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Widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes expected to persist until the harvest in early 2021

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • October 2020 - May 2021
Widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes expected to persist until the harvest in early 2021

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist across most typical deficit producing areas in the south, west, and extreme north through at least March 2021. This is the result of ongoing poor macroeconomic conditions, consecutive droughts, and continued COVID-19 impacts. Significant humanitarian assistance is expected to improve food access with Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes expected to persist in targeted areas. Surplus-producing areas in the north will most likely face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as own-produced food stocks deplete, and market reliance increases. Most urban areas are also expected to be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    • Early season rainfall was received in October across most parts of the country, which led to increased land preparation activities; however, planting of rain-fed crops has not started in most areas as the season is yet to be fully established. Cumulative rainfall for the 2020/21 rainfall season is expected to be average. This will likely result in near-normal areas planted and close to average crop production for the 2020/21 agriculture season.

    • Poor macroeconomic conditions, marked by a very high inflation rate, are expected to continue throughout the outlook period. Despite the stabilization in the exchange rates and prices of some goods on the markets, food prices will remain significantly above average and out of reach of most poor households as incomes are expected to remain constrained. However, increased earnings in USD, especially in the informal sector, are improving food access as households are able to purchase food and goods in USD at lower prices compared to ZWL prices.

    • Based on current low import levels, the 2020/21 national cereal gap of nearly 1 million MT is unlikely to be closed by the end of the marketing year in March 2021. Maize and maize meal supplies will continue to be below average across most markets. Some more remote markets are expected to have limited to no stocks, especially in January to March, the peak lean season.

    • Due to reduced infection rates and relaxation of most COVID-19 measures, households have restarted or increased engagement in typical income-earning activities, particularly in the informal sector. However, some residual impacts of the restriction measures coupled with the poor economic conditions are expected to result in continued below normal income across much of the country. Even with the anticipated reopening of the national borders, associated livelihood activities are expected to remain below normal.


    Current Situation

    Poor macroeconomic conditions and the below-average 2020 harvest and cereal availability compounded by longer-term impacts of the recently removed COVID-19 restriction measures continue to impact household access to food and income in rural and urban areas. The situation is being worsened by critical water shortages across most parts of the country. Despite the annual inflation rate declining over the last two months, annual inflation remains the second highest in the world. In September, the official annual inflation rate was reported at 659 percent, a decrease from 761 percent in August and 836 percent in July (Figure 1). Month on month inflation fell to 3.83 percent in September from 8.4 percent in August and 35.5 percent in July.

    In September and October, relative stability has been observed in the official and parallel market exchange rates. The ZWL is trading on the official market at just over 81 ZWL/USD (Figure 2). This is a 225 percent increase above the previous interbank rate and about 42 percent above the exchange rate when the first auction took place in late June. The relative stability in the parallel market rates is partially attributed to the implementation of the foreign exchange auction system. As foreign currency shortages persist, parallel market exchange rates remain about 25 percent higher than the official rates and are variable throughout the country, influencing pricing on some markets. To a large extent, the stabilization of the exchange rates have reduced market price volatility; however, price increases continue for some goods and services.

    With ongoing local currency shortages, purchases through mobile money transfers incur premiums up to 50 percent above ZWL cash prices. In some cases, mobile money and electronic payments are being rejected in preference for payments in USD, South African Rand (ZAR), or ZWL cash. Despite the relative stability of the ZWL/USD exchange rate on formal markets, most goods and services are increasingly priced in USD and ZAR, the latter mainly for southern areas. Most wholesalers, retailers, and service providers are not following government regulations to display prices in both USD and ZWL at official exchange rates. This is resulting in goods and services in ZWL being priced at or above parallel exchange rates. In mid-October, the government announced plans to introduce a 50 ZWL note in addition to the $2, $5, $10, and $20 ZWL notes to improve public and business access to ZWL cash. Workers across most sectors are increasingly pushing to earn in USD to cushion themselves from depreciation and price volatility in local currency.

    Market fuel supply has improved over the last few months due to fuel being charged mainly in USD and the removal of government subsidies. Between September and October, electricity tariffs went up by 100 percentage points, increasing pressure on prices for goods and services.

    In addition to the poor macroeconomic conditions, the below-average 2020 harvest is driving high import needs. National cereal supply for the 2020/21 marketing year is significantly below-average, with national self-sufficiency estimated at less than 50 percent compared to the five-year average of about 70 percent, not considering imports. Maize import needs are nearly 1 million MT for the 2020/21 consumption year, which started in April. Most markets have very low or no maize grain stocks, especially in deficit areas in the south and west.

    Demand for maize grain is atypically high for this time of year following the poor harvests. These factors are driving higher than normal maize grain prices (Figure 3). In addition, milling costs, primarily driven by the high fuel costs and electricity tariffs, are unaffordable for some poor households.

    Furthermore, maize meal shortages also persist, with remote rural areas the worst impacted. Formal maize meal imports are negligible. Maize meal prices are also exorbitantly high beyond what most poor households can afford. Some commercial millers are producing refined maize meal brands which, besides being more expensive than unrefined brands, are not popular among low-income households. The government recently stopped the subsidized maize meal scheme where millers were supplied with cheap grain to produce and sell maize meal below market prices.

    Despite most non-maize food commodities being readily available on the markets, except in some remote areas, prices remain significantly above average and beyond most poor households' reach. These include alternative or substitute foods such as rice, bread, wheat flour, and sweet potatoes. Some poor households are purchasing less preferred and cheap foods or small portions on the informal markets.

    The COVID-19 infection rate has slowed over the last few months, though community transmission is still of concern. For those tested positive, the recovery rate is very high, nearly 95 percent. As of October 29, cumulative infections were reported at 8,349, with only 243 active cases and 242 deaths.

    At the end of September, the government relaxed most COVID-19 restrictions which limited movement of people and business operations. This included reopening the tourism sector, resumption of regular business hours in formal and informal sectors, and resumption of long-distance inter-city and rural-urban public transportation. However, privately-owned mini-bus (kombis) transport services remain banned unless they operate under government, resulting in continued transport shortages for some rural and urban routes. The relaxation of the measures resulted in increased household engagement in food- and income-earning activities. Though South Africa reopened its borders to human traffic at the beginning of October, Zimbabwe's borders remain closed, only allowing cargo to pass. Cross-border trade activities and informal cargo movements, mostly from South Africa, are still restricted, as are labor opportunities, especially in southern and western communities. Illegal cross-border movement of people and goods is common, especially across the South African border. In late October, the government announced a phased reopening of the borders starting December 1. Botswana has extended its lockdown for a further six months through March 2021.

    Despite the relaxation of COVID-19 lockdown measures, residual impacts remain and continue to negatively impact access to income-earning opportunities, especially among poor households. The informal sector remains the most affected and has not fully recovered, partly due to a lack of capital or operational spaces. Also, due to declines in disposable income among middle-income and better-off households, the demand for goods and services is below normal.

    The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and various money transfer agencies reported increases in international formal remittances in 2020. The increases have partly been in response to below-normal income among locals and constricted informal remittance flows. However, most formal remittances are intended for non-poor households. Remittances to poor households, mostly informal, remain below average, both from international and local sources. South Africa, the primary source of international remittances for most southern parts of Zimbabwe, is in recession, and limited income opportunities in South Africa is negatively impacting income for Zimbabweans in South Africa and remittance levels.

    In early October, parts of the country received sporadic thunderstorms and rainfall; however, this did not result in the start of the 2020/19 rainfall season. Following the rains, land preparation for the upcoming agriculture season increased, most notably the digging of planting holes in readiness for the government-promoted conservation agriculture scheme. The early October rains were followed by a long dry spell characterized by very high temperatures through the end of the month. This resulted in poor germination and crop water stress for some farmers who planted with the early rains.  

    Water availability remains at critically low levels, especially in typical low rainfall areas. According to the Zimbabwe National Water Authority, average national dam levels were about 40 percent full in early September, about 50 percent below what is expected for that time of the year, and water levels continue to decline. The water crisis is constraining seasonal livelihood activities, including casual labor, irrigation, gardening, brick molding, construction, and livestock water availability and dipping services. Bulawayo remains one of the worst affected urban areas due to water shortages. In early October, the city authority reported that it was only able to supply water to two residential areas per day out of almost 100. The city has reported an increasing number of diarrheal cases as a result of the water challenges. In June, some 13 deaths from water-borne diseases were recorded.

    Seed and fertilizer producers assured farmers of adequate stocks for the 2020/21 agricultural season; however, access to inputs is lower than normal. This is driven mainly by high and increasing prices of inputs, below-normal household incomes, high transport costs, and transport challenges in some rural areas. Inputs are primarily sold in USD at/or above parallel market exchange rates in ZWL, making them unaffordable to many poor farmers. The government started distributing crop inputs (maize, small grain, and soya bean seed and fertilizers) to smallholder farmers under the Presidential Input Scheme, targeting 1.8 million households; however, some areas and targeted beneficiaries are reportedly still to be reached. Under the same scheme, cotton inputs are being distributed to farmers in cotton-producing areas to cover 400,000 hectares. Land preparation is ongoing for cotton production; however, planting is yet to start across cotton-producing areas. Reports indicate some cotton farmers who delivered their 2019/20 crop to some contractors are yet to be paid to date.

    The 2020/21 tobacco season officially started in early September. In mid-September, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) reported an almost 60 percent decline in registered farmers compared to last year. The reduction is mainly due to unfavorable payment arrangements during the 2019/20 season.

    Since June, when African Migratory Locusts (AML) were first detected in southeastern Zimbabwe, control measures have been implemented to limit their spread. There have been reports of occasional AML sightings. Agriculture extension officers and farmers in the Chiredzi and Mwenezi Districts have been trained on early identification and early control, including using environmentally friendly chemicals.

    Pasture conditions remain very poor in the south and other low rainfall areas (Figure 4), resulting in poor livestock conditions, especially for cattle and donkeys. Cattle deaths due to poor pasture and water availability are being reported in parts of the country. The 2020 ZIMVAC rural livelihoods assessment conducted in August reported 38 percent of cattle-holding households lost at least one head of cattle in 2020, indicating the main reason as drought and diseases. About 50 percent of cattle-holding households in Matabeleland South reported losing at least a head of cattle, the highest of all provinces. Poor livestock conditions are impacting the availability of draught power and land preparation and income from hiring draught power, especially for wealthier households. Goats and other small livestock are in fair to good condition.

    Most typical income-earning activities availability is below normal, including casual labor and labor rates, self-employment, and vegetable production and sale. For rural and urban areas, households are coping by increasing their engagement in petty trade, artisanal mining, and labor migration. Though the ZIMSTAT national average food poverty line[1] (7,383 ZWL) and the total poverty consumption line[2] (17,957 ZWL) for September marginally increased by 2 percent and 4 percent from August, respectively, the September levels represented an increase of over 700 percent compared to September last year (Figure 5). This indicates a very significant erosion of purchasing power for households whose incomes in ZWL remained low.  

    In October, under the 2020/21 Lean Season Programme, WFP is targeting slightly over 1.0 million people in 22 prioritized districts. The food basket is estimated to meet over 60 percent of a beneficiaries' monthly kilocalorie requirement through cereals, pulses, and vegetable oil. WFP also provided food rations to almost 110,000 people under the Food Assistance for Assets Programme. Their Urban Social Assistance cash program planned to reach up to 326,000 people targeting 22 domains with USD 12 cash transfers per beneficiary. The government is reportedly distributing 50 kg of maize per household to targeted beneficiaries across the country, though detailed information was not available at the time of the analysis to be incorporated.

    According to the ZIMVAC Rural Livelihoods Assessment conducted in the August 2019 national Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence was reported at 3.8 percent, which is "Acceptable" (GAM by weight-for-height (WHZ) <5 percent) according to WHO Classification.

    Current food consumption and dietary diversity are poor among poor households, with most households consuming at most two meals a day. Consumption of wild foods is currently very low, as availability is limited. Households are reducing expenditures on basic needs such as health, education, transport, housing, and utilities, among others. Some poor households are selling household items to meet their basic food and other needs. As a result, many deficit areas continue to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Humanitarian assistance to prioritized districts is preventing more severe outcomes, and now Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are present. A few surplus-producing areas in the north are still in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) due to household access to own-produced stocks. However, due to depleting own-produced foods and increased reliance on markets in most surplus-producing areas, food access and consumption has deteriorated mainly among poor households, resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. 


    The October 2020 to May 2021 most likely scenario is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • The macroeconomic conditions are expected to remain poor during the outlook period as key fundamentals remain poor. However, relative stability is anticipated to prevail in the official and parallel market exchange rates based on recent trends. Yet the parallel market exchange rates are expected to remain around 25 percent above the official exchange rates. The annual inflation rate will most likely remain elevated during the outlook period.
    • Payments through mobile money transfers are expected to continue attracting up to 50 percent premiums above ZWL cash prices, especially in the informal markets where low-income households mostly buy.
    • Fuel will most likely continue to be sold primarily in USD ensuring constant supplies.  Fuel prices are expected to be mainly stable during the outlook period.
    • Based on current levels and in the absence of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic will likely persist though the rate of infection in Zimbabwe is expected to be relatively low throughout the outlook period. Informed by current official case incidences, movement restrictions are expected to remain minimal throughout the scenario period.
    • The anticipated reopening of national land borders in the near- and medium-term in Zimbabwe are expected to increase cross border trade, informal remittance flows, and labor flows, especially in southern areas. However, these will be below normal levels partly due to costly COVID-19 certificate requirements at the borders.
    • Maize imports by both the government and private sector are not likely to close the 2020/21 national cereal gap. Markets are expected to remain undersupplied and little to no grain is anticipated in southern and other deficit areas until the harvest in 2021. Private sector imports will likely mainly be channeled towards commercial milling and livestock feeds, with government stocks likely committed towards the Strategic Grain Reserves and humanitarian assistance. In the absence of maize grain, most households are expected to purchase maize meal, or alternative and less preferred foods.
    • Maize grain prices are projected to be significantly above average in ZWL terms with price increases expected through the lean season due to low supply, high demand, and the likely continued poor macroeconomic conditions. Price increases in USD are expected to be marginal. Maize grain prices are expected to decline with the harvest starting in April, though remaining well above average in ZWL terms.
    • National maize meal shortages are expected to continue during the outlook period. It is anticipated that informal maize meal imports will be constricted partly due to high transport costs. Maize meal prices will likely remain above average and out of reach of poor households whose alternative cereal sources will be very limited.
    • Current international forecasts indicate cumulative rainfall for October to December 2020, and January to March 2021 is expected to be average. As access to agricultural inputs by poor farmers is expected to remain a challenge, slightly below-average area planted is expected in deficit production areas; however, average area planted is expected in surplus production areas. Fall Armyworm (FAW) and African Migratory Locusts (AML), among other pests and diseases, are likely to negatively impact crop production, however, not at a large-scale. The 2021 harvest is expected to be near-average across most of the country.
    • Engagement in tobacco production, the main cash crop, will likely to be lower than in recent years if the number of registered farmers remains below last year and average.
    • Water availability and access across most parts of the country, including typical high rainfall areas and urban areas, are expected to be significantly below normal between October and November. The situation will be critical in typical low rainfall areas, impacting water for human consumption and seasonal livelihood activities. The situation is expected to improve in November/December as seasonal rainfall is established.
    • Livestock, mainly cattle, conditions are expected to be poor, mainly in semi-arid areas through November or December. This will result in reduced livestock sales and incomes and draught power, though improvements are expected with the start of rainfall as pastures and water availability improve. Pastures are not expected to fully regenerate in semi-arid areas due to the cumulative impacts of consecutive droughts. Access to livestock supplementary feeds and veterinary drugs are expected to remain lower than average. However, the government reportedly plans to distribute tick grease to over 1 million households under the Presidential Livestock Scheme to fight tick-borne diseases, especially the January disease (Theileriosis), a major cause of cattle deaths between December and March. Goats will be fair to good in most areas. 
    • Distress livestock sales are expected due to poor livestock body conditions. Incomes from livestock sales will also be impacted by the anticipated low demand for livestock and livestock products due to low disposable incomes, mainly in the southern areas. Livestock (cattle) prices are expected to increase starting around December.
    • Incomes from agricultural and non-agricultural labor are anticipated to remain below normal throughout the outlook period. Access to labor opportunities is expected to be worse in deficit-producing areas of the country. However, opportunities are expected to improve somewhat as the agriculture season begins. Labor rates are likely to be lower than normal, especially as labor supply will be high, and income for wealthier households are expected to be constrained. 
    • Both local and international remittances to rural and urban households are expected to remain below normal throughout the outlook period, mainly driven by economic challenges and COVID-19 impacts in-country and notably in South Africa.
    • The 2020/21 WFP Lean Season Programme plans to reach out to slightly over 1 million beneficiaries between October and December and marginally increasing beneficiaries to over 1.1 million beneficiaries from January through April 2021 in 22 prioritized districts meeting over 60 percent of a household's kilocalorie needs. The government plans to continue targeting select households in all districts with 50kg maize per household per month; however, detailed information on this assistance was not available for incorporation into this analysis.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Between October and January, most areas of Matabeleland North and South, Masvingo, and parts of Manicaland and Midlands Provinces are expected to continue to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as poor households are most likely to continue experiencing poor access to market foods due to poor incomes and high food prices. However, given plans for humanitarian assistance in some typical deficit areas, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are expected. In some of the extreme cases, some households, predominately in southern areas, are expected to experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. This is due to very high food consumption gaps and extreme loss and depletion or exhaustion of livelihood assets such as livestock and production tools.

    Most surplus producing areas in the Mashonaland Provinces will experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as own-produced stocks would have been depleted, and poor households also resort to markets. Some improvements in on-farm labor opportunities due to forecasts for average rains are anticipated, though labor rates will remain below normal. In these areas, some poor households will experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    From February through May 2021, the situation will be mixed. The green harvest, including green mealies, pumpkins, fresh groundnuts, sweet potatoes, etc., starting in February/March is expected to be normal, improving food consumption for a short period of time. However, the green harvest is not expected to mitigate all food consumption gaps for most poor households and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through at least March 2021. In some areas, significant humanitarian assistance is expected to improve food access and will most likely result in Stressed! (IPC Phase2!) outcomes.

    Most typical surplus areas will most likely experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through March; however, own food access is expected to improve in April/May as the harvest becomes available, driving Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. During this period, most typical deficit areas will likely be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) because though poor households may consume own-produced foods and meet their basic food needs, they will still be unable to meet their non-food needs.

    GAM levels may increase but are expected to remain under Acceptable levels. However, macroeconomic challenges are anticipated to persist, and national GAM prevalence during this period is expected to slightly deteriorate in February to March, the peak of the lean season, but will remain within "Acceptable" (GAM by WHZ <5 percent) levels. However, few localized areas may deteriorate to "Alert" (GAM by WHZ between 5.9 to 9.9 percent) levels. The situation will likely improve starting from April to May with the main harvest when Acceptable GAM levels are anticipated. 


    [1] The food poverty datum line (FPL) represents the minimum consumption expenditure necessary to ensure that each household member can (if all expenditures were devoted to food) consume a minimum food basket representing 2 100 calories. An individual whose total consumption expenditure does not exceed the food poverty line is deemed to be very poor. 

    [2] The FPL was derived using 2017 PICES data. It was derived by computing the non-food consumption expenditures of poor households whose consumption expenditures were just equal to the FPL. The amount was added to the FPL, if an individual does not consume more than the TCPL, he or she is deemed poor.


    Events that Might Change the Outlook

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



    Impact on food security outcomes






    Re-instatement of COVID-19 restrictions

    This will again constrain the movement of people and livelihoods, impacting access to food and income, thereby increasing the prevalence of food insecurity in urban and rural areas

    Erratic or below-average 2020/21 rainfall

    This will result in extended water availability and access challenges, poor pasture, livestock conditions, limited casual labor opportunities, below-normal cropped areas, and crop production. This will most likely increase the number of households unable to meet their basic food needs throughout the outlook period.

    Widespread locust invasions

    It will reduce crop production and impact livestock production, and lead to some reduction in food and income access.


     For more information on the outlook for specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of the page for the full report.


    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, October 2020

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 1

    Source: ZIMSTAT

    Figure 4

    Figure 2

    Source: RBZ; Market Watch

    Figure 5

    Figure 3

    Source: FEWS NET/MoAMID

    Figure 6

    Figure 4

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 7

    Figure 5

    Source: ZIMSTAT

    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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