FEWS Zimbabwe Monthly Food Security Update 15 May 2003


The National Crop Forecasting Committee (NCFC), the Government and the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) are in the final stages of estimating Zimbabwe's cereal production in 2002/03. FEWS NET/Zimbabwe will wait for these estimates before reviewing and analyzing the various 2002/03 cereal production estimates and the cereals balance in its May Monthly Report.

Food security problems for a significant number of households in all urban areas and some rural areas of Mashonaland, Masvingo, Manicaland and Midlands Provinces will persist as marketing and access will be an issue.

Preliminary observations by some food security analysts indicate that the presence of HIV/AIDS within households will be a major factor determining food security in Zimbabwe if the infection rate of 34 percent persists.

Government reported that the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) has started buying maize from the 2002/03 harvest. The GMB is counting on the recent 364 percent increase in the producer price to Z$130,000 per MT, announced in March, to attract more deliveries.

Following an announced 350 percent increase in petrol prices and a 70 percent increase in the diesel price, the Government increased minimum wages of all sectors except for domestic workers on 24 April. This increase will not however help minimum wage earners whose average income only met 44 percent of the cost of the minimum food basket in March 2003. Moreover, and 50 percent of the income would be absorbed by increased transport costs in May 2003.

1. Current Food Security Situation

1.1. Diminishing Food Security Crisis

Early harvesting of the 2002/03 food crops (maize, millets and sorghum) has improved cereal availability for a significant number of households in rural and urban areas of Mashonaland, Masvingo, Manicaland and Midlands Provinces. However, given escalating maize prices compared to diminishing income levels, access remains an issue for most households in these areas, since many have experienced three consecutive years of poor harvest. The need to satisfy immediate food needs as well as limit crop losses to theft has prompted farmers, particularly those in urban areas, to harvest their maize crop early. While the largest proportion of the harvest is being kept by farming households for their own consumption, some is finding its way onto the parallel markets, and being sold at service centres, growth points, towns and cities, reducing the price of maize from peak prices in April.

1.2. Continuing Food Security Crisis

The relief that farming households in the central and northern main cereal growing districts are getting from the 2002/03 cropping season's harvest is not being shared by households in the southern and extreme northern Zambezi valley districts of the country, where there is hardly any harvest. These rural households are solely dependent on food assistance for their survival. The past two consecutive poor cropping seasons have reduced considerably rural households' capacity to cope with the current poor season. The effects of poor crop production have been further worsened with the deaths of up to 10 percent of the cattle herd, the main source of livelihood in much of Matebeleland. These deaths have been caused by a combination of poor grazing conditions and tick borne diseases due to shortages of dipping chemicals. Urban area populations remain by and large without any large scale food assistance programmes, yet these households are becoming more food insecure as the national economic situation depreciates further. Unemployment levels continue to skyrocket, and inflation, estimated at 220.9 percent in February 2003, continues to increase, while incomes in real terms remain considerably behind, despite the Government increasing the minimum wage for farm workers from Z$7,000 per month to Z$23,000 per month.

1.3. Emerging Food Security Crisis

HIV/AIDS has left a number of children without parents and forces them to assume prematurely the responsibilities of parenthood. Increasing numbers of grandparents are being pushed to look after grand children left behind by their own children who have died from HIV/AIDS. The epidemic often strikes the bread winners and worsens the dependence ratio and reduces productivity, increasing the food insecurity of significant proportions of the Zimbabwean population. The need for a better understanding of the impact of the pandemic on food security in Zimbabwe cannot be over-emphasized. Preliminary observations by some food security analysts indicate that HIV/AIDS will be a major factor determining food security in Zimbabwe if the infection rate of 34 percent persists.

2. Food Security Conditions and Prospects

2.1. Current Food Availability at National Level

Staple cereals (maize, wheat, millets and sorghum) remain in critically short supply in the major markets throughout the country for much of April 2003. Where available, maize was sold for between Z$3,000 and Z$8,000 per 20 litre bucket, with higher prices found in Matebeleland South and lower prices in the grain producing districts. These prices have generally been too high for most of the poor to afford. With the 2002/03 maize harvest coming into the market, grain availability improved towards the end of April and beginning of May and prices have gone down to between Z$1,500 to Z$4,000 per bucket, depending on availability. Even at these lower prices, access to the grain remains limited as so many households' incomes and options for generating cash have been eroded. More information on current food security will be available in mid May 2003, when the Zimbabwe vulnerability assessment committee completes its food security and vulnerability assessment for 2003/04 season.

2.2. Current Food Security Prospects at the Sub National Level

2.2.1. Food Security in Rural Areas

While the food supply situation continues to improve in the northern districts, food security conditions have remained critical in the southern districts, particularly in the Matebelelands, where the Government declared a state of disaster in April 2003. Food aid remains the sole source of food for these districts as Grain Marketing Board (GMB) supplies remain erratic and too little. The below normal harvest from the northern districts has yet to find its way to the highly deficit rural areas to the south. The Government reported that the Grain Marketing Board started receiving deliveries from the 2002/03 cropping season's harvest and are banking on the increased producer price for maize (Z$130,000 per MT) announced in March 2003. The producer price of maize was increased by 364 percent to lure a good proportion the season's maize harvest into the GMB silos. In the recent past the GMB has managed to get, on average, 13 percent of the estimated national maize production. This marketing year, the parastatal is expected to get less for the following reasons:

  • The new maize producer price, at around 60 percent of the lower end of the current maize parallel market price, is still too low to attract meaningful quantities, especially from the private sector, which would be forced to market the commodity through the GMB due to the statutory instrument passed by Government giving a monopoly to the GMB on maize purchases and trade.

  • Deliveries by smallholder farmers, who normally only market their surplus production, will be limited due to poor harvests.

  • The land reform program affected maize production from the large scale commercial farmers, who normally produce predominantly for the market.

  • Given food shortages in the last year and the failure of the market to provide the staple food when needed, households are likely to hold on to their surplus grain in order to cushion themselves against future food shortages.

Reduced deliveries to the GMB, together with inherent inefficiencies and corruption within the parastatal are expected to limit the Government's capacity to provide food to the deficit south from domestic production. Its capacity to import is going to be reduced further by the poor export performance that is expected to continue throughout the current marketing year.

2.2.2. Food Security in Urban Areas

Both food access and supply problems continue to take their toll on urban food security in Zimbabwe. Maize meal, bread and cooking oil are rarely found in the formal market, and prices on the parallel markets for these commodities are too high for most poor urban households. The cost of living continues to rise astronomically. Between November 2002 and March 2003 the value of a low income urban household expenditure basket1 increased by over 50 percent (Figure 1.).

Figure 1: Consumer Council of Zimbabwe Low Income Expenditure Basket for a Family of Six and Recent Inflation Rates

Source: CCZ and CSO

At the same time, minimum wages (a proxy for low income) have not kept pace with the price increases. In March 2003, the minimum wage would have been just enough to cover about 44 percent of the value of the CCZ Low Income earning urban household expenditure basket for a family of six. The price of maize meal doubled in February 2003 from Z$250 to Z$500 per kilogram and the value of other foods in the basket gained 30 percentage points between November 2002 and March 2003. With the recent fuel price increases the expenditure basket for April 2003 is set to increase dramatically. Following fuel price increases in April 2003 of 70 percent for diesel and 350 percent for unleaded petrol, the Government reviewed minimum wages for all sectors except domestic workers on 24 April 2003. The minimum wage for those in industry and commerce and mining (proxies for the low urban income group) were increased to Z$47,696 per month. With a 100 percent increase in transport costs in May 2003, the new minimum wage would still not be enough to cover the low income basket, and at least 50 percent would be taken up by transport costs to and from work. Official annual inflation figures from the Central Statistical Office (CSO) show the annual inflation rate for March 2003 to be 228 percent, up 7.1 percent from the February 2003 rate of 220.9 percent. In the same period, annual food inflation is estimated to have gone up from 234.2 to 247.9 percent. As unemployment and inflation are expected to continue increasing, food security prospects in urban areas during the 2003/04 marketing year, especially for the urban poor, are bleak.

2.3. Food Security Outlook for 2003/04 Consumption Year

The National Crop Forecasting Committee NCFC), the Government and the FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission (CFSAM) are in the final stages of estimating Zimbabwe's cereal production for 2002/03. Information and insights from the third round of the National Vulnerability Assessment Committee (NVAC) assessment will also help to evaluate these cereal production estimates. FEWS NET/Zimbabwe will wait for these estimates before providing more detailed reviews and analysis of the various 2002/03 cereal production estimates and the cereal balance in its May Monthly Report.

However, based on the revised Crop Water Requirements Satisfaction Index (WRSI), the maize harvest is likely to fall between 757,000 MT and one million MT, giving a total cereal harvest estimate of around 1 million MT. This lower harvest estimate would result in a maize supply deficit of 500,000 to 700,000 MT before considering carryover imports from last year, estimated at 254,000 MT. Assuming that all the outstanding imports arrive in the country, the Government and NGOs should start planning to import enough maize to fill a gap of 300,000 to 540,000 MT.

3. National Trends Affecting All or Most of the Country: Hazard Information

3.1. Fuel Prices Increases

Following the Government's devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar from Z$55 per US$1 to Z$824 per US$1, fuel prices were adjusted to keep them in line with the perceived new procurement costs. Government claims the new fuel prices were also meant to improve the National Oil Company of Zimbabwe (NOCZIM)'s viability. The fuel price increases came before the full impact of the February 2003 fuel price increases had been fully absorbed. The April 2003 fuel price increases of 350 percent for unleaded petrol and 70 percent for diesel are set to further increase the already high inflation rates. Wage agreements made at the end of last year have now overtaken by events and negotiations have to be reopened. Urban consumers who are entirely dependent on the market for their food needs are going to suffer the full brunt of the expected price increases as their incomes will certainly fail to keep pace with the hyperinflation that is expected to continue throughout the 2003/04 marketing year.

3.2. Increased Maize Producer Price

At the close of the 2002/03 agricultural season the Government announced increases in both wheat and maize producer prices. The maize producer prices went up from Z$28,000 per tonne to Z$130,000 per tonne. It is highly likely that if controls on maize marketing are strongly enforced and opportunities for parallel marketing of maize are restricted, a good proportion of farmers, including those whose harvest is not enough to see them through to the next harvest, will be forced to sell increased amounts of their crop to the GMB to get cash income for their non-food needs. This will leave farming households more vulnerable than if they had the opportunity to sell their produce on the parallel where maize prices are more than 70 percent higher than the GMB price.

3.3. Disruptions of Industry and Commerce

In addition to contending with shortages of foreign currency, fuel and spare parts as well as run away inflation and rising interest rates, Zimbabwean companies have to grapple with frequent electricity cuts. Power cuts have been introduced by the national power utility because it is failing to procure enough foreign currency to pay for the required electricity imports. Zimbabwe used to import about 40 percent of its electricity needs from South Africa, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The power cuts are forcing companies to operate further below capacity, thereby reducing potential profits substantially. The difficult operating environment is forcing some companies to close down and adding to unemployment levels. Potential Government revenue in terms of income taxes is, consequently, expected to be compromised and this is expected to limit Government's capacity to procure food for the food insecure population in the 2003/04 marketing year.

4. Food Security Recommendations to Consider Immediately

  • The Government and NGOs need to embark on agriculture recovery programmes to ensure farmers have adequate seed, fertilizer and draft power when the 2003/04 growing season starts.

  • Food aid in the most affected district in the south of the country should continue.

  • Food for work to self target households in the central and northern districts of the country should be pursued.

  • Food aid assistance should be scaled up in innovative forms in urban areas to including targeting using the market and also directly assisting vulnerable groups such as the orphans and HIV/AIDS patients.

  • Food monetization should be considered to deal with the food security problems in urban areas.

  • The Government should consider now plans to import maize to meet a potential deficit in 2003/04 consumption year.

Note: 1 These prices are being monitored by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ)