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Below-average incomes and harvests reduce food access in deficit areas

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • June 2023 - January 2024
Below-average incomes and harvests reduce food access in deficit areas

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Area of Concern: Western Kalahari Sandveld Communal Livelihood Zone, Focus on Bulilima District (Figure 5)
  • Key Messages
    • The 2023 harvests have improved food availability and access and are driving widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity outcomes in deficit-producing areas and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in surplus-producing areas. However, for some deficit-producing areas across the country, own-produced stocks will be short-lived due to relatively low production, with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely to emerge in the worst affected areas by August and September. In the surplus-producing areas, worst-affected households will likely begin facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes by September as food stocks decline. Generally, urban areas are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as high prices and cost of living limit poor households purchasing power to meet their non-food needs.  

    • A sharp depreciation of the Zimbabwean dollar (ZWL) in May and June increasingly placed ZWL prices of goods and services beyond the reach of poor and some wealthier households. Between May and June, the ZWL depreciated by 235, 335, and 157 percent on the auction, interbank, and parallel markets. However, prices in USD remain relatively stable and have cushioned households earning in this currency from the volatility of the ZWL. Maize grain USD prices have dropped by up to 25 percent in June compared to March, the peak of the lean season, as market supplies seasonally increase and demand declines, with most households relying on their harvest for food. In the south, the South African Rand (ZAR), commonly used in these areas, has marginally depreciated, slightly increasing the price of goods and services and somewhat lowering remittances.

    • Households are engaging mainly in off-farm income activities in the post-harvest period, especially in deficit-producing areas. Households are earning income from self-employment, casual labor, petty trade, the production and sale of vegetables, and informal mining and are expected to increase their reliance on these sources of income as the consumption year progresses, peaking during the latter end of the November to March lean season. However, with the possible exception of informal mining, incomes are expected to remain below normal, mainly due to liquidity challenges and increased competition. In the semi-arid areas, water-dependent seasonal activities, such as growing and selling vegetables and brick molding, will likely be affected by dry conditions until the start of the 2023/24 rainy season in October and November.

    • The El Nino is likely to result in a mixed start to the 2023/24 rainy season in Zimbabwe. However, there is uncertainty given the relatively low predictability of rainfall from October to December in Southern Africa based on El Nino. Precipitation from December to March, during the height of the rainy season, is likely to be below average, negatively impacting the 2023/24 agricultural season, including agricultural labor opportunities. In most semi-arid areas, water and pasture conditions for livestock are likely to be critically affected due to drier-than-normal conditions following erratic rainfall during the 2022/23 rainy season.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    The 2023 main harvest is largely complete in the communal areas across the country and coming to an end for large-scale farmers, especially in the resettlement areas. Some smallholder farmers are still preparing and drying their grains for storage, consumption, and marketing. Agricultural labor opportunities for poor households are declining as most better-off households have completed harvesting their main crops. Cotton picking is ongoing and is providing labor opportunities in cotton-growing areas such as the Midlands, Manicaland, and the Mashonaland provinces. Winter wheat planting was extended to around mid-June, providing some labor opportunities in wheat-growing areas.

    Household food access and dietary diversity have improved for most households in surplus-producing areas where a variety of cereals, pulses, legumes, and tubers are being consumed. In the deficit-producing areas, some poor households that recorded poor harvests continue to rely on food purchases to supplement the recent harvest as stocks from harvests gradually deplete.

    Seasonal off-farm livelihood activities such as casual labor and self-employment activities like cutting grass to sell as thatch, brick molding, crafting, vegetable production and sale, petty trading, and informal mining are increasing, especially in areas that experienced relatively poor crop production. However, increased engagement in some of these activities coupled with low liquidity for better-off households is limiting access to income. However, earnings from informal mining are generally higher than other sources of income, but opportunities are limited.

    Remittances remain a significant source of food and income for most households in the southern parts of the country but remain at below-normal levels due to the macroeconomic challenges in Zimbabwe and South Africa, the latter compounded by residence and working permit challenges for Zimbabweans. In early June, the South African government extended the Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP) to December 2023 from the initial end-of-June deadline, allowing more time for Zimbabweans in South Africa to regularize their permits or risk getting deported.

    Cereal grain marketing for the 2023 harvest is increasing as some farmers deliver their grain to the open markets and to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB), which is slowly improving national stock reserves. As of June 7, 2023, deliveries of maize to the GMB were reportedly about 12,000 MT which is higher than the respective time last year. Across the country, demand for grains on the markets has declined as most households consume grain from their harvests. With the increased use of foreign currency for transactions as the local currency rapidly depreciates, most grain marketing on the open markets is carried out in USD or in the southern part of the country in South African Rand (ZAR). Generally, USD maize grain prices have declined by up to 25 percent in surplus- and deficit-producing areas between June and the peak lean season in March. However, prices in deficit-producing areas are around 20 to 40 percent higher than in surplus areas due to high transportation costs and long distances to rural markets.

    Cash crop marketing is ongoing with reported record tobacco deliveries and sales to contract and auction floors anticipated this marketing season. By mid-June 2023, tobacco deliveries to the floors were reportedly 261 million kilograms, 55 percent higher than deliveries by mid-June last year. Tobacco prices are similar to last year, averaging around 3 USD/kilogram. Tobacco sales are providing income to households in tobacco-growing areas, mostly in the northern, eastern, and western parts of the country, including poor households engaged in labor services.

    The cotton marketing season started at the end of May, and farmers are selling their cotton to contracting companies. Cotton prices currently range from 0.40 USD per kilogram for the lowest grade (D) to 0.46 USD per kilogram for the highest grade (A), around a 43 percent price increase compared to last year. Cotton is an important source of income for some communities in the drier cotton-growing regions of the country's central, northern, and south-eastern areas, with poor households primarily engaged in agricultural labor. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, cotton production increased by around 30 percent compared to last year. Earlier this year, the government increased the percentage farmers may be paid in foreign currency for tobacco and cotton sales from 75 percent to 85 percent to cushion farmers from ZWL price volatility.

    Water availability for livestock and other livelihood activities, such as vegetable gardening and brickmaking, is generally good in high-rainfall areas. However, water availability is declining in semi-arid areas following erratic rainfall and prolonged dry spells during the last rainy season. Seasonal streams, small rivers, and some dams have already dried up in some semi-arid areas, resulting in livestock traveling longer distances for water. Pastures are in good to fair condition in typical high-rainfall areas but fair to poor in semi-arid areas. In more arid areas, pasture availability is likely to be low by July. Additionally, the prevalence of endemic livestock diseases is still high across Zimbabwe due to limited access and the high cost of veterinary care. However, livestock body conditions are still good to fair across the country, though they are expected to begin deteriorating in semi-arid areas in the coming months.

    The macroeconomic situation continues to negatively impact household access to food and other basic goods, especially among poor households. In June 2023, prices of staple goods in ZWL increased sharply following the rapid depreciation of the ZWL against the USD (Figure 1). Official (interbank) and parallel market rates increased by 335 and 157 percent between May and June (Figure 2). In early June, the government determined that banks would now be the primary source of foreign currency traded at market-determined exchange rates. The depreciation of the ZWL has rapidly increased the cost of living for households earning in ZWL and reduced their purchasing power. However, in late 2022, ZIMSTAT reported that over 80 percent of food purchases and other transactions in Zimbabwe were conducted in USD. This percentage is likely significantly higher following the sharp devaluation of the ZWL in the last two months.

    Figure 1

    The price percent change of basic staple goods in formal Harare markets from May to June 2023
    Bar chart showing price percent of change of basic staple goods in formal Harare markets from May to June 2023.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    USD to ZWL exchange rates, June 2022 to June 2023
    Chart showing the exchange rate of USD to ZWL. Rapid depreciation took place in May and June 2023.

    Source: RBZ, FEWS NET

    In June, the ZIMSTAT Food Poverty Line (FPL), the amount of money needed to purchase 2100 kilocalories daily per person, increased to 69,941 ZWL, while the Total Consumption Poverty Lines (TCPL), the amount an individual needs to purchase a livelihood basket of food and non-food items, increased to 91,172 ZWL, around a 130 percent monthly increase. However, an increasing proportion of households engaged in petty trade, casual labor, and self-employment across the country earn most of their income and purchase primarily in USD and ZAR, thereby somewhat cushioning themselves from the ZWL price volatility (Figure 3). Additionally, USD prices in the informal markets are more stable and much cheaper than USD prices in the formal market. Because of the stability of prices in the informal markets, poor households increasingly purchase food from these markets and are cushioning themselves from the ZWL price volatility. However, households earning their salaries in ZWL mostly convert them to USD or ZAR to reduce the risk of further deterioration.

    In formal markets, basic commodity prices in ZWL increased by 100 to over 200 percent from May to June; however, prices in USD declined by around 30 to 55 percent for the same goods as interbank rates significantly increased (Figure 1 and 2).

    However, the USD prices in the formal markets are still too expensive for most poor households despite the recent decline (Figure 3).

    Figure 3

    The price of basic goods in USD in formal Harare markets, January 2022 to June 2023
    Line chart showing the price of wheat flour, vegetable oil, maize meal, loaf of bread, sugar and rice in USD in formal Harare markets, January 2022 to June 2023.

    Source: FEWS NET

    The cost of production has remained high and is increasing, driven by, among other factors, high fuel costs and an over 100 percent increase in ZWL electricity tariffs in June. However, there has been an improvement in the power supply in June following the refurbishment of the Hwange thermal power station. The high fuel prices also contribute to high transportation costs, negatively impacting some livelihoods and market access.

    Some manufacturers and suppliers of basic commodities are reported to be preferentially supplying mainly the informal markets where goods are sold exclusively in foreign currency on a cash basis. This has resulted in shortages of some basic commodities, such as maize meal, cooking oil, and sugar, among others, in the formal markets. In early May, the government lifted all import restrictions and duties on selected basic food and other commodities to help curb the price increases and shortages. However, the anticipated increase in basic commodity imports is lower than expected, likely influenced by the depreciation of the ZAR against the USD, which has increased ZAR prices in South Africa. Other exchange rate and price stabilization measures introduced by the government include allowing companies to retain all in-country generated foreign currency earnings.

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Most households in surplus-producing areas are meeting their food needs through their harvests and are likely facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes, particularly in resettlement areas and some communal areas, with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in other communal areas where the 2023 harvest was relatively lower. In most deficit-producing areas, limited harvests and income-earning opportunities are driving mainly Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. In some of these areas, some households have continued or are beginning to rely on market purchases just two months after the harvest's completion due to the erratic rainfall's impact on crop production. In urban areas, most households can only meet their basic food needs but cannot meet their basic non-food needs due to limited access to income and high food and non-food prices and are likely Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for a typical year for Zimbabwe.

    Source: FEWS NET


    The most likely scenario from June 2023 to January 2024 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • In the surplus-producing northern areas, most households are expected to have access to own-produced cereal and other food stocks throughout the outlook period. However, poor households in some communal areas in the north are likely to exhaust their own-produced stocks by October/November due to lower production, which is the typical start of the lean season.
    • In some deficit-producing areas in the southern, eastern, and western areas, the 2023 harvest is expected to be below normal following erratic rainfall through the 2022/23 rainy season. Own-produced food stocks for most poor households will likely begin depleting in August/September, earlier than normal. As food stocks decline, households will increasingly rely on market purchases for food.
    • The government's lifting of grain trade restrictions is expected to improve market supply and availability of grain to above-normal levels throughout the outlook period, particularly in deficit-producing areas. The government has also banned cereal exports during the marketing season, likely improving local trade flows.
    • Maize grain USD and ZAR prices are expected to trend at near-normal levels throughout the outlook period due to the anticipated above-normal market supply of grain following seasonal trends. In August and September, prices will likely increase as market demand increases, especially in the deficit-producing areas. Prices in the more remote areas are expected to be above normal due to transport challenges, poor road conditions, and high fuel and transportation costs. Prices in deficit-producing areas are likely to be up to 50  percent higher than in surplus-producing areas. However, ZWL prices across the country will likely continue to be significantly above average, driven by parallel market exchange rates.
    • Maize meal supply is expected to be normal throughout the country and outlook period. Commercial millers will likely rely on the GMB and contracted farmers for supplies. The government removal of all import restrictions on maize meal (among other basic commodities) will facilitate an increase in formal imports, especially in the south, helping moderate prices.
    • Small grains are expected to be available in some markets in deficit-producing areas of southern, eastern, and western Zimbabwe. However, market supplies are expected at below-normal levels due to lower-than-expected 2023 production in some of these areas.
    • The liberalization of the ZWL is expected to close the gap between the parallel and official exchange rates, with the parallel exchange rates expected to increase at a lower rate during the outlook period.
    • Sellers demanding payments in USD or ZAR will likely continue and increase in the formal and informal sectors. Compounded by shortages of ZWL cash, ZWL pricing for goods and services will likely remain volatile, though some form of stability is expected as market forces determine the exchange rates. Non-cash ZWL payments using mobile money/electronic transfers will likely continue to attract punitive charges, driving higher prices for goods and services in ZWL and a decline in household purchasing power, especially for households earning in ZWL.
    • The lifting of all import duties on basic commodities by the government in mid-May will likely increase their availability and help stabilize prices in USD and ZAR, along with some price reductions on the market due to high competition. However, ZWL prices are expected to remain well above average.
    • The devaluation of the ZAR against the USD will promote imports of basic and non-basic commodities into Zimbabwe, especially for holders of USD. However, most basic commodity prices in Zimbabwe will remain expensive for poor households due to limited access to ZAR and USD from income-earning opportunities. 
    • Informal cross-border trade and informal transportation and courier services are expected to be higher than last year but remain below pre-pandemic levels due to high transportation costs and liquidity challenges.
    • From October to December 2023, the start of the rainy season is likely to be mixed with a possible delayed start due to El Nino. However, there is uncertainty given the long-range nature of the forecast and the relatively low predictability of rainfall from October to December in Southern Africa based on El Nino. However, December to March precipitation, during the height of the wet season, is likely to be below average (Figure 4).
    • A potential delayed start to the 2023/24 rainy season is expected to limit agricultural labor opportunities, with labor rates likely to be lower than normal due to limited liquidity to pay workers in-kind or cash wages. Access to crop inputs on the market for the 2023/24 agricultural season will likely remain below normal levels due to above-average prices.
    • Households are expected to increasingly engage in casual labor and self-employment activities such as construction, thatching, brick making, petty trade, and informal artisanal mining to earn income through the scenario period. However, low consumer demand and increased competition will constrain incomes. Households engaged in artisanal mining are expected to earn higher incomes, but increased competition for opportunities will limit access to such income.

    Figure 4

    Percent of average rainfall from December to February in analog years since 1981 when El Nino was present in DecemberFEWS NET/USGS
    Percent of average rainfall from December to February in analog years since 1981 when El Nino was present in December. Described under heading Assumptions.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    • Water availability and access will be near normal in high rainfall areas, ensuring regular supply for domestic, livestock, and other livelihood uses. However, water sources in the drier parts of the country are expected to be below-normal levels, negatively impacting households engaged in vegetable production and sales, brick molding, construction, and other activities during the dry season (June to September/October). The start of the 2023/24 rainy season is expected to improve water access and availability for domestic, income-generating opportunities and livestock use. However, an erratic start to the rainy season will likely affect some areas.
    • Pasture and livestock conditions in high rainfall areas are expected to be fair to good through the start of the 2023/24 rainy season in October/November. However, in most semi-arid areas, pasture conditions will likely be fair through July before deteriorating until the onset of the 2023/24 rainy season. Livestock supplementary feeding is likely in the worst-affected areas. Nationally, livestock disease prevalence will likely remain above average due to limited access and high veterinary drug prices.
    • Income from livestock sales (cattle, goats, and poultry) will likely continue to be negatively impacted by liquidity challenges, low demand, and below-normal body conditions of cattle in parts of the country.
    • Cash and in-kind remittances to poor households through formal and informal channels will likely remain below normal levels due to the poor macroeconomic conditions across most of the Southern Africa region, unstable livelihoods of migrants in South Africa, and the anticipated returnees from South Africa.
    • Vegetable production and sales are expected at near-normal levels across the country through the start of the 2023/24 rainfall season. Lower-than-normal water availability and access will negatively impact production prospects in some semi-arid areas.
    • Wild product harvesting, sale, and consumption will likely be below average in deficit-producing areas due to the cumulative impact of below-average availability following the 2022/23 rainy season and the anticipated below-average 2023/24 rainy season.

    Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes

    Between June and September, most deficit-producing areas are expected to continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity outcomes. Despite below-normal harvests, household food consumption and dietary diversity will improve during this period compared to the peak of the lean season from January to March. However, own-produced crops in some deficit-producing areas are expected to be short-lived, generally lasting three to four months in most areas compared to up to seven months in a good season. Due to the limited production, households will rely on food purchases from the market, support from remittances, and engage in typical coping strategies to meet their food needs earlier than normal. However, household purchasing power is likely to remain below average due to increased competition for income from income-earning activities, low demand, and likely high food prices. Affected households are expected to have an earlier start of the lean season, with some areas likely to begin facing area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in August and September.

    In surplus-producing areas (communal and resettlement areas) with relatively higher crop production, households are expected to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through September following the recently completed harvest. Crop sales, cash, and in-kind payments for labor and other income sources will supplement other typical food and income sources for poor households. However, some households in the lesser productive communal areas will likely deplete their own-produced stocks earlier than normal, resulting in the emergence of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes around September.

    From October 2023 through January 2024, an increasing number of households in deficit-producing areas will have depleted their own-produced food stocks and be fully reliant on market purchases and other sources for food. Increased demand for cereal grains from the market and lower market supplies will likely result in market prices rising seasonally. However, limited income-earning opportunities and high food prices will likely keep household purchasing power low. Households are increasingly likely to engage in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes to minimize food consumption gaps through this period, with area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely in the worst-affected areas. However, in areas where households are expected to maintain reasonable access to income for market purchases, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected through the outlook period.

    In typical surplus-producing areas, most resettlement areas are expected to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes from October to January as they continue to consume own-produced food stocks and earn income through crop sales and other sources. However, communal areas are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as own-produced food stocks decline and incomes remain constrained for market purchases. However, some of the worst affected households may experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, but the overall area classification will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Urban areas are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through the outlook period, driven by low incomes and high food and non-food prices.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1

    Table 1. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario

    Area Event Impact on food security outcomes
    National A normal and well-distributed start to the 2023/24 rainy season. A normal well-distributed start to the rainy season will likely enhance on-farm labor opportunities and wage rates, improve livestock body conditions and sales, and improve household access to income between November and January. Additionally, the rainfall will improve the availability of seasonal domestic and wild vegetables, fruits, and other wild products, reducing household food gaps and more severe coping strategies.
    National Stable exchange rates and prices of goods and services. Stable exchange rates and prices will likely improve macroeconomic conditions and stabilize poor household purchasing power. However, as income levels for poor households remain constrained, the overall impact may be minimal.
    Deficit-producing areas, especially southern areas Mass expatriation of Zimbabweans from South Africa after the extended Zimbabwean Exemption Permit Visa (ZEP) expires in December 2023. If the ZEP is not extended past December 2023, it will likely negatively impact remittance flows (cash and in-kind), a key source of income and food in deficit-producing areas. All household groups will likely be affected, increasing food gaps and driving higher food insecurity outcomes in some areas.


    Area of Concern: Western Kalahari Sandveld Communal Livelihood Zone, Focus on Bulilima District (Figure 5)

    The Western Kalahari Sandveld Communal Livelihood Zone (WKSC LZ) is located in western Zimbabwe, covering the northern parts of Bulilima District (Matabeleland South Province), almost all of Tsholotsho District, and a few wards in northern Hwange District (both in Matabeleland North Province). The three districts are amongst the country's most drought-prone and chronically food insecure. The livelihood zone is characterized by infertile Kalahari Sands and poor annual mean rainfall ranging between 450 to 650mm and supporting primarily rainfed cropping and animal husbandry. The main crops produced are small grains, mainly pearl millet and sorghum. Other crops include maize, groundnuts, and cowpeas. Most crops are typically grown for household consumption, providing three to four months of self-sufficiency for poor households. However, poor households depend highly on markets and other food sources for most of each consumption year. The most owned livestock are cattle, goats, donkeys, and chickens. Labor migration to South Africa and Botswana and remittances are an important source of food and income for local livelihoods. Additional information on the major characteristics of the WKSC LZ can be found in the Zimbabwe Rural Livelihood Baseline Profile.

    There are 22 wards in Bulilima District, 17 are communal farming areas falling under the WKSC LZ, and the rest under the South Cattle and Cereal Farming Livelihood Zone are mainly resettlement areas. The whole district is under Natural Region IV.

    Current Situation

    Crop production was largely below normal across the district following a late start to the 2022/23 rainy season, very erratic and poorly distributed rainfall, and dry spells during water-critical crop growth stages. Most farmers also experienced poor access to crop inputs on the markets due to high prices, with the government being a main source of inputs for some households. Unlike in past years, there were no partner input assistance programs last season. Few farmers retained seed from the 2022 harvest due to poor production that year. The area planted for most crops was reportedly below normal. In December and January, some household members reportedly lost significant cropping time harvesting amacimbi/Mopane worms (Gonimbrasia belina), a local protein-rich delicacy, contributing to low-cropped areas. The availability of amacimbi was above normal this season between December and January. Extensive dry spells in January and part of February negatively impacted crop development, with some farmers experiencing complete crop failure. An early cessation of rainfall in February, instead of the end of March, resulted in a very short growing season and a well-below-average harvest across most wards in the district.

    Most farmers across the communal farming wards harvested just two to three months of food stocks compared to the typical four to six months. A high proportion of households in some wards did not harvest anything. Maize production was very poor across all the district wards and the WKSC LZ. Only a few farmers who planted pearl millet early had a better harvest.

    Water, pasture, and livestock conditions: Water resources are fast deteriorating across the district following the poor rainy season, with no flowing streams or rivers, which is atypical. Even the biggest rivers – Manziamyama, Thekwani, and Maitengwe – are dry, with very few standing pools of water remaining. Most water pans that had collected water during the rainy season have dried up, and only a few large ones remain with some water. Riverbed sand scooping for water is increasing across most parts of the district. Some smaller dams in a few wards have water, but supply is limited to a few households and projects such as irrigation schemes. Additionally, most smaller dams have reduced water capacity due to siltation over the years. Boreholes are the main water source for domestic, livestock, and livelihood use, and because of the high demand and poor maintenance, some easily break down, and repairs take a long time.

    Pastures are also fast deteriorating across most of the livelihood zone, with reports that some places are already reduced to nearly bare ground. By early June, households had reportedly not started moving their cattle to designated relief grazing areas, as most were still feeding their cattle on residual stover in the fields. In the coming months, an increasing number of cattle are expected to be taken to the relief grazing areas such as the Mabhongwane area, a practice locally known as umlagisi. However, cattle and donkeys currently have fair body conditions, while goats generally have good body conditions as they are mainly browsers feeding off mopane and acacia tree leaves and other available forage. 

    Cereal and livestock markets: Almost no maize or small grains are available at markets across the district, including Plumtree town, which borders Bulilima and Mangwe Districts. Typically, some grains, including maize, are sold at local markets through July. Small grains are available only in some wards in resettlement areas but in small quantities, as some farmers are still preparing the crop after harvesting. The GMB depot at Plumtree is not selling maize grain, and households cannot travel to other GMB depots to purchase grain due to transport challenges and high transportation costs. However, maize meal is available in most markets across the wards. Maize meal sales have remained high across some wards at a time when demand is supposed to dip seasonally. In June, maize meal was selling for 115 to 135 ZAR (5.5 to 7 USD) per 10-kilogram bag in retail shops, which are typical prices. Local brands are predominantly available, sourced mainly from Bulawayo. Imported brands are scarcely available in local markets.

    The district has no organized livestock markets, such as council-controlled markets. Livestock sales are at the farmer level, with buyers being locals and traders/middlemen mainly from Bulawayo. Some traders reportedly move purchased stock at night to evade clearance checks and avoid paying levies. However, livestock sales are reportedly below normal due to poor liquidity among better-off households and low demand. Cattle with average body conditions sell for around 5,000 to 6,000 ZAR (250 to 350 USD). Depending on size, goat prices range from 600 to 800 ZAR (about 30 to 40 USD). Indigenous chickens are sold at around 100 to 120 ZAR (5 to 7 USD), with the larger ones going for 150 ZAR (8 USD). Livestock prices are largely normal, particularly for goats and chickens.

    Most goods in the shops in Bulilima District are imported from South Africa. Prices of goods and services in the district are pegged almost exclusively in ZAR. The USD is accepted begrudgingly at prevailing exchange rates. Even though the district borders Botswana to the west, the Botswana Pula (BWP) is hardly accepted on the market. The local ZWL currency is not acceptable in any form (cash, mobile, or electronic). Households earning in ZWL are converting their ZWL earnings to ZAR or USD at exorbitant parallel market rates. At the end of June, the prevailing exchange rate was 1 USD to 20 ZAR in Plumtree Town but 1 USD to 21 ZAR or more in the rural wards of Bulilima District, an increase from around 18 and 19 ZAR in May, respectively.

    Most typical sources of income are currently below normal. Following the below-average harvest, there is no income from crop sales across most wards, even among the better-off households. A few farmers are supplying limited amounts of small grains on the market, particularly from the resettlement area wards. Most poor households engage in casual labor and petty trade for income following the end of the agricultural season. Farms that are hiring labor, primarily in resettlement areas, are processing small grains and fencing off fields with brushwood, but labor opportunities are below normal due to poor crop production and liquidity challenges.

    The availability and sale of the protein-rich and highly demanded amacimbi/Mopane worms, an important source of seasonal income during the dry season, was affected by the early cessation of rainfall in February. Typically, there are two amacimbi harvesting periods: December to January and April to May. However, there was no April to May amacimbi harvest recorded this year, with most households having sold off their harvested worms from December and January, expecting the second harvest period to provide additional income.

    Vegetable production and sales have begun at household and community garden levels in parts of the district. However, limited and poor access to water in most areas negatively impacts engagement in this activity.

    Remittance flows (cash and in-kind) are reportedly continuing at below-normal levels for this time of the year but are expected to increase in response to the low crop production. Key informants indicate that the district is not expected to experience high flows of returnees from South Africa in response to the new residence and work permit requirements for foreigners in that country. Most emigrants from Bulilima District are reportedly undocumented and crossed the borders illegally, a practice locally called dabulabu, engaging in menial jobs in South Africa. However, many have reportedly acquired South African resident documents and would not be expelled. Given that most middle-income and better-off households typically have more family members employed elsewhere than poor households, the impact of remittances on the household economy is more pronounced for middle and better-off households. Key informants report that the frequency and sum of the remittances for most households are below normal, affecting household liquidity and purchasing power.

    The demand for locally molded cement bricks/blocks is high as South African-based Zimbabweans have increasingly invested back home in building and upgrading their homes over the years. This is providing labor opportunities for some poor households. Common charges for brick molding are 50 ZAR (~2.5 USD) per 50kg bag of cement or 3 ZAR (0.16 USD) per common brick. Opportunities and labor rates are reportedly near normal.

    Self-employment, including construction and thatching, is providing income for some household members, though liquidity challenges constrain demand for such services. Thatch grass is very scarce across most wards of the district. Poor households engaged in thatching typically travel long distances to areas with grass for harvesting, such as resettlement areas or national park areas. The grass is either sold or used for thatching at other people's homes. However, these labor opportunities are often irregular or occasional jobs and not a reliable source of income.  

    Cross-border trade and petty trading are common activities across the district, mainly facilitated by the informal transport/courier service providers, popularly known as Omalayitsha. Some traders move around the villages selling their wares. Others are stationed at local business centers, while others deal on an order-and-supply basis at the individual or household level. Most people engaged in this are selling clothing items, grocery items, utensils, and other household and personal items. However, due to the low liquidity of middle and better-off households, demand is low, and households engaged in this activity likely earn lower than normal incomes.

    Transport costs are above normal and negatively impact household access to income and markets, especially for poor households. This is further exacerbated by the shortage of transport services, especially in the remote parts of the district. Like most goods and services, transport fares are almost always in ZAR. Prices on some routes have increased by 20 to 50 percent since April following the devaluation of the ZAR. Most areas rely on informal transport operators (private cars), which are more expensive than government buses or government-contracted operators and largely unavailable in most rural areas. Mobile phone network services in Bulilima District are also generally poor in some places, affecting general livelihoods and market access. Prolonged blackouts of electricity (load shedding) also affect businesses and household income access.

    In April, the government extended the 2022/23 lean season humanitarian food assistance of 10kg cereal per individual to targeted households through June 2023 across the district.

    Most poor households are consuming two meals a day, typically during the morning and evening, with dietary diversity marginally improving compared to the peak lean season. Poor households that managed to get a harvest are consuming their food stocks, including cereals, pulses, and legumes. Other poor households continue to rely on market purchases for food in the absence of harvests this season. Very few households are still consuming the seasonal amacimbi. However, household food access and availability are expected to start deteriorating as own-produced stocks start depleting for some poor households.


    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Maize and small grains are expected to remain largely unavailable across most open markets throughout the outlook period.   However, maize meal is expected to be relatively readily available, even in the remote parts of the district. Where available, ZAR and USD grain prices are expected to remain above last year and the five-year average throughout the outlook period.
    • Household food stocks from the harvest are expected to be exhausted by August and September, increasing the demand for maize meal and other staple foods on the market. Increased demand is expected to keep prices high, limiting household purchasing power.
    • International remittances (cash and in-kind), mainly from South Africa, are expected to be negatively impacted by the depreciation of the ZAR and the work permit and economic challenges faced by some emigrants in that country.
    • Human-wildlife conflicts, particularly in some wards close to national parks, are likely to impact household engagement in some income-earning opportunities, limiting household access to income.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From June to September 2023, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to prevail through the end of July as some poor households consume their own-produced crops and rely on limited market purchases to meet their food needs. However, the high cost of goods and limited access to income will limit the ability of households to meet their non-food needs. In August, household reliance on food purchases from the market is expected to increase. However, below-average access to income from casual labor, petty trade, and self-employment activities, among others, is expected to limit household purchasing power. Households will also likely have limited access to seasonal sources of income, such as the sale of vegetables and amacimbi. As the dry season continues, households are likely to increasingly face challenges accessing enough water to engage in vegetable production, brickmaking, and construction. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to emerge around August and September in the district and the livelihood zone as households increasingly engage in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to minimize food consumption gaps.

    From October 2023 to January 2024, poor households will be market-dependent on food purchases as the lean season begins. However, likely erratic rainfall at the start of the 2023/24 rainy season influenced by El Nino is anticipated to negatively impact household access to seasonal income sources such as agricultural labor opportunities for land preparation and planting and the harvest and sale of amacimbi. Additionally, livestock sales and prices will likely be below normal due to declining livestock body conditions and limited liquidity and demand from better-off households. Although remittances will seasonally increase towards and during the December to January festive season, remittances will likely remain at below-normal levels due to economic challenges in South Africa, limiting household purchasing power. As a result, most poor households are expected to continue facing challenges accessing food from markets as income from other typical sources also remains constrained. As a result, household dietary diversity is likely to decline as households increase their engagement in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to minimize food consumption gaps as the peak of the lean season approaches.

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook June 2023 to January 2024:  Below-average incomes and harvests reduce food access in deficit areas, 2023.

    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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