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Favorable harvests drive lowest food assistance needs in recent years despite macroeconomic challenges

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • October 2021
Favorable harvests drive lowest food assistance needs in recent years despite macroeconomic challenges

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Favorable 2021 harvests follow an above-average 2020 cropping season, improving outcomes across much of Zimbabwe. However, widespread Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes still prevail in October as poor households are affected by macroeconomic challenges and COVID-19 related income losses. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to emerge in deficit-producing areas after October, as own-produced stocks deplete, and will persist through the peak of the lean season in March 2022. Food assistance in some areas will improve outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2!). Most surplus-producing areas will experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) or Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, while urban areas are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households continue to face challenges meeting basic food needs amid low incomes and above-average prices.

    • Parallel market exchange rates will likely remain the main driver of price increases, despite government efforts to stem inflation. High and increasing prices of food and non-food commodities, mainly in ZWL, are expected throughout the outlook period, negatively affecting market access among poor households who earn income in ZWL. Despite favorable harvests, staple grain supply on the open market will likely remain below normal levels, given the directive for farmers to sell maize to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and contractors. Some markets in deficit-producing areas are expected to have little to no grain through March 2022; maize meal will therefore be the main source of cereal.

    • Rainfall during the 2021-2022 season is forecast to be above-average, which is anticipated to support near-normal agricultural labor opportunities. The income earned from this labor, coupled with last season’s average or above-average production, is expected to support relatively favorable food security outcomes across much of Zimbabwe. Humanitarian food assistance needs are expected to be at their lowest levels in recent years. However, macroeconomic conditions remain poor, following the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of persistent currency shortages. High food prices will limit food access during the lean season, especially for poor households in deficit-producing areas.


    Current Situation

    Following near-record national production in the 2020-2021 agricultural season, most households in surplus-producing areas are still able to meet their food needs through own-produced stocks. However, deficit-producing areas in parts of Masvingo, Matabeleland North and South, Midlands, and Manicaland Provinces experienced relatively poor production despite the above-average season nationally. Most poor households in these areas have now depleted their stocks and are increasingly relying on markets. Across both urban and rural areas, access to basic food and non-food commodities and services on the market is increasingly constrained by reductions in household purchasing power related to ongoing macroeconomic instability, limited income generating opportunities, and spiking prices.

    This year, the government has regulated sales of maize, soya beans, and wheat, stipulating that the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) is the sole buyer of these controlled crops, with exceptions for contractors. Also regulated is cotton, sold through the Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (Cottco) and contractors. Farmers’ maize deliveries to the GMB continue, most notably in typical surplus-producing areas (Figure 1). As of the first week of October, official reports indicate nearly a 550 percent increase in maize grain deliveries as compared to the same period last year. Although not controlled, small or traditional grain intake by the GMB was also reportedly up 730 percent compared to the same period last year. Given the above-average national supply, the government’s maize import ban has remained in place and there are no formal maize imports this season.

    Restricted grain sales have closed out or limited private buyers procuring maize from farmers this marketing season. As a result, maize grain supply on the open market is significantly below normal levels in both surplus- and deficit-producing areas and the typical movement of grain from surplus-producing areas to deficit-producing areas remains largely constricted. Poor roads and transportation shortages in some areas and high and increasing transportation costs are further disincentivizing traders and negatively impacting grain availability on the open market. Only small stocks are being supplied by a few local farmers and traders in most markets and the more remote markets in deficit areas have little to no maize grain at all. WFP reported maize being available in September in just 25 and 6 percent of monitored rural and urban markets, respectively. Below normal market supply coupled with increasing demand has contributed to higher-than-normal maize grain prices on the market in typical deficit-producing areas.

    Farmer-to-farmer sales are ensuring near-normal pricing of grain in surplus-producing areas, with average prices around 4 USD/17.5 kg bucket. However, prices in deficit-producing areas have been rising since June due to reduced supply and higher demand and are now nearly 40 percent higher than average prices in surplus-producing areas. In response, demand for maize meal is increasing where grain availability is poor. The supply of maize meal remains normal and generally available in most markets in both urban and rural areas.

    Land preparation is underway for the 2021-22 agricultural season, including holing, mulching, and other elements of conservation farming widely promoted by the government, providing some sources of income for poor and very poor households. Access to agricultural inputs, however, is limited for most poor households as income remains below normal and prices for inputs have increased up to 40 percent in USD and even higher in ZWL compared to last season.

    Irrigated tobacco planting started in September and by end October, the number of farmers registered to produce the crop was reportedly 3 percent above same time last year. An almost 30 percent increase in planted area was reported compared to the same time last year, a development partly attributed to improved water supply for irrigation. The increase in cropped area can also be attributed to expectations of improved contracting arrangements following government intervention in the sector. In addition, wheat harvesting has begun across the country and total production is expected to be above average but remain below self-sufficiency levels. Cotton marketing is reportedly ending across the country.

    Water availability is generally above normal across the country, with dam levels significantly above-average in typical high rainfall areas, such as the Mashonaland Provinces. This is ensuring sufficient water supply for domestic, livestock, and livelihood uses. Pasture conditions continue to be fair to good in these areas and livestock conditions remain fair to good, although poor access to veterinary drugs is negatively impacting livestock conditions and numbers across the country. Conversely, water availability and access in typical low rainfall areas is fast reducing as ground water levels recede. Pastures in semi-arid areas are generally poor, with livestock conditions – mainly for cattle – deteriorating.

    The significant increase in biomass – including grass, vegetation, and crop residue – following last year’s above-average rainfall have also increased the risk of veld fires. The Environmental Management Agency reported that close to 90 percent of the country is under high to extreme risk of veld fires compared to about 35 percent during the same period last year. As of early October, there has been a nearly 55 percent increase over last year in area burned. More than half of these fires have been concentrated in the grassy and forested resettlement areas, somewhat reducing pasture availability there.

    The volatile macroeconomic environment continues to pose livelihood and food access challenges especially for poor households in both rural and urban areas. Spiking parallel market exchange rates are the main driver of most ZWL price increases on the market. Parallel market rates by the end of October ranged between 85 and 105 percent above the official rate of 1 USD:97.1 ZWL (Figure 2). The official exchange rate increased by 10.8 percent in October alone, compared to the end of September. With continued ZWL cash shortages, premiums for mobile and electronic money payments increased by almost 15 percent in October. Annual and monthly inflation rates remain high, increasing in October to 54.5 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively, up from 51.5 and 4.7 percent, respectively, in September. The national poverty lines – averages for the minimum cost of procuring basic food and for the total cost of living –increased by 7.6 and 7 percent, respectively, between September and October (Figure 3), among the highest monthly increases in the year.

    In urban areas, rents and utility charges have increased in line with inflation, but wages and salaries for most workers in the formal sector, social security benefits, and most household income in the informal sector have not kept up with these increases and remain below the national poverty lines. Furthermore, as rents are charged in USD, but most households earn in ZWL, significant income is lost through exchanges on the parallel market, negatively impacting poor households by further reducing income available to access food.

    Prices for most basic goods (including staple maize and maize meal) and services continue to increase, most significantly in ZWL (Figure 4). Cooking oil, bread, and sugar rose nearly 10, 20, and 30 percent, respectively, in October relative to September. Fuel prices remain above normal levels in both USD and ZWL, increasing by between 1.5 and 6 percent in early October compared to September in line with rising international prices. Despite a government directive that companies accessing foreign currency on the official auction system must also sell in ZWL at official exchange rates, fuel is sold almost exclusively in USD. This negatively affects those earning in ZWL who must source USD on the parallel market at high exchange rates. Transportation shortages and high transportation costs are especially affecting the livelihoods of poor households by constraining travel and eroding disposable income and access to markets in most rural and urban areas.

    In early September, the government eased most COVID-19 restrictions from Level 4 to Level 2 as COVID-19 infections and deaths reduced from the peak in July. Level 2 restrictions allow for increased business hours and staffing levels at workplaces, a shorter nightly curfew, and the resumption of inter-city and other long distance bus services. Poor urban and other households who have been greatly affected by reduced business hours and fewer trade opportunities are likely seeing slow improvements to income as the restrictions ease. However, national land borders remain closed to non-essential goods and services, continuing to constrain typical informal cross border activities, remittance flows, and other livelihood activities.

    Livelihood options currently available to poor rural households are mostly centered around casual labor, with in-kind grain payments still common in surplus-producing areas. Payments in ZWL are not preferred given the rapid devaluation of ZWL on the parallel market. Some households in surplus-producing areas are still selling surplus crops, mainly in USD. Vegetable production and sales are near normal levels in high rainfall, surplus-producing areas given sufficient water, whereas in semi-arid, deficit-producing areas reduced water availability is negatively impacting incomes from this source. Informal artisanal mining, especially for gold, is increasingly common across most districts in the country. Significant proportions of households in both rural and urban areas are engaging in petty trade as a typical livelihood option or an alternative income generating activity. The harvest and sale of wild products, such as firewood, thatch grass, fruits, etc., are common in some areas, providing further income for poor households. Domestic remittances remain below average in line with general macroeconomic challenges and, although significant increases in international remittances are reported, poor and very poor households across the country are rarely the recipients. Remittances from mainly South Africa towards the southern parts of the country are below normal partly due to impacts of COVID-19 on livelihoods and related cross border restrictions. 

    Food consumption in surplus-producing areas remains good with a diversity of own-produced crops such as cereals, pulses, legumes, and root crops being consumed. Some poor households in these areas are relying on in-kind payments for food. Conversely, consumption in typical deficit-producing areas is deteriorating as own-produced stocks reduce or deplete fully and access to markets is poor. Most poor households in typical deficit-producing areas have reduced their number of meals from three immediately post-harvest to two, with the worst affected households down to just one meal a day. Meals mainly consist of cereal and vegetables. Currently, households are diversifying and intensifying their typical livelihood strategies as household stocks deplete. Such activities include an increase in casual labor, petty trade, livestock sales, informal mining, and sale of wild products, as well as labor migration.

    Humanitarian assistance from government and international partners has not yet begun across most parts of the country although limited food assistance is ongoing in some districts in October. WFP and partners will begin targeting 430,000 beneficiaries in 10 priority deficit-producing districts in October and expand to at least 12 districts during the lean season.

    Currently, a growing number of households in deficit-producing areas have nearly or completely depleted their own-produced food stocks. As they begin to rely on poorly supplied markets with below normal income and face above-average prices, many are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes.  Some worst-affected poor households are starting to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Most surplus-producing areas are experiencing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes mainly in the more productive A1 and A2 resettlement areas[1] or Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in areas that recorded relatively lower production, such as communal farming areas. Urban areas are Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households face challenges meeting their basic non-food needs given low household incomes and very high food prices.


    The October 2021 to May 2022 most likely scenario is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Most households in surplus-producing districts mainly in the Mashonaland Provinces and other parts of the country are expected to rely on own-produced cereal stocks through March 2022. 
    • The government is expected to uphold the directive for all maize grain to be sold only to the GMB (and contractors). As a result, maize grain supply on open markets is likely to be below normal levels in both surplus- and deficit-producing areas and significantly below normal levels in some deficit-producing areas.
    • National maize meal supply is expected to be above average as demand is below average, especially in surplus-producing areas. Maize meal demand is expected to increase from October, particularly in typical deficit-producing areas as household food stocks reduce.
    • Given maize grain self-sufficiency in the 2021-22 consumption year, no formal imports are expected. The government will likely uphold the maize grain and maize meal import ban imposed earlier in the marketing season. Despite border restrictions and the maize meal import ban, informally imported maize meal from South Africa and Botswana is expected to be available on the markets in southern areas, but at below normal levels. 
    • Water availability and access are expected to be at above normal levels in typical high rainfall areas ensuring above normal supply for domestic and livestock uses. Pasture and livestock conditions in these areas are expected to be fair to good through November ahead of the rainy season and improving thereafter with the onset of the rainy season.
    • Water availability and supply in typical semi-arid areas are expected at normal to below normal levels and livestock conditions are expected to be fair to poor through November, due to the cumulative negative impacts of consecutive years of drought leading to poor ground water recharge and pasture regeneration despite favorable rains this past season. Conditions are expected to improve from November/December with the onset of the rainy season.
    • Across the country, the prevalence of livestock diseases is expected to continue at unusually high rates, reducing livestock health, resulting in some livestock death, and negatively impacting production and income, especially as veterinary drug prices are expected to remain significantly higher than average.
    • Easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions will likely improve livelihood activities for mostly urban poor populations although potential income will likely remain constrained. The government is expected to continue reviewing the lockdown measures on a regular basis.
    • The government is likely to maintain land border closures to non-essential goods and services. This will continue to negatively impact typical livelihood and income sources such as cross border trade and cash and in-kind remittances.
    • General macroeconomic conditions are expected to remain volatile throughout the outlook period. Despite reductions in the annual inflation rate, the cost of living is expected to continue to increase.
    • Marginal increases in official exchange rates are expected throughout the outlook period, while parallel market exchange rates are expected to be more than double the official exchange rates, driving much of the price increases on the markets in ZWL terms.
    • Local ZWL shortages are expected to persist, fueling increased charges on payments using mobile money and electronic transfers in both the formal and informal sectors. This will erode the purchasing power for a significant proportion of the population who rely on these modes of payment.
    • Due to the government directive and low open market grain stocks, private millers and other commercial and non-commercial private buyers are expected to source grain mainly from the GMB. The government is expected to sell grain from the GMB to commercial buyers and to the public throughout the lean season. As the main supplier, it will largely determine maize grain pricing on the formal market, while market demand and supply will continue to influence pricing in the informal open markets.
    • Maize grain prices are expected to follow the typical seasonal curve, increasing progressively from October to the peak lean season in early 2022 as demand increases. Prices in deficit-producing areas are expected to be more than 50 percent higher than prices in surplus-producing areas throughout the outlook period.
    • Maize meal prices are expected to remain relatively stable in USD terms; however, marginal price increases are expected in some markets due to rising demand and rising production costs. Prices in ZWL will likely follow parallel market trends, especially among informal sector retailers, and will likely prevail above last year’s prices and above the five-year average.
    • Other price increase drivers during the outlook period will include high fuel costs, transportation shortages, and poor road conditions in parts of the country leading to high transportation costs. Power outages are expected to continue during the outlook period, increasing the cost of production and services.
    • Livestock prices are expected to be above average due to better pasture and livestock conditions especially in high rainfall areas in the Mashonaland Provinces and other parts of the country. However, income from livestock sales will most likely continue to be below normal especially due to below normal demand.
    • International climate forecasts indicate above normal rainfall for the whole country during the 2021-22 rainfall season. This is expected to build on the positives of the 2020-21 season in terms of water and pasture conditions and livelihood opportunities. Cropped area for most crops is expected at above normal levels. Agricultural and non-agricultural labor opportunities are expected to be higher throughout the outlook period than in recent years, more so in surplus-producing areas.
    • Access to agricultural inputs on the markets will continue to be constrained due to low incomes and high prices, especially among poor households, despite government and industry reports of adequate seed and fertilizer and anticipated crop input assistance initiatives.
    • Humanitarian food assistance is anticipated in some deficit districts starting from October through the peak lean season in early 2022 although targeted areas are likely to be below previous years. WFP and partners target to reach about 542,000 and 649,000 people monthly between October and December and January and March, respectively. The rations comprise 7.5 kg cereal, 0.75 kg vegetable oil, and 1.5 kg pulses. In all targeted districts, assistance is expected to be significant, targeting more than 20 percent of the district population and thereby improving outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) from Crisis (IPC Phase 3). Government will assist beneficiary households in targeted districts with 10 kg of cereal per person per month. Details on government targeted areas are not available at the time of analysis.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Between October and March, most surplus-producing areas in the Mashonaland Provinces and other parts of the country are expected to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes in the more productive resettlement areas and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in the communal areas, where productivity is poorer and overall yields and labor opportunities are lower. Other income sources such as livestock sales, informal mining, petty trade, vegetable production and sales, and self-employment, among others, are expected to complement the consumption of own-produced food. In line with an above average rainfall forecast, above average harvests in April to May are expected, ending the lean season, and significantly improving consumption in surplus-producing areas, resulting in widespread Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. However, this period is mapped to represent the lean season outcomes which constitute at least half of the mapping period (February to March), during which Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are still expected in marginal parts of the surplus-producing areas due to relatively low crop production, crop sales and income, and labor opportunities.

    From October through March, food security outcomes in most typical deficit-producing areas are expected to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as food stocks deplete for most poor households, resulting in heavy dependence on markets to access food, but with below normal income, limited supply in some markets, and above average prices. Labor opportunities, and cash and in-kind payments are expected at lower levels in deficit-producing areas due to relatively low production and some crop losses from water logging and leaching, which resulted in reductions in income from crop sales for middle and better-off households. Incomes from livestock sales will be constrained due to depressed disposable incomes and demand. Remittances are expected at below normal levels nationwide. Deficit-producing areas that will receive significant humanitarian assistance are expected to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2!). Between April and May, food security outcomes are expected to improve in deficit areas due to early harvests. With above-average production, some households will be able to meet their basic food needs, driving areas of Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes. However macroeconomic conditions, including high prices and below normal income for some households, are still expected to negatively impact households’ ability to meet their non-food needs, resulting in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes, though the February to May mapping period represents the lean season.

    Throughout the outlook period urban areas are expected to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Poor households may meet their minimal food needs but will continue to experience increasing difficulty accessing other foods and non-food needs mainly due to macroeconomic challenges, below-average income, above average prices, and increasing cost of living.

    For the entire outlook period, acute malnutrition is expected to remain at Acceptable levels (Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) <5 percent as measured by weight-for-height- Z-score (WHZ), according to WHO thresholds in most areas.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

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

    NationalBelow-normal rainfallBelow normal rainfall would negatively impact agricultural labor opportunities and payments, livestock conditions and sales, grain availability and prices of staples on the markets and result in higher numbers of households and areas experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3).  
    NationalResurgence of high COVID-19 infections and deaths and reinforcement of strict COVID-19 national lockdown measuresThe reintroduction of lockdown measures would likely limit population movements, constrain economic activity, livelihoods, and access to markets, impacting mainly the informal sector and urban areas. If restrictions prove severe enough, most urban areas would likely deteriorate from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

    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.

    [1] The resettlement areas are former commercial farming areas redistributed to local farmers under the land reform program, which have been maintained under two models: A1, which is dedicated to small-scale farming, and A2, which is dedicated to large-scale commercial farming.


    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: RBZ, FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Figur3 3

    Source: ZIMSTAT

    Figure 5

    Figure 4

    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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