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Households relying more on market purchases

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • November 2012 - April 2013
Households relying more on market purchases

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Current food insecurity for most parts of the country is Minimal (IPC Phase 1) due to the availability of maize in the markets and the presence of food or cash assistance programming. Between November and March, household food access in the south-western districts is expected to improve due to humanitarian assistance. 

    • The  on-going and planned food assistance programming for the 2012/13 consumption year is expected to improve significantly throughout the outlook period. The increase in coverage and ration sizes will improve household food security, resulting in very poor households’ survival food and livelihood protection deficits being covered.   

    • Livestock conditions in Matebeleland South, Matebeleland North and southern parts of Masvingo have severely deteriorated. Between November and December, the start of the rains is likely to bring some relief to deteriorating livestock conditions, but livestock terms of trade are expected to remain unfavorable throughout the outlook period. 

    • The 2012/13 seasonal forecast predicts a normal start of the rainy season between October and December, but similar to last season there is a chance of normal to below-normal rainfall from October to March in south-western parts of the country, which could affect crop growth and maturity.

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    Very poor and poor rural households across the country are currently receiving social-safety nets and humanitarian support in the form of the Food for Assets programs, direct food and cash transfers, Grain loan scheme, and crop and livestock input support. Current household livelihood strategies are typical for this time of year and a majority of rural households are experiencing no or Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity and are able to meet their basic food requirements. 

    Based on an earlier assessment, the ZIM VAC projects that between January and March of 2013, 19 percent of the rural poor population will be food insecure. This percentage represents mostly very poor and poor households across the country with limited livestock assets, limited labor wage opportunities, and very low production. Recent food price increases in the south-western parts of the country are likely to increase this figure during the January-March period.  National cereal supplies remain stable as the government and private traders continue to import maize grain from Zambia and maize meal from South Africa and Botswana. According to the ZIMSTAT an estimated 325,000 MT of maize and maize flour was imported into the country by September. Most of the maize supplies are being directed to deficit districts in the south-western areas. After several months of rising diesel costs, diesel prices declined by nearly 1 percent between September and October, while petrol prices continue to rise, increasing by 2.7 percent. Compared to this time last year, diesel and petrol prices are currently 3.8 and 5.7 percent higher, contributing to increased transportation costs and subsequently higher food prices for households located in the south-western maize deficit districts. 

    Poor production in south-western areas of the country during the 2011/12 main season resulted in reduced stocks for poor households and earlier than normal reliance on local markets for food purchases. With the start of the lean season and increasing food prices, most of these poor and very poor households are facing challenges in accessing food in markets. Labor opportunities in the form of land preparation and planting are expected to improve income opportunities for poor households in the coming months, although due to anticipated increased food prices, diminishing purchasing power will limit the amount of food purchased during the peak of the lean season (January-March) . The winter wheat production figures should be available in the coming month, although current estimates indicate that production for this year will be less than 30,000 MT; lower than winter wheat production in 2011. This low production is attributed to the decreased yield and land area cultivated this season.


    The November 2012 to March 2013 outlook is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Maize meal and grain: National availability will remain relatively stable throughout the outlook period owing to imports through private traders, Grain Marketing Board (GMB) deliveries, and emergency food assistance distributions. However, month-to-month fluctuations in maize supply levels are anticipated due to speculative import behavior during November in anticipation of the holiday period and improved liquidity for bonuses.
    • Staple food prices:  As households begin to rely more on market purchases for food, demand for maize grain and maize meal is expected to increase and prices are expected to incease according to seasonal trends. Average maize prices are 10.7 perecent higher than the five-year average and maize prices in the deficit areas are on average 28 percent above the national average. Staple price increases in deficit areas will likely continue to follow this trend of being 28 percent higher than the national average throughout the outlook  period. This trend will mostly affect districts in southern Manicaland, Masvingo, and Matebeleland North and South provinces. Fuel and import price increases are the main price drivers and are expected to remain relatively stable.
    • Seasonal progress: The seasonal forecast by the Zimbabwe Meteorolgical Services Department found high chances of normal to above-normal rainfall throughout the outlook period in northern, eastern and central parts of the country and normal to below-normal rainfall in the south-western parts. Given the expected normal start of the rainy season, this rainfall outlook is not expected to change the start of green consumption from February to March of 2013.
    • Labor availability and rates: As the rainy season begins the demand for labor is expected to remain at normal levels, however an extremely large labor supply is also expected as households expand their coping strategies in order to improve their access to income and food. This large supply of labor will likely result in lower wage rates in the deficit districts. Migratory labor opportunities in South Africa are expected to remain at normal levels and households in the south-western districts will continue to receive remittances.
    • Livestock: Poor rainfall during the 2011/12 agricultural season adversely affected pasture conditions and water sources for livestock, resulting in the deterioration of livestock health and reported deaths. The livestock terms of trade are currently on the decline due to a drop in livestock prices and increasing staple food prices. Between November and December livestock prices are expected to continue to decrease, which will lower incomes for households selling livestock during the current lean season (November-March).
    • Assistance: The funding outlook for food assistance through the World Food Program’s (WFP) seasonal targeted assistance (STA) has significantly improved.  As a result of this improvement, STA  beneficiaries are expected to receive full rations throughout the outlook period, covering approximately 85 percent of their food needs between November and March (which represent 35.3 percent of their annual food needs). In addition to STA, emergency assitance from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will provide agricultural input support targeted for 77,800 households in 28 districts. The Government of Zimbabwe has extended Grain Loan Scheme distributions of 50kg of maize by targeting 20 percent of households per district, however financial and logistical challenges will likely result in continued inconsistent deliveries and rotational distributions of maize grain to households.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Food security will remain stable in most parts of the country with food assistance rations improving household food access in the south-western maize deficit districts. Since the start of the lean season last month and the depletion of own food stocks, most households are relying on food assistance and market purchases for staple foods. Consistent maize grain and maize meal imports from Zambia, South Africa, and Botswana will strengthen food availability in the country. Throughout the outlook period food insecurity for most parts of the country will be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) due to the presence of food or cash assistance, Food for Assets and the Grain Loan Scheme. These assistance programs will help to supplement poor household market purchases, enabling them to meet their food needs. In the south-western food deficit districts, Minimal food insecurity (IPC Phase 1) is expected throughout the outlook period due to an increase in STA food ration sizes from half to full from November to March. 

    Areas of Concern

    Beitbridge South Western Lowveld Communal Livelihood zone in Matebeleland South Province (Mangwe, Matobo, Gwanda and Beitbridge districts)

    Current Situation

    The zone is located in a maize production deficit area and stretches along the border with South Africa. Due to the lower production levels during the 2011/12 agricultural season, very poor households are largely dependent on market purchases, some remittances, and various safety-net food and cash assistance programming for their food sources. These food sources are generally covering basic food needs at the household level. However, the impact of the past poor production season has resulted in a lack of pasture and water for livestock, which has resulted in deteriorating conditions and prices for cattle and in some instances livestock deaths.  The October 2012 Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates for malnutrition screening are among the highest in the country and range between 8 and 14 percent compared to the national average of 6.8 percent. Although these rates are lower than the same time last year, the key drivers are attributable to the high HIV prevalence and chronic food insecurity.  Maize grain imports from Zambia have resumed although local millers indicated that the price has increased from $285/ton to $310 between August and October.  

    Livestock conditions and marketing:  Due to lack of pasture and water for livestock, the condition of cattle has deteriorated and farmers have been forced to move their stock to neighboring districts and to buy available cattle feed to support the remaining livestock. The situation has resulted in declining incomes for mostly middle men who are offering prices of $250-$280 for cattle that were selling for an average of $300 during the same time last year. The animal feed provided through the government is not adequate for productive herds and delivery of the feed has been delayed due to high demand. Due to the poor livestock conditions farmers have stopped milking cattle and goats.

    Staple Prices: The prices of maize grain and maize meal are higher than the same time last year and are ranging between $0.42-$0.57/kg for maize and $0.54 - $0.61/kg for maize meal compared to averages of $0.40/kg for grain and $0.55/kg for maize meal in 2011.  Maize grain is not readily available throughout the zone except in Beitbridge, consequently households are now relying more on maize meal from local millers as well as meal imports from South Africa and Botswana.

    Terms of trade: Household purchasing power declined due to rising prices of staple foods and the declining selling price for cattle. In October of last year, terms of trade for cattle ranged from 650-850kgs of maize grain but have since declined this year to between 438- 600kgs, indicating declining purchasing power. The goat norminal prices have remained stable but terms of trade have declined ranging between 52-70kgs in October, which is down from the  peak of 75- 100 kgs in April. This change in terms of trade is due to the increase in staple prices and has impacted the coping ability of households to meet their food needs through the sell of livestock.

    Humanitarian Assisstance: In October humanitarian food and cash assistance shortfalls resulted in the distribution of half rations. Since October the situation has changed and assistance funding is guaranteed,  so households are expected to receive full rations through the outlook period. In this zone, part of the very poor and poor households are also receiving grain through the government Grain Loan Scheme.  Through this program grain is being provided to approximately 15-20 percent of households. Additionally some households are receiving food assistance through the USAID-PRIZE food for assets (FFA) program that also targets 10-20 percent of households in participating wards and FAO is also targeting 8,000 households through the input voucher scheme. In Mangwe district, the government has started a pilot cash transfer program and a total of 1,930 highly vulnerable households (10,847 people) are receiving cash grants of $10-$25 per month. All of these assistance modalities have stabilized the food insecurity situation within this area, allowing poor households to meet basic food needs, though households still face challenges in covering other livelihood protection costs.


    In addition to the national assumptions described above, the following assumptions have been made about Beitbridge South Western Lowveld Communal Livelihood zone:

    • Agricultural labor demand from South Africa will be at normal levels.
    • Migration to and from South Africa will not be hindered.
    • Given a normal start of the season, casual labor demand will remain normal, but the labor rates for planting and weeding in the period October-February will be deteriorate due to rising labor supply.
    • According to the ­­­­­forecast, rainfall is expected to be below 261 and 286 mm (normal average 450-650 mm) in the October-December (OND) and January-March (JFM) periods. Below-average rainfall during the JFM period could affect crop growth and maturity.
    • Based on price data trends from the Agriculture and Food Security Monitoring system and the Household Economy Analysis price projection, the price for maize meal and grain is expected to increase to $0.61 and average $0.57 due to increasing pressure on local markets.
    • Increased fuel or transportation costs coupled with lower maize supplies and an increased price of maize from Zambia, will contribute to area maize price increases throughout the outlook period. These transportation and subsequent maize price increases will peak during the peak of the lean season (January-March).
    • Milk production for sale and consumption from October to December is going to be below the typical seasonal average due to poor pasture conditions and limited access to water for most of 2012.
    • Cattle prices will be average ($250-300/animal). Compared to this time last year, current cattle prices have declined by 18-30 percent. Livestock selling price decreases during the outlook period will limit household incomes received through the sale of assets.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Over the next six months the food security situation for the very poor households is expected to remain stable due to the provision of full rations under the STA program. Based on the results of the Household Economy Approach (HEA) outcome analysis, which also factors in food assistance, between November and December food security will likely be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) for very poor households in Beitbridge South Western Lowveld Communal (BSWLC) Livelihood zone in Matebeleland South province.  The various food assistance modalities will meet poor household food survival and livelihood protection needs. The main sources of food in this area are food assistance, market purchases, remittances, and in-kind labor payments.  The very poor and poor households’ food reserves have been depleted and purchasing power of earnings from goat and cattle sales will decrease further due to an increase in food prices and reduction of cattle prices.

    As the agricultural season begins in November/December, labor in the form of land preparation, planting, and weeding will provide very poor households the necessary income to meet their food and livelihood costs. These labor opportunities will be limited owing to an extremely high labor supply and the likely reduction in labor rates during these peak labor periods. Staple prices are likely to remain high but stable during this outlook period as overlapping assistance programming should stabilize demand of purchased staples.  Food availability is not a major challenge in all the areas of concern since maize meal is readily available from local milling companies and through imports from South Africa and Botswana. Humanitarian assistance in the form of food assistance began in October and during the November to December period the WFP plans to distribute 10,340 MT of food to 1.1 million beneficiaries; this is expected to increase to 15,000 MT to 1.6 million beneficiaries from January to March 2013.

    The months of November and December coincide with first half of the rainy season, which is likely to bring normal to below-normal rainfall to the zone. This could mean significant challenges with cropping and livestock recovery in the areas of concern which also received below normal rains in the 2011/12 season. Livestock conditions range from poor to fair, with a greater proportion in the poor category. The start of the rains is likely to bring some relief to deteriorating livestock conditions between November and December.

    Terms of trade involving livestock and grain exchanges are expected to remain unfavorable with cattle being exchanged for less than the 2011 average of 750kg of maize per animal. The price of livestock is likely to remain depressed due to exploitative price practices by traders.

    During the January to March 2013 period, the peak of the lean season will occur between January and February, and during this time households at risk of food insecurity will be at its highest. Household survival food and livelihood protection deficits are expected to be filled with food and cash assistance by WFP. In the presence of food assistance in all areas of concern, food insecurity will be Minimal (IPC phase 1).  The impact of the grain loan scheme on household food security will be severely limited due to reduced GMB supplies, particularly at a time when the FFA programs would have closed.  Forecasts for normal-to-below normal rainfall for the January to March period is likely to impact overall crop quality and production levels, but the start of the green harvest is expected to remain normal. Due to an expected normal start of season, livestock conditions and milk production is expected to continue improving during the outlook period. 

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Masvingo, Matebeleland North and South and Manicaland

    Pledged funding for humanitarian response is late or inadequate for January to March period.

    Delayed and inadequate fulfillment of funding pledges for food assistance will result in pipeline shortfalls and the subsequent provision of half rations to households could result in worsening food security outcomes in some areas.

    Increased deportations from neighboring South Africa

    Any restrictive travel measures will have an impact on household income from remittances. Limits on remittances might further increase existing household food deficits as well as household sizes due to returning migrants. Deportations are likely to end remittances for households that do not have proper documents for travel and employment.

    The entire country

    Intensification of election/referendum  campaigns

    In the past, elections have been associated with instability resulting in serious disruptions of household livelihoods. This has also led to limitations being placed on humanitarian space, adversely impacting the delivery of assistance and household food security. Since access to humanitarian assistance has been highly politicized in the past, there is the possibility of social tensions in some communities.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, November 2012

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, November 2012

    Source: FEWS NET

    Areas of Concern

    Figure 3

    Areas of Concern

    Source: FEWS NET

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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