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Poor harvests and price volatility likely to result in early lean season and widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3)

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • June 2022 - January 2023
Poor harvests and price volatility likely to result in early lean season and widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3)

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  • Key Messages
  • NATIONAL OVERVIEW
  • Key Messages
    • In the post-harvest period, food security outcomes are expected to improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, humanitarian food needs will continue to increase steadily through January 2023 and will be higher than needs at the peak of the 2021/22 lean season. Significantly below average 2021/22 crop production and macroeconomic instability are expected to drive the emergence of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes by July/August in deficit-producing areas and those worst affected by erratic rainfall, marking an early onset of the 2022/23 lean season. In surplus-producing areas, near-average 2021/22 harvests and 2020/21 carryover stocks will likely result in continued Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes throughout the outlook period. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes will continue in relatively less productive parts of surplus-producing areas and urban areas through January.

    • Macroeconomic instability, marked by spiking parallel market foreign currency exchange rates, will likely remain a prime driver of rapidly increasing headline inflation throughout the outlook period. High international prices and the continued depreciation of the local currency are contributing to below-average household purchasing power thereby increasing the proportion of households experiencing challenges in meeting their basic food and non-food needs. The lifting of import duties on prioritized basic food and non-food commodities in response to emerging shortages will cushion some household groups, but access for poorer households will likely remain constrained.

    • For most households, typical livelihood strategies will likely remain constrained, and income will remain below average throughout the outlook period. Food crop sales will be non-existent in deficit-producing areas, while sales will be marginal in surplus-producing areas. Casual labor opportunities and livestock sales will be below normal due to limited demand. Cross-border trade is increasing with the recent opening of land borders, although it will likely remain below pre-pandemic levels.


    NATIONAL OVERVIEW

    Current Situation

    Harvests from the 2021/22 agricultural season have improved food security outcomes across parts of Zimbabwe, particularly in typical surplus-producing areas. However, improvements will likely to be marginal and short-lived in the worst-affected areas in the east, south, west, and extreme northeast. Though cumulative rainfall was near-average across most parts of the country, the 2021/22 rainfall season was among the worst in recent years, characterized by erratic and poorly distributed rainfall, including a late onset of rains, excessive January rainfall, and extensive early and mid-season dry spells (Figure 1). In addition, difficulties in accessing agricultural inputs also contributed to below-normal production for almost all food and cash crops. Some worst-affected areas in the east and south reported upwards of 80 percent write-offs of cereal crops, with some households harvesting nothing. Nevertheless, given accumulated rainfall totals, water, pasture, and livestock conditions remain fair to good in most high rainfall areas and fair to poor in semi-arid areas covering parts of Matabeleland North and South, Masvingo, Manicaland, and Midlands Provinces, and the extreme northern areas.

    At the end of April, the government announced that maize, soya beans, wheat, and barley would continue being controlled products sold only to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) or contractors. The GMB keeps grain for strategic grain reserves, sells to millers and other commercial buyers, and provides social safety net distributions. However, by early June, maize deliveries to the GMB were still atypically slow due to (i) below-normal production; (ii) some farmers demanding higher producer prices of between 300-350 USD/MT; (iii) speculative withholding of grain in anticipation of further price increases on the open market later in the marketing season; and (iv) high fuel and transportation costs.

    The government responded to low levels of deliveries to the GMB by increasing the incentive for early deliveries through the end of July from 30 percent of overall payments in USD to a flat rate of 90 USD/MT on top of the 75,000 ZWL/MT producer price. In another scheme to encourage early maize deliveries, the GMB has reportedly started accepting maize with moisture content above the traditional 12.5 percent. In addition, it has acquired dryers for its central depots to dry such grain to acceptable levels. The government also enacted more measures to stop farmers from circumnavigating the GMB and selling on the open market. These include farmers and contractors having to apply for permits to move grain, all traders and users of grain having to register with the GMB, those who want to retain portions of their grain having to seek exemption from the GMB, and permit inspections of private stocks and at roadblocks.

    In mid-February, the government lifted the maize and wheat import bans to allow the private sector to import grain to complement national stocks. In early June, the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe had reportedly secured 400,000 MT of maize from Malawi and Zambia, expected to be imported to Zimbabwe in the coming months. Currently, maize grain supplies on the open markets are below normal nationwide as very few farmers and traders supply open markets. Farmer-to-farmer sales are also minimal to non-existent across most areas. As a result, there is a higher-than-normal demand for maize meal in both rural and urban areas.

    Zimbabwe's macroeconomic situation has remained highly volatile, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and its negative impacts on the availability and prices of key commodities such as fuel, wheat, cooking oil, and fertilizer. As a result, annual inflation, as reported by ZIMSTAT, stood at 191.6 percent in June (up from 131.7 percent in May) (Figure 2), with month-on-month inflation reported at 30.7 percent (up from 21.0 percent). In June, food inflation had seen a month-on-month increase of 31.7 percent and an increase of 226.2 percent since June 2021, contributing significantly to overall price increases on the market. In addition, the food and total consumption poverty lines increased by over 30 percent between May and June, the highest monthly gains in nearly two years.

    In the face of rapidly rising inflation and largely stagnant wages and salaries, public and private sector employees are increasingly demanding salaries in USD or part-USD to cushion themselves from this inflation and the depreciating ZWL. In May and June, the government announced measures meant to promote the appeal and use of the local currency and control foreign currency exchange rates and inflation. Despite pressure from various economic sectors and the general population, the government has insisted it will not dollarize the economy but will allow the dual currency regime to continue.

    At the end of June, the ZWL traded at 366.27 ZWL/USD on the official auction system, a 26 percent jump from May and almost 330 percent above the same time last year. The auction-rate is now near-convergence with the interbank rate, which averaged 365.2 ZWL as of June 28. On June 29, the government introduced a new policy stating that the interbank rate is now Zimbabwe’s sole legal exchange rate. Meanwhile, parallel market exchange rates have increased nearly 45 percent since May to around 650 ZWL/USD, representing an almost 400 percent increase over June 2021 rates, contributing significantly to ZWL price spikes. Payments in ZWL in both formal and informal markets have been set prohibitively high, at or above parallel market rates, placing basic commodities and services out of the reach of low-income households. Continued shortages of ZWL cash are forcing consumers to use mobile money and electronic ZWL payments; however, these payment modes maintain high premium charges of more than 50 percent above cash prices, mainly in the informal sector. These high charges have continued to erode disposable income for consumers, especially poor households.

    The ZWL prices of most basic commodities spiked in May and June at even higher rates than in the recent months. June recorded significant USD price increases, including bread, which rose 40 percent since May but has now marginally reduced due to government intervention. Cooking oil and maize meal prices went up 30 percent and nearly 50 percent, respectively, between May and June. Starting in May, shortages of some essential food commodities, including cooking oil, maize meal, and sugar, were reported. In addition, some commodities not readily available in formal supermarkets are increasingly available in informal outlets, where they are sold exclusively in USD, rendering them too expensive for poorer households. The government responded by lifting other import bans and suspending duties on selected imported basic commodities for six months starting May 17, including cooking oil, maize meal, sugar, rice, flour, milk, salt, soap, and washing powder.

    Fuel prices in USD in June increased by 8 and 10 percent for petrol and diesel, respectively, remaining the highest in the region. The June petrol and diesel prices are 33 and 45 percent above June 2021 prices, respectively. To help control price increases, the government has reduced some duties on fuel, and reintroduced mandatory blending of petrol with locally produced ethanol at 10 percent, later increased to 15 percent. At the end of May, the government increased public bus fares in ZWL by 80 percent and 120 percent for government-affiliated private minibuses (kombis). Fare increases imposed an extra burden on low-income households. In addition, the government recently revoked the 2020 ban on independent transportation providers to address transportation shortages. Despite being allowed to operate, although under association arrangements, these providers have been slow to come back, and transportation shortages remain common on most routes.

    Most current livelihood strategies are below normal levels. Poor harvests and ongoing macroeconomic challenges have negatively impacted casual labor opportunities (agricultural and non-agricultural) and self-employment. Inadequate disposable income, low demand, and a high incidence of livestock diseases are negatively affecting livestock sales and income. Cross-border trade has not recovered to pre-pandemic levels despite the reopening of land borders and import duty waivers for particular food and non-food commodities. Additionally, international remittances have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, especially with ongoing issues in obtaining and maintaining South African work permits and with reports of xenophobic attacks on foreigners and foreign-owned businesses in South Africa. Above-average numbers of Zimbabweans are reportedly voluntarily or involuntarily returning to Zimbabwe, reducing remittance flows. Vegetable production and sales, a common activity after the main harvest, have picked up in some areas. However, limited water in typical semi-arid areas and high input costs constrain potential engagement levels. Petty trade and informal mining are increasing as both livelihood and coping strategies. The sale and consumption of wild products – e.g., fruits, thatch grass, and firewood – remains below normal, partly due to poor rainfall performance last season and below-average disposable income.

    Food consumption has improved across some typical surplus-producing areas as own-produced crops are available but remains poor in typical deficit-producing areas where some households had little to no harvests. Most urban poor households face access challenges to food on the market due to unaffordable prices. Because most urban poor engage in informal activities, income is irregular or comes in small daily flows. With recent price increases, most of these households can only afford small quantities of repackaged food items (tutsaona) at a time, enough for just a meal or two.

    There is no humanitarian assistance currently ongoing in the country. However, limited, targeted safety net programs are running, including government and partner interventions in selected rural and urban areas.

    Currently, food security outcomes vary across the country, depending largely on production totals from the 2020/21 and 2021/22 agricultural seasons and available livelihood strategies. Nationwide, high inflation and volatile macroeconomic conditions constrain some households’ ability to participate in normal livelihood activities, severely limiting household purchasing power and reducing access to food on the market. However, the arrival of main season harvests has improved food security outcomes across most areas such as surplus-producing areas where households with carry-over stocks from the 2021 harvests are experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. However, in surplus-producing areas negatively impacted by erratic rainfall and below-average 2022 harvests, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) prevail. Meanwhile, deficit-producing areas are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2) due to limited own-produced food. Nevertheless, households with total crop write-offs in worse-off districts such as Mutare, Buhera, Bikita, Mudzi, Mangwe, Umzingwane, and Hwange districts continue to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), having seen no seasonal improvements. Overall, the level of acute malnutrition across the country is currently within the “Acceptable” level (GAM < 5 percent).

    Assumptions

    The June 2022 to January 2023 most likely scenario is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Based on the poor progression of the 2021-22 rainfall and agricultural season, national production estimates for staple cereals and most food crops are below average. Worst-affected areas include parts of Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North and South Provinces, and in the far northeast. Production in surplus-producing areas in the Mashonaland Provinces is estimated to be near average levels.
    • In most deficit-producing areas, own-produced staple grain supplies at the household level will last three to four months, with worst-affected households likely to deplete their stocks by June or July and some having had no harvest. Own-produced household stocks will last longer in surplus-producing areas – especially in the more productive resettlement areas across the Mashonaland Provinces; however, even in these areas, some poor households are expected to exhaust most or all their stocks by September.
    • Throughout the outlook period, maize grain supply on the open markets is expected at below-average levels countrywide and significantly below-average levels in deficit-producing areas due to limited production and controlled grain sales. Maize meal supply is anticipated at near-average levels throughout the outlook period as commercial millers source stocks from the GMB and anticipated imports. Demand for maize meal will increase to above-average levels due to below-normal production and reduced grain availability in open markets, especially in deficit-producing areas. Cheaper-priced imported maize meal is likely to be more available in border areas, especially in the south.
    • In line with anticipated inflationary pressures, the government is expected to regularly review upwards grain producer prices in ZWL and grain prices to commercial buyers.
    • Maize grain on the open markets and maize meal prices (both USD and ZWL) are expected to remain above last year’s prices and the five-year averages throughout the outlook period. USD prices are likely to follow seasonal trends; however, prices in ZWL will likely remain highly volatile due to the influence of parallel market exchange rates. In deficit-producing areas, maize grain prices in USD and ZWL on the open market are likely to be up to 100 percent higher compared to surplus-producing areas because of high demand and transportation costs.
    • Formal and informal imports will likely ramp up supplies to near-average levels since the government recently lifted the import ban on basic commodities and allowed for duty-free importation of prioritized items. As a result, prices of regionally imported maize grain will likely be at near-average levels, which may slow the overall increase of maize grain prices. In addition, prices for some commodities will likely decrease given anticipated cheaper imports and increased competition.
    • Volatile macroeconomic conditions are expected to prevail throughout the outlook period with continued inflationary pressures, depreciation of the local currency, and increases in the cost of living. The interbank rate, now the sole legal foreign currency exchange rate, will likely continue increasing during the outlook period and parallel market exchange rates will likely stay well above interbank rates.
    • Sellers demanding payments in USD will likely continue and increase in the formal and informal sectors. Shortages of ZWL cash will likely continue, resulting in premium charges on non-cash ZWL payments using mobile money/electronic transfers.
    • Shortages of locally produced essential goods, such as cooking oil and maize meal, are expected to continue. Some basic commodities will likely emerge on the black market but will be limited by cheaper imports.
    • Agricultural and non-agricultural labor opportunities and rates are expected at below-average levels due to below-average 2022 production and liquidity challenges. From November through January, labor opportunities and rates will likely be near-normal, given the forecasts for a favorable 2022/23 rainfall and agricultural season.
    • Water availability and access will be near-average in high rainfall areas, ensuring regular supply for domestic, livestock, and other livelihood uses. However, water availability and access in semi-arid areas will be below-average, resulting in below-average livelihood activities such as vegetable production and sales, brick molding, and construction, etc. Improvements are expected in all areas once the 2022/23 rainfall season begins.
    • Pasture and livestock conditions in high rainfall areas are expected to be fair to good following near-average rains. However, conditions will likely be only fair in most semi-arid areas through July, quickly deteriorating after that until the onset of the 2022/23 rainfall season in late 2022. Livestock supplementary feeding is likely in the worst-affected areas, while livestock disease prevalence at the national level will likely remain above-average due to above-average prices and limited access to veterinary drugs.
    • Livestock sales will be at near-average levels in high rainfall areas in the Mashonaland Provinces and other parts of the country and below-average levels in drier parts of the country. However, income from livestock sales will likely continue to be below average in most areas, partly due to below-average demand.
    • Livelihood and income sources associated with cross-border activity such as cross-border trade, remittances (cash and in-kind), and informal transportation and courier services will increase due to the reopening of land borders and the lifting of the import ban and exemption of duties but remain below pre-pandemic levels.
    • Deportations and voluntary returns from South Africa will likely increase and remain higher than average due to rising xenophobic sentiments and the non-renewal of work permits. As a result, remittances from South Africa will decline and stay below average, especially in southern Zimbabwe. In addition, returning migrants could cause additional strain on household budgets and in local communities by increasing the local labor supply.
    • The harvesting, sale, and consumption of wild products will be below average, partly due to below-average availability following poor rainfall during the recent rainfall season.
    • Above-average agricultural input prices and likely fertilizer shortages will negatively impact cropped area for the 2022/23 cropping season both at large-scale commercial and smallholder subsistence levels.
    • An earlier than normal start to the 2022/23 lean season is anticipated from July/August, starting with the worst-affected areas in Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands, Matabeleland North and South, and the far northeast.
    • Current forecasts indicate a continuation of La Nina conditions, likely resulting in above-average rainfall across much of Southern Africa between October 2022 and January 2023 and a normal start to the agricultural season.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In typical deficit-producing areas across southern, eastern, western, and north-eastern Zimbabwe, own-produced stocks for most households will last less than four months, with some households losing all their crops this season. As a result, limited seasonal improvements in dietary diversity and consumption are likely in the post-harvest period. Most households will rely on market purchases months before normal to cover their food needs, signaling an early start to the annual lean season for most poorer households. Meanwhile, most typical income sources will be at below-average levels throughout the outlook period. These include crop sales, which will be minimal to none, casual labor, livestock sales, vegetable production, and sales.

    In these areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely between June and August due to low production and poor market access given reduced income. Some households in Mutare, Buhera, Bikita, Mudzi, Mangwe, Umzingwane, and Hwange, the worst-affected districts, will be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as early as July as their own-produced stocks become exhausted. Throughout the rest of the outlook period, the proportion of households across deficit-producing areas facing these outcomes is likely to increase as they rely more and more on markets at a time when prices remain volatile and out of reach for poorer households. In response, households will expand their coping strategies. These include both consumption strategies, such as reducing consumption and skipping meals, and livelihoods strategies, such as atypical labor migration, selling more livestock, or having more household members, including children, take on casual labor, petty trade, or informal mining. However, acute malnutrition will likely remain at Acceptable (GAM < 5 percent) levels in most of Zimbabwe throughout the outlook period, although some worst-affected areas and districts will likely deteriorate to Alert (GAM 5 - 9.9 percent) levels.

    Several surplus-producing areas, especially the highly productive resettlement areas, are expected to have near-normal harvests and some carry-over stocks from the above-average 2020/21 season. Income from crop sales will enhance food diversity and consumption and improve outcomes to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) through January 2023 for most households in these areas. However, some surplus-producing areas were more negatively impacted by the poor progression of the season, especially the communal areas, and will likely experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout the outlook period. These outcomes result from reductions in their harvests, limited crop sales, other income, and high prices for basic food and non-food commodities. Meanwhile, urban areas will likely remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households face increasing challenges in meeting their minimum food and non-food needs due to the rising cost of living. 

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most likely scenario. 

    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes

    National

    Reinstatement of import duties on basic food and non-food commodities Reinstated duties would reduce importation and limit access to cheaper, imported basic food and non-food items, especially among low-income households and likely limit cross-border trade as a source of income, increasing the proportion of households experiencing both Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 
     Further increases – beyond those expected – of commodity prices at regional and international levelsThis would negatively impact household purchasing power as high international prices are transferred to local food and non-food commodities. For certain products, it could also leave the market exposed to local highly-priced commodities and, overall, would increase the population experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 
     Below-average rainfall during the 2022/23 agricultural season This would negatively impact casual labor opportunities and income from November through January and increase the proportion of households experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes approaching the height of the lean season.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     


    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 The seasonal calendar shows peak vegetable gardening from July to November, land preparation for the main agricultural season

    Figure 1

    SEASONAL CALENDAR FOR A TYPICAL YEAR

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1.

    Source: UCSB-USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 2.

    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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