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Atypically high cereal prices and reduced livelihood options lead to Stressed and Crisis outcomes

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • July - December 2015
Atypically high cereal prices and reduced livelihood options lead to Stressed and Crisis outcomes

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Households in most southern provinces are currently facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, which are expected to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from October through December. In most northern districts the majority of households are consuming own-produced cereals from recent harvests and are experiencing Minimum (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. However as households finish their own-produced stocks from October onwards, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes are expected through December. 

    • Most households in the southern areas are increasing reliance on market purchases for staple cereal, which is pushing up prices to levels averaging 38-46 percent above previous year prices and 35 percent above the national average. Due to an undersupply of maize grain on most southern markets during the outlook period, maize meal demand and prices are also expected to increase to levels above the previous year. 

    • Rural food insecurity for the 2015-16 consumption year is estimated at 16 percent (1.5 million people) of the rural population during the peak lean season from January to March 2016, compared to 6 percent last season. Livelihood options are projected to be constrained in most parts of the country, but especially in the south. Safety-net interventions by the government and partners are limited and lean season humanitarian assistance is expected to be lower than average due to a challenging funding situation.   


    Current Situation

    • The ZIMVAC 2015 rural livelihoods assessment indicated that approximately 5 percent of the population is currently acutely food insecure. The majority of households across all wealth groups in cereal surplus provinces in the north are currently experiencing Minimum (IPC Phase 1) acute food security outcomes. Despite a poor 2014-15 rainfall season and below-average cereal production, even poor households in northern areas are still consuming cereals from own produced stocks. Some areas in the north are still reporting the availability of carry-over stocks from the 2013-14 season. In the southern half of the country, the majority of households are predominantly Stressed (IPC Phase 2), and a few areas are already experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity. In the south, the cereals that most households are mainly consuming are being purchased in local markets.
    • Market grain supplies are readily available in the northern areas, except in the northern-most parts of the provinces along the Zambezi Valley where production levels were relatively poor. Grain prices in the northern districts are following typical seasonal trends, recording a dip in June and July.
    • Demand for cereals is already high in the southern provinces, following very poor harvests. The 2014-15 total cereal production for all provinces was lower than the previous season and the five-year average (Figure 1). Most markets in these southern provinces have limited supplies of grain due to poor inflows from distant source areas (Mashonalands, parts of Midlands and Manicaland) which experienced lower than usual production. This has resulted in atypically high and increasing maize prices, at a time when they should typically be at their lowest. The very limited availability of maize grain on the markets in the south has led to the majority of households resorting to maize meal, which is readily available across the provinces at relatively stable prices.
    • Zimbabwe currently has a national cereal deficit of 1.1 million MT for the 2015-16 consumption year. The Grain Marketing Board’s (GMB) Strategic Grain Reserve levels are reportedly 76 percent below their minimum required 500,000 MT as of July 5, 2015. Grain deliveries to the GMB are very low this year, with only 29 percent (11,500 MT) received as of early July, compared to 40,000 MT by the same time last year. These low delivery levels to the GMB are due to the loss of trust by farmers with surplus grain because of non-payment for past deliveries. These farmers are opting to sell to private traders offering cash. In some cases, traders are offering as little as $180/MT, a price hardly viable for farmers. The GMB is buying maize at $390/MT, though following Statutory Instrument SI 122 of 2015 (April 2015), the government deregulated the marketing of maize, allowing for prices to be determined by market forces. Some farmers, especially in the north, are holding onto their grain in anticipation of higher prices in the coming months.
    • The government has reported the resumption of maize import flows from Zambia, mainly directed to Bulawayo for distribution to cereal deficit districts in the south. The private sector has also been authorized to import cereals to supplement local supplies. So far the imports consist of maize grain mainly from Zambia and maize meal from South Africa. Private traders are not buying from the GMB because of high prices ($400-455/MT. Instead private traders prefer the cheaper imports whose landing prices range between $220 - 300/MT. 
    • Households in cereal surplus areas are currently engaged in typical livelihood options such as crop sales, vegetable production and sales, brick molding and construction, casual labor activities, livestock sales, gold panning and other informal mining activities. Income from most of these activities, with the exception of cereal deficit households, are mainly for non-basic food expenditures as cereal needs are being met from own production.
    • In the southern provinces, livelihood options are more limited compared to the northern provinces due to the negative impact of a very poor rainfall season on crop production and sales in the south, along with limited casual labor availability. Vegetable production and sales are currently on-going, but households are faced with serious water challenges since most rivers have dried up and water tables are receding quickly -affecting deep well and boreholes yields. As a result, the poor in cereal deficit areas are facing challenges in liquidity.
    • Livestock conditions range from fair to good in most northern districts. However, in the southern areas conditions are deteriorating due to water and pasture shortages. Some households, mainly in parts of Matebeleland South Province, are already relocating their cattle to better areas in search of water and pasture. Livestock prices continue to decrease due to deteriorating conditions and this is limiting incomes for poor households.
    • Incomes from the primary cash crops are lower this year compared to last year. Tobacco production (159 million MT) was 26 percent lower than last year. With the tobacco selling season officially closed as of July 15, sales were 8.5 percent lower (192 million kg) compared to 209 million kg same time last year, and against a government target of 222 million kg. Average prices this season at auction floors and contract sales were also lower. Cotton production decreased by 41 percent from last year, and prices are reportedly low ($0.30/kg) resulting in most farmers refusing to sell their crop in protest of these low prices. 
    • The government is currently providing safety-net assistance through the Harmonized Cash Transfer (HCT) Program covering 22 districts across the country. This program targets the most vulnerable and mainly labor-constrained households through a monthly cash payout of between $15-25.
    • WFP is currently implementing a Food for Assets (FFA) program (between May and November) in nine priority districts, targeting a total of nearly 18,000 beneficiaries.
    • The Amalima program is providing on-going (May 2014 - March 2018) supplementary feeding activities in four districts in Matebeleland North and South Provinces, reaching over 53,000 beneficiaries monthly. Some 12,000 people are also benefiting under the consortium’s Cash for Assets (CFA) component running until September 2017. ENSURE has similarly structured activities in 6 districts of Masvingo and Manicaland Provinces, with over 41,000 beneficiaries under supplementary feeding.
    • Following the release of the 2015 ZIMVAC rural livelihoods report, WFP and other partners are preparing for the geographical targeting for the 2015-16 lean season food assistance.

    The Food Security Outlook for July to December 2015 is based on the following national level assumptions:

    • El Niño forecasts: Between October and December 2015, regional forecasts indicate that there is a 90 percent chance of an El Niño for the 2015-16 rainfall season. There is a 40 percent chance that parts of southern Africa, including southern Zimbabwe, will experience El Niño-induced below normal rains. The affected areas may experience a late start of the rainfall season, leading to late planting, and possibly reduced cropped hectares. The impact on agriculture-related labor, including land preparation, planting, and weeding will be severe especially following on the back of a similar poor season. As a result, household incomes may be significantly reduced between October and December.  
    • Cereal availability and supplies: Following a poor cropping season, Zimbabwe experienced a national cereal deficit of about 1.1 million MT for the 2015-16 consumption year. As has been typical over the last few years, the country will import significant maize stocks to fill this cereal gap. Zambia will likely be the main source of grain because the country has around 800,000 MT of exportable stocks. However, Zambia’s 2014-15 production decreased by 25 percent since the previous year and is 15 percent below the five-year average. Increased competition from other deficit countries in the region is expected this marketing year because of poor 2014-15 rainy season. Private traders are also likely to play an important role in Zimbabwe’s formal cereal imports, but prices will likely increase beyond affordable levels for most poor households. The government will likely allow informal cereal imports for maize grain and maize meal. Maize meal from South Africa will continue to find its way into the southern areas of the country where it constitutes the predominant cereal because of its cheaper price when compared to local brands.
    • Cereal prices: Average maize grain prices stabilized in the northern areas during and immediately following the harvest, but will increase from July - December as household demand rises. Private traders importing grain from Zambia will likely supply nearby markets in the north to avoid high marketing costs acquired in order to transport supplies to the distant southern markets. Formally imported grain is likely to increase retail prices, especially if source areas are outside of the southern African region. For southern areas of Zimbabwe, most markets are likely to have no supplies of maize grain due to decreases in production in the northern supply areas. Very few markets in the south will have grain available, and prices will likely be significantly higher than average. 
    • Livestock condition and prices: Livestock conditions will likely deteriorate in most areas across the country, especially in the drier southern areas, resulting in significant price decreases. Even though cattle prices will decline, prices for goats and chickens are expected to remain largely stable as they are not usually affected by seasonal conditions. Livestock to grain terms of trade will increasingly become unfavorable for grain-deficit households who have to depend on markets to access grain from August – November.  
    • 2015-16 lean season food assistance: Most parts of the country are likely to experience an earlier than usual start of the lean season due to poor harvests and reduced livelihood and coping options. Owing to a tight funding environment affecting both government and partners alike, there will likely be reduced geographical coverage and lower proportions of targeted food insecure households for the 2015-16 lean season food assistance program. Last year WFP had to cut down on priority districts and beneficiary numbers, and had to enforce ration cuts in response to limited funding from traditional donors. This situation will leave a significant proportion of the food insecure households to face constrained access to food on the markets, leading households to engage in atypical coping strategies such as increased labor migration and petty trading.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Between July and September, the majority of households across all wealth groups in the northern provinces will experience Minimum (IPC Phase 1) acute food security outcomes. Despite below average 2014-15 production, some households in the northern areas will rely in carry-over stock from the previous season and this year’s production. In the southern half of the country, the majority of households will mostly experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2), with some very few areas in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity.

    Agriculture-based labor and other livelihood options will be limited for the outlook period. Worsening economic conditions in Zimbabwe and the unstable labor market in South Africa is expected to decrease remittance levels by about 40 percent of normal. Other income options including brick molding and construction demand will be low. From October through December, some households in the northern areas will start experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as they finish their own produced food stocks. Most households will increase their reliance on market purchases for cereals. This at a time when income options will be limited and cereal prices high. The southern districts will mainly experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes as demand for cereal increases, while income opportunities are fewer. Maize meal prices are expected to increase in response to increased demand. The anticipated lean season assistance during this period will likely have limited coverage owing to funding challenges.


    Figures Seasonal Calendar

    Figure 2

    Seasonal Calendar

    Source: Fews Net

    Current acute food security outcomes, July 2015.

    Figure 2

    Current acute food security outcomes, July 2015.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1


    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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