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Conditions in south-western areas likely to deteriorate due to inadequate humanitarian support

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • October 2012 - March 2013
Conditions in south-western areas likely to deteriorate due to inadequate humanitarian support

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Current food insecurity conditions for most parts of the country are Minimal (IPC Phase 1) due to the availability of maize in the markets and the presence of food or cash assistance programming. Between January and March, household food access is expected to diminish due to reduced maize stock levels and assistance shortfalls. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) conditions are expected in south-western districts, with conditions in the rest of the country remaining Minimal (IPC Phase 1).

    • Current food assistance shortfalls for on-going and planned programming for the 2012/13 consumption year are expected to continue throughout the outlook period. Limited coverage will likely limit the impact of food assistance on household food security, resulting in very poor households experiencing survival food and livelihood protection deficits, particularly in south-western districts.  

    • Livestock conditions in Matebeleland South, Matebeleland North and southern parts of Mashing 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

    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 diminishing purchasing power will limit the amount of food purchased.  The winter wheat production figures should be available in the coming month, although there are indications that the yield this year will be smaller when compared to the previous year because a smaller area was planted this season.

    The macroeconomic environment remains stable and inflation is on the decline. Based on recent ZIMSTAT figures, food insecurity risk in the country is linked to income and poverty levels. According to ZIMSTAT, poverty thresholds for food and total living costs has risen within the past year, while the average per capita incomes have remained relatively low at $64.90 household/month. In September of 2011 the per capita food and total consumption ranged from $30.49 to $32.64/per person per month, while in September of 2012 this range has increased to $99.65 to $105.89 per person per month.

    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 is mostly very poor and poor households across the country with limited livestock assets, labor wage opportunities, and very low production. Recent food price increases in the south-western parts of the country is likely to increase this figure during the October-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. Most of these maize supplies are being directed to deficit districts in the south-western areas. In the past two months diesel prices have increased nearly 3 percent between August and September. Compared to this time last year, diesel prices are currently 7.5 percent percent higher, contributing to increased transportation costs and subsequently higher food prices for households located in the south-western maize deficit districts.  

    Rural households across the country are currently receiving social-safety nets and humanitarian support in the form of the Food for Assets programmes, 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 conditions and are able to meet their basic food requirements. 


    The October 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 the period of October to November in anticipation of the government announcement of the 2013 budget.
    • 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 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. 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. Between October and December livestock prices are expected to continue to decrease, which will lower incomes for households selling livestock during the current lean season (October-March).
    • Assistance: There is currently a funding shortfall for the seasonal targeted assistance (STA) and this is expected to continue throughout the outlook period. As a result of this shortfall, half rations are expected to be provided to households receiving assistance. In addition to STA, emergency aassitance from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will provide 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 have resulted in 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 but will be strained in the south-western maize deficit districts. As the lean season starts in October most households will begin to rely on the market for staple food as food stocks become depleted. 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 conditions 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. However in the second half of the outlook period household food access will diminish, due to expected reduced stock levels of GMB; continued emergency assistance shortfalls and the end of the food for assets program. This will likely result in acute food insecurity condtions becoming Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in south-western districts between January and March, with the rest of the country remaining in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food security phase.  

    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.  Current indicative Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates as measured through the Ministry of Health information systems on hospital attendances and malnutrition screening are among the highest in the country ranging between 8 and 14 percent compared to the national average of 6.8 percent in the period of January to August 2012. 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 to $310/ton between August and October.  

    Livestock condition 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 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 2011 terms of trade for cattle ranged from 650-850kgs but have since declined to between 438- 600kgs, indicating declining purchasing power. The goat prices have remained stable but prices declined this year, ranging from 75-100kgs in April to 52-70kgs in October 2012. This change in terms of trade has impacted on the coping ability of households to meet their food needs through disposal of livestock.

    Humanitarian Assisstance: Humanitarian food and cash assistance that was originally planned to begin this September has been delayed due to pipeline shortfalls.  In this zone, part of the very poor and poor households are receiving grain through the government Grain Loan Scheme that 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. In Mangwe district, the government has started a pilot cash transfer program and a total of 1,930 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.
    • Prices for livestock will be average ($250-300/animal). These livestock prices are a 75-83 percent decline from prices in September of 2011. 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 deteriorate due to a combination of reduced income from casual labor and livestock sales. Based on the results of the Household Economy Approach (HEA) outcome analysis, which also factors in food assistance, between October and December the food security conditions will likely be Stressed (IPC Phase 2)  for very poor households in Beitbridge South Western Lowveld Communal (BSWLC) Livelihood zone in Matebeleland South province. 

    In Matobo district the various food assistance modalities will meet poor household food survival and livelihood protection needs and Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity conditions will exist throughout the outlook period (October-March).  The remaining areas in the BSWLC livelihood zone will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food insecurity conditions because households in these areas will have limited access to assistance and will only able to minimally meet their basic food needs without essential non-food expenditures. The main sources of food in this area are market purchases, food assistance, remittances, and in-kind labor payments.  The very poor and poor households’ food reserves have been depleted and earnings from livestock sales will decrease further due to low prices.

    As the agricultural season begins, labor in the form of land preparation, planting, and wedding 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.

    The humanitarian assistance in the form of food aid is planned, unfunded, but projected to commence in October is expected to improve the food security situation for food insecure households in the areas of concern. The World Food Program (WFP) plans to distribute 10,340 MT of food to 1,100,000 beneficiaries. A projected pipeline shortfall of 26,678 MT of food from October to December is expected.

    The first half of the outlook period (October-December) coincides 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 800kg of maize per animal. The slow livestock recovery will likely have limited impact on the price of livestock.

    During the January to March 2013 period, the peak of the lean season will occur between January and February 2013, and during this time households at risk of food insecurity will be at its highest. The WFP pipeline shortfall will likely limit the impact of food aid on household food security, particularly at a time when the FFA programs would have closed and the grain loan scheme will be severely limited with reduced GMB supplies. This will likely result in very poor households experiencing survival food and livelihood protection deficits. In the presence of assistance, food insecurity conditions will be Stressed (IPC phase 2) and increasing populations will not be able to meet their livelihood protection costs. 

    Forecasts for normal to below normal rainfall for the January to March 2013 period is likely to impact on crop maturity.  Due to an expected normal start of season, livestock conditions and milk production is expected to continue improving. The price of livestock is likely to remain depressed due to exploitative price practices by traders that may try taking advantage of the situation of smaller assistance rations.  The very poor households will likely fail to meet their food needs with the half rationing of food aid. Hence, all areas of concern will be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). 

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes



    Masvingo, Matebeleland North and South and Manicaland

    Humanitarian response is adequate for January to March period.

    Improvement in the pipeline and ration sizes will improve the food access for households and 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, October 2012

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 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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