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Poor harvest and deteriorating macroeconomy driving atypically high food assistance needs

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • June 2019 - January 2020
Poor harvest and deteriorating macroeconomy driving atypically high food assistance needs

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The deteriorating macroeconomy and significantly below average 2018/19 crop production are expected to drive widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes through at least January 2020. In high production northern areas and some central parts of the country Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected through August, after which Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected. Some worst-affected households are likely to be in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in districts of highest concern: Kariba, Binga, Hwange, Gokwe North, Mbire, Mudzi, and Chipinge districts from October through February, the peak of the lean season. 

    • The long-standing economic challenges are expected to continue driving poor and highly volatile macroeconomic conditions. Some basic commodities like bread, sugar and cooking oil are likely to continue in short supply. Fuel shortages and increasing fuel prices are also contributing to the economic hardships faced by both rural and urban populations as household incomes and purchasing power rapidly erode.

    • The Ministry of Agriculture currently estimates maize production for the 2018/19 season to be about 776,600 MT, 45 percent of last season and 59 percent of the five-year average. Early international forecast indicate, near average rainfall is likely for the start of the 2019/20 season. Despite this forecast, agriculture labor opportunities are likely to be below average. In addition, access to agriculture inputs is anticipated to be limited.


    Current Situation

    The 2018/19 rainfall season was among the worst on record in parts of the country characterized by significantly below average rainfall with drought conditions across much of the country. Compared to the El Nino 2015/16 rainfall season, this season had more widespread rainfall deficits, especially in the north and west (Figure 1). In 2019, Tropical Cyclone Idai brought late season rainfall to the eastern parts of the country, mainly Chimanimani and Chipinge Districts, though this rainfall led to severe flooding, destroyed crops and infrastructure and disrupted livelihoods.

    The 2018/19 harvest is complete in most areas of the country, although continuing in a few areas.  According the to the Ministry of Agriculture’s (MoA) annual production report, maize yields for the 2018/19 season in communal farming areas are very low, averaging 0.27 metric ton/hectare (MT/ha); 50 percent below last year’s average yield level and almost 40 percent below the five-year average. In some of the worst affected areas, many households did not have a harvest.

    According to the latest government crop assessment, 2018/19 maize production is estimated at about 776,600 MT, 45 percent of last season and 59 percent of the five-year average (Figure 2). Matebeleland North, Matebeleland South, and Manicaland Provinces are the worst affected with maize production averaging only about 30 percent of the five-year average. National sorghum and pearl millet production is estimated at 75,000 MT, also significantly below average. The total cereal production is estimated at roughly 850,000 MT. In May, the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) held about 590,000 MT of maize including 500,000 MT held by the Strategic Grain Reserves, indicating below average national carry-over stocks from the 2017/18 marketing season. The official national cereal deficit for the 2019/20 consumption and marketing season is currently estimated at 760,000 MT.

    Production for all other crops (e.g. legumes, pulses, and tubers) and cash crops (mainly tobacco and cotton) are also expected at significantly below average levels. Tobacco deliveries to auction and contract floors have been significantly below normal, so far this marketing season, though this is also partly due to poor prices. Cotton harvests have been delayed in most areas due to late planting. MoA estimates cotton production is most likely to be 50 percent less than last year at roughly 68,000 MT.

    The Zimbabwe macroeconomy remains highly volatile and continues to deteriorate. According to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT), the annual inflation rate reached nearly 100 percent in May; the highest in 10 years and an increase from about 75 percent in April (Figure 3).  However, some independent estimates indicate the annual inflation rate is over 300 percent. The main driver of the economic challenges is the foreign currency shortage. In mid-June, Zimbabwe’s local currency (RTGS $) devalued by 140 percent against the USD on the official interbank market, compared to late-February, when the interbank market rate was established at US$1: RTGS $2.5. Parallel market exchange rates also spiked by over 150 percent by mid-June, trading at an average of US$1: RTGS $10 to $11. The RTGS $ continued to devalue on an almost daily basis through the third week of June (Figure 4).

    In late-June, Zimbabwe’s central bank banned the use of foreign currencies, re-introducing the Zimbabwe Dollar (comprising of bond notes and RTGS Dollars (RTGS $) as the sole legal tender for transactions in the country. In the days following the announcement, food and nonfood prices continued to increase; however, market impacts are not well understood at this point as the market needs time to adjust and respond to the new supply and demand structure.

    Following long-standing fuel shortages in mid-May the government removed subsidies on oil companies, leading to a nearly 50 percent increase in fuel prices. By mid-June, petrol and diesel prices further increased by 6 and 4 percent, respectively. These increases came 4 months after the substantial 150 percent fuel price hikes in January which triggered widespread national protests. As a result of these increases, petrol and diesel prices are now 280 percent above December 2018. Private transporters increased transport fares up to 100 percent between May and June in response and fuel shortages also continue.

    The continued devaluation of the local currency, increasing fuel prices, as well as the deteriorating and volatile macroeconomy, has drove increases in food and non-food price beyond the already above-normal price levels. Cooking oil and sugar prices increased by over 100 percent between May and June. Some food commodities recorded over 150 percent price increases during the same period. Some basic foods including cooking oil, sugar, and bread are not consistently available in markets across the country. This is partly due to foreign currency shortages for imports. Maize grain availability is limited in markets across the country due to the poor harvest. Also, despite the recent maize harvest, maize grain prices continued to atypically increase from May to June.

    In mid-June, the government introduced new maize producer prices, only 2 months after the previous producer price increase. Prices increased 93 percent per MT of maize grain from RTGS $726 to RTGS $1,400. Despite government subsidies to commercial maize millers on purchases from the GMB, millers have significantly increased maize meal prices and there are intentions for further price increases.

    Critical electricity outages across the country are also adding to the economic challenges as electricity is rationed. This is affecting businesses inclusive of industries and commercial sectors.   

    Prior to the government’s announcement to ban foreign currency on June 24, most goods and services were quoted in scarce US Dollars, or alternatively in local currency at extremely high prices pegged above the official and parallel market rates. These high speculative prices in the local currency are meant to cushion businesses who access foreign currency on both the official and black markets where the local currency is rapidly depreciating. Subsequently, prices of most basic foods are well beyond what many poor households can afford, when available.

    Formally employed workers in both the government and private sectors were previously calling to be paid in US Dollars; which most employers could not afford. The population engaged in the informal sector continues to grow. These households engage in petty trade and self-employment activities among other activities. However, increased competition and low demand for products and services are resulting in below average incomes.

    As cash shortages continue, there is an increase in the use of mobile money transfers for payments. The high and increasing service charges imposed by retailers, traders, and service providers is further eroding household purchasing power. In some cases, poor households are resorting to bartering for food.

    Following the poor rainfall season, water availability and access is also decreased, especially in typical semiarid parts of the country. Most streams, ponds, and other water sources have already dried up, as well as some boreholes, as water tables are fast receding. Pastures are generally good in some localized areas especially in typical high rainfall areas, but fair to very poor in arid parts. Cattle are in fair to poor condition in the most severely affected areas of the country although small stock such as goats are in good to fair condition. However, there is a high prevalence of livestock diseases and many households are unable to afford veterinary drugs and supplementary feeding. From the start of the year through April, the government reported 5,000 drought-related cattle deaths countrywide. Atypical livestock sales including sale of livestock in poor condition for income have already started in some parts of the country. Mobile money transfers are the common payment modality for livestock with selling households paying high premiums to access the cash through dealers or when making payments for goods and services. This has significantly reduced the income earned from livestock sales.

    Income sources for this time of year from crop and livestock sales are below normal. Poor water availability and access, especially in the southern and other arid areas of the country are impacting activities such as self-employment and vegetable production and sales. Increasing macroeconomic hardships and volatility continue to affect casual labor, remittances and petty trade activities, among others.  Most households are reliant on markets atypically early, increasing demand, specifically for maize grain. Poor households, most of whom either did not harvest anything or have exhausted own-produced stocks, are facing increasing challenges accessing food on the markets due to below average income and atypically high food prices.

    Agricultural and non-agricultural labor availability is also low and decreasing as middle and better-off households who ordinarily offer such opportunities are also experiencing the effects of the economic challenges and poor crop harvests. Labor rates, including in-kind payments are below average and significantly below average in some areas for poor households.

    Many poor households are employing consumption based coping strategies including reducing the number of meals consumed a day, reducing portion sizes, and engaging in preferential feeding of children before adults. In addition, in areas with little to no harvest households are atypically selling livestock, purchasing food on credit or borrowing money to buy food.

    Current data on humanitarian food assistance distribution, including the number of beneficiaries and the ration size was not available. As such, this analysis does not include the impacts of humanitarian food assistance.

    Overall, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes are prevailing across most areas as a result of poor production, the challenging macroeconomic environment, and constrained livelihoods. A few areas in typically high production areas are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as access to production is broadly meeting their basic food needs, despite being below average.


    The June 2019 to January 2020 most likely scenario is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Estimates indicate significantly above-average national cereal deficit during the 2019/20 consumption and marketing year. Government has already indicated plans to import up to 700,000 MT of maize to fill the national shortfall; however, foreign currency shortages will likely limit imports by both the government and private sectors.
    • National market supply is expected to be significantly below average with markets in deficit-producing areas mainly in southern, western and other typical deficit areas expected to be undersupplied with grain for much of the marketing season.
    • In surplus-producing areas in the north poor households are anticipated to consume own produced foods for 3 to 4 months; however, in the rest of the country, poor households are anticipated to consume own foods for only 1 to 2 months.
    • Macroeconomic conditions are anticipated to further deteriorate and remain highly volatile through January 2020. Full implications of the ban on use of foreign currency in domestic transactions along with re-introduction of the Zimbabwe Dollar as the sole legal tender are yet to be realized. Though parallel market exchange rates dropped immediately following the ban on foreign currency usage, parallel market exchange rates are still expected to increase with time. As a result, some basic food commodity shortages are likely to continue as well as atypically high rate of price increases in basic food and nonfood commodities. Fuel shortages and high transport costs are likely to continue. National power cuts are likely to remain, negatively affecting industry and household livelihoods.
    • Most areas of the country are expected to have below average water availability from June through November, especially in typically semi-arid areas. This will affect water supplies for domestic and livelihood activities such as livestock care, dry season gardening activities, brick molding, construction, and self-employment activities.
    • Poor water and pasture conditions especially in typical semi-arid areas are likely to result in livestock movements to areas with better pasture and water sources with cattle conditions anticipated to be fair to poor. Small livestock are expected to be in good to fair condition but deteriorating in areas of highest concern. Livestock disease prevalence is expected to remain high, especially considering the high prices and shortages of livestock drugs and supplementary feeds. Atypically high livestock deaths and distress selling of livestock are anticipated through January 2020. However, demand for livestock is expected to be low.
    • Income from agricultural and non-agricultural labor is expected to be significantly below average as a result of the above average labor supply, decreasing wage rates, and the below average labor availability, especially in southern and other typical grain-deficit areas. Also, in-kind payments for labor and income from the sale of goods in the market and petty trade is most likely to be below average.
    • Remittances from within and outside the country, especially from South Africa, are expected to be below average as below normal opportunities are likely due to the deteriorating macroeconomy and will affect the frequency and quantity of the remittance suppliers.
    • Maize grain and maize meal prices are anticipated to continue to be significantly above average due to low supply, high demand, and the volatile economy. High and increasing transport costs and transport challenges are anticipated to further increase prices, especially in remote markets. As cash challenges continue amidst eroding household incomes and purchasing power, bartering for maize grain and meal as well as other basic commodities is expected to increase. Poor households are likely to barter chicken or goats in exchange for food. In addition, increased transport costs may result in maize grain and maize meal shortages in some remote markets.
    • The most likely ENSO phase from now through January 2020 is for a weak El Niño, near-average conditions are most likely across Southern Africa for the onset period and first half of the 2019/20 rainy season.
    • Despite anticipated average rains between October and December, agriculture labor demand and rates for the 2019/20 agricultural season are expected to be below average due to the anticipated below average payment from middle and better-off households and access to agriculture inputs.
    • Poor household access to agricultural inputs for the 2019/20 agriculture season is likely to be significantly below average, reducing areas planted. The government has indicated commitment towards crop input assistance for the upcoming season; however, owing to fiscal challenges, assistance coverage is expected to be below normal.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The food security conditions across the country are likely to deteriorate throughout the scenario period with more households anticipated to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. In the June to September period, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist in surplus producing areas of the country as households are expected to consume own foods through August. This year due to the limited harvest and deteriorating and volatile macroeconomic situation, households are likely to atypically rely on purchases from the markets earlier than normal, though at increasing food prices. The coping strategies households are most likely to engage in during this period include limiting meal frequency and quantity, increased consumption of wild foods, extended sale of livestock, labor migration, and decreasing expenses on healthcare and veterinary care as well as agriculture inputs.

    The lean season typically begins in October/November as household stocks are exhausted and most poor households rely on markets for food. However, this year, due to significantly below average harvests and continued deterioration in the macroeconomy, the lean season is expected to start in July/August. In years with a below average harvest households typically rely on the following coping strategies: intensification of casual labor and self-employment services, labor migration, increased consumption and sale of wild resources (e.g. fruits, thatching grass, firewood), increased livestock sales among others. However, this year households are also likely to sell critical household and productive assets and withdraw children from school, and in the most severely affected areas some households are expected to engage in begging.

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to be present across the country from the October to January 2020 period; however, it is anticipated there will be some households in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) in some parts of the country including Kariba, Binga, Hwange, Gokwe North, Mbire, Mudzi, and Chipinge as there was little to no harvest and market prices are expected to increase with household incomes not able to keep pace. Large scale humanitarian assistance is needed through at least March 2019 across the country to prevent food consumption gaps and the loss of livelihoods.

    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



    Below average rainfall

    This will have negative impacts on crop and livestock production and worsen livelihood activities such as casual labor, livestock condition and sales. This will most likely increase the number of households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the short-term and have long-term impacts on the food security situation across the country.

    Very high inflation or hyperinflation

    This will greatly erode household incomes, disposable incomes, and purchasing power; may result in basic commodity shortages; increasing the number of food insecure among the poor and other wealth groups. This will most likely lead to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in some areas. 


    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.

    Figures Zimbabwe seasonal calendar

Land preparation is from September to December. Planting is from November to February. Cotton p

    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Rainfall according to CHIRPS data from the October to May period for 2015/16 (Left) and 2018/19 (Right). The Rainfa

    Figure 2

    Rainfall according to CHIRPS data from the October to May period for 2015/16 (Left) and 2018/19 (Right).

    Source: USGS/EROS

    Figure 2. Zimbabwe 10-yr maize production trend. Annual production is significantly below that of the 10 year average and las

    Figure 3

    Zimbabwe 10-yr maize production trend

    Source: Ministry of Land, Agriculture, Water Climate and Rural Resettlement

    Figure 3. Zimbabwe year-on-year inflation Jan 2017 to May 2019. The rate of inflation significantly increased start in Septem

    Figure 4

    Zimbabwe year-on-year inflation Jan 2017 to May 2019

    Source: ZIMSTAT

    Figure 4. Weekly Exchange Rates of USD to RTGS $ and Bond Notes in Cash from October 2018 to Week 3 of June 2019.  The USDO B

    Figure 5

    Weekly Exchange Rates of USD to RTGS $ and Bond Notes in Cash from October 2018 to Week 3 of June 2019

    Source: ZIMSTAT

    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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