FOOD access from February to May is expected to be difficult for Zimbabweans due to below-average rainfall and soaring prices  because of inflation, a new report shows.The 2023/24 agricultural season has been plagued by a late start in rains and below-average rainfall, which have negatively affected crops and livestock.

Even with the rains in the first two weeks of January, this has been inadequate as most crops had been planted and the rainfall was too much in some places.Further, the rapid depreciation of the Zimdollar of at least 54,21% year to date against the greenback to US$1: ZWL$9 414,43, has led to elevated prices increasing inflationary pressures, thereby eroding consumer incomes.

These two factors related to the weather and macroeconomic conditions are expected to negatively constrain food access for most consumers.“February to May 2024 is split between the peak of the lean season (February and March) and the harvest period (April and May). In February and March, area-level crisis outcomes are expected in semi-arid southern, eastern, western and extreme northern areas,” food security initiative the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FewsNet) said in its latest update.

“The green harvests during this period are expected to be below normal or non-existent due to the late start and anticipated cumulatively below-average rainy season. In April and May 2024, the likely below-average main harvests are expected to provide very short-lived improvements in household food access and availability.”

FewsNet said most poor households were likely to be able to meet their food needs during this time, supporting area-level stressed outcomes in most typical deficit-producing areas.“However, households with a significantly below-average harvest or no harvest will remain in crisis,” the initiative said.

According to FewsNet, from December 2023 to January 2024, most households in the northern productive resettlement areas are expected to maintain area-level minimal acute food insecurity outcomes.

This is due to the availability of own-produced stocks, some income from crop sales, and other typical income sources like seasonal labour.These outcomes are predicted to prevail through the February to May 2024 outlook period.

“However, an increasing number of households will likely be stressed due to constrained income and above-normal prices. Below-normal main harvests in April and May will likely improve household access to food and support minimal outcomes; however, food stocks will likely not last very long,” FewsNet said.

“In most communal parts of the typical surplus-producing areas, stressed outcomes are most likely between December 2023 and January 2024 due to reduced own-produced food stocks. Poor households are expected to experience difficulty accessing other foods and meeting their non-food needs due to low income and high prices.”

FewsNet added: “From February to May 2024, most of these areas are expected to maintain stressed outcomes. Food gaps will likely peak during the February to March lean season, but the likely below-normal harvests between April and May are expected to improve household food access and consumption temporarily.”

While food security outcomes will improve to minimal for some households, at least one in five households will likely remain stressed in the outlook period.“Poor households in urban areas will likely remain stressed through the outlook period,” FewsNet said.

“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.”

FewsNet is an initiative from the United States Agency for International Development.