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High levels of acute food insecurity and assistance needs are expected to persist into early 2021

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • June 2020 - January 2021
High levels of acute food insecurity and assistance needs are expected to persist into early 2021

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Although food security outcomes are better than previously anticipated in areas of the country, high humanitarian food assistance needs persist and are expected through at least early 2021. Despite the harvest, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected across the southern, western, and extreme northern parts of the country throughout the outlook period due to below normal access to both food and income. Humanitarian assistance is currently improving outcomes to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) in some areas of the country.

    • Outcomes in some typical surplus-producing areas in the north are better than previously anticipated, with Minimal (IPC Phase 1) present and expected from June to September. As livelihoods in these areas are mainly crop dependent, the somewhat favorable crop production and access to income, while below normal, is sufficient for poor households to meet their minimum food and some non-food needs. From October through January, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in surplus-producing areas as food stocks dwindle or are depleted and households are reliant on markets for food. Urban areas are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) although Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected as the informal sector restarts following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and the economy slowly dollarizes.

    • Economic volatility and depreciating parallel market exchange rates are progressively constraining livelihoods and disposable incomes. The official annual inflation rate in May stood at 786 percent and the local currency depreciated by over 80 percent between May and mid-June. In late June the government shifted from a fixed official foreign exchange system to a new auction system.  However, volatile macroeconomic conditions are anticipated throughout the outlook period.  

    • COVID-19 related measures continue to constrain access to food and income for market dependent households even as government has progressively relaxed some restrictions. In mid-June, the informal sector re-opened on the condition operations register with local authorities and COVID-19 control measures are observed. National borders remain closed except for essential goods and services; inter-city and rural-urban transport services remain banned. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to increase driven mainly by returning citizens from South Africa and Botswana.

    • The 2019/20 official maize production estimates are about 30 percent below average. In response to inflationary pressures, in April the government increased maize and small grains producer prices by about 80 percent, followed by a 30 percent incentive for deliveries through the end of July. Maize grain and maize meal imports mainly from South Africa continue although local supplies remain low. Shortages of some basic food items mainly maize grain, maize meal, sugar and cooking oil continue across most markets. Maize grain and maize meal prices are projected to remain significantly above average throughout the outlook period.


    Current Situation

    The continued deterioration of the macroeconomy remains a key driver of acute food insecurity. This has been compounded by widespread impacts associated with COVID-19 measures taken by the government as well as consecutive years of drought and poor harvests. The confirmed number of COVID-19 cases continues to increase, with 591 cases as of June 30, up from just 30 at the beginning of May. Seven associated COVID-19 deaths have been recorded. Most of the confirmed cases are associated with returnees from South Africa and Botswana.

    In mid-May, the government indefinitely extended Level 2 lockdown measures including the closure of national borders except for essential goods and services and the ban on inter-city and rural-urban public transport services. Formal businesses resumed operations although with strict COVID-19 precautionary measures. Many businesses have been affected, either reducing operation times and staffing, and/or decreasing wages or salaries. Prior to COVID-19, most incomes earned in the formal sector were well below the poverty line.

    According to the IMF in 2018, Zimbabwe was the second most informalized economy in the world after Bolivia. Until mid-June, most informal sector activities remained banned, besides main urban produce markets, operating under restricted hours. Informal cross border trade, remittances, mainly with South Africa, a key trade partner, remained constrained. IOM reported regular cross-border movement at the Beitbridge border post decreased by 95 percent from March to April/May. The disruption of informal sector activities has severely affected rural and urban household incomes given that these makeup about three-quarters of national employment according to ZIMSTAT.

    In mid-June, the government announced informal sector activities could resume operations after registering with local authorities and meeting COVID-19 containment conditions. As such, there has been some increase in informal sector activities, though rather slowly. Some local authorities are yet to set up new/refurbished market sites and many households lack the capital to resume business. Other activities like informal cross-border trade remain banned. The continued travel restrictions and ban on privately owned public transport for rural-urban and inter-city routes are compounding the situation for the informal sector.

    Macroeconomic conditions continue to be volatile. ZIMSTAT reported annual inflation for May at 786 percent, up from 766 and 676 percent in April and March, respectively. From early May to mid-June, the local currency depreciated by over 80 percent against the USD, climbing from around 50 ZWL/USD to 90 ZWL/USD (Figure 2). The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has instituted several measures in attempts to calm the parallel market exchange rates. Notably, in late June the RBZ abandoned the fixed official interbank rate of 25 ZWL/USD which prevailed from March. This was replaced with a weekly auction system determining the official weekly foreign exchange rate. The first foreign exchange auction occurred on June 23, with the official rate set at about 57 ZWL/USD, which was more than double the previous official rate but about 40 percent lower than the of prevailing parallel market rates.

    With the new exchange rate, the government immediately announced new fuel prices resulting in a 150 percent increase in fuel prices, which had already increased 30 percent in early June. Fuel price increases have pushed up prices of other commodities and services. Moving forward, fuel prices will be reviewed following the foreign currency auctions on a weekly basis.

    Spiking parallel market exchange rates are the main driver of volatile and sharp increases in the prices of goods and services. ZIMSTAT reported a 14 percent increase in the food poverty line[1] and the total poverty consumption line[2] from April to May. The April increases were 22 percent and 16 percent above March levels, respectively. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) indicated the cost of living for an average urban household of six rose 22 percent between April and May. The CCZ calculated food basket increased 35 percent over the same period. Unfortunately, household incomes for most poor households are relatively stagnant and have not increased with the cost of living.

    In the month of June, commodity prices recorded their highest increase compared to recent months. Sugar, bread, and cooking oil prices almost doubled compared to May prices. High price increases are also being driven by critical shortages of some basic commodities such as maize meal, cooking oil, and sugar. Most goods and services are increasingly being priced in USD. This is further constraining access to market foods as many poor households do not have access to USD. At the same time; however, those households with access to USD especially in the urban informal economy are expected to increasingly use this foreign currency, improving market access. Purchases especially on informal markets made using mobile money incur fees up to 50 percent more than when using local cash (bond notes and coins and new ZWL notes), which are scarcely available. Anecdotal information indicates bond notes and coins are increasingly being rejected across some markets.

    At the start of the 2020/21 consumption year in April, Zimbabwe had nearly no carryover stocks from last season’s harvest. The 2020 Second Round Crop and Livestock Assessment estimates total maize production at about 908,000 MT (Figure 2), which is nearly 20 percent above last year, but 30 percent below the five-year and ten-year averages. The government estimates the national food deficit (inclusive of pulses and legumes) to be nearly 1.2 million MT for the 2020/21 marketing and consumption year, although some independent estimates indicate a deficit of over 1.0 million MT for maize only. Official production estimates for other crops, such as pulses and legumes are above last year’s production, but also below average.

    Production in typical deficit-producing areas was very poor and in worst-affected areas, some households did not harvest due to total crop failure or having not planted at all. The government estimates only 12 of the 60 rural districts in the country harvested maize grain that will last up to 3 months. However, in other areas, government production estimates are somewhat better than what was previously anticipated. Many of the districts’ harvest is expected to meet self-sufficiency for four to six months; some surplus-producing districts had a harvest that is expected to last 10 or more months.

    Tobacco sales started at the end of May, a month late due to COVID-19 precautions. Farmers were concerned with the loss of potential earnings as payment was half in USD and half ZWL, with the ZWL portion pegged to the then fixed-rate at 25 ZWL/USD. As a result, some farmers reportedly withheld their crop from the markets. Deliveries are likely to increase now with the introduction of the foreign exchange auctions. The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) projects this season’s output at 225 million kg down from last season’s all-time high of 259 million kg. The sale of tobacco is improving incomes for farmers and communities in tobacco-producing areas mainly in the Mashonaland and Manicaland Provinces.

    In mid-June, the government announced the new cotton producer price of about 44 ZWL/kg, paid partially in USD, although mostly in ZWL. Farmers are requesting to be paid more in foreign currency. The government estimates cotton production will be about 32 percent above last season’s production. Cotton is a notable income source, especially in some food deficit-producing areas. 

    Water availability and access remain limited following the poor 2019/20 rainfall season in traditional low rainfall areas of Matabeleland, Masvingo, and parts of Manicaland and Midlands Provinces, as well as the extreme northern parts of the Mashonaland Provinces. Pasture and vegetation conditions never fully regenerated in such areas and are currently poor (Figure3). As a result, livestock body conditions, mainly cattle, are generally poor; however, goats are in good condition. Water and pasture availability in northern areas where rainfall was relatively better, is fair to good, as are livestock conditions. Water access is limited in some urban centers across the country. In one of the worst-affected cities, Bulawayo, reservoirs are significantly below normal. For most parts of the city, water is available just one day a week. The city recorded over 10 deaths attributed to water-borne diseases in one of the high-density suburbs in mid-June.

    Maize grain supplies on the markets across the country remain low due to below normal harvests. Significant maize grain imports continue to be recorded mainly from South Africa, an atypical occurrence during this time of the year. This maize grain is likely to be mostly targeted for commercial maize meal production. Grain flows from surplus-producing to deficit-producing areas are very limited. There are also standing restrictions to the amount of grain that can be transported freely, except if destined to the GMB. This is further compounded by current COVID-19 related travel and public transport restrictions and high transportation costs.

    The Grain Marketing Board (GMB) started receiving grain from some farmers mostly in surplus-producing areas. The GMB increased the maize and small grain producer prices in response to mounting inflation. In April, maize and small grain producer prices were increased by 77 percent and 85 percent, respectively. At the end of May, the government announced a further 30 percent increase to farmers who deliver grain by the end of July. With maize grain now selling at about 16,000 ZWL/MT and small grains at 16,700 ZWL/MT, these prices are over 10 times than at the same time last year. In order to appeal more to farmers, the GMB has promised payments in 2 to 3 days. Private buyers are reportedly paying less than the GMB prices – attracting some farmers through immediate payments in cash.

    Shortages of maize meal continue in the markets as government-subsidized maize meal (sold at 70 ZWL/10kg) is not readily available due to shortages of grain supplies to millers. Unsubsidized unrefined maize meal is rarely available in supermarkets and other retail outlets, although when available prices are up to five times the price of subsidized commodities. Some commercial millers are producing mainly refined brands which are very expensive for most poor households. The situation is most critical in remote rural areas which hardly receive subsidized maize meal. In urban areas, some poor households are coping by buying small quantities (tutsaona) of maize meal and other basic foodstuffs on the informal markets enough for one or a few meals. In view of the critical maize meal situation, the government in May lifted the maize meal and wheat/flour import duty to allow for more stocks into the local markets.

    Incomes from crop and livestock sales for this time of the year are below average, especially in deficit-producing areas. Agricultural and non-agricultural labor opportunities are also below-normal following the poor harvests as well as the challenging macroeconomic context and COVID-19 related restrictions. Some households are engaging in petty trading, vegetable productions and sales, and self-employment. In some areas, household members are engaging in informal mining enterprises, while others sell wild products such as grass and fuelwood to earn income. Labor rates, including in-kind payments, are below average as payment capacity for middle and better-off households is also limited. Remittances both from abroad and domestic, mainly from urban to rural areas, are below-average. Poor households, many of whom had limited to no harvests are having difficulty accessing market foods due to below-average incomes and atypically high food prices. 

    Government efforts to cushion vulnerable households and businesses affected by COVID-19 are reportedly being affected by resource challenges. Around 200,000 households were reportedly targeted to receive 300 ZWL/month/household from April to June. Businesses across various sectors affected by COVID-19 are reportedly also targeted for assistance with low-interest loans. WFP extended the 2019/20 Lean Season Assistance to reach about 1.5 million rural people in May with similar levels of assistance in June, meeting about 60 percent of a household’s kilocalorie needs. 

    In some typical surplus-producing areas, food security outcomes are better than previously anticipated and better than last-year as household access not only to food, but also to incomes have improved as crop production was better than last-year and larger than previously anticipated. While production was not typical, it is still supplying most poor households with enough food for consumption of own foods. Household livelihoods in these areas are heavily reliant on crop production and labor, which is facilitating the access to income through crop sales, self-employment activities, and petty trade for households to meet their non-food needs. Additionally, some households are earning income through vegetable production and sale. As a result, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are present, while some areas where production was slightly lower and access to income sources are somewhat poorer, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present.

    Humanitarian assistance is improving food consumption in some areas of the country and Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are present. However, elsewhere across typical deficit-producing areas in the south, west, and extreme north, households are employing consumption-based coping strategies including decreasing the number of meals consumed a day to one and reducing portion sizes. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in these areas.

    In urban areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcome currently prevail following the stringent restrictions on informal sector activities up till mid-June as well as basic commodity shortages and above-average prices.


    The June 2020 to January 2021 most likely scenario is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • The number of COVID-19 positive cases are anticipated to continue to increase in the coming months mainly through returnee citizens. Some projection models indicate the cases will likely peak around July/August. As a result, the government is likely to maintain some COVID-19 measures at least through the fourth quarter of the year, the main being border restrictions. Other restrictions may be relaxed as the government periodically reviews the situation.
    • Neighboring countries, specifically South Africa and Botswana, are also likely to continue similar control measures, restricting informal cross-border activities. However, illegal cross border activities are expected to continue given the lengthy borders and numerous illegal crossing points.
    • Large numbers of people employed in both the formal and informal sectors will most likely continue to earn below-normal incomes.  A large section of the informal sector in both urban and rural areas will likely face challenges resuming activities following COVID-19 disruptions due to lack of capital or social support systems and local authorities’ compliancy requirements.
    • Below-average international and local remittances are expected throughout the outlook period due to the global economic slowdown, continued very poor macroeconomic conditions in Zimbabwe, the increase in the number of returning migrants, and many migrants struggling economically in other countries. The southern and western parts of Zimbabwe will be worst affected as they are traditionally heavily reliant on remittances from South Africa.
    • The macroeconomy is expected to remain volatile. Despite recent RBZ measures, parallel market exchange rates are likely to continue to influence pricing on the markets. The increasing use of the USD for local transactions is expected to affect poor households earning in local currency. However, the same is expected to improve income and market access for those poor households earning in USD especially in the informal sector.
    • Since the government has stopped subsidizing fuel, regular fuel price increases, nearly on a weekly basis, are expected as prices will likely move in tandem with prevailing official exchange rates, driving the prices of other goods and services. Electricity shortages and tariff increases are also expected to continue.
    • Shortages of some basic commodities and above average and increasing prices of basic food commodities are expected throughout the outlook period, including maize meal, cooking oil, sugar, and flour.
    • The government, private sector,, and other maize grain imports are will not likely meet the need due to likely foreign currency shortages and logistics challenges. Imports are likely to be mostly from South Africa which realized above-average maize production for the 2019/20 season. 
    • Maize grain supplies are expected to remain lower than normal across the markets in both surplus- and deficit-production areas. Most markets are expected to be without grain during the lean season when demand will be significantly above average. In some deficit-producing areas, stocks are expected to be limited or to run out from as early as June. Shortages in surplus areas are expected to start around September.
    • Demand for maize meal is expected to be above average throughout the outlook period. Unfortunately, due to maize grain shortages and expected limited supplies and imports by commercial millers, maize meal shortages are expected to continue in the formal retail markets with stocks being available on the informal markets. 
    • Maize grain and maize meal prices are expected to remain over ten times above last year and the average throughout the outlook period. Informal market prices for maize meal will likely remain significantly higher than formal retail prices.
    • Below-average opportunities for self-employment, petty trade, cross border trade, and other informal sector activities are likely as a result of the poor macroeconomy and impacts of COVID-19, including travel and border restrictions. This will mainly impact the urban poor whose reliance on these sources is higher than in rural areas.  
    • Below-normal winter crop production is most likely due to inadequate water supplies, especially in low rainfall areas. The high cost of fuel and electricity will also impact production resulting in reduced food access and incomes for respective farmers and other households. However, increased winter wheat production due to government support mainly in the Mashonaland Provinces is expected to lead to increased labor availability for poor households in these areas. 
    • Livestock body conditions are expected to deteriorate earlier than normal in typical semi-arid areas as water, pasture and supplementary feeds are likely to be limited. Based on recent trends, the prevalence of livestock diseases is expected to be higher than normal as many households are not able to access veterinary drugs for their livestock. Livestock poverty deaths are likely to be higher than normal.
    • Livestock prices are expected to be below average, limiting incomes across wealth groups due to poor livestock conditions and decreased herd sizes through late 2020. Poor households are expected to rely mostly on the sale of small livestock. Reliance on animal products such as milk and meat will also be below normal especially among the middle and better-off households.
    • Based on international forecast models, a normal start to the 2020/21 season and average precipitation from October through January are expected; however, there is some uncertainty as this is a long-term forecast, and as there is an elevated probability of La Niña conditions. La Niña conditions typically drive above-average rainfall in Southern Africa. 
    • Access to agricultural inputs for the 2020/21 agricultural season is expected to be below-average due to high prices, below-average incomes, and likely below-average agricultural input assistance from the government. 
    • The availability of agriculture labor is expected to be minimal through October specifically in deficit-producing areas; however, it will most likely improve with the start of the 2020/21 rainfall season especially in surplus-producing areas. Wage rates are expected to be below-average and lower than last year as the middle and better-off households’ typical livelihoods are impacted by the poor 2020 harvest, the poor macroeconomy, and COVID-19 related challenges. In-kind payments will be limited due to critical shortages and high costs of basic commodities; cash payments will be constricted due to poor incomes and liquidity. Following consecutive droughts, water availability is expected to continue to deteriorate. Larger than normal groundwater deficits and below-average soil moisture are anticipated through at least October/November. The situation is anticipated to improve with the start of the 2020/21 rainfall season.
    • For the 2020/21 rural Lean Season Assistance, WFP currently plans to reach around 1.8 million rural people from July to September. Between October and December, assistance is expected to be scaled-up covering nearly 3.5 million people, with further scaling-up in January to nearly 4.5 million people through April. The main food basket is expected to meet nearly 60 percent of households’ kilocalorie needs. In urban areas, WFP plans for cash-based assistance to reach 550,000 people monthly from July 2020 through April 2021. While this assistance has been planned, it has not been included in this analysis as funding has not been confirmed and detailed information was not available. Humanitarian plans from the government were not available.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Previously FEWS NET anticipated that poor households in surplus-producing areas of the country would have exhausted own produced food for own consumption in June/July and access to income would be limited from staple and produce production which is a major income source for poor and very poor households. However, based on newly available data on crop estimates and key informants, FEWS NET now expects poor households in some surplus-producing areas are expected to meet their minimum food needs from own-produced stocks through at least late-August/September. Additionally, households are expected to sell a portion of the crops, not only maize, but sweet potatoes, groundnuts, beans, and produce to meet their non-food needs during this period. Other households are expected to access income from on-farm and off-farm casual labor, informal mining, and petty trade. As a result, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected in many surplus production areas through September. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in some surplus production areas where production was lower in these areas and households are expected to face difficulty meeting their non-food needs.

    Across deficit-producing areas of the country and urban areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist from June to September as reliance on markets at atypically high prices is anticipated to limit food consumption. During this period, these households are expected to engage in coping strategies such as limiting meal frequency and quantity, atypical sale of livestock, and in some cases labor migration.

    Through September, there is likely to be an increase in the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence beyond the national average of 3.4 and May 2019 National GAM prevalence at 3.6 percent. However, the prevalence of GAM is likely to remain less than 5 percent and within the “acceptable” range of the WHO classification scale.

    Many poor households in surplus-producing areas of the country will most likely exhaust own-produced foods in late August/September. From October, poor households in these areas are expected to rely mainly on markets for food with below-average purchasing power. As a result, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected across the country through at least January 2021.

    From October to January, as poor households are expected to face increasing food consumption gaps and engage in consumption or livelihood-based coping that result in the accelerated depletion or erosion of household assets, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will continue in many typical deficit-producing areas of the country. Households are expected to increasingly reduce the quantity and frequency of meals. To access food, households are expected to engage in bartering, atypical livestock sales, and selling of productive assets, and in the most extreme cases, labor migration and borrowing are likely. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) is expected in some worst-affected households in areas of the country where households did not have a harvest and are expected to engage in extreme levels of coping. Given that the median GAM prevalence for the last five years has been below 5 percent, the national median prevalence during the October to January period is expected to increase but remain below 5 percent (Acceptable). Only some localized areas may deteriorate to Alert (5.9-9.9 percent). In urban areas, improved incomes from the reopened informal sector between July and January, though still below normal, will likely result in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Some of the poor urban households are expected to start earning in USD especially in the informal sector, helping cushion them from volatile price increases in ZWL.

    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


    Low/reducing or stable foreign currency exchange rates

    Will curb the high inflation and volatile market conditions with improved basic commodity availability, stabilize prices of goods and services, enhance livelihood options and incomes thereby improving access to food on the markets especially among poor households


    Government price controls

    Will result in increased basic commodity shortages and spiking prices, further constraining household access to food


    Late start, below average and poorly distributed 2020/21 rainfall

    Will further decrease casual labor opportunities and rates, resulting in further deterioration of livestock and impact livestock sales especially in typical semi-arid areas


    COVID-19 measures especially national border, travel and public transport restrictions are lifted

    Will improve livelihoods especially in the informal sector which mainly depend on informal imports; improve remittance flows; will improve migrant labor opportunities especially in southern areas heavily reliant on South Africa

    [1] The food poverty datum line (FPL) represents the minimum consumption expenditure necessary to ensure that each household member can (if all expenditures were devoted to food) consume a minimum food basket representing 2 100 calories. An individual whose total consumption expenditure does not exceed the food poverty line is deemed to be very poor.

    [2] The FPL was derived using 2017 PICES data. It was derived by computing the non-food consumption expenditures of poor households whose consumption expenditures were just equal to the FPL. The amount was added to the FPL, if an individual does not consume more than the TCPL, he or she is deemed poor.



    For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.


    Figure 1


    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, June 2020

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Source: RBZ; Market Watch

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture

    Figure 5

    Figure 3

    Source: USGS/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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