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Food assistance needs will increase as the 2024/25 lean season begins early

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • June 2024 - January 2025
Food assistance needs will increase as the 2024/25 lean season begins early

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  • Key Messages
  • Analysis in brief
  • Food security context
  • Current food security conditions as of June 2024
  • Analysis of key food and income sources
  • Humanitarian food assistance
  • Current acute food insecurity outcomes as of June 2024
  • Key assumptions about atypical food security conditions through January 2025
  • Projected acute food insecurity outcomes through - January 2025
  • Events that may change projected acute food insecurity outcomes
  • Annex: Most likely acute food insecurity outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian food assistance
  • Key Messages
    • Area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to expand in Zimbabwe from June 2024 to January 2025. Following a historic dry spell at a critical period of crop development that resulted in a very poor harvest, millions of people are expected to rely on alternative sources of income, social support, and humanitarian assistance to access food during the longer-than-normal 2024/25 lean season. 
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes will be widespread from October 2024 to January 2025. Although the start of the 2024/25 rainy season in late 2024 is forecast to be average and will likely support engagement in agricultural activity, humanitarian assistance needs will remain high in many areas of the country until the harvest in 2025 due to poor purchasing capacity as a result of limited income-earning opportunities and high food prices. 
    • The areas of highest concern include the communal smallholder livelihood zones in southern, eastern, western, and extreme northern typical deficit-producing areas. However, there is also concern for most of the typical high- and surplus-producing areas in the Mashonaland Provinces following a poor 2024 harvest and for urban poor households with limited purchasing capacity. 
    • Humanitarian food assistance needs are expected to increase into early 2025, following a very early start to the 2024/25 lean season, and be significantly higher than last year and the five-year average. The government and the United Nations have released appeals for domestic and international support covering immediate, short- and long-term interventions. 
    • Due to limited access to water and pasture, livestock poverty deaths are expected to peak before the start of the 2024/25 rainy season in October 2024. However, the forecasted average rainfall in late 2024 will likely improve water and pasture availability and support improvements in livestock body conditions.

    Analysis in brief

    Increased market dependence and constrained access to income will impact rural and urban low-income households’ purchasing capacity

    Widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected through at least January 2025, following a poor 2024 harvest and limited access to income-earning opportunities. Poor households across Zimbabwe will need humanitarian food assistance to prevent food consumption gaps and the use of severe negative coping strategies that would harm the population's ability to meet their food needs in the future. Many households are likely to continue to try and expand various income-earning opportunities, but increased competition and low demand and liquidity will limit earnings. High food prices will further keep household purchasing capacity low until the next harvest in 2025.

    The 2023/24 El Niño negatively impacted production, particularly in the typical surplus-production areas in the northern Mashonaland Provinces. A four- to five-week delay to an effective start of the season in December 2023, an extensive mid-season dry spell coupled with extremely high temperatures from mid-January through February 2024, and an early cessation of the rainy season in February critically impacted crop production across the country. The area planted for most crops was largely below normal, with high crop failure rates. According to the government, around 635,000 metric tons (MT) of maize was harvested in 2024, which is about 60 percent lower than the 10-year average. Total national cereal production, including small grains, was around 744,000 MT, which, with 2023 carryover stocks, results in a significant national cereal deficit to meet Zimbabwe's annual need of around 2.2 million MT of cereal. Cash crops, like tobacco, were also affected, with the 2024 tobacco harvest estimated at 235 million kg, compared to around 295 million MT in 2023. The Ministry of Agriculture reported that as of April 2024, 42 of the 60 rural districts had 0-3 months of cereal self-sufficiency for the 2024/25 consumption year (April 2024-March 2025). In June, most households have little to no own-produced food stocks, income from crop sales or access to seasonal agricultural labor opportunities. Most households across the country are likely to deplete their own-produced stocks by July and rely on market purchases to meet their food needs until at least March 2025, when the next harvest is expected.

    The poor 2023/24 rainy season also negatively impacted water, pasture, and livestock conditions, especially in the typical low-rainfall southern, eastern, western, and extreme northern areas, with the effects likely to be felt through the dry season until the start of the 2024/25 rainfall season in October/November 2024. Most surface water sources in these areas are already dry, with most households atypically exclusively reliant on boreholes for water. Poor water availability will negatively impact domestic and livestock access to water and engagement in other livelihood activities such as construction, brickmaking, and vegetable production and sales. Declining pasture access through the June to September dry season will likely lead to poor livestock body conditions and higher-than-normal rates of livestock poverty deaths until the start of the 2024/25 rainy season. Households are likely to increasingly engage in distress sales of livestock, especially cattle, at significantly below normal prices to earn income for food purchases and to maximize earnings. Households in the worst drought-affected areas will likely require several years of consecutive favorable production seasons to rebuild their livestock herds. 

    The poor rainfall season also significantly negatively impacted the availability of seasonal wild foods and products such as wild fruits and vegetables, grass, fish, and Mopane worms (amacimbi/madora) through the dry season. The unavailability of these food and income sources, particularly Mopane worms, until late 2024/early 2025 will negatively impact household food and purchasing capacity through the dry season.

    Staple grain prices are expected to continue to increase through the lean season due to poor supply and high demand; other food commodity prices will likely remain stable though above normal throughout the outlook period, constraining market access for low-income households. Maize and small grains are expected to remain largely unavailable across most rural and urban markets until the next harvest in 2025, with prices more than double what they typically retail for. Households will remain reliant on maize meal, but prices are expected to be around 20-25 percent higher than normal.

    Above-normal humanitarian food assistance needs are anticipated across the country, including in the traditional surplus-producing areas in the Mashonaland Provinces. An earlier-than-normal start of the 2024/25 lean season around July is anticipated across most parts of the country, straining household food access through the projection period. From October to January, the forecast average 2024/25 rainy season will likely improve water access and availability, pasture, and livestock body conditions, but limited access to inputs, liquidity challenges, and the unavailability of in-kind payments will likely limit labor opportunities during the main land preparation and planting periods from October to December.

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    The analysis in this report is based on information available as of June 28, 2024. Follow these links for additional information: 

    Food security context

    Households in Zimbabwe typically rely on various on-farm and off-farm food and income sources to meet their food and non-food needs. Food and cash crop production and livestock rearing are important to rural livelihoods. In the high-rainfall areas, largely in northern Zimbabwe, farmers typically have higher yields and produce staple crops like maize that can meet their food needs for most of the year and earn income from the sale of surplus crops. However, in the lower-rainfall areas of southern, western, eastern, and extreme northern Zimbabwe, crop production tends to be lower and only typically provides food stocks for three to four months of the consumption year for poor households in most of these areas. 

    In the surplus-producing northern areas, farmers also grow cash crops such as tobacco and soybeans along with a diversity of pulses/legumes, root crops, vegetables, and fruit. In the dry season, from June to September, wheat is grown with irrigation under commercial production. However, maize, sorghum, and millets are grown for food in the deficit-producing areas, while cash crops like cotton are produced for income. Livestock, particularly cattle, are an important source of wealth and are mainly reared by better-off and middle-income households across the country. But most livestock rearing is in the country's southern, eastern, and western parts. Small livestock, mainly goats and chickens, are reared by all household groups, with poor households regularly selling them to earn income to buy food and meet other family needs. 

    The main agricultural season occurs from October to May, with rainfall from November to February particularly important for crop production. Households typically prepare their land and plant from October to December, with rainfall in January and February considered critical for harvest potential, as staple cereals are often in their reproductive and grain-filling stages at this time. The green harvest of crops occurs from February to March, with the main harvest taking place from April through June. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe is prone to weather shocks, particularly drought, which frequently drives below-average to significantly below-average rainfall during the October to March rainy season, negatively impacting crop and livestock production and other livelihoods. Most recently, El Niño events drove droughts in 2015/16, 2019/20, and 2023/24, resulting in poor to failed harvests. 

    Households often engage in off-own farm income-earning opportunities such as petty trade, casual labor, self-employment, crafts, artisanal mining, and the sale of wild produce such as fruits, vegetables, grass, and Mopane worms to earn income for food purchases. Some households also rely on remittances from family members in urban areas and abroad. Labor opportunities increase seasonally and are linked to agricultural production and marketing chain activity. Poor households in urban areas also engage in urban and peri-urban agriculture to help meet their food needs. 

    Figure 1. Seasonal calendar for a typical year
    Seasonal calendar for a typical year in Zimbabwe.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security conditions as of June 2024

    Early warning of acute food insecurity outcomes requires forecasting outcomes months in advance to provide decision makers with sufficient time to budget, plan, and respond to expected humanitarian crises. However, due to the complex and variable factors that influence acute food insecurity, definitive predictions are impossible. Scenario Development is the methodology that allows FEWS NET to meet decision makers' needs by developing a "most likely" scenario of the future. The starting point for scenario development is a robust analysis of current food security conditions, which is the focus of this section. 

    Key guiding principles for FEWS NET's scenario development process include applying the Disaster Risk Reduction framework and a livelihoods-based lens to assessing acute food insecurity outcomes. A household's risk of acute food insecurity is a function of not only hazards (such as a drought) but also the household's vulnerability to those hazards (for example, the household's level of dependence on rainfed crop production for food and income) and coping capacity (which considers both household capacity to cope with a given hazard and the use of negative coping strategies that harm future coping capacity). To evaluate these factors, FEWS NET grounds this analysis in a strong foundational understanding of local livelihoods, which are the means by which a household meets their basic needs. FEWS NET's scenario development process also accounts for the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework; the Four Dimensions of Food Security; and UNICEF's Nutrition Conceptual Framework, and is closely aligned with the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analytical framework.

    Key hazards 

    Weather: The 2023/24 rainy season was impacted by El Niño and characterized by a false start in October 2023, followed by an extended dry spell into December, with very few farmers planting with the first rains. Rainfall in December 2023 marked an effective start to the rainy season, around three to five weeks late. Unfortunately, the rains were very short-lived, with a historic dry spell compounded by very high temperatures from mid-January into March 2024, marking a very early cessation of rainfall (Figure 2). 

    For some northern areas, such as parts of Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West, and Midlands Provinces, this was the driest mid-January through March period on record, with other parts of the country recording their second or third driest period on record for this timeframe. Overall, cumulative rainfall was 65 to 90 percent of the 40-year average across much of the country, with parts of Mashonaland Provinces recording 45-60 percent of the 40-year average. 

    Figure 2. CHIRPS rainfall distribution in Matabeleland North, September 2023 to June 2024
    Chart showing CHRIPS rainfall distribution in Matabeleland North, September 2023 to June 2024. Described under the heading Key hazards.

    Source: USGS

    Below normal crop production: The poor rainfall season severely impacted the area planted to crops, crop yields, and production for most cereal, pulses, root, and cash crops. High rates of crop failure/write-offs were reported across the country, with the surviving crops severely water-stressed and with significant lost yield potential. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that the 2023/24 national maize harvest was around 635,000 MT, just over 40 percent of the 10-year average. Total small grain production is estimated at 109,000 MT, bringing total cereal production to 744,000 MT, around 70 percent lower than the cereal harvest in 2023.

    Below normal water availability: Water access and availability are below normal across most parts of the country. Surface water sources (seasonal and perennial) such as streams and rivers are dry, especially in typical semi-arid areas (Figure 3). Riverbed sand-scooping for water is occurring substantially earlier than normal due to the lack of available surface water. Boreholes are currently the main water source for domestic, livestock, and other livelihood uses across typical semi-arid areas. Perennial rivers are in flow in the typically high rainfall areas, although at below-normal levels. 

    Figure 3. Dry Runde River between Chivi and Mwenezi Districts in Masvingo Province, May 2024
    Photo showing the dry Runde River between Chivi and Mwenezi Districts in Masvingo Province in May 2024.

    Source: FEWS NET

    The national average dam level is reportedly above normal but largely relates to dams in the high-rainfall areas which received above-normal inflows over the last two more favorable rainfall seasons. The Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) has assured the country of sufficient dam water for winter wheat and other crop irrigation during the June to September dry season.

    Water supplies for some urban areas, such as Bulawayo in the south, continue to be precarious, with the city continuing to operate under a 120-hour weekly water shedding/rationing schedule because of significantly low dam levels. In early May 2024, ZINWA reported that just 47 percent of the country's cities, towns, growth points, and rural service centers were water secure, with their raw water sources satisfying the 21-month rule - meaning that after the close of the rainy season on March 31, 2024, there should be enough water to last for 21 months at current demand levels in the absence of any further inflows. However, according to the Zambezi River Authority, Lake Kariba, the largest source of power to the country, is currently at a near-record low depth (around 12-13 percent full in late June), threatening hydroelectricity production for Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

    Below normal livestock and pasture conditions: The water and pasture conditions are deteriorating quickly in semi-arid areas, with the worst affected areas already experiencing poor water and pasture conditions at the start of the June to September dry season (Figure 4). In some areas, livestock are already trekking long distances to water points or relying on boreholes and sand-scooped water holes along dry riverbeds for water. Following an assessment in April, the Ministry of Agriculture estimated 0-3 months of availability for livestock drinking water and pastures across most parts of Matabeleland North and South Provinces, parts of Midlands, Masvingo, and Manicaland Provinces and the extreme north. Pastures have hardly regenerated in these areas since the close to 10,000 livestock poverty deaths reported nationally at the end of 2023, when pasture and water conditions were already critical following the poor start to the 2023/24 rainy season. In the typical high rainfall areas, water and pasture conditions are fair and estimated to last at least four months and until the start of the 2024/25 rainy season in October/November in some areas, but are at below-normal levels for this time of the year. 

    Figure 4. Poor pasture conditions in Mwenezi District, May 2024
    Photo showing the poor pasture conditions in Mwenezi District in May 2024.

    Source: FEWS NET

    High food and other commodity prices: Staple cereal grain prices at local markets are significantly above normal during the harvest and immediate post-harvest period due to the poor harvest, limited market supplies, and high demand. Maize and small grains sell between 9-12 USD per 17.5 kg bucket (0.51-0.69 USD/kg) across parts of the country, compared to 3-5 USD per bucket (0.17-0.29 USD/kg) typically after a good season. Maize meal is readily available across the country, except in some remote rural areas, and prices range from 6.5-8 USD per 10 kg bag (0.55-0.8 USD/kg), about 20-30 percent higher than last year's prices. Many households purchase maize meal rather than maize grain due to its greater availability. 

    Generally, USD prices of basic food and other commodities and services have been stable but remain high and unaffordable for most poor households. Relatedly, prices in the recently introduced Zimbabwe Gold (ZWG) local currency have also been relatively stable since its introduction in April 2024, but similarly, prices remain high for poor households. High transportation costs also negatively impact household access to markets and other income-earning opportunities for some communities and households. In some areas, transport shortages also compound the situation. 

    In June, ZIMSTAT reported that the June 2024 monthly inflation rate is 0.0 percent (ZWG), -0.3 percent (USD), and -0.2 percent (USD-ZWG weighted), signaling relative price stability and a slight deflationary impact of the ZWG since its introduction in April. ZIMSTAT also reported that USD annual inflation for June is 3.8 percent compared to 3.5 percent for May. 

    Analysis of key food and income sources

    Crop production: According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 42 out of 60 rural districts have just 0-3 months of cereal self-sufficiency for the 2024/25 consumption year (April 2024 - March 2025). Nationally, the harvest was very poor, particularly in the typical surplus northern areas that often are an important source market for the more southern deficit-producing areas. Most households across the country currently have very little to no own-produced food stocks following the poor harvest and are reliant on market purchases or humanitarian assistance for food. Additionally, very few households have cereal stocks from the 2023 harvest, as this was either consumed or sold during the previous year. Other food crops are also largely unavailable, with the Ministry of Agriculture reporting that groundnut, round nuts, sugar bean, sweet potato, and cowpea production was around 70 to 80 percent lower than last year. Cash crop production was similarly affected by the El Niño, with the tobacco harvest declining to around 235,000 MT compared to around 295,000 MT in 2023. Another important cash crop is cotton, which contributes to the livelihoods of some households in areas with typical low rainfall. The Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA) reported an estimated 40,000 MT of cotton harvested this year compared to 90,000 MT last year. 

    As a result of the poor harvest, there are currently very limited to no food crop sales from the 2024 harvest, which is a significant loss of seasonal income for farmers, especially in the typical surplus-producing areas. Most households lack any stock to sell as they prioritize harvested crops for their own consumption. 

    Livestock production: Cattle are in fair condition in high rainfall areas, but there are reports of cattle in poor condition in the typically low rainfall areas such as parts of Matabeleland North and South, Masvingo, Midlands, and Manicaland Provinces at the start of the dry season. Goats are generally in fair conditions across most parts of the country as they can forage. Livestock sales are increasing as households seek to earn income for food purchases, but prices are low due to high market supply. There has been a significant reduction in cattle prices across the country, impacting particularly incomes for middle and better-off households who own cattle, especially in the typical semi-arid areas of Matabeleland North and South Provinces. The price decline is driven by poor body conditions, oversupply of cattle on markets, and constrained liquidity and demand. Some buyers in these areas are offering less than a third of the typical prices this time of the year. Poor households with cattle are also beginning to engage in distress sales to get income and maximize earnings before cattle body conditions deteriorate further. Compounding this issue is that households struggle to access homemade and commercial supplementary feeds due to the high prices and limited hay availability. In response to panic livestock sales, the government announced at the end of June the ban on household cattle sales with immediate effect. Cattle sales are now supposed to be conducted through ward-based village business units (VBUs) auctions coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture. However, sale prices for small livestock (goats and chickens) have been relatively stable, but household earnings are being affected by poor liquidity among middle and better-off households and low demand.

    Livestock diseases remain prevalent across the country, though very few to no livestock deaths have been attributed to a lack of water and pasture as of June. 

    Tobacco sales have earned some farmers from tobacco-growing areas income at the auction and contract floors. According to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), tobacco prices were 15 and 25 percent higher this marketing season than last year at the contract and auction floors, respectively, although lower yields impacted earnings for some farmers. Cotton harvesting has begun, and farmers have begun selling their crops. The cotton marketing season runs for just one month this year, from June 6 to July 6, unlike in previous marketing seasons, when it could stretch to August/September. Eight companies have been registered to buy the crop this year, and nearly 650 cotton buying points are set up nationwide. The government has set cotton prices at 0.32 USD/kg for Grade D, 0.36 USD/kg for Grade C, 0.39 USD/kg for Grade B, and 0.43 USD/kg for Grade A, payable at 75 percent USD and the remainder in local ZWG. However, the below-average harvest and cotton quality are impacting household earnings from sales. As of June 25, the AMA reported some 3 million kg of cotton had been sold. 

    Seasonal agricultural casual labor opportunities are significantly below normal following the poor 2024 harvests across the country for middle and better-off households. Typically, around this time, low-income households are primarily engaged in harvesting crops and processing small grains and other crops. Instead, some households are engaging in various non-agricultural labor and self-employment activities to earn income. 

    Off-own-farm income: Non-agricultural labor and self-employment opportunities are also below normal due to liquidity constraints and the unavailability of crops for in-kind payments. In-kind payments through grocery items such as sugar, flour, and soap are below normal due to the higher-than-normal prices of these commodities. Water availability and access challenges also limit income-generation opportunities like brick molding and construction, especially in typical semi-arid areas. 

    Rural and urban households increasingly engage in petty trade to earn income. However, increased competition among many sellers and constrained demand for products limit household access to income for food purchases.  

    Available information from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and ZIMSTAT indicates that international formal remittances increased by 16 percent in 2023 compared to 2022. However, anecdotal information indicates that most of these remittances were received by middle and better-off households, mainly in urban areas. Key informants indicate that domestic and international remittances, mainly from South Africa, are below normal due to macroeconomic challenges and residence and working permit challenges for some Zimbabweans in South Africa. 

    Vegetable sales and production are being negatively impacted by water challenges, especially in semi-arid areas. Typically, after the main crop harvests, most households with access to water engage in horticultural production for food and income. However, poor recharge of water sources during the 2023/24 rainy season has resulted in limited access to water for irrigation.

    Some low-income households are increasingly engaging in informal artisanal mining, especially gold panning, as a key source of income across parts of the country. Often, this involves household members, especially young adult males, but in some places, even young boys, migrating to mining areas in search of employment. Incomes are usually irregular and unpredictable but can be significant in some cases, which attracts some people to engage in mining. 

    The sale of wild products such as fruits and thatch grass is significantly below normal following the poor rainfall season and hot temperatures. Additionally, the complete absence of Mopane worms (amacimbi/madora) over the past two harvest seasons (December/January and March/April) was a marked loss of a seasonally important source of protein and income, especially in Matabeleland North and South Provinces, and southern parts of Masvingo and Midlands Provinces. Anecdotal reports from these areas indicate that the 2023/24 El Niño impact on Mopane worm availability was worse when compared to past droughts. 

    Barter trade is also significantly below normal and even absent across most communities due to the poor crop harvest and limited access to wild foods, vegetables, and other goods. Typically, most exchanges are carried out with crops, but due to the poor harvest, most households lack surplus crops to barter with. 

    Market supplies: With a total of 744,000 MT of maize and small grain production and 309,000 MT in the Strategic Grain Reserves as of April 9, 2024, against a national annual cereal requirement of 2.2 million MT, a significant national cereal deficit is anticipated for the 2024/25 consumption and marketing year. The government reports that the private sector has expressed that it can import around 1 million metric tonnes of maize grain to help cover the deficit, with 168,000 MT of maize having been imported since April 1, 2024. The government has also reported that 300,000 MT of government maize imports would arrive by the end of June. The government has set the maize and small grains (sorghum, pearl millet, and finger millet) buying price by the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) at 390 USD/MT for the 2024/25 marketing year, compared to 335 USD last season. This will all be paid in USD, unlike in previous seasons when the GMB paid a mix of USD and local currency. 

    Currently, there is an above-normal reliance on markets for staple cereals, mainly maize meal, when most households should be relying on own-produced stocks. Open market supplies of staple cereals (maize and small grains) are significantly below normal, with most markets in typical surplus- and deficit-producing areas without grain. Almost invariably, where available, the limited stocks on the markets are reportedly from last year's harvests. Maize grain supplies from South Africa (white and yellow maize) are available in a few select open markets, especially in the southern areas. Maize grain prices have not seasonally reduced at harvest and immediate post-harvest period across surplus- and deficit-producing areas. Prices range from 9-12 USD per 17.5kg bucket of maize, compared to the typical 3-5 USD per bucket following a good season. There are currently very small to no price differences in surplus- and deficit-producing areas, with prices in some typical deficit areas marginally lower than in typical surplus areas (Figure 4). Across all areas, rural and urban, maize meal is the main cereal purchased and consumed by households. Maize meal prices in May and June are higher than normal and last year, ranging between 5.5-8.0 USD per 10kg bag, compared to 4.5-6.5 USD per 10 kg bag last year.

    Figure 5. USD price trends for a 17.5 kg maize grain bucket in Makonde and Lupane districts, July 2020-May 2024
    Chart showing USD price trends for a 17.5 kg maize grain bucket in Makonde and Lupane districts, July 2020-May 2024.

    Source: FEWS NET using data from Ministry of Agriculture (MLAFWRD)

    Other basic food commodities such as maize meal, sugar, and cooking oil are readily available at formal and informal markets. Some markets, especially in southern areas, are stocked mainly with imported South African products, which are relatively cheaper than local products. Prices in USD for most food and other commodities remain above normal and higher than last year, while prices in ZWG have been relatively stable since its release in April. 

    Household purchasing power: Household purchasing power is largely constrained, especially among poor households, due to low incomes and high prices on the market. The terms of trade are unfavorable for households disposing of livestock to buy basic food and other commodities. 

    Humanitarian food assistance

    Humanitarian food assistance – defined as emergency food assistance (in-kind, cash, or voucher) – may play a key role in mitigating the severity of acute food insecurity outcomes. FEWS NET analysts always incorporate available information on food assistance, with the caveat that information on food assistance is highly variable across geographies and over time. In line with IPC protocols, FEWS NET uses the best available information to assess where food assistance is "significant" (defined by at least 25 percent of households in a given area receiving at least 25 percent of their caloric requirements through food assistance); see report Annex. In addition, FEWS NET conducts deeper analysis of the likely impacts of food assistance on the severity of outcomes, as detailed in FEWS NET's guidance on Integrating Humanitarian Food Assistance into Scenario Development. Other types of assistance (e.g., livelihoods or nutrition assistance; social safety net programs) are incorporated elsewhere in FEWS NET's broader analysis, as applicable. 

    The government extended the 2023/24 peak lean season Food Deficit Mitigation Strategy through June across all rural districts; the assistance was initially slated to end in March. In June, the government reported having distributed three-month allocations/rations to 1.63 million vulnerable households, with each person receiving 7.5 kg of grain per month, with distributions beginning in May.

    Current acute food insecurity outcomes as of June 2024

    Based on the analysis of food security conditions, FEWS NET then assesses the extent to which households are able to meet their minimum caloric needs. This analysis converges evidence of food security conditions with available direct evidence of household-level food consumption and livelihood change; FEWS NET also considers available area-level evidence of nutritional status and mortality, with a focus on assessing if these reflect the physiological impacts of acute food insecurity rather than other non-food-related factors. Ultimately, FEWS NET uses the globally recognized five-phase Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) scale to classify current acute food insecurity outcomes. In addition, FEWS NET applies the "!" symbol to designate areas where the mapped IPC Phase would likely be at least one IPC Phase worse without the effects of ongoing humanitarian food assistance. 

    Typical deficit-producing areas: 

    Almost all typical deficit-producing areas in the south, east, west, and extreme north are expected to be experiencing area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, driven by the poor to failed 2023/24 harvests for staple cereal and other food crops, limited to no seasonal agricultural labor opportunities, and constrained non-agricultural labor and self-employment opportunities. Seasonal income from crop sales, an important source of income, is not available for most households as any harvest is kept for consumption. Where available, agricultural labor rates are below normal due to low liquidity among better-off households and partly because some low-income households typically receive some of their payments as in-kind food commodities, which are unavailable due to poor harvest. As such, poor households largely remain dependent on market purchases to meet their food needs. However, household purchasing capacity remains low as staple cereal grain, maize meal, and other food commodity prices are above normal. Relatedly, the livestock-to-grain terms of trade are negatively impacted by low livestock prices and above-normal food and other commodity prices. Incomes from casual labor, petty trade, remittances, and other important income sources are also below normal. Most households have continued engaging in consumption-based coping strategies in the post-harvest period, similar to the typical peak of the lean season in February/March, including skipping meals, reducing meal portions, and preferential feeding of the young and unwell family members ahead of others. Most households consume sadza/isitshwala (maize meal or millet papwith vegetables. Vegetables are also scarce and expensive, limiting diet diversity, especially for poor households. Most households consume one to two meals a day, with seasonally available foods, such as Mopane worms, unavailable, and some households rely on cereal distributed by the government to meet their food needs. 

    Typical surplus-producing areas:

    Currently, most surplus-producing areas, including the Mashonaland Provinces, are experiencing area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to significantly below-normal 2023/24 crop production, resulting in below-normal income from crop sales. Parts of the Mashonaland and Midlands Provinces were the areas most affected by the El Nino drought and historic dry conditions in February 2024. The poor harvest deprived most households of own-produced food stocks and income from cash crop sales, leading to little access to income. Income from some cash crops, such as tobacco, is also below normal for some farmers due to low to failed harvests. Relatedly, seasonal labor opportunities for poor households during the typical harvest period are very limited. In the few cases where available, payment rates are very low due to poor liquidity among better-off households and a lack of available harvest for in-kind payments. Few better-off households still have stocks from last year's harvest for their own consumption and very limited sales. Like in the deficit areas, livestock to food terms-of-trade are unfavorable due to below normal livestock prices. Households are likely trying to expand off-own farm income earning opportunities, but increased competition, low demand, and limited buyer liquidity constrain incomes. Atypical to these areas this time of the year, most households are engaging in consumption-based coping strategies due to the poor harvest. Additionally, an increasing proportion of households are engaging in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to meet their food needs. 

    Urban areas:

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in the urban areas. Although most poor households rely on market purchases for food, many poor households also typically engage in urban and peri-urban agriculture to grow maize and vegetables for their own consumption and sale. Due to the poor rainfall, most poor households did not grow or harvest any crops from their urban and peri-urban agricultural plots. According to the 2024 Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment Committee (ZIMLAC) urban livelihoods assessment, around 15 percent of urban households reported practicing agriculture in 2024 compared to 22 percent in 2023. Some poor households in urban areas also seasonally depend on their rural homes for own-produced food or gifts from other rural relatives and friends, which are unavailable this year. Most poor urban households earn income from petty trade/vending, but high competition and low demand typically constrain earnings. As such, the high food prices are limiting the purchasing capacity of most urban poor households, in addition to the high prices of rent (exclusively in USD/ZAR), transportation, and other utility costs. Most poor households rely on informal markets to meet their food needs, often buying small quantities of repackaged food commodities for a single or few meals at a time. If a household does not have enough daily income to meet their food needs, they often borrow money to buy food or buy food on credit. 

    Key assumptions about atypical food security conditions through January 2025

    The next step in FEWS NET's scenario development process is to develop evidence-based assumptions about factors that affect food security conditions. This includes hazards and anomalies in food security conditions that will affect the evolution of household food and income during the projection period, as well as factors that may affect nutritional status. FEWS NET also develops assumptions on factors that are expected to behave normally. Together, these assumptions underpin the "most likely" scenario. The sequence of making assumptions is important; primary assumptions (e.g., expectations pertaining to weather) must be developed before secondary assumptions (e.g., expectations pertaining to crop or livestock production). Key assumptions that underpin this analysis, and the key sources of evidence used to develop the assumptions, are listed below.

    National assumptions

    • The national annual cereal deficit for the 2024/25 marketing year is expected to be higher than the five-year average. The government and the private sector are expected to import grain to meet national food needs. Imports from South Africa are likely to be below normal due to tightened supply. The government is expected to maintain duty-free importation of maize grain by the private sector and, starting in July, household duty-free importation of rice and maize.
    • National cereal grain prices will likely be higher than last year and the five-year average throughout the outlook period; very marginal to no seasonal price declines are expected this year. An earlier-than-normal resurgence of price increases is expected in the post-harvest period due to increased market demand and low supplies. 
    • Maize meal will remain the main staple cereal across much of the country. Demand for maize meal will likely remain high through the outlook period, and prices will likely remain above normal. 
    • The local ZWG currency will likely continue to stabilize exchange rates and prices, thereby increasing usage of the local currency in the economy, particularly in the formal retail sector. However, the ZWG prices will likely remain high for poor households. At the same time, the USD is expected to remain the main currency used in most transactions through the outlook period, especially in the informal sector, though prices will likely remain above normal. 
    • High fuel and transportation costs will likely negatively impact engagement in some livelihoods and market access, especially for poor households. 
    • Household purchasing capacity, especially for poor households, will likely remain below normal due to low income and anticipated high prices throughout the outlook period.
    • Most typical sources of income will likely remain below normal across the country through the outlook period. These include income from crop sales, agricultural and non-agricultural casual labor, self-employment opportunities, remittances, livestock sales, crafts, and barter. Engagement in petty trade will likely remain high in rural and urban areas, though attendant household income will be constrained by high competition. Based on trends, engagement in informal artisanal mining will likely continue to increase. 
    • Poor households will likely have limited access to livestock drugs and other livestock services due to below-normal income throughout the outlook period, compounding poor conditions caused by inadequate water and pastures/feed. 
    • Water levels in Lake Kariba are likely to remain historically low until the start of the 2024/25 rainy season and negatively impact power generation and electricity supplies for industrial, commercial, and household use. 
    • An average start to the 2024/25 rainy season is likely to improve water availability and access nationally and support the regeneration of pasture and forage and household engagement in some livelihoods.

    Sub-national assumptions for typical-deficit producing areas

    • Many households are expected to have exhausted their own-produced cereal stocks by July, marking an early start to the 2024/25 lean season. 
    • Water availability is expected to be well below normal. Households are expected to rely mainly on boreholes for water for domestic, livestock, and other livelihood uses. 
    • The already below-normal pasture conditions are expected to deteriorate through the dry season following poor regeneration during the 2023/24 rainy season and increased pressure from livestock. The Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 47 percent of the rural wards will face critical grazing shortages from July onwards, while only 12 percent will have adequate grazing till the next season. Only 24 percent of rural wards will have adequate water for livestock until the next rainfall season. However, pasture conditions are expected to improve in late 2024 and early 2025 in response to the forecast average start of the 2024/25 rainy season. 
    • Households are likely to continue distress sales of livestock, particularly cattle, to cushion themselves from losses due to poor livestock body conditions. Livestock prices, particularly cattle, are expected to be lower than last year and the five-year average due to poor body conditions in most areas, high market supply from distressed sales, and low demand due to low liquidity among potential buyers. 
    • Livestock poverty deaths are expected to be higher than normal and begin earlier than normal through the dry season due to the anticipated deterioration of water and pasture conditions in most typical low-rainfall areas. 

    Sub-national assumptions for typical-surplus producing areas

    • Many households are expected to exhaust their own-produced cereal stocks by July, marking an early start to the 2024/25 lean season. 
    • Although water supplies in most typical high-rainfall northern and other areas are expected to be normal, some areas may experience poor availability and access following the poor 2023/24 rainfall season. According to ZINWA, dam water supplies will be able to support winter crop irrigation and other irrigated crop production in these areas. 
    • Livestock body conditions are expected to be below normal, even in some typical high-rainfall areas through the end of the dry season. However, body conditions are likely to improve following the start of the 2024/25 rainy season. 

    Humanitarian food assistance

    National assumption

    • Available information indicates that the government plans to distribute food assistance to food-insecure rural households until March 2025. Beneficiaries are expected to continue receiving 7.5 kg of grain monthly through September. From October to March, rations will reportedly be increased to 8.5 kg per person monthly. Distributions are planned to occur every three months, with each beneficiary receiving a three-month ration. 
    • The government also plans to distribute the cash equivalent to vulnerable urban households to purchase maize meal through the Urban Cash for Cereal Programme. 
    • Humanitarian partner plans are not yet available to FEWS NET. 
    Table 1
    Key sources of evidence FEWS NET analysts incorporated into the development of the above assumptions
    Key sources of evidence:
    Weather forecasts produced by NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, USGS, the Climate Hazards Center at the University of California Santa Barbara, and NASA, Meteorological Services Department of Zimbabwe2024 Ministry of Agriculture 2nd Round Crop, Livestock, and Fisheries Assessment Report; Agricultural Marketing Authority (AMA); Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) 

    Key informant interviews with government agencies, humanitarian implementing partners, and community leaders


    FEWS NET rapid field assessments in May 2024Zimbabwe Livelihoods Assessment Committee (ZimLAC) 2024 Urban Livelihoods Assessment ReportReserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT)
    FEWS NET regional supply and market outlookZimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA); Zambezi River AuthorityDevelopment and humanitarian agencies’ reports

    Projected acute food insecurity outcomes through - January 2025

    Using the key assumptions that underpin the "most likely" scenario, FEWS NET is then able to project acute food insecurity outcomes by assessing the evolution of households' ability to meet their minimum caloric needs throughout the projection period. Similar to the analysis of current acute food insecurity outcomes, FEWS NET converges expectations of the likely trajectory of household-level food consumption and livelihood change with area-level nutritional status and mortality. FEWS NET then classifies acute food insecurity outcomes using the IPC scale. Lastly, FEWS NET applies the "!" symbol to designate any areas where the mapped IPC Phase would likely be at least one IPC Phase worse without the effects of planned – and likely to be funded and delivered – food assistance. 

    Typical deficit-producing areas: Poor households will generally continue to face limited access to income and high dependence on market purchases for food amid high prices. During the June to September dry season, poor households will remain dependent on income from various off-farm opportunities such as petty trade and casual labor. However, limited labor opportunities and increased competition will limit earnings. To earn income, some household members are likely to migrate to urban, mining, and other areas in search of better labor opportunities. Nevertheless, high food prices and limited access to income will likely continue to constrain household purchasing power. At the start of the 2024/25 rainy season in October and November, land preparation and planting labor opportunities for better-off households will be limited due to liquidity constraints among better-off households and limited access to in-kind payments. Rather, households will remain dependent on income from off-own farm sources such as casual labor, petty trade, self-employment, crafts, artisanal mining, and remittances, among others. Many households will likely try to take advantage of the forecast average rainfall to maximize production for the 2025 harvest, but low purchasing capacity will likely impact their ability to purchase inputs. Nevertheless, the prolonged lean season and high dependence on market purchases will likely have eroded households' ability to cope, with an increasing number of households likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as the lean season begins to peak in January 2025. However, the start of the 2024/25 rainy season will likely improve household and livestock access to water, with improvements in pasture also beginning to support improvements in livestock body conditions. 

    Typical surplus-producing areas: A few typical surplus-producing areas are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) during the June to September 2024 outlook period, but as the dry season progresses, an increasing number of households are expected to begin engaging in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes to meet their food needs amidst constrained purchasing capacity for market purchases. Typical income sources such as crop sales and casual labor will not be available through much of the dry season, and poor households will likely try to expand their sources of income through petty trade, artisanal mining, the migration of a family member to other areas for work, and increased reliance on social and government support. From October 2024 through January 2025, at least one in five households across all these areas will likely engage in coping strategies indicative of (Crisis IPC Phase 3) outcomes to meet their food needs. Many households are likely to engage in consumption-based coping strategies such as eating less preferred food, eating fewer or smaller meals, and prioritizing food for children due to constrained purchasing capacity. The anticipated average start to the 2024/25 rainy season is likely to provide some improvement in agricultural labor opportunities as middle and better-off households try to recover and take advantage of the typically positive impact of the La Nina on rainfall, but area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to remain present until the start of the harvest in 2025.

    Urban areas: Poor household purchasing capacity will likely remain constrained through January 2025, driven by a high cost of living amid limited income-earning opportunities. Labor and sale opportunities will likely remain constrained due to low demand and high competition. Anticipated above-normal food and other prices will continue to see constrained purchasing capacity among poor households whose income is likely to remain low amid high food prices. Poor households are likely to continue to engage in coping strategies indicative of Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to meet their food needs, with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes expected in urban areas

    Events that may change projected acute food insecurity outcomes

    While FEWS NET's projections are considered the "most likely" scenario, there is always a degree of uncertainty in the assumptions that underpin the scenario. This means food security conditions and their impacts on acute food security may evolve differently than projected. FEWS NET issues monthly updates to its projections, but decision makers need advance information about this uncertainty and an explanation of why things may turn out differently than projected. As such, the final step in FEWS NET's scenario development process is to briefly identify key events that would result in a credible alternative scenario and significantly change the projected outcomes. FEWS NET only considers scenarios that have a reasonable chance of occurrence.


    Event: Below-average rainfall in the October 2024 to January 2025 period

    Likely impact on acute food insecurity outcomes: This would likely hinder crop production activities in affected areas. Poor households would have less access to agricultural labor, an important income source. With many poor households struggling to rebuild asset bases and repay debts, this would likely also cause poor households to face increased difficulty in borrowing to access food, particularly in deficit-producing areas. Below-average rainfall would also likely lead to less improvement in pasture and water conditions than anticipated, negatively affecting livestock conditions and leading to higher rates of livestock poverty deaths.

    Event: Scale-up of humanitarian food assistance

    Likely impact on acute food insecurity outcomes: A scale-up of humanitarian assistance would likely allow many additional households to meet their basic food needs without engaging in damaging livelihood coping strategies. Improvement to Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes would likely occur in areas receiving the scale-up in humanitarian assistance. 

    Annex: Most likely acute food insecurity outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian food assistance

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook June 2024 - January 2025: Food assistance needs will increase as the 2024/25 lean season begins early, 2024.

    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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