Zimbabwe will “probably run out of maize by January.”

[Note: A Famine Early Warning System report is added below]

Source: Bloomberg

A drought, cyclone-induced floods and an economic collapse have left Zimbabwe on the verge of its worst-ever famine.

The southern African nation will probably run out of corn [maize] — its staple food — by January and about three out of five Zimbabweans won’t have enough to eat, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.

While Zimbabwe has experienced intermittent food shortages for the last two decades, the problem has mostly been limited to rural areas. This time, 3 million of the 8.5 million people at risk of food insecurity are in cities, said Eddie Rowe, the WFP’s country director in Zimbabwe.

“You will have a lot more people hungry in Zimbabwe than ever before,” he said. In the past, “in urban areas the alarm bells were not ringing.”

The government has already declared a state of disaster because of the drought, which has decimated harvests. One of the strongest-ever cyclones in the southern hemisphere also destroyed crops in March and a deepening economic crisis has limited the government’s ability to address the looming shortfalls.

Since a parity peg to the U.S. dollar was dropped in February, the local currency has slumped to 13.85 to the dollar, making it the world’s worst performer. That’s slashed spending power in a country where most goods are imported. Zimbabwe is already struggling to find sufficient foreign exchange to fund imports of fuel and wheat.

Zimbabwe Drought Risks Famine and Climate Change Makes It Worse

“The drought has just exacerbated the situation,” said Jee-A van der Linde, an economist at NKC African Economicsin Paarl, South Africa. It will “deteriorate to a point where they need foreign aid.”

Atypically early start to the 2019/20 lean season significantly increasing humanitarian needs

Source: Famine Early Warning System

August 2019


August – September 2019

October 2019 – January 2020

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
National Parks/Reserves
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

Key Messages

  • Most typical deficit-producing areas continue to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as poor households have little to no food stocks and are reliant on market purchases for food with limited purchasing power. This is mainly the result of the poor 2019 harvests and deteriorating macroeconomic conditions. Starting in September/October, an atypically high number of people in surplus-producing areas are anticipated to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In early August, the government declared the 2018/19 drought and cropping season “a State of National Disaster” and appealed for international humanitarian assistance.
  • Market supplies are significantly below average, specifically for maize grain, across the country. Maize grain and maize meal prices continue to increase in local currency terms, putting staple foods out of reach of most poor households. Additionally, increased bond note and coin shortages are limiting household market access. Additionally, alternative mobile money transfers are up to 40 percent above cash prices. Fuel price increases on nearly a weekly basis are driving up transport and basic commodity costs.
  • Livelihoods across the country remain very constrained and households have limited opportunities to participate in both formal and informal markets. Terms of trade for both cash and in-kind payments of labor or bartering are unfavorable for poor households. Additionally, water challenges are worsening across most areas. This is negatively affecting many livelihood activities as well as livestock body conditions. Below average incomes and high agriculture input costs are anticipated to affect preparations for the 2019/20 agriculture season.


As inflation continues to spike, the government suspended official annual inflation reports till February 2020 citing incompatible currency bases; current RTGS Dollars against the previous US Dollar-base. The high and increasing parallel market and official interbank exchange rates for foreign currency remain major drivers of the economic crisis, especially as most household incomes are in local currency (ZWL). In August, the ZWL contracted against the US Dollar by 6 and 11 percent in the parallel and official markets, respectively.

Following the poor 2019 harvest, own-produced stocks for most poor households are exhausted. Most households are relying on markets and other sources of food atypically early in August, compared to October/November in normal years. Even in many typical high-production areas, households are abnormally purchasing maize and maize just three months after the harvest.

Market maize supplies are limited across the country specifically in Makonde and Hurungwe Districts in Mashonaland West Province, Gokwe South District in Midlands Province, key traditional source areas. Atypically high and increasing transport costs are also limiting grain movements on the markets as well as putting pressure on prices. In addition, and to some extent, the government mandate for farmers to sell maize grain only to the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) and contractors and limiting non-GMB destined grain movements to 250 kg is limiting market supplies and trade flows.

Maize grain prices across FEWS NET sentinel markets increased by over 10 percent in July compared to June. The high and now frequently increasing fuel prices (Figure 1) and transport costs, and the persistent shortages of the local bond notes/coins in the economy are also contributing to the price increases. Additionally, the use of mobile money transfers is attracting up to 40 percent premiums compared to cash transactions.

In early August, the government declared the 2018/19 drought and cropping season “a State of National Disaster”. Following this, the government and United Nations launched a Revised Humanitarian Appeal through April 2020 to address the atypically high humanitarian needs. WFP has plans to start food distributions in August in a few priority districts, although the full extent of the plan is yet to be confirmed. Currently many areas of the country are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with surplus producing areas in Stressed (IPC Phase 2).


The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the Zimbabwe FEWS NET Food Security Outlook for June 2019 to January 2020 remain unchanged except for the following:

  • Current international forecasts indicate the start of the 2019/20 rainfall season will most likely to be delayed, with below average rainfall for the 2019/20 rainfall season. This will mainly impact cropped areas and production for the 2019/20 season as well as livelihoods such as casual labor and livestock condition and sales.
  • Poor households are expected to increase buying and selling goods by bartering rather than using cash.


Food security outcomes are likely to continue to be poor and deteriorate with more households expecting to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through at least January 2020. Some surplus-producing areas which are currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes will likely deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in September or October as households deplete their food stocks and resort to markets for food with below average purchasing power. The poor 2019 harvests and increasing macroeconomic challenges will continue to negatively affect livelihoods and coping options, and hence purchasing power and food access. Most typical deficit-producing areas will continue to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through January 2020. The worst affected households in some parts of the country including Kariba, Binga, Hwange, Gokwe North, Mbire and Mudzi Districts are likely to experience Emergency (IPC Phase 4) food security outcomes from October 2019 through at least January 2020.