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Geography, climate and population
Zimbabwe is a landlocked country, located in southern Africa with a total area of 390 760 km². The country is bordered by Zambia in the north, Mozambique in the east, South Africa in the south, and Botswana and Namibia in the west. Four major relief regions are generally recognized on the basis of their elevation: i) the lowveld (< 600 m above mean sea level); ii) the middleveld (600-1 200 m); iii) the highveld (1 200-2 000 m); iv) the Eastern Highlands (2 000-2 400 m). The highest point in the country, Mount Nyangani, lies at 2 592m along the eastern border with Mozambique. Zimbabwean soils are predominantly derived from granite, so 70 percent are sandy and light limiting the cropping potential (MENR, 2010). However soils with significant clay content and of excellent agricultural potential are also found in all regions of the country.
The agricultural area is estimated that 16.2 million ha, of which 4.1 million ha is cultivated and 12.1 million ha are permanent pastures (Table 1). The country’s forested area declined from over 22 million ha in 1990 to around 15 million in 2012 (FAOSTAT, 2015). In addition savanna woodland interspersed with open grasslands covers much of the country and the dambos (seasonally waterlogged low-lying areas) of the central watershed area (MENR, 2010). As a result, Zimbabwe provides habitats for abundant and diverse flora and fauna.
Climatic conditions in Zimbabwe are largely subtropical with one rainy season from November to March, a cool winter season from April to August and the hottest and driest period from September to mid-November. Average annual rainfall is 657 mm, but ranges from over 1 000 mm in the Eastern Highlands to around 300-450 mm in the lowveld in the south. Rainfall reliability in the country decreases from north to south and also from east to west. Evaporation varies over the country to a much smaller extent than rainfall. Values of net annual pan evaporation range from about 1 400 mm in the Eastern Highlands up to 2 200 mm in the lowveld, generally exceeding precipitations. Erratic rainfall constrains crop farming across at least sixty percent of the country (MENR, 2010).
The country is prone to periodic droughts strongly correlated to El Niño events (warm sea surface temperature in the central and eastern Pacific). In the present millennium the country already experienced devastating droughts in five farming seasons, 2001/02, 2002/03, 2004/05, 2006/07 and 2011/12, directly impacting agriculture (GoZ, 2012).
The total population is estimated at 14.6 million (2014), of which 60 percent is rural (Table 1). The annual population growth rate is 3 percent in 2013 and the average population density is 37 inhabitants/km². Around 80 percent of the population is concentrated in areas where rainfall is unreliable. In 2013, the Human Development Index ranks Zimbabwe 156 among 187 countries and the Gender Inequality Index ranks it 110 among 152 countries for which data are available. Life expectancy is 60 years and the under-five mortality is 89 per 1000 births, both progressing from below 45 years and over 100 per 1000 in the 2000s. With no significant distinction between boys and girls, around 94 percent of the children in 2012 are enrolled in primary education, but only 44 percent for secondary education (WB, 2015). Adult literacy is 84 percent for the 2005-2012 period (UNDP, 2015), with a small gap between female literacy (80 percent) and male literacy (88 percent). Poverty concerns 34 percent of the population, mostly in rural areas (43 percent against 16 percent in urban areas). In 2015, 97 percent of the urban and 67 percent of the rural population were using improved drinking water sources, which is 77 percent of the total population. This represents no improvement since 2002 (JMP, 2015). Also the status of improved sanitation facilities, which were already available for only 40 percent of the population in 2002 (52 percent in urban areas and 32 percent in rural areas), remained the same. Even more, due to poor maintenance, urban water and sanitation systems are deteriorating, resulting in 2008 in a large cholera outbreak (100 000 people affected and 4 000 deaths) (GoZ, 2012).