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Published On: Wed, Sep 7th, 2016

Poor Zimbabwe Households Depleting Livelihood Assets

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) says there is acute food insecurity across most southern parts of Zimbabwe.

FEWSNET said other areas are expected to face the same situation during the October through January 2017 period, in the absence of any outside assistance.

“In some districts in the south and extreme north where a significant portion of the food insecure populations are receiving assistance, poor households will be stressed through January 2017. Areas in the north will begin to experience crisis outcomes from October through January as poor households finish their food stocks and face limited livelihood options.

“Households in these areas will use irreversible livelihood and coping strategies to meet their minimum food needs in the absence of assistance.”

FEWSNET further noted that formal maize grain imports in July continued to be above average. “These imports are the main source of cereal on markets in the north as well as some markets in southern areas.

“As the consumption year progresses, atypically high cereal prices are expected to continue to constrain food access for poor households. The increased coverage of humanitarian assistance programming in some districts in the south and extreme north is expected to improve food insecurity outcomes from July onwards.”

According to FEWSNET, the majority of poor households in the southern marginal areas of Matabeleland North and South, Masvingo, most of Manicaland, and Midlands provinces and marginal areas in the extreme north have had an early start to the 2016-17 lean season in June/July.

FOOD DEFICIT

“By July, most poor households in these areas were already facing significant survival food deficits that are not usually typical until September/October. This is mainly due to low production from the 2015-16 cropping season and prevailing economic challenges affecting livelihoods.

“Food purchases from local markets constitute the main source of cereal in southern areas for households that have finished their own-produced cereal stocks or did not harvest anything this season. Households with own-produced cereals in the north are quickly depleting their stocks and a considerable proportion of poor households are already relying on food purchases from local markets. Local market supplies of maize grain are low in the traditionally surplus areas in the north and elsewhere. Mostly local brands of maize meal and some imported maize grain are available in some local markets.”

It said consumption patterns for the majority of poor households across the country are below the minimum expected thresholds due to low household incomes and high prices on the markets.

FEWSNET said common livelihood coping mechanisms include the sale of assets in order to purchase food. “Some households are bartering livestock for cereal, yet unfortunately terms of trade are unfavorable due to their (mainly cattle) poor condition in some areas, as well as low supplies of grain on markets.”

For the 2016-17 consumption year the estimated national cereal deficit will be over 1 million metric tonnes, said FEWSNET. It said in June, about 57,560 metric tonnes of maize was imported from South Africa, Zambia, Mauritius, and the USA.

These import levels are about 25 percent more than in June 2015. Between April and June about 174,000 metric tonnes of maize has been imported this year, which is about 62 percent above same time last year. Although the private sector has the capacity to import maize, some are reportedly experiencing some delays in making payments to their international suppliers due to the ongoing national cash shortages.

WATER TABLES FAST RECEDING

FEWSNET further said the water situation is critical in the south following one of the driest rainfall seasons in 35 years. “Water tables are fast receding. Most rivers, dams, wells, and even some boreholes have dried up. A similar situation is being experienced in most areas in the north. A few water points remain in most communities to serve large numbers of households and for livestock watering. Livelihood activities that depend on water such as gardening, brick molding, construction and others are being negatively affected.”

It also noted that pasture conditions in much of the south and other marginal areas in the north are already poor or very poor.” Cattle body condition is fast deteriorating with farmers being urged to destock to avoid losses or use supplementary feeds, which unfortunately the majority cannot afford. Goats are in better condition in most areas. Cattle prices continue to be below-average chiefly due to poor body condition, distress sales, and liquidity challenges.”

The World Food Program (WFP) reported that in July about 768,000 beneficiaries received assistance from involved partners under the Humanitarian Response Plan. “The size of populations in need that are receiving assistance is significant in some of the targeted districts.”

PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH JANUARY 2017

The forecasted La Niña phenomenon is expected to bring normal to above normal rains when the farming season starts around November this year. “This will likely improve agricultural labor opportunities and household incomes through March 2017, though liquidity challenges will limit potential earnings. The Southern Africa Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) is expected to issue a regional forecast towards the end of August which will avail details on the forthcoming season in the region with national forecasts following soon after.”

In the south, said FEWSNET, the majority of poor households will continue to experience survival food deficits due to limited livelihood options, liquidity challenges, and high food prices. From September 2016 through March 2017, it said, crisis food security outcomes are expected and emergency assistance will be required to cover survival deficits and to protect livelihoods. “However, planned humanitarian assistance starting July will be significant enough in some districts to improve food security outcomes to stressed in the presence of food assistance. In extreme cases where there will be no assistance, some poor households are likely to face emergency food security due to high survival deficit levels.” – FEWSNET