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Seasonal income sources likely to be constrained through the 2023/24 lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Zimbabwe
  • October 2023 - May 2024
Seasonal income sources likely to be constrained through the 2023/24 lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Area of concern: Kariba Valley Kariangwe Jambezi Communal Livelihood Zone (Figure 4)
  • Area of Concern: Masvingo Manicaland Middleveld Smallholder Communal Livelihood Zone (Figure 5)
  • Key Messages
    • Depleted own-produced food stocks, constrained access to income, and high food prices will likely drive Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes into early 2024 in typical deficit-producing areas. Anticipated below-normal 2024 harvests due to El Niño-induced poor rainfall will likely provide short-term improvements to household food access and acute food insecurity after the harvests. In the productive surplus-producing resettlement areas in the north, the availability of own-produced stocks and income from mainly crop sales and casual labor are expected to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes through May 2024. However, the communal parts of these areas are likely to continue to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes due to limited household stocks and access to income for market purchases.  
    • El Niño-induced poor rainfall is likely to negatively impact the area planted and crop conditions, leading to lower-than-normal seasonal agricultural labor opportunities and labor rates. Likely erratic and cumulatively below-average rainfall is expected to result in a below-average 2024 harvest. Anticipated water challenges, especially in typical low rainfall areas, compounded by ongoing macroeconomic challenges, will likely drive below-normal engagement in non-agricultural casual labor and self-employment. Livestock body conditions, especially cattle, are expected to decline as water and pasture conditions deteriorate, impacting livestock sales. The gathering, consumption, and sale of wild foods and other wild products will likely be below normal. 
    • The market supply of staple grains will likely decline through the 2023/24 agricultural season. In October, some farmers with surplus grain are speculatively holding on to their stocks in response to El Niño forecasts. As stocks diminish, grain prices will likely increase above normal levels in deficit-producing areas, increasing reliance on maize meal. Generally, USD prices of basic food and non-food commodities are expected to remain stable, with poor households relying mainly on informal retail shops and open markets where prices are relatively lower than formal chain supermarkets. However, short-lived price increases associated with the end-of-year festive season are likely for some commodities and areas. Local currency (ZWL) prices are expected to follow likely increases in formal and parallel market exchange rates, driving increases in the ZWL cost of living.  
    • Historical trends indicate domestic and international remittances to poor households increase through a shock like an El Niño. However, poor households will likely receive less remittances as other household members in-country or abroad, mainly in South Africa, face poor macroeconomic conditions and high living costs. An increasing proportion of households are likely to engage in or expand income-earning opportunities from petty trade, but increased competition will negatively impact income. Informal mining is expected to increase as a source of income for participating households. The barter of livestock and other commodities for food is likely to increase, although terms of trade are expected to remain unfavorable for poor households.  

    National Overview

    Current Situation 

    Seasonal Progress: In October, land preparation for the 2023/24 agricultural season has started in rural, peri-urban, and urban areas, with households clearing land, digging conservation agriculture (pfumvudza/intwasa) basins, and hand plowing. However, the engagement rate and the area of land prepared are still relatively low as some farmers wait for an effective start of the rainy season and in anticipation of El Niño-induced below-average rainfall. 

    However, in mid-October, heavy rainfall across parts of the country resulted in cumulatively above-average rainfall (Figure 1). However, the Meteorological Services Department and the Ministry of Agriculture warned farmers against planting then, instead encouraging intensification of land preparation, as a dry spell is anticipated before the start of the rainy season in November. The heavy rains and associated strong winds also caused damage to property at various scales across parts of the country and threatened the harvest of the mature winter wheat. The 2023 winter wheat harvest has begun in most areas, with the Ministry of Agriculture estimating production at about 415,000 MT of wheat and 15,000 MT of barley. This anticipated wheat harvest would be 10 percent higher than last year and a consecutive record harvest.

    Figure 1

    Seasonal rainfall accumulation as a percent of the 1981-2020 average, October 1-25, 2023
    Rainfall was similar to over 150 percent of the 40-year average for October 1-25, 2023.

    Source: Climate Hazards Center

    Crop inputs, mainly seeds and fertilizers, are available on the market, but purchases are still very low ahead of the planting period, as most farmers cannot afford the high prices. In early October, the government suspended the duty on fertilizer imports to reduce prices and enhance affordability to farmers. However, the planting of irrigated tobacco started on time in early September, with about 15,000 hectares reportedly planted by October 18, almost 8 percent higher than same time last year. 

    Dry conditions and very hot temperatures have impacted water availability ahead of the 2023/24 rainy season. Water availability is below normal in low rainfall areas after a longer-than-normal dry season. Nationally, dam levels are above average, about 80 percent full, compared to an average of around 60 percent at this time of the year. However, surface water sources such as rivers and streams have dried up while water tables and boreholes are fast receding in most semi-arid districts. In most areas, boreholes are the main water source for domestic, livestock, and other livelihood uses, while dry streambed sand scooping for water is common in parts of the country.

    Across the country, vegetation conditions are mixed according to the satellite-derived eVIIRS Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI, which measures vegetation greenness as a proxy for vegetation health (Figure 2). However, key informants in the south and other semi-arid areas indicate that there is limited pasture, with livestock browsing off bushes and Mopane and acacia tree leaves (Figure 3). In general, cattle body conditions are fair to poor in typical low rainfall areas, affected also by limited access to veterinary care, while goats are generally in fair to good condition. On the other hand, pasture conditions remain fair in typical high-rainfall northern and other areas, with cattle body conditions generally good to fair and goats in good condition. Commercial livestock supplementary feeds remain too expensive for most poor households; some farmers in affected areas are using stover as supplementary feed, while in other areas, cattle are being moved to better grazing areas.

    Figure 2

    Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) eVIIRS compared to the mean NDVI for 2012-2021, October 16-25, 2023
    Vegetation conditions are mixed across Zimbabwe at the start of the 2023/24 rainy season.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 3

    Critical pasture conditions in parts of Mwenezi District, Masvingo Province, October 2023
    Pasture conditions are below normal in parts of Zimbabwe

    Source: Mwenezi District ARDAS

    Livestock disease incidences remain high across the country, with the cost of veterinary care too prohibitive for most communal and resettlement area farmers. However, the Ministry of Agriculture has reported a decline in tick-borne diseases, indicating a 50 and 40 percent reduction in cattle deaths due to January Disease in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Reportedly, around 500,000 cattle have died from January Disease since 2016. Additionally, human-wildlife conflicts and livestock deaths remain common in some communities bordering wildlife areas such as national parks, conservancies, forests, and hilly and mountainous areas. 

    Veld fire incidences are reportedly below normal levels this fire season, which officially is from July through October. The Environmental Management Agency reported that 500,000 hectares were destroyed by nearly 4,600 fire incidences as of mid-October, a 50 percent reduction compared to last year. The five most at-risk provinces are Matabeleland North, the three Mashonaland Provinces, and Midlands Province. 

    Macroeconomic Conditions: In July and August, the ZWL exchange rates appreciated, with a narrowing between the formal and parallel market exchange rates. However, the ZWL has been depreciating since September. At the end of October, the official and parallel markets were trading at around 5,700 and 7,600 per USD, respectively, 6 and 9 percent higher than in September. The ZWL depreciation has also resulted in informal markets rejecting 50 ZWL banknotes, the second highest ZWL note in circulation. The bills only remain acceptable in formal chain retail shops. Additionally, the premiums charged for transacting in ZWL using mobile and electronic modes continue to increase. 

    The depreciation of the ZWL has driven ZWL price increases for basic food and other commodities. In October, the ZWL price of wheat and bread increased by 25 percent, maize meal and rice increased by 20 and 15 percent, respectively, and sugar and cooking oil rose by nearly 5 percent. However, most households increasingly operate in USD or ZAR, especially in the informal sector. Available estimates suggest that over 80 percent of transactions are conducted in USD. Additionally, poor households, and even some middle and better-off households, increasingly depend on informal sector retailers and open markets who price their goods cheaper and almost exclusively in USD. These retailers and open markets that pay in USD cash are preferentially supplied with goods by producers ahead of formal wholesalers and chain supermarkets that operate mainly on ZWL payments and often pay producers weeks later when the ZWL may have devalued. In October, most formal retail supermarkets noticeably started pegging prices in USD, with ZWL payments effected using prevailing interbank rates that allow for a maximum 10 percent premium. Additionally, at the end of October, the government extended the multicurrency regime to December 2030, allowing for the continued use of the USD in the economy.   

    In September, ZIMSTAT adopted a new methodology for calculating inflation, which reflects the increased use of USD in the economy. This is the second time the method of calculating inflation has changed this year after introducing the blended (ZWL and USD) inflation rate in March. Under the new methodology, ZIMSTAT reported that consumer inflation eased to 17.8 percent in October. On a monthly basis, consumer prices increased by 2.5 percent in October, the most in four months, after a 1 percent rise in the previous month. However, the cost of living continues to increase, with ZIMSTAT reporting around a 10 percent increase in the ZWL food and total consumption poverty datum lines in October. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) reported that the ZWL monthly basket for a six-member low-income urban household increased by 6.24 percent in September to almost 2.7 million ZWL (~385 USD), driven mainly by the depreciation of the ZWL. 

    Markets Update: As of October 8, the government reported that the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) held about 205,700 MT of maize, 48,100 MT of small grains, and 137,600 MT of wheat. Additionally, in September, the government approved the private sector to import maize grain duty-free in anticipation of potential grain shortages through the end of the 2023/24 marketing year and during the 2024/25 marketing year due to the potential negative effects of the El Niño on the 2024 harvest. Households are also allowed to continue importing maize meal duty-free. 

    In the surplus-producing areas of Zimbabwe, household access to own-produced maize grain and other food stocks continues to be normal, and markets are operating normally. However, some farmers with surplus stocks are reportedly speculatively withholding grain from the market to boost their stocks ahead of the forecast below-average 2023/24 rainy season. In most southern and other deficit-producing areas, own-produced food stocks are depleting or have already run out for poor households as the 2023/24 lean season begins. However, as reliance on purchases increases, access to food on the markets for most poor households is constrained due to high prices and low income. Maize grain is scarce in some markets in these areas, but small grains can still be accessed. To incentivize farmers to grow more drought-resistant small grains better suited to the climate in low rainfall areas, the government has launched an initiative whereby farmers can swap up to 250 kilograms of small grains for an equivalent amount of maize at the GMB. Maize meal remains generally available across most rural and urban markets, except in some of the most remote rural areas. 

    Maize grain USD prices have remained normal in markets across surplus- and deficit-producing areas, selling between 5-6 USD/17.5 kg bucket (0.23-0.43 USD/kg) in surplus-producing areas, and 6-7 USD (0.34-0.40 USD/kg) in deficit-producing areas. On average, prices in deficit areas are 25 percent higher than in surplus areas. The relatively stable USD prices also reflect the government's relaxation of grain movement restrictions, unlike during the past few marketing seasons. USD prices for maize meal and most basic food commodities are also relatively stable. However, ZWL prices for grain, maize meal, and other food and non-food commodities are significantly above average and continue to adjust based on changes in the parallel market exchange rates. 

    Livelihoods and Coping Update: In October, poor households are engaging in typical seasonal income-earning and coping strategies across the country. In the surplus-producing areas, some farmers continue to sell staple grain and other food crops; however, some farmers who may not have surplus stocks also sell their stocks to cover urgent family needs such as school fees or healthcare costs. Some households also engage in non-agricultural casual labor and self-employment, which vary by community but typically include land preparation, construction, digging deep wells, fetching water, gathering firewood, domestic help, and producing and selling beer, bricks, and handicrafts. Household engagement in petty trade is increasing during the off-farm season, which is typical and includes the sale of second-hand clothes, electrical gadgets, household items, and fruits and vegetables. However, the availability of wild produce has been lower than normal this year across most parts of the country, notably the masawu/Indian jujube (Ziziphus mauritiana) fruit in northern Zambezi Valley communities and other areas, and the sale of Mopane worms/amacimbi/madora (Gonimbrasia belina) in the southern and western areas, which are typical sources of income for low-income households in these areas. 

    Dry-season household and community vegetable production is common across most of the country, but limited access to water affects production primarily in typical semi-arid areas. In some of these areas, vegetables, a key component of poor households' diets, are being sourced from outside markets, and due to high transportation costs and demand, access by poor households to vegetables at local markets is below normal. Livestock sales are common and increasing across the country, with low-income households mainly selling chickens and sometimes goats, while middle and better-off households sell mainly cattle. However, demand for livestock and livestock products is generally below normal due to liquidity challenges. Barter for grain is also common and increasing in parts of the country, although the terms of trade are generally unfavorable for livestock holders. Other bartered items vary by community but include fish, crafts work, firewood, and thatch grass.

    Domestic and international remittances are a notable source of income for some rural and urban households. However, domestic remittances, mainly in USD or as basic food and other commodities, are generally below normal due to ongoing macroeconomic challenges. International remittances, especially from South Africa, are common for a significant proportion of households in the southern districts, although also at below-normal levels. Informal mining of mainly gold is also increasing in Zimbabwe and provides income for some households and communities where the mineral is located. Recurrent power cuts are negatively impacting some livelihoods and markets in urban and rural areas.

    Food Consumption: As the 2023/24 lean season sets in, household dietary diversity is declining and is significantly lower compared to the harvest and immediate post-harvest period. Most poor households consume two or fewer meals daily, primarily of staple cereals and vegetables. In typical deficit-producing areas, some poor households purchase most of their food from markets as their own-produced food stocks are low or have already depleted. However, poor household market access for food is being constrained by low-income and high food prices. In most typical surplus-producing areas, food consumption remains good as own-produced food stocks are still available, supplemented by income from crop sales, casual labor, and other sources. 

    Cholera Outbreak: A cholera outbreak that started in February this year in Chegutu District resurfaced in August in Buhera District, Manicaland Province, the worst affected, and has reportedly spread to 41 districts across the 10 provinces of the country, including the traditional cholera hotspot districts of Chegutu, Chikomba, Chimanimani, Chipinge, Chitungwiza, Chiredzi, Harare, Gokwe North, Marondera, Mazowe, Shamva, Mutare, Murehwa, Mwenezi, Seke and Wedza. As of October 29, the Ministry of Health and Child and Child Care reported 5,964 suspected cases countrywide, 1,055 confirmed cases, 123 suspected cholera deaths, and 43 laboratory-confirmed deaths. The national recovery rate is 97 percent. Poor and inadequate water and sanitation facilities are driving the outbreak.

    Humanitarian Assistance: Details regarding government and partner humanitarian assistance plans during the 2023/24 lean season are not yet available. However, the government has announced plans to provide crop input assistance (seed and fertilizer) for the 2023/24 agricultural season tailor-made according to agroclimatic zones. The government plans to target 3.5 million smallholder households, 3 million in rural areas, and 500,000 households in urban/peri-urban areas with agricultural inputs and distributions are ongoing. The government also plans to assist targeted farmers with cotton inputs, with a target of 260,000 hectares split evenly between conventional and conservation farming (pfumvudza/intwasa). Following a high rate of side marketing during the just-ended marketing season, the government reportedly will only target farmers who have sold their cotton to the government after receiving previous crop input assistance. 

    Current Food Security Outcomes: In October, Minimal (IPC Phase 1) food security outcomes are most likely in resettlement parts of surplus-producing areas as own-produced stocks remain available, supplemented by crop sales and casual labor. In the communal parts of the surplus-producing areas and most urban areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present as households can meet their food needs through their limited own-produced stocks and income opportunities, but the high cost of living limits access to non-food needs. In most deficit-producing areas in the south, east, and west, area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are also present; however, the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes is slowly increasing as the lean season begins, and households increase their dependence on market purchases, but due to low income-earning opportunities and high transportation and market prices, poor household purchasing power is low. 

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
    Seasonal calendar for Zimbabwe.

    Source: FEWS NET


    The most likely scenario from October 2023 to May 2024 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • A likely delayed start and El Niño-induced erratic and cumulatively below-average rainfall during the 2023/24 rainy season in Zimbabwe is expected to negatively impact the area planted for crops and the 2024 harvest. This will likely limit the availability of agricultural labor opportunities and household access to income in late 2023 and early to mid-2024. 
    • Most households will likely have limited access to commercial seeds and fertilizer due to above-average prices and low income. Government crop input assistance programs are likely to be some households' main source of inputs. The government plans to assist up to 3.5 million smallholder households with inputs, 3 million in communal and resettlement areas, and 500,000 in urban areas.  
    • According to international multi-system seasonal forecasts, above-average temperatures are most likely across Zimbabwe through May 2024. This will likely increase evapotranspiration, negatively impacting water availability and access and crop and pasture conditions. There is also a heightened risk for veld fires due to the drier than normal conditions. 

    • Water availability and access will likely be near normal in typical high rainfall areas, ensuring normal supply for domestic, livestock and other livelihood uses, at least through the first half of the 2023/24 agricultural season. However, water sources in the drier parts of the country are expected to be below normal levels, negatively impacting water supply for various livelihood activities during the outlook period. 
    • Pasture and livestock conditions in high rainfall areas are expected to be fair to good through the outlook period, even with the anticipated negative impacts of El Niño. However, in most semi-arid areas, veld rejuvenation is likely to be below normal, resulting in fair to poor pasture conditions. 
    • Better-off households, particularly in southern areas, are expected to purchase or produce their own livestock supplementary feeds, which poor households cannot do. In worst-affected areas, cattle will likely be moved to better grazing areas. In extreme areas, above-normal livestock deaths, especially cattle, are likely to occur, compounded by high national livestock disease prevalence due to the high cost of veterinary care. Poor livestock body conditions, primarily for cattle and donkeys, and small herd sizes following high cattle mortality in past years for some farmers are likely to affect draught power and cropped areas.
    • The expected below-average rainfall will likely negatively impact the harvesting, selling, and consuming of wild products, including fruits and other wild foods, thatch and fodder grass, and fish, especially in typical semi-arid areas. 
    • Household food access is likely to improve at the start of the 2024 harvest in April and May 2024; however, the 2024 harvest is expected to be below average and will be exhausted earlier than normal outside of the projection period. 
    • Household engagement in typical sources of income will likely continue to be impacted by macroeconomic and liquidity challenges, including agricultural and non-agricultural labor, self-employment activities, livestock sales, petty trade, remittances, and crafts, among others. Based on recent trends, informal artisanal mining is likely to be above normal levels across most parts of the country, providing income for engaging households and communities.
    • National maize grain stocks are expected to be boosted by private companies' duty-free importation of maize. Market supply of maize meal is expected to be normal throughout the country during the outlook period, with commercial millers expected to rely on domestic stocks and grain imports. The continuation of duty-free maize meal imports for households is expected to enhance the availability of cheaper-priced maize meal, especially in the southern districts. Maize meal is expected to be a main source of cereal in some deficit-producing areas in the absence of grain on the markets.

    • Most households in the more productive surplus-producing resettlement areas in northern and other parts of the country are expected to continue accessing their own-produced 2023 cereal and other food stocks through March 2024. However, most households in the less productive communal areas are expected to exhaust their own-produced stocks by the end of 2023 and be reliant on market purchases until the start of the 2024 harvest in April. 
    • In typical deficit-producing areas in southern, eastern, western, and extreme northern Zimbabwe, most households' 2023 own-produced food stocks will likely be depleted by October. Households are expected to rely increasingly on market purchases for food, but below-normal purchasing power will constrain market access through the lean season in March 2024. 
    • Maize grain is expected to be readily available in rural and urban markets in typical surplus-producing areas through the next harvest in early 2024. However, market supplies in the typical deficit-producing and remote areas are expected to be erratic or unavailable and will likely not meet demand in most areas. Traditional or small grain availability is expected to be poor in most areas, except for a few small grain-producing areas in the south, east, west, and extreme north. Cereal grain availability at the start of the 2024-25 consumption and marketing season (April and May 2024) will likely be below normal. 
    • Open market USD and ZAR maize grain prices are expected to trend at near-normal levels throughout the outlook period, given anticipated stable supplies, especially in surplus-producing areas. Maize grain prices are expected to follow seasonal trends and peak near the end of the lean season in early 2024. 
    • Open market USD/ZAR maize grain prices in deficit-producing areas are expected to be up to 50 percent higher than in surplus-producing areas through the peak of the lean season in early 2024. Prices in the more remote areas are expected to remain higher than normal due to limited or erratic supplies, poor road conditions and transport services, and high fuel and transportation costs. Maize sales in ZWL are expected to be limited, with ZWL prices expected to trend significantly above average, driven by parallel market exchange rates. Marginal seasonal price reductions are expected with the harvest in April and May 2024 due to the anticipated below-normal production in most areas. 
    • The macroeconomic environment is likely to be less volatile during the outlook period compared to the past few years. Government measures implemented in 2023 will likely continue somewhat stabilizing parallel and official exchange rates and inflationary pressures despite general rises. However, parallel market exchange rates will likely remain higher than official rates, continuing to drive ZWL price increases.  
    • Most households are expected to remain reliant on informal markets where basic commodities, mainly in USD or ZAR, are cheaper, and households can purchase smaller units of goods. Informal markets are expected to remain well-supplied with goods compared to formal markets.
    • In the informal sector, ZWL cash payments will likely remain lower than ZWL non-cash payments (mobile money/electronic transfers), which attract black market charges. These charges are expected to continue eroding the household purchasing power for households earning in ZWL. 
    • Informal cross-border trade and informal transportation and courier services are expected to be higher than last year, but earnings are likely to be lower than normal due to liquidity challenges and higher transportation costs. Due to the economic challenges some Zimbabwean emigrants face in South Africa, remittances are likely to remain below normal, especially in the southern districts. 
    • Recurrent power cuts are likely to negatively impact household access to electricity and their engagement in urban and rural livelihoods and markets.
    • Government and humanitarian partners are expected to continue responding to the cholera outbreak through treatment, WASH interventions, and advocacy programs across the country. 

    Most Likely Acute Food Security Outcomes

    Deficit-producing areas

    From October to January 2024, area-level Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to emerge across southern and western Zimbabwe as poor households in typical deficit-producing areas increasingly engage in consumption coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) such as skipping meals or reducing meal sizes. Most poor households are likely to have depleted their own-produced food stocks and be reliant on seasonally increasing market purchases for food. However, a below-normal and erratic start to the 2023/24 rainy season will likely lower access to income from agricultural labor opportunities. Additionally, increased competition for income from petty trade and self-employment activities and low demand and liquidity among better-off households will likely constrain household earnings, lowering household purchasing power. Similarly, low demand for livestock and livestock products will likely continue to affect livestock sales. Despite the increasing need for support, domestic and international remittances are expected to remain below normal as household members in urban areas or abroad contend with high living costs. Informal mining is expected to increase across parts of the country, though the number of households engaging in this will remain marginal. 

    February to May 2024 is split between the peak of the lean season (February and March) and the harvest period (April and May). During February and March, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to continue in semi-arid southern, eastern, western, and extreme northern areas. The green harvests during this period are expected to be below normal and will not significantly improve household food access. However, between April and May 2024, the likely below-average main harvests are expected to provide very short-lived improvements in household food access and availability. Most poor households are likely to be able to meet their food needs during this time, supporting area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes in most typical deficit-producing areas. However, households with a significantly below-average harvest will likely remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

    Surplus-producing areas

    From October 2023 to January 2024, most households in the northern productive resettlement areas are expected to maintain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity outcomes supported by access to 2023 own-produced stocks and some income from crop sales and other typical sources like seasonal labor. Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes are likely to prevail through the February to May 2024 outlook period as less than one in five households are likely to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) despite a likely increase during the peak of the lean season in February and March. Additionally, the green harvests during this period are expected to cushion poor households' access to food further. Despite the anticipation of below-normal main harvests in April and May, the harvests are expected to improve food consumption, supporting Minimal (IPC Phase 1) outcomes.

    In most communal parts of the typical surplus-producing areas, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are most likely between October 2023 and January 2024 due to reduced own-produced food stocks allowing households to meet their basic food needs. Poor households are expected to experience difficulty accessing other foods and non-food needs due to low income and high prices. From February to May 2024, most of these areas are expected to maintain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Food gaps are expected to peak during the February to March lean season, and green harvests during this period are not expected to change area-level outcomes. Below-normal harvests between April and May are expected to temporarily improve consumption and food security outcomes in a few areas to Minimal (IPC Phase 1), but most areas will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). 

    Poor households in urban areas will likely experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through the outlook period as they are expected to meet their minimum food needs but will continue to experience difficulty accessing non-food needs due to macroeconomic challenges, below-average income, and above-average prices. 

    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
    NationalNormal start, well-distributed, and cumulatively average 2023/24 rainy season A normal rainy season will likely enhance the area planted, support crop growth and livestock production, and improve seasonal agricultural labor opportunities and labor rates. An average harvest and improved access to income will likely reduce the number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 
    NationalA sharp devaluation of the local currency and above-normal USD/ZAR price increasesA sharp devaluation of the ZWL and above-normal USD/ZAR price increases will likely further constrain poor household market access and increase the prevalence of households experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes
    Deficit-producing areas, especially southern areasSudden changes in emigrant residence and employment permit policies in South AfricaA change in emigrant residence and employee permits in South Africa will likely result in many people returning to Zimbabwe, reducing cash and in-kind remittances from South Africa. The decline in remittances, an important source of income for some households, will likely result in a greater number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 


    Between October 2023 and May 2024, several livelihood zones will be areas of concern, but for this Outlook, two livelihood zones have been prioritized: the Kariba Valley Kariangwe Jambezi Communal Livelihood Zone and the Masvingo Manicaland Middleveld Smallholder Communal Livelihood Zone.

    Area of concern: Kariba Valley Kariangwe Jambezi Communal Livelihood Zone (Figure 4)

    Figure 4

    Kariba Valley Kariangwe Jambezi Communal Livelihood Zone
    Kariba Valley Kariangwe Jambezi Communal Livelihood Zone

    Source: FEWS NET

    The Kariba Valley Kariangwe Jambezi Communal Livelihood Zone (KVKJC LZ) is in north-west Zimbabwe. It is part of Natural Region V and is a hot, arid (450-660 mean rainfall), drought-prone, and perennially food-insecure livelihood zone. It is made up of wards in Binga (Wards 3-6, 11-16, 18 and 19), Hwange (Wards 2-9, 13-18, and 20), and Kariba (Wards 3-6) Districts. Crop production (pearl millet, sorghum, maize, and pulses) and livestock rearing are the main livelihood activities, complemented by fishing, crafts, consumption, sale of forest products, and formal employment. Additional information on the major characteristics of the KVKJC LZ can be found in the Zimbabwe Rural Livelihood Baseline Profile.

    Current Situation

    The 2022/23 rainy season was marked by erratic and poorly distributed rainfall, where prolonged dry spells negatively impacted crop production despite cumulatively average rainfall in the three districts. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Binga and Kariba Districts were estimated to have a cereal self-sufficiency of more than 12 months for the 2023/24 consumption and marketing season, while Hwange district had an estimated cereal self-sufficiency for seven to nine months. However, key informants in the three districts indicate that the 2023 harvest was below normal across most of the livelihood zone, including the surplus-producing parts of these districts, such as the Lusulu area of Binga District. Own-produced food stocks for most poor households in the zone were depleted by July/August, earlier than normal. Some district officials in Binga estimated up to 60 percent of households in most wards in the livelihood zone had exhausted their own-produced food stocks by the end of August. The ZIMVAC 2023 rural livelihoods assessment estimated that 62, 60, and 26 percent of households in Binga, Kariba, and Hwange, respectively, will be cereal insecure during the peak of the 2023/24 lean season (January-March 2024), with Binga and Kariba topping the list of the 60 rural districts in the country.     

    Most communities across the livelihood zone are increasingly experiencing water availability and access challenges for domestic, livestock, and other livelihood uses. Most seasonal streams and reservoirs have dried up earlier than normal. Only major perennial rivers like the Zambezi are in flow. In April 2023, the Ministry of Agriculture estimated that water and grazing adequacy would last zero to eight months across parts of the livelihood zone. 

    Pasture conditions are poor to very poor across most areas of the zone, with livestock conditions, mainly cattle, being fair to poor. Goats, being mainly browsers, are in good condition, supported by access to forage. In some localized communities in the three districts, livestock losses to wildlife from national parks, safaris, and other protected areas are a chronic problem affecting households. Relatedly, the very dry conditions in the Hwange Game Park have reportedly forced some wildlife (including elephants and buffalos) to trek to Botswana for water, with others reportedly moving into Hwange Town. 

    Grain supplies on the open markets are below normal, driven by poor 2022/23 crop production. Even supplies from the typical source markets, such as the Lusulu area in Binga, are reportedly low and declining. However, grain prices are normal for this time of the year. As of mid-September, maize grain prices in typical source areas such as Lusulu were 4 USD/17.5kg bucket, compared to deficit area prices of 5 USD/17.5 kg bucket at Binga Centre and 6 USD at Hwange and Kariba Towns and other markets. Prices in some wards and remote parts of the three districts are up to 7 USD/bucket. Small grains are more readily available in some markets than maize, although sales are localized and mainly farmer-to-farmer. Maize meal supplies are readily available at the main business centers but rarely available in some wards and remote areas. The main cash crop sold this marketing season was cotton, mainly in Binga and Kariba, though production was reportedly poor in the zone.

    Basic commodity prices in USD are near average across the livelihood zone, though liquidity challenges are common. ZWL prices are significantly above average, and the local currency is rarely accepted on the market. As a result, barter is common in some areas and for some households. Terms of trade are unfavorable for poor households exchanging their livestock, fish, crafts, labor, or other goods for grain or other food commodities. Access to markets by poor households is constrained due to low income and high prices.

    Livestock sales are being reported across all wealth groups. However, sales are below normal due to poor liquidity challenges among potential buyers, poor livestock body conditions, and high disease prevalence, especially for cattle. The most common price for a chicken is 5 USD, with larger ones going for 6 USD in most wards. As such, selling one chicken could purchase one 17.5 kg bucket of maize. Goats trade for 15 to 35 USD, depending on size and negotiations. At such prices, the sale of a goat can purchase around 35 to 105 kilograms of maize (two to six 17.5 buckets). Fish, usually dried, is also exchanged for grain, but the terms of trade are highly variable depending on the size of the fish. 

    Transport services are good in areas along and close to the main highways and at main business centers. However, services are poor in remote and less accessible areas with poor road conditions. This, along with high fuel prices and rugged terrain, has driven above-average transport costs, negatively impacting some livelihoods and market access. In some areas, due to the absence of formal fuel suppliers, fuel is sold on the black market at higher-than-normal market prices. 

    Seasonal vegetable production is below normal due to critical water challenges and is mainly limited to riverine areas and areas with reliable borehole water supplies. This has negatively affected vegetable sales. Most vegetables across the zone are sourced from outside, increasing prices. 

    The zone has among the highest human-wildlife conflicts in the country. The ZIMVAC May 2023 assessment reported that up to 50 percent of households in Kariba District reported human-wildlife conflicts as a shock between May 2022 and April 2023. 

    Formal employment in the main industries (tourism, fishing, mining) is very limited, and wages/salaries are poor, especially for households earning in ZWL. The crafts industry has declined over the past few years as the number of tourists has declined. This is also evident by the decline in the number of people selling crafts at the main tourist centers of Kariba Town and Binga Centre and along the main highways. High operational costs are impacting most commercial fisheries. Due to the proximity to national parks, safaris, and protected areas, the poaching of wildlife for consumption or selling meat or wildlife products is common; however, households engaged in this risk prosecution. Informal fishing and fish sales are below normal, partly due to strict enforcement by authorities against illegal fishing and poaching. Additionally, the crocodile-infested Zambezi River and Lake Kariba hinder communities in the zone along the Zambezi Valley from tapping into markets and livelihood opportunities across the border in Zambia. A few people risk crossing the river on small boats for a fee, while even fewer use official crossing points at Victoria Falls and Kariba because of the long distances needed to travel from their communities.   

    Ongoing macroeconomic challenges have depressed the viability of collective income-saving projects and other community/self-help projects. Poor liquidity also affects the demand for goods and services and, consequently, poor households' income from casual labor, self-employment, and petty trade. Petty trade is common, including selling personal and household items and wild products. Households also engage in casual daily labor activities, such as construction, to earn income for market purchases. 

    Poor households in the livelihood zone mostly consume two meals daily comprising of staple cereal and vegetables. However, an increasing proportion of poor households reportedly eat one meal a day during the evenings, supplemented with foods such as porridge, maheu (sweet drink made from cereal meal), roasted maize/peanuts, sweet potatoes, and wild foods during the day. Most poor households are engaging in consumption coping strategies such as reducing meal portions, consuming less preferred foods, and the preferential feeding of children. Currently, there are no ongoing humanitarian assistance activities in the livelihood zone.


    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Human-wildlife conflicts are expected to increase as wildlife seeks water and food among human settlements, negatively impacting crop production and engagement in some livelihoods. 
    • Fish sales, mainly focused on wards close to the Zambezi River/Lake Kariba and local dams, are expected to continue at below-normal levels due to liquidity challenges, constrained demand, high cost, and reduced production in commercial enterprises selling to traders. 
    • Poor households are likely to increase their reliance on bartering livestock, fish, crafts, and forest products for food, but terms of trade are expected to remain unfavorable to poor households.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From October 2023 to January 2024: Poor households are expected to rely on market food purchases as own-produced food stocks are largely depleted. Households are expected to intensify expanding income-earning opportunities through activities such as livestock sales, casual labor, and petty trade, but income is expected to remain below normal due to low demand and liquidity challenges. Low purchasing power will constrain market purchases because of low income and high food prices. Household access to food is likely to deteriorate, with an increasing number of households reducing the number of daily meals from two to one. Household access to wild foods to supplement consumption is expected to be low due to the anticipated below-average rainfall. Households will increasingly barter different commodities for food, but the terms of trade are likely to be unfavorable. Overall, most poor households are expected to increasingly rely on coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes to minimize food consumption needs, with the worst-off households likely to face increasingly wider food consumption gaps as food prices rise and household purchasing power continues to decline.

    From February to May 2024, the peak of the lean season will occur between February and March, with food gaps expected to increase, driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Most poor households will have limited ability to expand and intensify their engagement in income-earning opportunities from livestock sales, casual labor, petty trade, and bartering, among other sources of income. Most households will likely consume one meal daily, primarily of a staple cereal with vegetables. The availability and consumption of typical/seasonal wild foods are expected to remain below normal due to the expected erratic and below-average rainfall. Some worst-affected households may resort to begging for food. From February to March, the green harvest is expected to be below normal and will not sufficiently improve household food access. However, the start of the likely below-average main harvest from April to May is expected to improve household food availability and access for a short period, supporting Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. 

    Area of Concern: Masvingo Manicaland Middleveld Smallholder Communal Livelihood Zone (Figure 5)

    Figure 5

    Masvingo Manicaland Middleveld Smallholder Communal Livelihood Zone
    Masvingo Manicaland Middleveld Smallholder Communal Livelihood Zone

    Source: FEWS NET

    The Masvingo Manicaland Middleveld Smallholder Communal Livelihood Zone (MMMSC LZ) covers communal areas in the districts of Chivi, Masvingo, Zaka, Bikita, and Gutu (Masvingo Province), Buhera, Mutare, and Chimanimani (Manicaland Province) and Zvishavane, Shurugwi and Chirumanzu Districts (Midlands Province). Most of the livelihood zone is under Natural Regions IV and V, characterized by low rainfall. The main livelihoods in the zone are primarily crop and livestock production. Additional information on the major characteristics of the MMMSC LZ can be found in the Zimbabwe Rural Livelihood Baseline Profile.

    Current Situation

    The 2022/23 rainfall season was characterized by below-normal rainfall in December and January, prolonged dry spells, and an early cessation of the rainy season by mid-February, resulting in below-average crop production for most households. Although most districts across the zone were assessed to have from seven to over 12 months of cereal self-sufficiency for the 2023/24 consumption and marketing season by the Ministry of Agriculture in April 2023, key informants indicate that harvested stocks for many poor households were depleted by July/August, around four to five months of cereal supply.

    As the dry season progresses, household water availability and access challenges are increasing across the livelihood zone. Most seasonal streams, rivers, small dams, and weirs had dried up by August/September. In April, the Ministry of Agriculture estimated four to eight months of water supply for livestock across most of the livelihood zone. In some areas, animals are trekking up to 10 km, further than normal, to access drinking water. In most areas, boreholes are the main water sources for domestic, livestock, and commercial uses.  

    Pasture conditions and availability have significantly deteriorated following two consecutive seasons of below-average rainfall, resulting in poor rejuvenation. In April, the Ministry of Agriculture estimated that pastures would be available for four to eight months in most areas, with a few areas having up to three months of available pasture. Cattle conditions are generally fair, although some wards have poor cattle conditions, while goats are generally in fair to good condition.

    With own-produced food stocks depleted, most poor households' market access is constrained by low income and high prices. A small proportion of poor households rely on grain from in-kind payments for agricultural labor such as land preparation and basin digging for conservation farming (pfumvudza/intwasa) plots. However, labor opportunities are currently limited as demand is low. Additionally, most better-off households lack surplus stock or sufficient cash for labor payments. In-kind remittances, mostly from South Africa, provide food to some households. However, this is not widespread and likely at below-normal levels due to economic challenges faced by some emigrants. 

    Maize grain prices in most urban markets across the livelihood zone are lower than last year and the three-year average, ranging from 0.29-0.34 USD per kg. This is partly due to loosened maize grain trade restrictions in the current marketing season. However, prices are seasonally rising as stocks deplete at household levels. Prices in some remote rural wards and smaller markets are 20 to 30 percent higher than in urban markets due to higher transportation costs.  

    Maize grain sales to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) were lower than last year across the livelihood zone, impacted partly by a poor 2023 harvest. Some farmers who sold grain opted to sell on the open markets for USD cash payments. Other middle and better-off households with grain stocks are reportedly limiting or have stopped grain sales in anticipation of a below-average 2024 harvest next season. Most poor households have exhausted their stocks from the 2023 harvest.   

    Some households access food and non-food commodities through monthly mobile markets at select ward points in some districts in the livelihood zone. Such markets are ongoing in Bikita and Buhera Districts, where visiting traders sell commodities, including maize grain, crop inputs, building materials, and household and personal items. Some traders travel from Harare, Mutare, and Masvingo and can retail in-demand commodities cheaper than local shops and open markets. These markets also provide opportunities for locals to sell their commodities. 

    Most districts in the zone lack organized markets for livestock, with most poor households selling goats and chickens through farmer-to-farmer sales. However, demand for livestock is low due to poor liquidity. Cattle prices range from 300 to 500 USD, with poor body conditions affecting potential prices, negatively impacting mainly middle and better-off households' income. Goat prices range from 25 to 40 USD, and sales are currently below normal due to high supply, with chickens selling for 5 to 6 USD. 

    Vegetable production is currently below average across the livelihood zone as water levels decline or water sources dry off. Some households are engaging in petty trade, mainly selling fruits and vegetables and used clothes and shoes from Mozambique informally. However, demand for these goods is below normal due to poor liquidity. High competition among the traders is also impacting potential income. Some households are harvesting and selling wild foods such as wild insects like edible stinkbug/harurwa (Encosternum delegorguei) in Bikita and Zaka Districts, roasted quelea birds/ngozha and wild fruits such as wild loquat/mazhanje/Uapaca kirkiana along roadsides and at business centers across the livelihood zone.

    Beer brewing is also an important source of income for some households in parts of the livelihood zone, especially in Bikita, Buhera, and Zaka districts, where finger millet is mostly produced. However, the number of households engaging in beer brewing is declining as demand declines due to low millet production over the past few years, poor liquidity, and increasing religious influence over traditional and cultural practices. 

    Some poor households are temporarily migrating for labor opportunities in nearby farms outside the livelihood zone, as limited labor opportunities are available. Other household members who travel for work find opportunities in informal artisanal mining across parts of the livelihood zone. Gold is being mined in some mountains and along major rivers in Mutare and Chimanimani Districts, while chrome is mined in disused and new mines in Zvishavane District, and artisanal diamond mining is common in Mutare District, even though it is illegal.

    In August, a cholera outbreak began in Buhera District and has spread to all districts in the livelihood zone and other parts of the country, mainly due to poor and inadequate water and sanitation facilities. The Ministry of Health reports that as of October 25, Manicaland Province, the worst affected province, had recorded 2,625 cumulative suspected cases and 64 suspected cholera deaths, most of them in Buhera District.

    Food consumption is currently poor across the livelihood zone due to depleted own-produced stocks, high food prices, and below-average incomes for market purchases. Most poor households employ consumption-based coping strategies such as reducing the number of meals to at least one main meal per day and reducing portion sizes as food gaps widen. The dietary diversity is poor as most households consume mainly cereal and dried vegetables with limited options for other food groups. Because of limited access to income, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are emerging across the livelihood zone as households struggle to purchase enough food from the markets.


    In addition to the national-level assumptions, the following assumptions apply to this area of concern:

    • Government and humanitarian partners are expected to continue responding to the cholera outbreak in Buhera District through treatment, WASH interventions, and advocacy programs nationwide. 
    • Artisanal mining is expected to slow down with the start of the rainfall season as operations at some mines become difficult. 

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From October 2023 to January 2024, most poor households are likely to continue trying to expand income-earning opportunities to purchase food from markets. However, seasonal agricultural labor opportunities and wages (cash and in-kind) are expected to be below normal due to the forecast El Niño impacting the amount of land cropped and low liquidity among middle and better-off households. Poor households are likely to also try and earn income from livestock and poultry sales, petty trade, crafts sales, and firewood sales. Still, increased competition, poor liquidity, and low demand will limit earnings. Grain prices are expected to increase seasonally, and high prices for other food on the market will reduce purchasing power for poor households. Even if erratic, the start of the rainy season will likely provide limited rejuvenation to water and pasture resources, helping stabilize livestock body conditions. Nevertheless, household access to income is likely to remain constrained, and households will increasingly engage in coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to minimize food consumption gaps, supporting Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. 

    From February to May 2024, poor households' access to food and income will improve slightly with the start of the harvest around April 2024, following the peak of the lean season. For much of the outlook period, poor households will likely continue to have below-normal access to income due to limited access to income-earning opportunities and low liquidity and demand among middle and better-off households. Households are likely to increasingly rely on support and remittances from friends and family working in urban or other areas to help purchase essential commodities. Households will likely continue to rely on coping strategies indicative of Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to minimize food consumption gaps. In April and May, the likely below-average 2024 harvest will likely provide short-term stability in food access and short-term improvements in dietary diversity, which will likely only last a few months. Overall, the improvement in food access from the likely below-average harvest is expected to help support area-level Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as households can meet their food needs, but the cost of living will limit non-food purchases. 


    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Zimbabwe Food Security Outlook October 2023 - May 2024: Seasonal income sources likely to be constrained through the 2023/24 lean season, 2023.

    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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