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Food security situation expected to continue improving

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • January - July 2013
Food security situation expected to continue improving

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Other Areas of Concern
  • Events that might change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • The food security situation across the country has been generally stable as a result of a steady food supply, seasonal staple food price increases, and the continued distribution of food assistance to rural households by the Government of Zimbabwe and the humanitarian community. 

    • While receiving assistance, poor households in deficits areas are currently experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes that are likely to continue during the peak of the lean season (January-March). With the start of the main harvest in April, household food access across the country is expected to improve between April and June since households will have food from their own production. 

    • The start of the agriculture season was delayed by 10-20 days across the country and was further characterized by late planting and excessive rains in January. With forecasts calling for normal to above normal rains for the whole country between January and March, continued monitoring of rainfall distribution is needed in order to determine the impact of rains on crop production this season.

    National Overview

    The country is experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes. The food security situation has been generally stable as a result of a steady food supply, seasonal staple food price increases, and the continued distribution of food assistance to rural households by the Government of Zimbabwe and the humanitarian community. These interventions have helped to cover the food needs of the estimated 1.6 million food insecure people projected by the ZimVAC in July 2012. Additional livelihood support through agriculture input distributions, vouchers, and cash transfers has also helped poor rural households meet their livelihood expenditures during the 2012/13 agricultural season, with most of this support being distributed by mid-December 2012. While receiving assistance, poor households in deficits areas are currently experiencing Minimal food insecurity outcomes that are likely to continue during the peak of the lean season (January-March)  (FIGUREs 1 and 2).

    An early start of rains in the central and western parts of the country was followed by periods of dryness, leading to some false starts, and eventual replanting in December. Areas in the south and south-eastern parts experienced poor rainfall during the October to December period, which resulted in planting much later than usual when compared to previous years.  Rainfall distribution across most provinces continued to be erratic in December.

    The revised Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) and the national Meteorological Service Department (MSD) seasonal forecast indicates higher chances of normal to above-normal rains for the period of January to March with rains expected through April. The implications of these forecasts will vary based on current crop conditions and the different agro ecologies in the northern, southern, and western regions of the country. According to MSD, the north and north-eastern region and south and south-eastern regions have a greater chance of normal rains while the western region has a greater chance of above-normal rains as the season progresses (Figure 4).

    A Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) crop situation report released in early January indicates that in December the amount of land area under cultivation is 25 percent less than this same time last year due to the delay in start of season (particularly in the southern districts). However, planting continues in January and crop conditions are fair to good at the emergence and vegetative stages.

    An outbreak of the African armyworm has been reported in most provinces and according to recent reports, the Government has managed to spray and control these outbreaks. MoA reports that they are well prepared for any new attacks and that the impact of these outbreaks on the main season yield should be minimal. These conditions together with the SARCOF and MSD forecasts for normal to above normal rains should offset the false start of season throughout much of the country, likely resulting in normal production.

    Since early January, heavy rains have caused flooding across the country. These floods have destroyed roads, houses, schools, and affected an estimated 4,500 people. The impact of these heavy downpours on maize crops and agricultural land is being assessed. Provinces that are requiring Government and humanitarian assistance include Matebeleland South, Matebeleland North, Manicaland, Mashonaland Central, Masvingo, and Midlands.


    The January to June 2013 outlook is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Maize meal and grain: National availability will remain relatively stable from January to March due to imports through private traders from Zambia and South Africa, Grain Marketing Board (GMB) deliveries and emergency food assistance distributions. From April to June, grain availability is expected to improve as harvests of the main cropping season become available in local markets. This season’s production is expected to be better than last year due to the timely distribution of inputs to rural households in December and the positive rainfall forecast. Last year the distribution of inputs was months late. Since there has been no trade policy changes for staple food, imported grain and foods are expected to continue to play an important role in improving food availability, particularly in chronically food insecure areas.
    • Staple food prices:  Between January and March household reliance on market purchases for maize meal and grain will increase marginally and this will likely result in marginal price increases for the two commodities. The start of the main harvest in April will allow households to begin consuming maize from their own production. During this time demand for maize grain and maize meal  through market purchases for food is expected to decrease, Average maize prices during the January to March period are expected to remain 9.8% higher than the five-year average but remain in the $0.31-$0.46/kg range of prices experienced in 2012. 
    •  Seasonal progress: The onset of the season was delayed for most parts of the country although cumulative rains were received in January. The seasonal forecast of January to April by the MSD shows favorable chances of normal to above-normal rainfall throughout the outlook period for the whole country including the south-western parts initially forecasted to receive normal to below normal. The impact of the mid season dry spell possibility will be varied depending on the length of the dry spell and the stage of the crop growth.  This rainfall outlook is expected to provide needed moisture for crop growth and maturity, which will likely result in a normal start of green consumption between February and March.
    • Labor availability and rates: As agriculture activities have commenced in most areas with the start of rains, the demand for labor in planting and weeding activities from January to March and harvesting from April to May is expected to remain at normal levels. The increase in the supply of labor resulting from coping expansion for households from January to February as they try to improve reduced food access will likely stabilize due to presence of humanitarian response resulting in normal payment terms/rates prevailing.  
    • Livestock: The start of rains has improved pasture conditions and water availability for livestock throughout the country. Livestock conditions have also started to improve and are expected to continue throughout the outlook period (January-June). Livestock prices are likely to stabilize but will remain low during the first half of the outlook period and increase during the second half when animals are likely to be at peak good-condition.
    • Assistance: The funding pledges for the Seasonal Targeted Assistance (STA) has been fully met and full rations and cash transfers are expected to continue throughout the outlook period. In addition to 1,417,547 people on STA, emergency assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has provided agriculture input support to 77,800 households in 28 districts. The Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) has also provided input support to 1 million households through the Presidential Input Scheme, and the program is expected to increase the coverage from 10 districts to 20 districts during the April to June period. The Grain Loan Scheme (GLS) is expected to continue until March when farmers will be expected to repay the loans from the profits of their harvests.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    During the outlook period, food security is expected to remain stable and improve in most parts of the country. As the season progresses and if rainfall performance remains steady, most households are likely to start accessing their green harvest from their fields around mid-February. Between April and June, the main harvest is likely to add to most household food stocks. Expected rainfall performance during the January – March period will be critical for crop growth and maturity. Rainfall performance is likely going to have varied impact on crop production depending on the frequency and length of possible dry spells.

    • North and north-eastern region (northern part of Midlands, Mashonaland central, west and east as well as central and northern Manicaland): The region has so far received above-normal rains with isolated flooding in Nyanga and Mbire. The start of season was average and production of green harvest is likely to be normal. The recent excessive rains have resulted in some water logging, and a dry spell of  one to two weeks could help to dry up this excess water. Although this region has been affected by armyworm, normal production is expected this season.
    • South and south-eastern region (southern Midlands, eastern Matebeleland South and southern part of Masvingo): Similar to the north the southern region experienced a late start of season in December, followed by excessive rainfall amounts in January. Since the soils in this region are generally sandy and loamy soils this area would be affected if a dry spell were to occur for longer than one week. The forecasted normal rainfall until April could be good since planting was so late. Green consumption access is likely to be delayed until between March and April, however production is likely to be average if rainfall in this region is consistent for the first half of the outlook period.
    • Western region (Matebeleland north and the western part of Matebeleland south): The western region had a delayed start of season and the accumulated rainfall this season is above normal, however the soils require fertilizers because they are very porous. The high price of fertilizers and shortages may impact access by farmers could affect crop yield in this region. Although green consumption is likely to be normal in this region, general crop production is likely to be marginally average to below average even if seasonal rainfall is above normal.

    Throughout the outlook period food insecurity outcomes for most of the country will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) due to continued external support through food or cash assistance, Food for Assets, the Grain Loan Scheme and other livelihood support. These assistance programs will help to supplement poor household market purchases enabling them to meet their food needs from January to March. Since assessments on the impact of recent flooding on the food security throughout the country are on-going, these events are not included in this analysis. In the second half of the outlook period (April-June), household food access will improve since households will have food from their own production and food prices will decline as food supplies enter local markets. In the absence of humanitarian assistance, this will likely result in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes for most of the country.  

    Areas of Concern

    Greater Mudzi Communal (Nyanga North, Mutoko, Mudzi, Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe (UMP) and Rushinga districts)

    Current Situation

    The Greater Mudzi Communal livelihood zone is located along the north-eastern border with Mozambique and is predominantly in the dry-low agro ecological potential regions where crop production is generally low resulting in seasonal consumption deficits. The area is characterized by extensive rain fed crop production. These specific food crops include small grains (sorghum and millet), maize, groundnuts, sunflower and small-scale cotton production. Groundnuts are typically grown for consumption, however surpluses are sold to supplement household income, particularly as cotton production has been on the decline due to lower prices.

    The zone had poor production in the 2011/12 agricultural season due to poor rain quantity and distribution, unavailability of inputs and lack of draught power. Typically very poor households in this zone are largely dependent on food aid, market purchases, casual labor, some remittances and safety-net cash assistance programming for their food needs.  

    During the first half of the current agriculture season the zone received slightly below-normal rains along with a delay in the start of season. Despite this late start the season is now underway and planting is on-going in the zone. Recently this zone has also experienced African armyworm outbreaks with minimal damage in Rushinga, Nyanga, Mudzi and UMP districts. These outbreaks were contained through the spraying of cabaryl provided through the MoA.  

    The start of the season is providing opportunities for cash income particularly for poorer households through typical agriculture related activities including land preparation, planting, and weeding. In response to current household food deficits during the peak of the lean season, the STA program is providing food and cash transfer for 145,919 beneficiaries from poor and very poor households in surrounding districts. Additionally, livelihood support by the GoZ and NGOs in the form of inputs for cereal crops is being provided in the zone. The combination of in-kind and cash-transfer assistance is enabling very poor and poor households to meet their food needs and respective livelihood protection costs that are typical for this time of the year.

    Seasonal progress: Compared to average, the start of rains was delayed by 10-days. The cumulative rains received in the first half of the season (October to January) was 150-225mm, which is below the normal average of about 300mm. The poor start of the season has resulted in late planting although most of the farmers had finished planting by mid-December and current crop conditions are fair to good across the zone. Seasonal labor opportunities and rates have been maintained at $3 per day. Although the season start was delayed this has not had an impact on labor opportunities and rates. Recent excessive rains have resulted in some water logging.

    Livestock conditions and marketing:  The start of rains has resulted in the increased availability of water for livestock along with improved pasture conditions. Milk production has in turn improved from an average of 0.5 liters in October-December 2012 to about 0.75 liters per animal/day in January, which is less than the typical 1 liter. Cattle and goat prices have also remained relatively low in this area, averaging $275 and $25, respectively, compared to $350 and $30 during this same time last year. This is attributed to the typical sale of livestock during this time of year in order for households to pay educational fees and to make food purchases[t1] .  

    Staple food prices: Staple food prices for maize and maize meal are higher than last year’s prices. Current maize prices are on average 24 percent higher than they were during the same time last year and maize meal prices are on average 5 percent higher compared to the same time last year. Maize grain and meal are readily available in local markets, with most maize being sourced in surplus producing areas in neighboring zones.

    Terms of trade: Livestock to cereal purchasing power has declined due to rising prices of staple foods and the declining selling price for cattle. In January 2012 the terms of trade for cattle ranged between 650 to 850kgs; in January 2013 this had declined by 29-33 percent, indicating a decline in purchasing power of livestock income. Goat prices have remained stable, but purchasing power has declined since prices decreased from 75-100kgs in April 2012 to 52-70kgs in October 2012. This decline in the terms of trade has impacted the coping ability of households to meet their food needs through the sale of livestock during the peak of the lean season.

    Humanitarian Assistance: Humanitarian food and cash assistance commenced in December as planned.  In this zone there are a number of support arrangements targeting very poor and poor households. The GoZ Grain Loan Scheme provides monthly or bi-monthly rations to approximately 15-20 percent of households at each delivery, while the STA is supporting about 15 percent of the population in districts covered by this zone. The government pilot cash transfer program is providing monthly cash grants of between $10-$25 in Mudzi, Rushinga, Nyanga and UMP districts to vulnerable and poor households. These assistance modalities have stabilized the food insecurity situation and most households are able to meet their food needs and livelihood protection costs.  


    In addition to the national assumptions described above, the following assumptions were made for the Household Economy Approach (HEA) outcome analysis that was completed for the Greater Mudzi Communal Livelihood zone:

    • The MSD and SARCOF rainfall forecast for the January to March period indicates a higher chance of normal to above-normal rainfall in this zone. In addition to this, the January crop water requirement-saturation index (WRSI) shows good and very good moisture conditions for maize crops. These current and projected conditions are expected to be favorable for crop growth and maturity.
    • Due to favorable rainfall conditions that have been forecasted, the zone is likely to have normal green consumption availability in late February to March and average production for the main season.  
    • Casual labor demand is expected to remain normal given a normal performance of the season based on the MSD and SARCOF forecasts. The labor rates for weeding and harvesting in the period of January to February and April to June are expected to remain at normal levels.
    • Using price data trends from the Agriculture and Food Security Monitoring system and price projections calculated for Household Economy Approach (HEA) outcome analysis, the price for maize meal is expected to peak between $0.57 to $0.62 between January and March, while maize is expected to peak between $0.55 to $0.57 during this period. Both prices are expected to reduce from April to June due to improved cereal supply because of the start of the harvest in April. 
    • Price for livestock will remain on average between $250 to $300 per animal, which will result in reduced purchasing power of livestock income. This will be the case particularly during the January to March period when prices of staple foods are at their peak, but will improve with a drop in prices from April to June. 
    • Milk production during the outlook period will be typical of the seasonal averages. This is based on the normal and above-normal rainfall forecasts for the zone, which is expected to improve water availability and pasture conditions.  
    • Full rations of in-kind assistance are expected to be provided from January to March.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Currently this zone is experiencing good rains, normal levels of income from casual labor, and very poor households are receiving some form of assistance. Because forecasts for this area are calling for normal to above-normal rainfall between January and April, this will likely result in a normal start of green consumption in late February and early March, followed by an average main harvest. These rainfall conditions could also improve livestock recovery in this zone, since livestock conditions are currently ranging from poor to fair, with a greater proportion in the fair category. The results of the HEA outcome analysis, which also factors in food assistance, indicates that from January to March the food insecurity situation will likely be Minimal (IPC Phase 1), in the presence of assistance for very poor households in the zone. Between April and June the seasonal food security needs are expected to drop as households start consuming maize from their own production in order to meet their food needs. Livestock conditions and milk production is expected to continue improving due to improved pasture and water sources.  This will result in very poor households experiencing improved food insecurity outcomes, allowing them to meet their livelihood protection needs. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity (IPC phase 1) is expected for the remainder of the outlook period.

     [t1]But why are cattle and goat prices lower this year  when compared to last year? Please explain. Poor condition for goats and cattle has contributed to lower prices as compared to previous years and this is loosely connected to the poor rains affecting pasture and water availability during the 2011-2012  rainy season

    Other Areas of Concern

    Beitbridge South-Western Lowveld Communal (BSWL)

    The food security situation in the south-western livelihood zone of Beitbridge South-Western Lowveld Communal (BSWL) has remained stable in the presence of food assistance that is being provided to 172,780 people. Between January and March the food security situation for very poor households is expected to remain stable due to the provision of full rations under the STA program, market purchases, remittances, and in-kind labor payments, resulting in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity outcomes.

    The start of the season has been delayed in this zone and most areas recently began receiving steady rainfall in January. According to a MoA crop situation report, as of December 2012 only 35 percent of the total area planted by this time last year has been planted as of December. This reduction in land cultivated is expected to impact the overall crop yield in this area; even if normal to above-normal rainfall occurs in this zone during the second half of the season. This situation could adversely impact labor opportunities, particularly for weeding and during the harvesting period.

    Between January and March staple prices are likely to remain high and food supplies stable in this zone, with maize meal being readily available from local milling companies and through imports from South Africa and Botswana. In the second half of the outlook period green consumption could be delayed. The main harvest will likely improve the food security situation in the short-term for very poor households, with labor opportunities due to the beginning of the harvest being readily available. Food insecurity outcomes are likely to be Minimal (IPC phase 1) between April and June, even in the absence of food assistance.

    Events that might change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Masvingo, Matebeleland North and South and Manicaland

    Inadequate humanitarian response for January to March period.

    Deterioration in the pipeline will reduce food access for households which will likely result in food security outcomes in some areas being stressed (IPC phase 2) in the January to March outlook period.

    The entire country

    Actual rainfall quantity is below normal resulting in poor production and crop failure.

    Failure of rains could see a reapeat of previous seasons where production has been below normal. This is likely to result in very poor households facing stressed food insecurity outcomes (IPC phase2) for the April-June period.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, January 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, January 2013

    Source: FEWS NET

    Rainfall forecast, January to April.

    Figure 3

    Rainfall forecast, January to April.

    Source: Meteorological Services Department

    Area of Concern

    Figure 4

    Area of Concern

    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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