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Poor households face large gaps in basic food needs through March 2017

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • October 2016 - May 2017
Poor households face large gaps in basic food needs through March 2017

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • National Assumptions
  • Most Likely Food Security Outcomes
  • Key Messages
    • Zimbabwe faces one of the most severe lean seasons in the last few decades due to the impacts of last season’s El Niño-induced drought – a second consecutive drought year for the country. This shock has been compounded by increasing macroeconomic challenges that the country is facing this year and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected between January and March.

    • Humanitarian assistance is expected in some of the prioritized districts in the southern provinces and marginal north, however in some areas the assistance is not adequate to cover the needs of the majority of populations in Phase 3 and 4 that are facing substantial deficits. Still, this assistance is expected to improve outcomes in these areas to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) between October and December. At the peak lean season from January to March 2017, FEWS NET expects the situation in some of the worst affected of these areas to have worsened and culminated to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in the face of severe food deficits and lower levels of assistance.

    • The increased chances of below-average rainfall in much of the south during the period January to March 2017, coupled with expected below-average access to crop inputs, and economic challenges, may result in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) area outcomes between April and May after harvests. The transition from a severe food insecurity period to stable outcomes may be gradual. Poor households may access enough food but still struggle to obtain income to cover most livelihood needs after having depleted their assets during the lean season. As a result, some marginal livelihood protection deficits will still be expected.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Maize availability
    • The national cereal deficit for the 2016-17 consumption year is estimated at about 1.6 million MT, following a second consecutive year of poor rainfall and drought conditions that resulted in maize production level that is only 50 percent of the five-year average. National carry-over stocks from the previous 2015-16 marketing year and 2015-16 maize production will only cover about 28 percent of national cereal requirements this consumption year.
    • Between April and August 2016, a total of 342,415 MT of maize was imported, with slightly more than half of this maize coming from international sources. This imported maize was purchased by the government, private sector, and by humanitarian actors. FEWS NET is unable to establish the destination of the maize and the proportions purchased by each sector. Zambia, the main import source market during the previous marketing season, still has a maize export ban in place, though it has allowed for limited humanitarian exports to Zimbabwe. 
    Macroeconomic Conditions
    • Prevailing macroeconomic challenges continue to affect overall livelihoods in rural and urban areas alike. In the 2016 Mid-Year Fiscal Policy Review Statement on September 8th, the Minister of Finance revised down the 2016 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate to 1.2 percent from the initial 2.7 percent. Around about the same time, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised its growth rate for 2016 from 1.4 percent earlier this year to -0.3 percent. The economy continues in deflation, with year-on-year inflation averaging -1.8 percent between January and September 2016. General commodity price decreases have not translated into increased food access for poor households due to poor livelihoods and low effective demand.
    • Following announcements initially made in May 2016, the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) has announced that bond notes will be introduced in early November. The bond notes are a measure intended to promote exports, increase foreign earnings, and prevent externalization of hard currency, thereby helping to resolve the prevailing liquidity challenges in the economy. However, there are general concerns from the public, sections of the business community, investors, and others over the possible effects and impacts of the bond notes. Panic withdrawals from banks have resulted in most banks further reducing daily withdrawal limits. The cash shortages on the market have had negative effects on livelihoods, resulting in constrained food access for some households in both rural and urban areas.
    • Owing to prevailing liquidity challenges and delays in international telegraphic transfers for imports, the RBZ has since prioritized cereal imports for speedy payments. However, some private importers still reported facing delays in the processing of payments.
    Current Food Security
    • Currently, below average livelihood options are being experienced across the country due to a poor 2015-16 harvest and prevailing liquidity challenges, among other factors. Typical livelihood options include agricultural and non-agricultural casual labor, self-employment, petty trade, remittances, and vegetable production and sales, and livestock sales. Common coping options include asset disposal, increased sale and consumption of wildlife products, labor migration, informal mining especially gold panning, sharing of food rations, and consumption-based strategies.
    • The WFP August 2016 Monthly Food Security Monitoring Report indicated that the most important source of income among households is casual labor, followed by vegetable sales. Other important sources of income included food assistance, livestock, and livestock product sales, and remittances.
    • Following two consecutive drought years, the water situation in the south and marginal areas in the extreme north is now critical. As of October 20th, national dam levels averaged 41.9 percent of capacity, a sharp drop from 56.2 percent during the same time last year. According to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority’s major dam report for October 2016, normally the average for this time of the year is 62.3 percent. The worst affected are the Save and Runde catchments in the south with 21 percent dam levels. These catchments supply the drought prone areas of Masvingo, Matebeleland South, Midlands, Manicaland, and Matebeleland East Provinces. Water tables in some areas have dropped below 100 meters. Most rivers and dams have dried up. A few boreholes remain in most communities to serve large numbers of people as well as livestock and for other livelihood activities. The situation is better in the north and other high rainfall areas. 
    • Pasture conditions are critical in the south, impacting negatively on cattle conditions and selling prices. Veld fires in some areas are worsening the situation. Unlike same time last season, reports of livestock deaths have been minimal. Mitigation measures taken by farmers include relocating cattle to better water and pasture areas, supplementary feeding, and destocking. Small livestock conditions are fair to good in most areas, even in the south.
    • The June 2016 ZIMVAC Rural Livelihoods Assessment results indicated that 35 percent of the rural population will be food insecure during the months of October-December 2016. This will increase to 42 percent during the peak lean season from between January and March 2017.
    Internal Trade and Market Functioning
    • The main source areas for maize grain on most markets are the Mashonaland Provinces (mainly Mashonaland West), Gokwe South district in Midlands, and some localized areas across the country (FEWS NET’s September 2016 markets assessment). Maize grain stocks in most source areas are fast dwindling following below-average 2015-16 harvests. Some stocks on the markets are from “distress sales” by farmers. Hammer millers also constitute notable traders of maize and small grains in some areas. The millers are selling grain mainly gathered through in-kind payment for milling services.
    • Maize meal is readily available across most parts of the country, more so in the south (Figure 1). There is a high number of private millers (and brands) on the markets, and competition is very high, resulting in stable prices. The Grain Marketing Board’s (GMB) “Silo” brand is also being widely distributed across the country and is among the cheapest. There are no imported maize meal brands on the markets, except for small amounts in some border areas in the south and north.
    • As of late August, the GMB reportedly had 242,000 MT of maize in stock. With the exception of the GMB, almost all grain on local markets across the country is from local source areas. Besides imports, as of mid-September, the GMB had reportedly purchased over 175,000 MT of maize from local farmers and traders at $390/MT, the highest price on offer on the market. The high deliveries to GMB are reportedly a result of prompt payments (within 14 days) this season in comparison to lengthy waiting periods in previous seasons. Private buyers are offering between $300 and $350/MT. There are no restrictions in the movement of grain across districts, promoting availability of grain on informal markets.
    • Average September maize grain prices for FEWS NET sentinel markets remained relatively stable in comparison to August and last year, but were 13 percent above the five-year average (Figure 2). This stability is because of subdued demand in most districts partly as a result of the distribution of humanitarian assistance, poor liquidity, low household purchasing power, and GMB maize subsidies for vulnerable households.
    • Subsidized GMB maize grain ($15/50 kg bag and $0.30/kg) is about 67 percent of the normal GMB selling price ($22.25/50 kg bag and $0.45/kg). This makes it among the cheapest grain on the market, comparable to prevailing prices in most surplus-producing source markets. Owing to the subdued demand, the GMB is reportedly closing some decentralized selling points in some districts.
    Humanitarian Assistance
    • Under the Inter-Agency Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for drought affected populations, about 1.1 million people received emergency assistance in August, an increase from 768,000 beneficiaries in July. Agencies implementing cash-based transfers have harmonized the transfer value for humanitarian assistance to $7/person/month (Agriculture and Food Security Sector Working Group, August 2016 update). According to the latest humanitarian funding update by OCHA in September, only 18 percent of the HRP/Appeal funding and requirements has been reached for Zimbabwe. Based on recent operational assistance plans released for October-December, large gaps in the response plan for 3.3 million food insecure populations are expected and coverage plans for the January-March, when needs are usually at their highest, have not been released for some districts.
    • The Government of Zimbabwe is responding to acute food insecurity by implementing the Food Deficit Mitigation Program (FDMP) across all rural districts. This program provides support to vulnerable and labor-constrained households by distributing a monthly ration of 50 kg of maize per household. The FDMP also implements the Public Works Scheme which targets vulnerable but non-labor constrained households who work on community projects over a defined number of days for the same monthly ration. 
    Social Safety-Nets
    • The Government’s Harmonized Cash Transfers Program is also running in about 20 districts. Vulnerable households receive monthly cash transfers (distributed bi-monthly) to assist in covering basic household needs including food, health, education and others. The National Schools Feeding Program targeting Early Child Development (ECD) to Grade 2 pupils has been extended to selected schools in all provinces. 

    National Assumptions

    The Food Security Outlook for October 2016 to May 2017 is based on the following national level assumptions:

    Maize availability: A poor 2015-16 rainfall and cropping season resulted in an estimated national maize production of about 50 percent of the five-year average, translating to around 500,000 MT. Carry-over stocks were estimated around 150,000 MT. Given a national cereal requirement of about 2.2 million MT, a national deficit of up to 1.6 million MT is expected for the 2016-17 consumption year. The proportion of imports directed towards humanitarian assistance could not be established. Cereal imports are likely to remain on the RBZ imports priority list, though there are fears among some importers that the introduction of bond notes from November may further increase the liquidity crisis and spur inflation.

    • 2016-17 imports - The bulk of the deficit will most likely to be filled from international markets given the regional cereal deficit in Southern Africa. Unfortunately, Zambia, which supplied over 95 percent of Zimbabwe’s maize imports in the 2015-16 consumption year and realized a tradable surplus of 634,000 MT for the current marketing season, currently has export restrictions. Since imports from April to August this year totaled 340,000 MT, then this same rate is assumed for future imports. Based on this the country can be expected to import between 600,000-700,000 MT between September 2016 and March 2017. Assuming these imports occur, the remaining uncovered maize deficit will stand at around 600,000 MT.
    • Humanitarian imports - Information about imports for the current and ongoing humanitarian response plan is limited, so these figures are not incorporated into the national cereal balance sheet.

    2016/17 seasonal forecast: International and regional climate monitoring and forecasting models have indicated that a weak La Niña is likely for the 2016-17 rainfall season. Typically, La Niña is associated with normal to above normal rains in Zimbabwe, in the context of each areas’ rainfall patterns.

    • October-December- The National Climate Outlook Forum has forecasted normal to above normal rains across the country during the first half of the rainfall season from October through December 2016, in the context of each areas’ rainfall patterns. Timely onset of rains is expected, starting with the southern areas.
    • January-March- Normal to above normal rainfall conditions are expected to continue in the second half (January to March 2017) for most northern parts of the country. However, normal to below normal rains are forecasted in the southern regions during the second half. Normal to above normal rains will increase chances of flooding in flood-prone areas, which may affect crop production and other livelihoods during the period December to February.

    The rains are expected to fill up most reservoirs as well as recharge groundwater reserves which had been severely drawn down after two years of below normal rains.

    Prospects for 2016-17 main season production, maize grain: Average maize production is anticipated from the 2016-17 cropping season based on the favorable seasonal rainfall forecasts and the expected levels of challenges in accessing crop inputs. Normal to above normal rains from October 2016 through March 2017 in the main maize-producing northern districts in the Mashonaland Provinces and other high producing areas will significantly enhance maize cropped area, yield levels, and overall production. Green consumption between February and March 2017 is expected to be significant, but mainly in the north, helping increase food access for poor and other households during this peak lean season. However, potential above average production in some communities and for some households will be constrained by access challenges to crop inputs and draught power, which could affect cropped area.

    Maize grain price projections: If last season’s trend was to prevail, maize grain prices would have been expected to be relatively stable and to record marginal increases across most markets both in the north and south throughout the Outlook period. This would have been driven by low demand as a result of poor livelihoods and household incomes, poor liquidity, and significant humanitarian assistance in some areas. However, the lower than average market supplies of grain, above average international imports, and the prevailing economic challenges and uncertainties in the coming months will likely increase prices of grain quite significantly. Some sections of the economy and markets have already started reacting to the imminent introduction of bond notes. There are fears that increased liquidity challenges will create shortages that will push up prices.

    • October-December - Maize grain prices for Harare are therefore expected at up to 20 percent above both last year and the five-year average between October and December.
    • January-March - Prices are expected to go up further during the peak lean season period of January to March as demand peaks and will be 35 percent and 25 percent above last year and the five-year average respectively.
    • April-May - Prices will likely start dropping from April 2017, especially with respect to anticipated average harvests mainly in the north.

    The uncertainties around humanitarian assistance during the peak lean season in some areas will also likely contribute to price increases. Market supplies from in-country sources are expected to last until October in most areas, after which most markets will likely rely on imported maize, or on maize meal. Higher import parity prices for international grain will likely be one of the main drivers of price increases from October through March 2017.

    Maize meal price projections: Anticipated maize grain price increases are likely to translate to maize meal price increases especially towards and during the peak lean season period. Though the maize meal sector is expected to continue to be very competitive with private millers and the GMB playing critical roles in ensuring adequate supplies, liquidity challenges and higher parity prices for international imports will likely drive up prices. During the last consumption year the country imported up to 95 percent of maize from Zambia, which landed at relatively lower prices also given the weakening Zambian kwacha. Most private millers are currently operating at below capacity due to low demand, but have indicated available capacity to increase supplies as demand increases towards and during the peak lean season. However, some of the millers have indicated that economic uncertainties over the next months are likely to constrain this capacity. This is further compounded by the fact that humanitarian assistance coverage during the peak lean season from January through March 2017 is still uncertain in some districts based on current funding levels. Demand levels for maize meal will remain higher in the south compared to the north. Expected average crop harvests in April and May will reduce prices as own-produced cereal consumption starts to take place.

    Agricultural labor availability and rates: Forecasted normal to above normal rainfall will likely ensure typical cropping levels and enhance agricultural casual labor opportunities. Activities will include land preparation and planting from October through December, weeding from November through February and harvesting in April and May. However, labor rates are expected to be lower than typical from October through March especially as a result of prevailing liquidity challenges, below average 2015-16 harvests (for in-kind payments), and high competition for labor among vulnerable households. Labor rates may improve from April onwards with the expected average harvests.

    Non-agricultural labor availability and rates: Opportunities for non-agricultural labor and self-employment including brick molding and construction will be lower than typical throughout the Outlook period. Prevailing economic hardships and liquidity challenges will negatively impact on demand levels and rates for such services. Critical water situation in October and November mainly in the south and marginal areas in the north will affect these activities.

    Remittances: Prevailing economic and liquidity challenges are expected to result in below average remittances (amounts and frequencies) for the entire Outlook period. Reduced remittance flows from mainly South Africa as a result of a weakened Rand will mostly affect the southern provinces. The enforcement of Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 in May which restricted importation of a wide range of basic and other commodities will continue to affect in-kind remittances of food commodities mainly into the southern provinces.

    Livestock condition and prices: Two consecutive years of poor rains have significantly affected water and pastures in the south and marginal areas in the north. Livestock (cattle) conditions will be fair to poor in the absence of supplementary feeding in most communities from October through November. This will affect draught power, impacting negatively on cropped area. Pasture regeneration in some areas especially in the south will take long. Poor body conditions, distress sales and poor liquidity will likely influence low cattle prices during this period. However, with anticipated normal rains for the 2016-17 rainfall season, improved veld condition will result in improved cattle body condition especially from December through May 2017, thereby increasing prices. However, livestock (cattle) to grain terms of trade are expected to remain unfavorable throughout the Outlook period. Goats are expected to remain in good condition across the country and prices will be stable.

    Likely evolution of herd sizes: Livestock herd sizes, which have been eroded through protracted distress sales especially among poor households as well as drought related deaths, will remain below normal in some communities throughout the Outlook period. Recovery of normal herd sizes especially for cattle will be a long-term expectation. Small livestock (e.g. goats and chickens) herd sizes will be in the normal ranges as replacement rates are faster as compared to cattle. Nearly 25,000 cattle nationally died between October 2015 and February 2016. Cattle deaths this season are expected to be lower compared to last season given the rainfall forecasts for the season as well as interventions in some areas.

    Access to inputs (seeds, fertilizer, stock feeds etc.): Most seed and fertilizer companies had significant carry-over stocks following poor demand during much of the 2015-16 cropping season due to late rains and mid-season dry spells. Maize seed companies have assured government and farmers that they have adequate stocks to meet the seasonal requirements. Zimbabwe requires about 200,000 MT of fertilizers each season. However, access to crop inputs for the 2016-17 cropping season will be a challenge for the majority of poor farmers. This is partly due to high prices, poor liquidity, and low household incomes. Partner support is likely to be reduced due to resource constraints. Poor access to inputs is one factor that will potentially affect cropped area and subsequently potential yields and harvests. 

    Humanitarian assistance: The current humanitarian response plan is based on the findings from the annual ZIMVAC assessment. This analysis identified that 3.4 million people will be food insecure between October and December, and 4.1 million people will face food insecurity during the peak of the lean season between January and February. Under the response plan being implement by 20 lead partners, approximately 48 percent of beneficiaries will receive in-kind assistance and 52 percent will receive a cash transfer. However, based on the most recent operational plans released by the Agriculture and Food Security Working Group, the current level of available resources is only enough to cover approximately 2 million people during the October-December period. Due to funding shortfalls, the levels of targeting in several districts will be lower than originally planned between October and December. There is limited information beyond this period about the funding, the likelihood of this assistance, and the availability of needed commodities during the peak of the lean season period (January-March). Because of this uncertainty, FEWS NET has not incorporated this assistance into the food security analysis for some of the districts impacted by these constraints.  As more information becomes available about funding, commodities, and partner contingency plans, this assumption will be revised.

    Nutrition: Typical national and provincial levels of acute malnutrition in Zimbabwe is less than 5 percent. The most recent nutrition survey was in May 2016 when the ZIMVAC conducted a nationwide assessment using the SMART methodology. Children 6-59 months old in at least 25 rural wards per district were assessed and their nutrition status classified using weight-for-height Z-scores, MUAC, and bilateral pitting edema. This assessment was combined with the annual rural livelihoods assessment. The nutrition section of the assessment was led by the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and other partners. The assessment reported a national Global Acute Malnutrition of 4.4 percent. This prevalence indicates an “Acceptable” level of acute malnutrition according to WHO classifications, a level that has been sustained since the 2014 MICS Survey (3.3 percent). The GAM prevalence was above 5 percent in some northern border districts as well as parts of Midlands with relatively lower prevalence in the rest of the country. The national prevalence of acute malnutrition is not expected to exceed 5 percent during the scenario period (October 2016 –January 2017) because of increased food access from humanitarian assistance in some parts of country during the lean season period. In the northern marginal districts, Midlands and southern provinces, where household purchasing power is limited due to poor livelihoods and low remittance levels, the GAM prevalence may exceed 5 percent which is in the “Poor” category according to WHO classification.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Economic and liquidity challenges, poor livelihoods, and below-average household incomes are expected to prevail during the Outlook period.

    October 2016 – January 2017: Reduced own-produced cereal stock levels from the 2015-16 season in the south and most areas in the traditionally surplus-producing north will result in poor households resorting to market purchases from October through January. However, due to poor household incomes, most households in the south will experience critical access challenges. As a result they will engage consumption-based coping strategies such as reducing number of meals per day and portion sizes. Households in the south will also extend livelihoods coping options to include distress and irreversible options such as sale of assets, increasing livestock sales, distress migration, and others. Besides facing livelihood deficits, poor households will also experience significant survival deficits. In the absence of humanitarian assistance, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) food security outcomes are expected in the south during this period. Food security conditions in the north will be slightly better. Due to poor livelihoods and household incomes in the north, and in the absence of emergency assistance, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) food security outcomes are expected from October through January. However, some areas in the north will experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes during this period. Some of the most critical districts including Binga, Kariba, Mudzi, Buhera, Zvishavane, Mwenezi, Mberengwa and Rushinga will be at risk of experiencing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. However, most areas in the south and marginal areas in the north are expected to have significant humanitarian assistance from October through December. This will improve food security outcomes in those areas to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2!), in the presence of assistance.  

    February-May 2017: Peak lean season levels of humanitarian assistance in some districts are uncertain due to resource constraints and has not been incorporated in the food security analysis. In the event that such areas remain uncovered or partially covered by humanitarian assistance, food security outcomes in these areas are expected to further deteriorate to either Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4). Although improved casual labor opportunities are expected during this period, poor liquidity may affect potential availability and labor rates, especially since middle and better-off households do not have carry-over stocks for in-kind payments. From February, with the start of green harvest, outcomes in some areas in the north may begin to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through March. From April through May, due to anticipated normal harvests following forecasts for normal to above normal rains for both halves of the rainfall season, these northern areas will likely experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes. Average national production is anticipated during the April and May period. It is expected that food access for poor households will change the area outcomes from Stressed (IPC 2!) in the presence of emergence assistance, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2). This is because though poor households may be able to meet their minimum food needs from own-produced stocks, they will still have challenges meeting other non-food needs (livelihood protection deficits) between April and May. FEWS NET’s map for projected food security outcomes (see Page 2) during this period focuses primarily on outcomes during the months of February and March since this mapping period also includes the main season harvests.


    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Current acute food security outcomes, October 2016.

    Figure 2

    Current acute food security outcomes, October 2016.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1. Maize meal available in a wide variety of local brands across most markets, September 2016.

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Maize meal available in a wide variety of local brands across most markets, September 2016.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2. Maize price changes, September 2016.

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. Maize price changes, September 2016.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3. Harare Maize Grain Price Projections, October 2016-May 2017 (US$/kg).

    Figure 5

    Figure 3. Harare Maize Grain Price Projections, October 2016-May 2017 (US$/kg).

    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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