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Favorable 2022/23 rainfall forecasts likely to improve food security outcomes after the lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • October 2022 - May 2023
Favorable 2022/23 rainfall forecasts likely to improve food security outcomes after the lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist throughout the lean season into early 2023 in typical deficit-producing areas in the south, east, west, and far north as own-produced crops have already depleted and access to markets remain poor. Meanwhile, relatively more productive communal parts of surplus-producing areas are likely to be able to sustain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout the lean season. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are expected in surplus-producing resettlement areas where near-average 2022 harvests were complemented by above-average 2022 carryover stocks. Improvements are expected in all areas when the 2022/23 harvests start in April to May.

    • With an earlier-than-normal start to the 2022/23 lean season, food access during the outlook period will be highly dependent on typical and atypical coping strategies, and the performance of the upcoming 2022/23 rainfall and agricultural season. Maize and small grains are expected to be largely unavailable on most open markets throughout the outlook period given poor harvests and constraints on sales by the government. However, maize meal is expected to remain readily available, except in some remote rural areas. Prices of most grains and maize meal are expected to stay well above average throughout the outlook period, constraining household purchasing power.

    • Recent macroeconomic stabilization and declining prices for some food commodities and services in both USD and ZWL are largely due to a series of government interventions in the past few months. Nevertheless, prices are expected to remain above average given high fuel, utility, and transportation costs, among other drivers. ZIMSTAT reported small increases in the cost of living for October consistent with the levels of month-on-month inflation since September. The continuation of well-above-average prices for most goods and services will constrain household purchasing power and leave some items out of reach for poorer households.

    • Throughout the main 2022/23 agricultural season, access to crop inputs is expected to be significantly below normal, due to above-average prices in both USD and ZWL. Most smallholder households are expected to depend on government crop input assistance, given their inability to purchase inputs on the markets. As has been the case over the last few years, shortages of some fertilizers are likely and the demand for top-dressing fertilizer is expected to be higher than normal given above-average rainfall forecasts across the country and anticipated high levels of leaching. Despite input access challenges, green harvests and consumption are expected at near-normal levels in early 2023 and the main harvest is also likely to be near-average from April/May.

    • Some improvements in labor opportunities and livestock conditions and sales are expected with the favorable rainfall forecast for the 2022/23 agricultural season. Petty trade and informal mining are likely to be somewhat negatively impacted during the outlook period due to the rains through March. As has been the case in the last few seasons, heavy rains may damage infrastructure such as roads and bridges in some areas, negatively impacting access to markets and some livelihoods and coping strategies.


    Current Situation

    Following below-average 2021/22 harvests, household cereal stocks are largely depleted in most typical deficit-producing areas. The majority of households in these areas are increasingly relying on market purchases of mainly maize meal to try and meet their food needs. Maize grain is not available, or is in irregular supply, across these areas, due in part to government restrictions on free grain movement and the requirement to sell grain to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB). In contrast, own-produced 2021/22 household stocks in typical surplus-producing areas are relatively higher. However, maize prices are above last year and above normal across most areas of the country. Prices in typical deficit-producing areas are up to 50 percent higher than those in surplus-producing areas. Maize meal is generally readily available but supplies in more remote rural areas can be erratic or even wholly absent. Maize meal prices for October in both USD and ZWL were also higher than in September and same time last year.

    Grain deliveries to the GMB have been significantly lower than normal this year, a result of below normal harvests. By the end of October, total GMB stocks (including both 2021 carryover stock and new 2022 intake) were reported at about 569,000 metric tons (MT), comprising 489,000 MT of maize and 80,000 MT of traditional grains. The reported GMB grain stocks are about 40 percent lower than at the same time last year. Maize imports from Zambia – via the private sector – are reported to have begun in July.

    Following multiple government measures instituted in recent months to contain the steep rise in parallel market exchange rates and commodity prices, the rates of increase have now slowed. There has now been some stability in exchange rates and prices since September. The gap between the official interbank and the parallel market exchange rates continues to narrow, with the rates nearly converging in October. As of October 25, the interbank rate averaged 632 ZWL/USD (technically 695 ZWL, given the 10 percent adjustment allowable for businesses) compared to around 700 ZWL/USD on the parallel market. Parallel market rates of above 700 ZWL/USD are obtainable when disposing of large amounts of USD.

    Use of the USD is increasing in both formal (public and private) and informal sectors. Given continued shortages of ZWL cash, higher premiums on electronic and mobile money transfers, and stable ZWL rates and prices, households earning in USD have little incentive to exchange to ZWL to make their purchases. Given stable ZWL exchange rates and global price trends, prices of most basic commodities have either remained stable or somewhat decreased (Figure 1), while price reductions were mainly noted in USD terms. For example, in USD, bread recorded a 20 percent price drop from September to October. In ZWL, maize meal, vegetable oil, and wheat flour prices were mostly stable (showing a decrease of 5 percent or less) between September and October across FEWS NET–monitored markets, although prices were still 550, 330, and 640 percent higher, respectively, compared to the same time last year.

    Fuel prices have been marginally decreasing since the peak in June this year. However, fuel prices remain above average and are still the highest in Southern Africa. At the end of October, diesel and petrol sold at an average of 1.73 USD and 1.55 USD per liter, respectively, which are 8 and 12 percent lower than the peak prices experienced in June 2022, yet 25 and 11 percent above the same period last year, respectively. Despite declining fuel prices, high transportation costs, prolonged power cuts, an increase in electricity tariffs by 45 percent at the end of September, and even higher prices for alternative sources of energy, such as diesel, among other drivers, are all contributing to a continuation of the high cost of production and high prices of goods and services.  

    Despite general price stability, the cost of living continues to increase, keeping most goods and services out of reach for poorer households, who continue to struggle with below-normal income and constrained purchasing power. In October, ZIMSTAT reported the food poverty line (minimum cost of meeting basic food needs per month) and the total consumption poverty line (minimum cost of basic food and non-food needs per month) for one person averaging at 21,455 ZWL and 28,144 ZWL, respectively. While this still represents an increase of 3.1 percent for both lines as compared to September, the rate of increase for both has been decelerating since August (Figure 2).

    At the tail end of the dry season, water sources are typically depleted, and water availability is low in October. Vegetable production, consumption, and sales have significantly reduced in accordance with seasonality, even in typical high-rainfall areas. Above-average demand for leafy vegetables has resulted in higher prices, negatively impacting poorer households’ access to what is a key food commodity, especially at this time of year. Brick molding and sales are also being negatively affected by these water shortages, with community authorities in some areas banning the activity. Although the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (ZINWA) reported national dam levels at 80.4 percent as of October 21, higher than the average 61.8 percent expected at this time of the year, much of this water is for large-scale commercial use, not smallholder farmer and communal area use.

    Pasture conditions and drinking water for livestock have seasonally deteriorated across the country, more so in typical arid and semi-arid areas. This has resulted in poor to fair livestock body conditions in arid and semi-arid areas and generally fair conditions in high-rainfall areas. Some low-rainfall areas have nutritious veld and acacia species that are currently sustaining cattle in fair body conditions. Conversely, although pasture is available across high-rainfall areas, the nutritional value is reportedly low in some areas, resulting in generally fair livestock conditions. Livestock disease prevalence remains high across the country, exacerbated by the high cost and poor access to veterinary drugs. Livestock sales and income are being constrained by low demand and limited access to cash, as well as poor livestock (mainly cattle) body conditions in some areas.

    Currently, agricultural, and non-agricultural labor opportunities and labor rates are below normal due to below-normal 2022 harvests and crop sales for cash and in-kind payments and below-normal income among middle and better-off households. Domestic remittances remain below average given the economic context within the country. Although formal international remittances are above average at the national level these are mostly flowing to better-off households. Meanwhile, formal and informal remittance flows to poorer households are well below average due to high cost of living and lingering economic impacts of COVID‑19 in sending countries. In addition, although South African authorities extended Zimbabwe Exemption Permits (ZEP) through June 2023, uncertainties in securing South African visas and work permits remain for many Zimbabweans, resulting in an increased number of returnees and further reductions in remittances.

    Cross-border trade activities, although increasing, have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels due to limited capital, below-average demand for goods, and above-average transportation costs. To attempt to earn money elsewhere, an increased number of households are engaging in petty trading. However, income earned through this coping strategy has been low given the surplus of participating households and the below-average demand for goods. Across most areas, labor migration, especially for informal mining activities, is atypically high.

    Through the end of October, veld fires have increased across the country. Although veld fires are common during the dry season, they have caused atypically high loss of life and damage to infrastructure, forests, pastures, and crops this year. The Environmental Management Agency (EMA) reported that, from July to mid-October, the number of fire incidences (over 6,000) was 65 percent higher than at the same time last year and the cumulative burnt area (1.53 million hectares) was 80 percent higher than at the same period last year.

    Land preparation, mainly involving the digging and mulching of planting basins, has intensified across the country among the smallholder communal and resettlement areas. This is in anticipation of receiving free inputs under the government conservation farming (Pfumvudza/Intwasa) program, which has begun across the country. The government is targeting 3.5 million households this season, up from 2.7 million last year, with input distribution tailored according to agroecological zones and conditions. Most poorer households are almost solely dependent on free inputs from the government, as access to the markets is negatively impacted by above-average prices for fertilizers, seeds, and chemicals. For example, fertilizer prices in most markets are nearly double last year’s prices. Currently, crop input stock levels in retail outlets are below normal due to low demand and limited capital, especially in rural areas.

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are currently widespread in typically under-producing areas of the south, east, west, and far north. Own-produced food crops are depleted, and above-average prices and below-average income are limiting access to markets. Worst-affected households are employing unsustainable consumption-based coping such as skipping meals and reducing portion sizes, as well as livelihood strategies such as increasing engagement in casual labor, livestock sales, vegetable production and sales, petty trading, and informal mining, among others. Most urban areas remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2); although they can afford minimum basic food needs, poor households are not able to afford their other food and non-food needs, mainly due to ongoing macroeconomic challenges and residual COVID-19 negative impacts. Meanwhile, northern parts of the country that are typically able to produce a surplus of staple grains are split between communal areas and resettlement areas. This year, the communal areas were negatively impacted by the poor progression of the 2021/22 rainfall season and are experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. In contrast, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are continuing in the relatively higher-producing resettlement areas of the Mashonaland Provinces where households had near-average 2022 crop production and above-average carryover stocks from the 2021 harvests. The latest SMART nutrition survey incorporated in the June 2022 ZIMVAC rural livelihoods assessment indicated national Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence at 7.0 percent, in the “Alert” (>5–9.9 percent) category according to World Health Organization (WHO) thresholds. Current national acute malnutrition is expected to have deteriorated since the immediate post-harvest period but likely remains within the range for Alert across the country.


    The most likely scenario from October 2022 to May 2023 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • In typical deficit-producing areas, most households have already exhausted their own-produced cereal stocks and are expected to rely on a combination of purchases and humanitarian assistance until the next harvest in early 2023. In typical surplus-producing areas, own-produced cereal stocks will also progressively decrease, with households worst-affected by erratic rainfall last year running out of stocks by the end of this year.
    • Maize grain supplies in typical deficit-producing rural areas and in urban open markets will continue to be significantly below normal, with some markets expected to have no grain at all. Commercial millers are likely to rely on imported grain to match above-average demand for maize meal, especially during the peak lean season. Along border areas, mostly in the south, imported maize meal brands are likely to be readily available on open markets.
    • Maize grain prices in both USD and ZWL are expected to remain above last year’s prices and above average throughout the outlook period. USD prices will likely follow seasonal trends and peak at the height of the lean season in early 2023, while maize prices in ZWL will also be influenced by parallel market exchange rates. Maize grain prices in USD and ZWL on the open market are likely to be up to 50 percent higher in typical deficit-producing areas compared to typical surplus-producing areas because of low supply, high demand, and high transportation costs. Regionally imported maize grain prices are expected at near-average levels. In addition, imports will support maize meal price stabilization; however, prices for maize meal will remain above average in both USD and ZWL.
    • The general stabilization in parallel market exchange rates is expected to continue and will stabilize prices of some goods and services in both USD and ZWL. The government may introduce additional measures to reinforce this trend. The official and interbank rates are expected to continue to rise, closing the gap with parallel market rates.
    • Shortages of ZWL cash are expected to continue, as are high charges imposed on non-cash ZWL payments using mobile money/electronic transfers, negatively impacting poorer households’ purchasing power and access to the markets.
    • Anticipated stable fuel prices are expected to contribute to a slowing in the rate of increase in the prices of goods and services. However, inflationary pressures remain from other non-fuel drivers like utility rates, transportation, and other production costs.
    • Normal rainfall is expected through the end of the year, facilitating a normal start to the agricultural season. For the remainder of the season, forecasts indicate normal to above-average rainfall is likely. Favorable rainfall is expected to enhance crop production in all sectors, although the risks of cyclones, floods, waterlogging, leaching, and crop and livestock diseases remain high, with a high likelihood of damage to infrastructure, including roads and bridges, negatively impacting access to markets and some livelihoods and coping strategies.
    • Near-normal cropped areas are expected for the 2022/23 cropping season, given the largely favorable rainfall forecast and anticipated government crop input supply. Despite above-average agricultural input prices and likely fertilizer shortages, which will negatively impact access at both large-scale commercial and smallholder subsistence levels, near-normal production is expected for the 2022-23 production season.
    • Despite liquidity challenges, agricultural labor opportunities will likely improve with the onset of the rains to average levels, as farmers hope to take advantage of a positive rainfall season. Meanwhile, non-agricultural labor opportunities and wage rates are expected at below-average levels throughout the outlook period as households that typically demand labor will continue to have limited income to provide cash or in-kind payments.
    • Until the start of the 2022/23 rainfall season, water availability and access, as well as pasture and livestock body conditions, are expected to deteriorate as is typical with the dry season. Livestock supplementary feeding (commercial and homemade feeds) will increase in some worst-affected areas and for some households. However, by early 2023, livestock conditions in both high rainfall areas and semi-arid areas are expected to improve to near average in line with favorable rainfall forecasts. At the national level, livestock disease prevalence will likely remain above average due to above-average prices and limited access to veterinary drugs. Livestock sales will continue to be impacted by liquidity challenges and poor demand. Poor livestock conditions will also negatively affect sales and incomes in some areas and for some households.
    • At least until the start of the 2022/23 rainfall season, the harvesting, sale, and consumption of wild products, such as fruits and grasses, will remain below average, given the poor 2021/22 rainfall season.
    • Informal cross-border trade, though on the rebound following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, is expected to remain below pre-pandemic levels.
    • Although formal inflows of remittances have continued to be above average at the national level, both cash and in-kind remittances to poorer households through formal and informal channels will remain below average due to macroeconomic impacts, unstable livelihoods for some migrants in South Africa, as well as an increase in returnees as uncertainty remains over work permits in that country. Returnee migrants are likely to cause additional strain on receiving households and local communities.
    • Engagement in petty trade as a livelihood and coping strategy is expected to increase to above-average levels. However, low consumer demand and increased competition will significantly constrain opportunities, and income will therefore remain average. Informal mining is also expected to increase across the country; however, prospects may somewhat be dampened during the rainfall season through March as operations slow down or become impossible in some areas.
    • Key informants indicate that distributions had not yet begun in October and are expected to begin in November. However, information on anticipated food assistance deliveries is insufficient to conduct an analysis of its likely impact. As such, food assistance is not incorporated into the analysis of projected food security outcomes.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In typical deficit-producing areas in the south, east, west, and far north, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected through March as the lean season continues. Below-normal income and above-average prices are likely to negatively impact access to food and other basic commodities on the market during the months when households are most reliant on the markets, given depleted household grain reserves. With the beginning of the rainy and agricultural seasons, labor opportunities are expected to improve to near-normal levels given favorable 2022/23 rainfall forecasts. However, both cash and in-kind labor rates and overall income will likely continue to be below average as middle and better-off households are negatively affected by poor 2022 harvests and limited access to capital, rendering them ill-equipped to pay normal wage rates. This, as well as continued below-average income from remittances, livestock sales, and other sources, will likely force households to intensify their use of negative consumption and livelihood coping strategies to reduce their food consumption gaps. The strategies include unsustainable engagement in casual labor and self-employment, petty trade, informal mining, livestock sales, and remittances as well as skipping meals and significantly reducing meal sizes. Into the peak of the lean season in February and March, it is likely that a small portion of households will experience significant consumption gaps and begin employing more severe livelihood coping strategies, such as the sale of productive and other household assets, resulting in their experiencing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes. Looking towards the 2022/23 harvest, anticipated normal green harvests from January to March are not expected to change overall outcomes. However, in April and May, food availability and access are expected to improve outcomes in deficit-producing areas to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as anticipated near-normal harvests gradually reduce food consumption gaps for producing households. Since the projection period from February to May is split between the peak of the lean season and the post-harvest period, FEWS NET maps reflect the worst outcomes between February and March.

    In urban areas of the country, poorer households are likely to be able to meet their minimum 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. These areas will therefore be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for the duration of the outlook period.

    Meanwhile, in the more productive surplus-producing areas of the country, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected through March in the communal areas where last year’s production was relatively lower, and households will begin to employ Stressed coping strategies as their food stocks deplete. To supplement own-produced food, households are likely to increase engagement in casual labor, self-employment, livestock sales, informal mining, petty trade, vegetable production and sales, and other sources for market purchases. With a favorable 2022/23 rainfall forecast, near-average harvests are expected from April to May, significantly improving consumption in surplus-producing areas and resulting in widespread Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes and only scattered Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in marginal areas due to relatively low crop production, crop sales and income, and labor opportunities. However, the February to May period overall is mapped to represent the lean season outcomes that constitute at least half (February to March) of the mapping period. In contrast, the resettlement areas, especially in the Mashonaland Provinces are expected to experience Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food insecurity throughout the outlook period given their significant surpluses during the 2020/21 season and near-average harvests during the 2021/22 season.

    On a national level, through the peak lean season in March 2023, acute malnutrition is expected to deteriorate but remain within the Alert (GAM 5-9.9 percent) range. Significant improvements are expected from April and May, as anticipated near-normal 2022/23 main harvests arrive, with relatively better areas of the country improving to Acceptable (GAM < 5 percent) levels, although most districts are expected to remain under Alert.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Table 1. Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.

    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationalSpiking parallel market exchange rates and prices of basic commodities This would likely trigger general price increases and negatively impact poor households’ access to basic food and other commodities and services. Such price increases would increase the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes, especially during the peak lean season from January to March 2023. 
    NationalBelow-average, erratic, or poorly distributed rainfall during the 2022/23 agricultural seasonThis would negatively impact casual labor opportunities and income, livestock conditions, livestock sales, and income, among others. This would result in an increase in the proportion of households experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the height of the lean season and in below-normal harvests. 



    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    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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