. According to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA), about 530,000 MT of maize for human consumption was imported between April and December 2020 (Figure 4). Most markets across the country lack maize grain, including Grain Marketing Board (GMB) depots. This is impacting the milling industry, with unrefined maize meal shortages persisting, especially in remote rural areas.

    Maize grain prices went up on average by 20 percent in January, with maize meal price increases ranging between 20 to 30 percent as demand peaked amidst national shortages. In Harare, prices of maize meal continue to show an increasing trend, while maize grain prices are somewhat stable (Figure 5). Bread prices increased by about five percent in January. Cooking oil prices increased by over 50 percent in January following increases in international prices for imported crude soya oil used for cooking oil production.

    Following a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections and related deaths, the government reintroduced Level 4 restrictions in January for 30 days, including the closure of borders for non-essential business and services and restricted public transportation and people movement. While the restriction measures limited engagement in most formal and informal economic activities, agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and essential businesses and services were allowed to continue to operate. After the initial 30 days, the government extended the restriction measures through the end of February. Following these measures, COVID-19 infection rates have slowed, recovery rates have increased, and the number of active cases and deaths significantly declined. The first batch of 200,000 COVID-19 vaccines arrived mid-February, with the government rolling out Phase 1 of a targeted national vaccination program prioritizing frontline health, security, and immigration staff.

    The COVID-19 restriction measures have mostly impacted the urban poor as livelihoods in the informal sector were disrupted. However, the latest restriction extension from mid to end of February allows the informal sector to operate only if complying with WHO guidelines; for companies to reopen, they must regularly test their employees. The South African land borders were reopened in mid-February; however, the Zimbabwean borders remain closed to non-essential business movements.

    According to ZIMSTAT, the average cost of living, as measured by the food poverty datum line and total consumption poverty line per person, increased by around four percent in February to about 3,930 ZWL and 5,190 ZWL, respectively, compared to January. The continued increase is driving more households to subsist below the poverty lines due to low and inflation-eroded incomes.  A recent national salary survey for public and private sectors reported 70 percent of employees earning below the poverty datum line in December 2020, with the majority pegged in local currency. Typical income sources for rural and urban poor households remain constrained by ongoing macroeconomic challenges and COVID-19 restriction measures.

    Seasonal agricultural labor opportunities have improved due to favorable rainfall compared to the previous low rainfall seasons. However, they remain below average as some middle and better-off households are unable to pay for the services. Typical in-kind payment methods through grain and essential commodities are also limited due to shortages of grain and high prices of basic commodities. Remittances, both local and international, remain below normal. Most informal income-earning activities such as cross-border trade, petty trading, informal transport services, small-scale industries, and services are being impacted by COVID-19 and the generally low demand for products and services due to low disposable income.

    Humanitarian assistance from the government and partners continues. The Department of Social Welfare distribution of 50kg of maize per household per month is ongoing in some rural areas; however, distributions are reportedly being impacted by grain shortages at the GMB.

    As of January, WFP and partners reached out to nearly 1.15 million people in 22 rural districts under the Lean Season Assistance Programme. Households received a ration that meets over 60 percent of their kilocalorie needs. Some 307,000 people in urban areas are receiving cash-based assistance under the WFP Urban Resilience Programme. WFP distributed double rations in January and February in five districts due to accessibility challenges associated with heavy rainfall.  

    The national Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence during this period is expected to be within the “acceptable” (GAM less than five percent) range according to the WHO Classification.

    Consumption patterns remain poor, with many poor rural and urban households limited to two meals per day. In some areas of the country, fruits, vegetables, and wild foods have become available, providing some diet diversity, though relatively low in calorific density. Some farmers who planted early with the October rainfall have started consuming green harvest, though they are in the minority. Households are reducing expenditures on basic needs such as health, education, transport, housing, and utilities, among others, and engaging in other livelihood and consumption coping. As a result, many deficit areas will continue to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Some households are experiencing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in a few extreme cases. Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are being experienced where humanitarian assistance is significant.

    Most typical surplus areas in the Mashonaland Provinces are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as own stocks have been exhausted and households are market reliant with somewhat lower than normal income. Urban areas are also in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households experience challenges meeting their basic needs. However, there are populations in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) following the reinstatement of COVID-19 restrictions and associated impacts, especially on the informal sector.


    The February to September 2021 most likely scenario is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Poor macroeconomic conditions are expected to prevail throughout the outlook period marked by the continued high annual inflation rate. The government has projected annual inflation to close the year at below 10 percent, which most independent analysts have dismissed as too optimistic.
    • The government has indicated plans to introduce higher denomination notes of the ZWL to help alleviate local currency shortages; however, some sectors fear this may fuel inflation if large amounts are introduced.  
    • Relative stability in the official foreign currency exchange auction system is anticipated; however, parallel market rates are expected to remain somewhat volatile at least 25 percent above official rates.
    • The multiple pricing system of goods in ZWL cash, electronic, and mobile money, USD, and South African Rand will likely continue. Electronic and mobile money payments will likely continue to attract high premiums on the markets compared to cash payments.
    • Fuel shortages are unlikely during the outlook period; however, based on recent trends, fuel price increases are likely to continue, both in USD and in ZWL. This will likely increase pressure on transport costs and drive price increases of goods and services, putting further pressure on staple foods.
    • The average cost of living in rural and urban areas will likely continue to increase, impacting mainly poor households’ access to food and other basic needs. 
    • Current international forecast models indicate rainfall for the second half of the 2020/21 season from January to March is expected to be above normal across the country.
    • Water availability and access are anticipated to improve significantly across most parts of the country, especially in typical semiarid areas. High water tables will sustain stream and river flows, dams, wells, and boreholes for longer than usual, improving winter cropping and seasonal income-earning activities such as vegetable production and sales, brick making, and construction to levels higher than recent years.
    • Pasture and livestock conditions will most likely be favorable through at least mid-2021 across the country, driving favorable livestock prices. Starting in mid to late 2021, in semiarid areas, pasture and water availability are expected to decline slowly, driving some deterioration in livestock conditions; however, conditions are not expected to be as poor as in previous drought years. Despite pasture improvements, poor access to livestock veterinary drugs is expected to affect livestock conditions, especially among poor households. Goats are expected to remain in fair to good condition.
    • National crop production for 2021 is expected to be above-average due to favorable rainfall and access to some inputs; however, some yield reduction is expected due to heavy leaching, waterlogging of soils, lack of fertilizers, and pests in some areas.
    • National cereal availability for the 2021/22 consumption year is expected to be higher than average following the 2021 harvest. Imports are expected at minimal levels.
    • Maize grain and maize meal availability on the markets is expected to remain poor until March. Average to above-average market supply is anticipated from April through at least September.
    • Maize grain and meal prices are projected to remain significantly above average in ZWL and USD terms between February and March, driven by low supply, high demand, and continued poor macroeconomic conditions. Prices are expected to decline with the harvest starting in April, though remaining above average in ZWL terms while below average in USD terms. Poor households in deficit-producing areas are expected to start depleting own-produced stocks around August/September, and that is when maize grain prices are expected to start increasing.
    • Cotton and tobacco harvests are also expected to be above average. Depending on sales conditions on the markets, cash crop sales are expected to improve direct and indirect incomes for farming households and others in respective producing areas across the country. However, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has not agreed to tobacco farmers’ demands for higher USD payment ratios relative to the ZWL. Tobacco sales, the second-highest foreign currency source, will also likely improve liquidity in the economy through foreign currency inflows.
    • Agricultural and non-agricultural labor opportunities are anticipated to improve compared to previous years; however, they are expected to remain below-normal due to ongoing macroeconomic challenges, impacts of COVID-19, and the consecutive poor seasons. In-kind labor payments are expected to be near average starting in April/May.
    • Local and international remittances towards poor rural and urban households are expected to remain below average throughout the outlook period, driven by national economic challenges and continued direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 domestically and globally. Southern areas of the country are expected to be the worst-affected as remittance flows from South Africa are expected to continue to be constrained.
    • Based on trends, it is expected income-earning activities, primarily in the informal sector, such as cross-border trade, petty trade, self-employment,  will to continue to depend primarily on the interaction between the poor macroeconomic conditions and indirect impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Incomes are expected to remain below-average through at least late 2021.
    • Significant improvements in the harvesting and sale of wild products are expected in most areas during the outlook period following favorable rainfall; however, incomes from this source are expected at near-normal due to constrained market demand.
    • The 2020/21 WFP Lean Season Assistance is expected to continue through April 2021, targeting over 1.1 million people monthly. Under its Urban Resilience Programme, WFP plans to continue reaching out to over 300,000 urban people with monthly cash transfers through April.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The February to May period is characterized by two different seasonal patterns, with the lean season marking the first half, February to March, and the harvest in April and May. As the peak lean season continues in February to March Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes are expected to prevail in typical deficit areas in the south, west, and extreme north. During this period, the availability of green consumption is not expected to change the overall outcomes as they have relatively lower caloric content. Where humanitarian assistance is significant, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected to continue. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to prevail in the typical surplus producing areas in the Mashonaland Provinces as in urban areas. However, some households may be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    The GAM rate during the peak lean season period February and March is expected to deteriorate slightly; however, is expected to remain within the “acceptable” levels across much of the country. Some localized areas may deteriorate to “alert” (5.9 to 9.9 percent) during this time.

    Beginning in April and into May, as the harvest becomes available with most households starting to consume own foods, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are anticipated to emerge across most parts of the country. Most poor household’s food and income access is expected to increase due to cash and in-kind labor payments, mainly for harvest activities, as well as some crop sales. Additionally, many households will pay for goods and services through bartering their produce.  

    Between June and July, most poor households across the country are anticipated to meet their food needs from own production. Additional income among poor households may come from vegetable sales, given anticipated above-average water availability and access. The situation is expected to start deteriorating in some typical deficit areas in the south, west, and extreme north in July and August as poor households’ own-produced stocks dwindle through consumption, crop sales, and barter. As a result, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are anticipated between June and September in some areas since poor households will most likely be able to meet their basic food needs but have difficulty meeting their non-food needs. However, typical surplus areas in the Mashonaland Provinces and other areas of the country are expected to continue experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes.

    With improved food access as the harvests starts, acute malnutrition is likely to improve and remain within “acceptable” levels. The GAM prevalence is likely to reduce further between June and September due to improved food consumption.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

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



    Impact on food security outcomes


    Spiking COVID-19 infection rates

    Will likely force government to extend the lockdown measures beyond February, thereby increasingly constraining livelihoods, especially in the informal sector


    Government price controls on basic commodities

    This may result in market shortages, promote the parallel market, and high food price increases


    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. 


    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, February 2021

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Source: Zimbabwe Meteorological Services Department

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 5

    Figure 3

    Source: ZIMSTAT

    Figure 6

    Figure 4

    Source: COMTRADE

    Figure 7

    Figure 5

    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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