FEWS Zimbabwe Food Security Warning - Lack of rain, inputs lead to poor cereal production, inflation continues


Prolonged dry spells in most southern districts of Zimbabwe during the 20006/07 production season will contribute to low cereal yields, particularly for maize (Figure 1). Though the northern districts received comparatively good rains, yields in these areas will be affected by frequent fertilizer shortages throughout the season.

Total maize, sorghum and millet production for the 2006/07 agricultural season is forecast to be about 50 percent of last season’s production, and less than 50 percent of the five-year production average. Estimated 2006/07 cereal production is forecast to meet between 40 and 50 percent of domestic consumption needs. Given the prevailing foreign currency shortages in Zimbabwe, and the many competing basic import needs (fossil fuels, electricity, medicines, agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, etc.) that require foreign currency, importing the cereals necessary to make up the consumption shortfall will be a serious challenge for the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ).

Although the 2006/07 rainy season (October to April) started early in Zimbabwe, rains were inconsistent and poorly distributed for the first several weeks. It was not until mid November that substantial rains fell throughout the country, and the majority of maize was planted in mid December. In Zimbabwe’s northern and central districts, the December plantings benefited from relatively good rains at flowering and grain filling stages during January and February, though a nationwide shortage of top dressing fertilizers during these growth stages, reduced potential yields in these areas. In addition, most of the maize crops in southern districts suffered irreversible damage from the prolonged El Niño-related dry spells that dominated the second half of the cropping season.

Inflation in Zimbabwe continues, with no sign of abating. The official annual rate of inflation, measured by the Central Statistical Office, reached 2,200 percent in March 2007 – a 470 point increase from the February 2007 annual rate. Such high rates of inflation wreak havoc in the economy and severely restrict household purchasing power, while also fueling civil discontent that has led to strikes among employees and workers from several economic sectors, including GoZ departments. The overall poor 2006/07 agricultural season, coupled with the continued shortage of foreign currency, are expected to fuel continued inflation for the greater part of the 2007/08 consumption year.

The ever-increasing cost of living is weighing down most poor households in urban and rural areas of Zimbabwe. The cost of a household’s monthly basket, monitored by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), rose from Z$ 686,116 in February to Z$ 1,483,324 in March 2007. Prices for all items in the basket increased last month, many by at least 70 percent. Notable increases include a 158 percent increase in the price of bread and 142 percent increase in the price of fresh milk.

Minimum wages per household wage-earner can only cover about 17 percent of the CCZ food basket (Figure 2), and meager consumer wages lag behind the cost of food and non-food items.

Maize prices have also increased by more than 50 percent from January to March 2007 (Figure 3), and, due to uncertainty regarding the 2006/07 harvest, those few farmers with remaining stocks from the 2005/06 season are now holding onto their grains for their own consumption, causing further shortages on local markets. Maize prices have also increased in response to inflation.

Since most districts throughout the country expect poor cereal harvests, the decreases in maize prices normally experienced during the harvesting months of May to July, will be limited to a few districts in the central and northern parts of the country. The majority of farming households will be forced to purchase available maize at high market prices as early as the beginning of the new consumption year, unless significant distributions of cheaper maize by the GoZ’s Grain Marketing Board occur or substantial amounts of food aid are distributed. Current about 1.7 million people are receiving food aid.

The Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) by WFP and FAO is currently underway. Complementary vulnerability assessments, such as Zimbabwe’s Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC), as well as local NGO assessments, will provide updated food security information for the country, as well as initial projections on food aid requirements for the new consumption year.