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Significantly below average harvest expected following a historic dry spell in February

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • February - September 2024
Significantly below average harvest expected following a historic dry spell in February

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Area of Concern: Beitbridge South Western Lowveld Communal Livelihood Zone (Figure 5)
  • Key Messages
    • A historically dry February has resulted in severe water stress for crops across most parts of the country. The 2024 harvest is expected to be poor and will impact household food access through the post-harvest period, along with high food prices and limited access to income-earning opportunities leading to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in typical deficit-producing areas in the south, east, west, and extreme north. In typical northern surplus-producing areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to be present through much of the projection period as households will likely be able to meet their minimum food needs from a below-average 2024 harvest and market purchases, but high prices and lower than normal purchasing power will limit their access to non-food needs. Similarly, most urban areas are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households are likely to be able to meet only their basic food needs, but high prices and limited income-earning opportunities will limit household access to non-food needs. 
    • Grain market supplies are expected to be below normal across the country throughout the outlook period. Low market supply and high demand will keep grain prices higher than the five-year average, with the seasonal decline in prices in the harvest and post-harvest periods unlikely to occur. Most households are likely to rely on maize meal due to its likely higher availability than maize and traditional or small grains. A higher-than-normal national cereal deficit is expected to lead to above-normal grain imports throughout the outlook period. South Africa will likely continue to be the main source of maize imports.
    • Water and pasture conditions are expected to be poor, especially in typically low rainfall areas following cumulatively below-average rainfall that has limited pasture regeneration through the rainy season. Poor livestock body conditions, particularly for cattle, will likely lead to higher-than-normal livestock deaths in the dry season as the limited pastures deplete and high prices limit access to supplementary feeds. Poor water availability and access are also expected to negatively impact household engagement in casual labor, construction-related activities, vegetable production and sales, and other livelihood and coping activities. An increase in human-wildlife conflicts is expected in some areas bordering parks and forests as wild animals seek water and food among communities. 
    • The high and likely continued increase in exchange rates will likely keep ZWL prices well above normal, with price rises also likely in USD as the high production and transportation costs are passed onto the consumer. An increase in the cost of living in ZWL and USD will increase the proportion of households unable to afford basic food needs despite food commodities being generally available on the market. Poor households are likely to increasingly engage in consumption and livelihood-based coping strategies to meet their food needs. Government, donors, humanitarian partners, and other stakeholders should prepare for high food assistance needs throughout 2024, with a likely need to further scale up humanitarian assistance in late 2024 and early 2025, given an anticipated earlier-than-normal start of the 2024/25 lean season.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Seasonal Progress: Following a delayed start of the season through November, rainfall from mid-December to early January improved water, pasture, planting, crop, and livestock conditions, especially in the northern and other typical high-rainfall areas. However, there have been historically dry conditions across much of the country since mid-January, particularly across central and northern Zimbabwe (Figure 1). Short-term forecast data indicates that the historically dry conditions are likely to continue into March, with cumulative deficits since the start of the season increasing across the entire country. As of February 28, 2024, cumulative rainfall since December 1, 2023, was largely 75 to 90 percent of the 40-year average across much of the country, with rainfall 60 to 75 percent of the 40-year average in northern, northeastern, and southwestern Zimbabwe. However, cumulative deficits will likely increase with the ongoing historic dry spell. 

    Figure 1

    Historical rank of rainfall received from January 16 to February 28, 2024.
    Historically below-average rainfall received across much of Zimbabwe for the period January 16 to February 28, 2024.

    Source: Climate Hazards Center

    The total area planted for most crops is below normal despite the increased planting at the end of December and early January. Some farmers, wary about the prospects of El Niño-driven negative impacts, reduced planted areas. More recently, anecdotal reports from some deficit-producing areas indicate that livestock are roaming freely because farmers have written off the crop. 

    The prolonged dry spell and high temperatures have led to wilting conditions emerging across most of the country, especially in the southern, central, western, and other deficit-producing areas (Figure 2). Additionally, an African armyworm outbreak was reported in the three Mashonaland Provinces and Midlands Province in late January causing localized damage.

    Figure 2

    Soil Water Index for maize, February 20, 2024.
    Wilting conditions are widespread across the southern half of Zimbabwe

    Source: USGS

    In early February, the Ministry of Agriculture reported that 85 percent of crops were in the vegetative crop growth stages, with the rest in the reproductive and early maturation stages. Most crops are largely behind the typical growth stages for this time in the agricultural season due to the delayed start of the agricultural season (Figure 3). There is increasing concern that maize and other crops in the vegetative stages will not reach maturity before the likely early cessation of rainfall based on the water requirement satisfaction index (WRSI)1, particularly in deficit-producing areas of southern Zimbabwe (Figure 4). 

     

    Figure 3

    Seasonal progress of maize as of February 20, 2023 (left) and February 20, 2024 (right)
    Crops are behind were they should be due to a late start to the season.

    Source: USGS

    Figure 4

    Forecast estimate of maize conditions at the end of the growing season based on the Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI), February 20, 2024.
    Failure and poor maize conditions are present across southern Zimbabwe, with mediocre conditions across much of the rest of the country.

    Source: USGS

    Water conditions are also below normal across the country. Seasonal streams are dry, including in the typical high-rainfall areas, which is atypical for this time of year. Only the perennial rivers are in flow, but most have significantly below-normal water levels. Water tables are continuing to recede, which is impacting borehole yields. 

    Hot temperatures and the historic dry spell since mid-January are driving a faster-than-normal decline in pasture conditions. Livestock conditions are fair to good in typical high rainfall areas but remain fair to poor across the rest of the country due to limited access to pasture and water. Seasonal livestock diseases, such as tick-borne diseases, are being reported across parts of the country.  

    The 2024 tobacco marketing season is expected to open in mid-March, with mainly the early planted irrigated crop being sold first. Tobacco sales are expected to improve household incomes in tobacco-growing areas and other places and enhance foreign currency liquidity in the economy. Tobacco is the second highest foreign currency earner after gold. Available information indicates that the irrigated tobacco crop reportedly did well, while the rainfed tobacco is fair but is being negatively impacted by the dry conditions. 

    Macroeconomic Conditions: The local ZWL currency has depreciated rapidly, with the exchange rate almost doubling since the start of the year, driving sharp food and commodity ZWL price increases. 

    By the end of February, the parallel market exchange rate was trading at around 18,500 ZWL per USD, compared to the formal interbank rate of around 14,300 ZWL per USD. In February, ZIMSTAT reported that annual headline inflation rose to 47.6 percent, up from 34.8 percent in January, with 5.4 percent month-on-month inflation. In February, the ZWL cost of living rose by nearly 180 percent since January 2024, according to ZIMSTAT. The food poverty line for February was about 432,000 ZWL per person per month, with the total consumption poverty line per person at 553,000 ZWL per month. The rapid rise in the ZWL cost of living is particularly impacting households reliant on ZWL income.

    Significant USD price increases were recorded in December and January. The increase in food and commodity ZWL and USD prices are increasingly impacting poor households' access to food and other basic needs. In early February, the government reinstated import duties on maize meal, cooking oil, sugar, milk, flour, rice, salt, bath soap, laundry soap, washing powder, toothpaste, and petroleum jelly that previously had been exempted since May 2023. However, the government exempted these same basic commodities from value-added tax (VAT) to cushion consumers from price hikes, but prices have not correspondingly reduced.  

    In February, the ZIMSTAT’s Rapid Poverty, Income, Consumption, and Expenditure Survey (PICES), conducted in August 2023, reported that 83 percent of transactions for food items like maize meal, cooking oil, rice, and bread were in USD. Poor urban households are also facing increasing difficulty accessing basic food items, with the PICES reporting 68 percent of households had access to maize, compared to 73 percent in the previous round. The report indicated that basic commodities were readily available in rural and urban areas, but affordability is increasingly a growing issue for households. 

    Markets Update: As of February 13, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) reportedly held about 153,000 MT of maize grain, which is lower than the same time last year. During the same period, the GMB reported having about 45,000 MT of small/traditional grains in stock and 247,000 MT of wheat. The government's food deficit mitigation strategy is said to require around 24,000 MT of grain per month. Relatedly, the commercial milling and livestock feed industries need about 45,000 MT and 30,000 MT per month, most of which are reportedly being met through imports. In September 2023, the government granted duty-free maize imports to the private sector to boost national stocks and supplies in anticipation of potential grain shortages. About 310,000 MT of maize is reported to have been imported from April 2023 to January 2024, higher than last year, with most maize imports coming from South Africa. 

    The demand for staple grains on the market is increasing as the 2023/24 lean season peaks. However, the market availability of maize and other staple grains is scarce due to limited national stocks and farmers with surplus stocks speculatively withholding supplies from the market. The low supply and scarcity of grain have also been influenced by panic buying since November, as some households across the country seek to store grain as a hedge against increasing scarcity concerns for the rest of the current and upcoming marketing year. Most markets have no grain available for sale in the typical deficit-producing areas. The low supply and high demand for maize grain have resulted in significant market price increases. 

    Since December, USD maize grain prices have increased by up to 75 percent in surplus-producing areas and up to 100 percent in deficit-producing areas. Where available, maize sells for 10 to 12 USD per 17.5kg bucket (0.57-0.69 USD/kg) in most deficit-producing areas, up to 50 percent above normal prices for this time of year. As a result, maize meal has become the main cereal purchased by most households in rural and urban areas. Maize meal is readily available on the market, except in some remote areas. Supplies have improved following the maize meal stockouts in December and early January. Maize meal prices have increased by over 100 percent in ZWL and up to 25 percent in USD compared to December 2023. A 10-kg bag of maize meal retails for 6 to 8 USD compared to 4.50 to 6 USD before December 2023. This rapid increase in ZWL living costs particularly impacts households earning wages or salaries in ZWL, who have seen their purchasing power quickly decline over the last few months. Many households convert their ZWL earnings to USD at high exchange rates to try and preserve their purchasing power. 

    Despite recent USD price increases, many households remain reliant on the informal sector as the main source of food and non-food items, given that prices remain relatively lower than formal retail shops. More recently, some formal retailers have also pegged and displayed prices in USD instead of ZWL due to the rapid depreciation of the ZWL. 

    Livelihoods and Coping Update: Income from various livelihoods that poor households engage in is below-normal across much of the country, driven partly by lower-than-normal demand among middle and better-off households with limited liquidity. Seasonal casual labor opportunities such as weeding continue to be constrained for many poor households due to the late start of the season, below-normal cropped areas, poor crop conditions, unavailability of surplus food stocks for in-kind payments, liquidity challenges among middle and better-off households, and above-normal prices for food and non-food items used for barter or in-kind payments. 

    Many households are increasingly engaging in petty trade to earn income for food purchases in rural and urban areas, selling various household and personal wares and fruits, vegetables, and other food commodities. However, household income from petty trade tends to be low and constrained due to high competition. Self-employment opportunities, such as construction and handicrafts, are negatively impacted by below-normal demand for goods and services due to lower-than-normal liquidity among middle and better-off households. 

    Livestock sales income remains below normal, especially in low rainfall areas where livestock conditions are fair to poor and livestock prices are lower than usual. Some households have also experienced significant herd size reductions over the last few years through livestock deaths due to poor water and pastures, poor access to veterinary services, and protracted sales, limiting their ability to sell. The demand for livestock and livestock products is below normal, partly due to limited liquidity despite the lower-than-normal prices. 

    Remittances are an important source of income and food for some poor households. However, households with family members working in urban and other areas within Zimbabwe receive lower than normal remittances due to the prevailing macroeconomic challenges. International remittances, particularly from South Africa, are also below normal due to economic and residence status challenges some emigrants face. 

    Human-wildlife conflicts increasingly affect livelihoods in some areas bordering parks and forests as wild animals seek water and food among the communities amid ongoing drought conditions. The animals are often a threat to crops, livestock, and people. However, household engagement in informal artisanal mining, especially for gold, is increasingly becoming a common income-earning activity across most districts. 

    Food Consumption: Food consumption remains poor for most poor households in rural and urban areas. Access to food on the markets continues to be constrained by low incomes and high prices. Most poor households eat one to two meals daily that typically consist of maize meal pap/sadza/isithwala and vegetables. The green harvest of crops for consumption, typically in late February in a normal season, is unavailable due to the late planting dates and poor crop conditions in most areas. The consumption of seasonal wild produce such as fruits and vegetables is also below normal, the most conspicuous being the absence of Mopane worms (amacimbi/madora) in southern and western areas, an important source of income and protein for many poor households. 

    Cholera Outbreak: Cholera cases continue to be reported across the country, though the number of new cases is steadily declining, according to the Ministry of Health and Child Care. As of mid-February 2024, Zimbabwe had recorded nearly 25,000 suspected cases and nearly 500 suspected cholera deaths since February 2023. The government has established over 150 cholera treatment centers across the country. At the end of January 2024, the government started a national phased vaccination program to help control infections and the spread of cholera, targeting hotspot areas. 

    Humanitarian Assistance: The government's 2023/24 lean season humanitarian assistance started in February across 56 of the country's 60 rural districts. Rations comprise 10 kg of cereal per person per month for targeted households. WFP and partners target the Buhera, Chivi, Mwenezi, and Mangwe districts, distributing 8.5 kg of cereal, 0.6 kg of vegetable oil, and 1.75 kg of pulses per person per month for targeted households. 

    Current Food Security Outcomes: As the lean season peaks, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are ongoing across typical deficit-producing areas due to long-depleted own-produced food stocks, above-normal prices, and constrained access to income for market purchases. Some communal parts of the surplus-producing areas are Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to limited household stocks and access to income for market purchases. However, households can meet minimum food needs. In some productive surplus-producing resettlement areas in the north, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes persist due to the availability of own-produced 2023 stocks and limited income from crop sales and casual labor. However, in these areas, own-produced stocks are quickly depleting, especially among poor households, with an increasing number of households facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. 


    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for Zimbabwe.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Assumptions

    The most likely scenario from February to September 2024 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Rainfall for the remainder of the season through March will likely be below average with above-average air temperatures. Increased evapotranspiration will likely negatively impact soil moisture and water, pasture, livestock, and crop conditions. An earlier-than-normal cessation of the rainy season is anticipated. 
    • The 2024 harvest is expected to be below average across most areas due to the compounding impacts of a late start of the 2023/24 rainy season and prolonged dry spells during water-critical periods of crop development. 
    • The 2024 harvest is likely to be delayed due to the late start to the rainy season and late planting in most areas.
    • Water and pasture conditions are expected to be lower than normal across much of the country due to cumulatively below-average rainfall through the 2023/24 rainy season, particularly in the south and western parts of the country. 
    • Water levels in Lake Kariba are likely to be lower than normal and negatively impact power generation, affecting electricity supplies for industrial, commercial, and household use. 
    • Livestock poverty deaths due to a lack of adequate pasture and water are expected earlier than normal during the outlook period because of anticipated earlier-than-normal deterioration of water and pasture conditions in most typical low rainfall areas. 
    • The late start and poor progression of rainfall, especially in semiarid areas, will likely negatively impact the harvesting, sale, and consumption of seasonal wild products such as vegetables, fruits, thatch grass, fodder grass, and Mopane worms, depriving poor households of key seasonal sources of food and income. 
    • Maize imports, mostly by the private sector, are expected to remain high through the outlook period to meet market demand. South Africa is expected to remain the main source of grain imports throughout the outlook period. 
    • Most households in deficit-producing areas will continue to rely on market purchases to meet their food needs until the 2024 harvests. However, own-produced food stocks will likely deplete earlier than normal, keeping many poor households dependent on food purchases to supplement their food needs in the post-harvest period.
    • National cereal grain prices will likely be higher than last year and the five-year average through the outlook period; seasonal price declines are not expected this year, or at least, will be very marginal. An earlier-than-normal resurgence of price increases is expected in the post-harvest period due to increased market demand and low supplies. 
    • Maize meal will remain the main staple cereal across much of the country. Demand for maize meal will likely remain high through the outlook period, and potential below-normal supplies in parts of the country will likely drive above-normal ZWL and USD price increases. 
    • The macroeconomic challenges will likely remain through the outlook period, negatively impacting livelihoods and food consumption patterns, especially for poor households. Spiking parallel market exchange rates will likely continue to drive the devaluation of the ZWL, mainly negatively impacting those households earning in that currency. Exchange rate instability is a major market constraining factor and is expected to remain a primary factor in food prices and market conduct through the outlook period. Inflation is expected to keep rising during the outlook period, with food inflation being a major driver. 
    • The government is expected to institute more measures in the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe's 2024 monetary policy statement to stem the exchange rate volatility and ZWL devaluation. 
    • ZWL cash payments will likely remain cheaper than ZWL non-cash payments (mobile money/electronic transfers), which attract black market charges. However, ZWL non-cash payments will remain more common due to a short supply of banknotes and the low values of the notes relative to high transaction costs. These non-cash charges are expected to continue eroding household purchasing power for households earning in ZWL, especially in the informal sector. 
    • USD price increases for basic food and other commodities and services are also anticipated in the formal and informal sectors. If strictly enforced, retailers in the informal sector will likely face challenges in accessing goods from producers and wholesalers following the government stipulation that producers and wholesalers should sell to only registered and tax-complaint retailers. 
    • High fuel and transportation costs will negatively impact some livelihoods and market access, especially for poor households. 
    • Typical sources of income will likely remain below normal across the country through the outlook period. These include agricultural and non-agricultural casual labor, self-employment opportunities, remittances, livestock sales, crafts, and barter. Engagement in petty trade will likely remain high in rural and urban areas, though attendant household income will be constrained by high competition. Based on trends, engagement in informal artisanal mining will likely continue to increase. 
    • Seasonal humanitarian assistance by the government, WFP, and humanitarian partners is planned for February to March across all 60 rural districts. The government is targeting 56 districts with 10 kg of cereal per person per month for targeted households, with WFP and humanitarian partners distributing cereal, pulses, and vegetable oil to the other four districts. The cessation of food distributions in March will likely affect communities where the harvest is delayed or significantly below average. 
    • An earlier-than-normal 2024/25 lean season is likely, with the most critical areas likely to start experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes from June/July, when the lean season typically starts around September/October. 

    Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes

    Deficit-producing areas

    The February to May 2024 period is split between the peak of the lean season (February and March) and the typical harvest period (April and May). In February and March, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to continue in most typical deficit-producing areas in the southern, eastern, western, and extreme northern areas as limited access to income and high prices limit household food access from markets. The likely poor harvest is expected to provide very short-lived to no improvements in household food access and availability. Poor households will try to supplement their poor harvest with market purchases and in-kind payments from petty trade, handicrafts, and casual labor. However, households with a significantly below-average to no harvest and limited access to income-earning opportunities will likely remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

    From June through September 2024, the harvested food stocks will likely deplete rapidly, with a high proportion of households expected to have no own-produced stocks. Household reliance on market purchases for food will continue to be impacted by limited access to income. Poor households are likely to increasingly engage in consumption and livelihood-based coping strategies to meet their food needs, driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across most of the deficit-producing areas. An early start to the 2024/25 lean season amid low to no own-produced food stocks, limited income-earning opportunities, and high food prices are expected to lead to the emergence of widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes around July and August. 

    Surplus-producing areas

     Between February and May, very few areas in the northern productive resettlement areas are expected to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes supported by access to 2023 own-produced stocks and some income from crop sales and other typical sources like seasonal labor. With depleted stocks and limited income opportunities, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to prevail in the productive resettlement and communal areas. The anticipated below-average 2024 harvest is expected to still support households in meeting their minimum food needs, supplemented by market purchases, supporting Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through September. However, households with a poor harvest are likely to begin experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes by September as they increase their reliance on coping strategies to meet their food needs.

    Poor households in urban areas will likely meet their minimum food needs but will continue to experience difficulty accessing non-food needs due to macroeconomic challenges, below-average income, and above-average prices, driving Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through the outlook period. 

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1
    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario
    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationalGovernment policy measures to curb volatility in exchange rates and devaluation of the ZWLThis will likely stabilize basic food and other commodity prices at high and above-normal levels. Price reductions are unlikely as high operational and transportation costs are passed onto the consumer. A price stabilization will maintain household food access but is unlikely to change area-level outcomes due to limited access to income-earning opportunities.  
    National Inadequate grain imports Inadequate grain imports may result in maize meal shortages, driving further price increases in the absence of cereal grains on the market. Constrained access to markets, including for alternative foods, especially for poor households, will likely drive increased humanitarian needs.  
    Deficit-producing southern areasLifting of import duty on basic food commoditiesThis may result in increased formal and informal imports and in-kind remittances of cheaper-priced food commodities, especially from South Africa. However, transportation costs will likely remain high and be passed onto the consumer. An increase in imports, particularly in-kind remittances, will likely improve food availability and access for communities in the border areas, especially in the southern areas. 

    Area of Concern: Beitbridge South Western Lowveld Communal Livelihood Zone (Figure 5)

    Between February and October 2024, several livelihood zones in Zimbabwe will be areas of concern, but for this Outlook, one livelihood zone has been prioritized.

    Figure 5

    Beitbridge South Western Lowveld Communal Livelihood Zone
    Beitbridge South Western Lowveld Communal Livelihood Zone

    Source:

    The Beitbridge South Western Lowveld Communal Livelihood Zone (BSWLC LZ) is a long strip of communal lands in the far south of Zimbabwe, bordering South Africa and Botswana. It covers the southern parts of Beitbridge, Gwanda, Matobo, and Mangwe Districts (Matabeleland South Province) and Chiredzi District (Masvingo Province). Predominantly Natural Region V, the livelihood zone is characterized by very low average annual rainfall (<475mm) and high temperatures. Soils are sandy, and vegetation is mostly thorny bushes and Mopane trees. Livelihoods are predominantly crop production and livestock rearing. However, the livelihood zone has a low potential for cereal food crop production and moderate to high potential for livestock production. Small grains (millet, sorghum), cowpeas, watermelons, and groundnuts are the main crops produced. Maize does not do well due to the low average annual rainfall. Cattle and goat herd sizes are generally higher than elsewhere in Zimbabwe. Other income sources include local casual labor, seasonal labor on A2, and large-scale commercial farms, with remittances, especially from South Africa, constituting a major source of income. Additional information on the major characteristics of the BSWLC LZ can be found in the Zimbabwe Rural Livelihood Baseline Profile.

    Current Situation

    The 2023/24 rainy season has been erratic, with multiple prolonged dry spells significantly impacting crop production and livestock. The start of the 2023/24 agricultural season was relatively normal, with timely rains in mid-October, although not significant for an effective start to the season. Some farmers still planted, but a prolonged dry spell from mid-October through November resulted in poor germination, high rates of water stress, and crop failure (Figure 6). However, above-average rainfall from December to early January marked an effective start of the season, but the earlier erratic rainfall resulted in low planting and replanting rates. Some farmers continued to plant beyond the Ministry of Agriculture deadline of January 10, 2024, to try and maximize the potential harvest. Nevertheless, the area planted for food crops remained significantly below normal across the livelihood zone, with some district officials estimating less than 50 percent planted areas in some communities compared to normal as of mid-January. 

    Figure 6

    Distribution of rainfall in Beitbridge Rural during the 2023/24 rainy season compared to the 2000-2018 mean, September 10, 2023 to March 5, 2024
    Rainfall has been well below normal with long dry spells in November and from mid-January through February.

    Source: USGS

    Most farmers planted small grains, as well as groundnuts, cowpeas, and, in a few places, sunflowers. Because of the generally dry conditions, most farmers did not apply basal fertilizers when planting, intending to apply fertilizer later if the rains improved; however, farmers who did apply basal fertilizers micro-dosed (very minute applications). 

    However, significantly below-average rainfall since mid-January has severely impacted crop production. By the end of February, less than 260 mm of cumulative rainfall has been recorded across much of the livelihood zone, with end-of-season cumulative rainfall estimates likely to be around 300 mm based on historical rainfall for the remainder of the season, well below the 33rd percentile of around 370 mm of rainfall since 1981 (Figure 7). The low cumulative rainfall estimates are unlikely to support crop production in the livelihood zone, including more drought-resilient crops like groundnuts. Key informants report that livestock have already been left to roam freely in some communities as no crops are left to protect. 

    Figure 7

    Forecast cumulative rainfall in Matabeleland South based on rainfall received for the remainder of the season since 1981 and compared to the mean
    Rainfall is likely to be well below the mean, and around 300mm by the end of the season.

    Source: USGS

    Much of the late planted crop is in the vegetative growth stages, and crop conditions are generally poor, with most crops showing severe water stress. Farmers are not weeding their crops due to the dry conditions. Planting rates and crop conditions on some irrigation schemes across the zone have fared better compared to rain-fed areas, but some schemes are grappling with dried-up or significantly below-normal water levels in source dams to use for irrigation. 

    Seasonal streams and rivers are dry across the zone, and most dams and water pans are dry or have received low inflows. The high rates of siltation in the dams/water pans across the zone are also negatively impacting the water-holding capacities of these facilities. Water tables remain very low, following little to no seasonal groundwater recharge. Consequently, borehole levels remain low. In some communities, boreholes remain the main water source for domestic, livestock, and livelihood activities, with the increased reliance and high use increasing breakdown rates. In some communities, livestock still travel long distances in search of water, sometimes more than 10km. Dry riverbed sand-scooping for water is ongoing in some communities. 

    Pastures across the livelihood zone are deteriorating due to the prolonged dry spell and high temperatures after marginally regenerating following the end of December to early January rains. Most relief grazing areas are also in poor condition, having been overstocked and overgrazed over the past few years, and are environmentally deteriorated. Due to the lack of pasture, some cattle in some parts of the zone are feeding on an ever-green poisonous plant, locally called umkauzane, which has reportedly contributed to many livestock deaths. 

    Many livestock supplementary feeds, including commercially made or homemade hay bales, are too expensive for most farmers, but some households rely on these products to feed their livestock. Hay bales from the Ministry of Agriculture's provincial baling initiative are being sold at a subsidized price of 1 USD per 18kg bale. Most baling is reportedly done in Matobo District at the Matobo Research Station. If transported to the communities, a bale often retails for around 1.50 USD/bale, but high transport costs are prohibitive for individual farmers or groups of farmers. Some private companies and farmers sell bales for 2-3 USD per bale across parts of the zone. Some partner agencies have reportedly included hay bales in their programming packages. The demand for hay bales is very high and not matched by supply across most areas. Commercial feeds cost around 20 USD or 500 USD/50kg bag in local agro-dealer shops. In Bulawayo, the same bag retails for 17-18 USD. However, commercial feeds are in short supply on most markets, partly attributed to national grain shortages. 

    Despite poor water and pasture conditions, poor livestock conditions were also attributed to the high prevalence of owners who reside primarily in South Africa relying on herders who do not engage in good livestock management practices. Lactating cows and their calves are the livestock most affected by the poor water and pasture conditions, with milk production well below normal due to poor body conditions. Tick-borne diseases are high in some places. Livestock poverty deaths (due to a lack of adequate water and pasture) have reduced compared to the first half of the rainy season (October to December), but some cattle deaths continue to be reported. The worst affected district in the livelihood zone is Mangwe. Mangwe District neighbors Bulilima District, where the highest number of reported cattle deaths nationally occurred between October and December 2023, although Bulilima District is in a different livelihood zone. Livestock thefts are also common across parts of the zone, negatively impacting some households. 

    Most markets across the zone and districts have no maize or small grain. Only very few hammer millers sell grain collected as payment fees for milled grain. However, grain is available at the main regional source market (Bulawayo's Renkini open market), but stock levels are significantly below normal. Maize is retailing for 8 USD for a 17.5kg bucket of maize and 10 USD for small grains. 

    Maize meal is available across the zone and in all the districts. Stock levels have improved following a decline in supply in December and January due to national grain shortages that affected commercial millers and high demand during the festive season. Local maize meal brands are mainly available, even in the areas bordering South Africa and Botswana. Generally, maize meal prices range between 120-130 ZAR (~6.50 USD) for a 10kg bag, 230-250 ZAR (~12-13 USD) for a 20kg bag, and 550-560 ZAR (~29 USD) for a 50kg bag. Where households can afford it, the popular maize meal units are the 50kg and 20kg units that last longer, unlike the 10kg bags that require more frequent shop visits. 

    Vegetables are scarce across the zone due to poor local production and supply from source areas following the poor rains. A small head of cabbage is selling for 40 ZAR (2 USD) in some wards and 30 ZAR (1.50 USD) in the main district centers. Cabbage prices have reportedly increased 100 percent compared to the pre-festive season in December. Soya chunks (ground soya bean meal) are a popular form of relish in the place of vegetables, but the cost is often prohibitive for poor households. Other basic food commodities like cooking oil, sugar, and wheat flour are readily available in the shops, but prices remain high. Bread is scarce in the wards, with low sales reported across most areas.

    Livestock prices are below normal and vary by the animal's body condition. Some households continue to sell their cattle to maximize income before body conditions deteriorate too much, similar to what occurred in November and December 2023. Cattle are selling at below-normal prices, while goats and chickens are being sold for normal prices. 

    Most poor households have lower-than-normal access to income from their typical livelihood sources. On-farm casual labor opportunities are extremely limited due to the poor progression of the rainy season, along with below-average herding opportunities. Another seasonal source of income, the harvest and sale of Mopane worms (amacimbi), did not occur due to the record dry and hot conditions during the breeding season at the end of 2023. Similarly, the lack of rainfall and high temperatures has also affected household and community vegetable gardens and production. 

    Many poor households increasingly engage in petty trading to earn income, including selling second-hand clothes, grocery items, fruits and vegetables, and electrical goods. Informal mining, especially for gold, is also a common and increasing livelihood activity across the livelihood zone. The artisanal miners, locally called otsheketsha, typically prospect at established and potentially new mining areas. Though irregular and unpredictable, income from mining can provide a household's basic needs if the earnings are carefully managed. Other households engage in construction activities such as brick molding, fetching pit or river sand, building, or fencing off fields and gardens. Some households are drawing water and carting water for sale or hiring scotch carts for households needing to draw water in bulk on their own. A few households are reportedly selling or bartering (with food items) their government-provided bags of fertilizers. 

    Cash and in-kind remittances are a common source of food and income across the livelihood zone. Still, key informants indicate that the frequency and size of remittances are below normal due to the immigrant status and economic challenges some emigrants face in South Africa. As has been the case for years, informal courier transporters (Omalayitsha) continue delivering food and other commodities, including in remote parts of the livelihood zone, but charges are increasing. 

    As the lean season peaks, poor household dietary diversity is low due to the lack of own-produced food stocks from last year and below-normal access to income, impacting household purchasing power at markets. Most households eat one to two meals daily, mainly comprising the staple isitshwala/sadza (cereal-based meal) and soya chunks or dried vegetables. However, vegetables are often too expensive to purchase due to their scarcity on the market. Some households are reportedly drinking black tea with sugar without any accompaniments, such as bread or sweet potatoes, as a meal replacement. This practice is popularly called "umuphe akhambe", literally translated as "give him/her so s/he goes away," meaning when a household receives a visitor, and this tea is served, the visitor will immediately understand that the household is struggling to access food and then leave. The very dry and hot conditions have also negatively impacted household access to wild fruit and vegetable products and Mopane worms (amacimbi), a popular protein-rich relish. 

     Assumptions

    Most assumptions for this livelihood zone are similar to those highlighted at the national level above. In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • The 2024 harvest is expected to be significantly poor. For households that will be able to harvest, own-produced stocks are expected to last one to two months at most. However, most households across all wealth groups are expected to have a failed harvest. 
    • Maize and small grains are expected to remain unavailable on the open markets through the upcoming harvest and post-harvest period.
    • Water and pasture conditions will likely remain worse than normal and negatively impact livestock body conditions, particularly cattle. Livestock deaths, expected to be above normal, are likely to occur earlier than normal due to a lack of available water and pasture.
    •  Household access to income from livestock sales and self-employment activities such as construction, casual labor, and vegetable production is expected to remain below normal through the projection period, keeping household purchasing power low.   
    • The unavailability of Mopane worms (amacimbi) during the second harvest period in March and April 2024 will negatively impact seasonal household consumption, barter, and income from Mopane worm sales during the outlook period.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From February to May 2024, poor households will likely remain reliant on market purchases for food as the late start of the season and the historic dry spell from mid-January through February result in widespread wilting of crops and likely crop failure. The distribution of humanitarian assistance between February and March will provide short-term improvements to households' food access. Limited access to income from agricultural labor activities will keep poor households reliant on market purchases to meet their food needs. Many poor households will likely increase their reliance on livestock sales for income, remittances from friends and family members in urban areas or abroad, and income from self-employment activities to earn money for market food purchases. However, due to high food prices, increased competition for income-earning opportunities, and low purchasing power, poor households will likely increase their reliance on consumption and livelihood-based coping strategies to maximize their kilocalorie intake and meet their food needs, with at least one in five households likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    From June to September 2024: Poor households will rely on market purchases and remittances to meet their food needs. Limited labor opportunities to earn income will lead to poor households selling more small livestock (sheep and goats) than usual to maximize earnings. However, as livestock (mainly cattle) body conditions deteriorate through the dry season, income for middle and better-off households from this source will be negatively impacted, likely resulting in low liquidity and a decline in labor opportunities for poor households. Households will increasingly try to earn income from casual labor, petty trade, and self-employment activities, but low demand and liquidity and increased competition will keep earnings low. As the dry season progresses, poor households will likely increasingly engage in more severe livelihood-based coping strategies to earn income to minimize food consumption gaps, driving area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Additionally, poor diet diversity, lower-than-normal food consumption, and reduced healthcare spending will likely lead to rising acute malnutrition rates through the projection period.  

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook February - September 2024: Significantly below average harvest expected following a historic dry spell in February, 2024.

    1

    The spatially explicit water requirement satisfaction index (WRSI) is an indicator of crop performance based on the availability of water to the crop during a growing season. WRSI for a season is based on the water supply and demand a crop experiences during a growing season. It is calculated as the ratio of seasonal actual evapotranspiration (AET) to the seasonal crop water requirement (WR).

    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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