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March and April precipitation has alleviated moisture deficits in many areas

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Afghanistan
  • April 2016
March and April precipitation has alleviated moisture deficits in many areas

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  • Key Messages
  • Current situation
  • Updated assumptions
  • Projected outlook through September 2016
  • Key Messages
    • Although El Niño typically drives above-average precipitation in Afghanistan, cumulative precipitation for the season through February was well below average in most of the country. However, precipitation through most of March and early April was average to above-average in most areas, facilitating the planting of spring wheat. Although cumulative precipitation remains below average in some areas, it is now near average in many provinces.

    • Although snowpack was at historical lows in some river basins in late February, snowfall in March and April has brought all basins monitored within the historical range (2001-2015). It is most likely that the impact of below-average snowpack in some basins will not drastically affect aggregate irrigated wheat production, given that snowpack in most basins supplying key surplus producing areas, including Kunduz Province and eastern region, are now at average to above-average levels. However, irrigated production in localized areas may still be affected by reduced availability of irrigation water.

    • Food security outcomes for the majority of poor households are likely to improve gradually throughout the country over the next three months, as the annual lean season comes to an end with primary harvests and increased labor opportunities.

    • In 2015, more than 300,000 people were displaced due to conflict. Continued fighting between the government and insurgent forces has resulted in further displacement in early 2016, particularly in northern, northeastern, and eastern regions. Many newly displaced households are estimated to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and are in need of urgent assistance to protect livelihoods and mitigate food consumption gaps. 

    Current situation
    • The October to May wet season started slightly later than normal in many areas. Total rainfall prior to the onset of the winter months was low, but planted area under winter wheat (irrigated) was similar to last year. Cumulative precipitation remained well below-average through early March, with some river basins registering the lowest snowpack in the 15-year record. However, since early March, much of the country has received regular, well-distributed snow and rain. Despite the increase in precipitation, total accumulation remains below the 2002-2011 average in a number of provinces, particularly in parts of the north, northeast, and south. In much of eastern and central Afghanistan, cumulative precipitation is near-average to above-average (Figure 3).
    • Typically, farmers plant spring wheat in late March and early April. This year, planting took place earlier in March in many areas, particularly in northern, northeastern, and northwestern Afghanistan, largely due to above-average temperatures in lower elevation areas since late January. Early reports indicate that planted area under spring wheat is similar to last year. Spring wheat sowing in rainfed areas throughout the country, particularly in northern and northwestern Afghanistan, has increased labor opportunities, facilitating market purchases of food for poor households.
    • Above-average temperatures across much of Afghanistan, particularly in lower elevation areas, have facilitated early growth of pasture. Pastoralists and agropastoralists have moved livestock into spring grazing areas nearly a month earlier than normal. This has allowed many households to preserve remaining fodder stocks for next year. With spring livestock births, the availability of milk and milk products increases. Livestock births are reported to be higher than last year due to mild winter temperatures and sufficient availability of fodder during the winter, which has supported livestock body conditions.
    • Prices for wheat grain and wheat flour remained stable between February and March. March prices were mostly similar to respective 2015 levels, following average domestic wheat production and steady imports from Pakistan and Kazakhstan. The cost of fuel decreased substantially, reducing transport costs, particularly for imported food.
    • During the month of March, the average terms of trade (ToT) for wage labor to wheat grain was 10.7 kg of wheat grain per day. Although similar to March 2015, the wheat value of wage labor has declined in relation to the five-year average for March, by 22.6 percent.
    • Spring flooding affects some households every year, primarily in eastern and northern Afghanistan. The regular rains in March have led to some flooding in northern and northeastern Afghanistan. Households affected by natural disasters and who are not receiving assistance, including those displaced by flooding or who have lost valuable assets, are currently in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Updated assumptions

    The current situation has not affected most of the assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the period of February to September 2016. However, the following assumption has been modified to reflect the improvement in seasonal precipitation:

    • Cumulative precipitation during the remainder of the wet season through May is expected to be average to above-average. Spring rains are expected to have normal timing and distribution, with minimal adverse impact on typical agricultural activities. 

    Projected outlook through September 2016

    Until the main staple harvests, which last from May through August depending on elevation and area, food consumption needs will be primarily satisfied by household reserves or through purchases with savings from earlier in the year, or from year-round sources of income such as formal employment with various branches of the government including the military, the police, or, in some cases, remittances.

    With near-average precipitation and above-average temperatures, pasture conditions will likely be slightly better than usual throughout the spring months, which will support improved livestock body conditions. At the same time, many livestock will calve, kid, or lamb at this time, increasing herd sizes. The availability of milk and income from the sale of livestock and livestock products will continue to improve food access, which started in February in some lowland areas and will increase through May in the highlands. Access to labor opportunities will also increase seasonally, helping to slowly move households into food purchases prior to the harvests, instead of relying primarily on their own stocks.

    Prices for wheat grain and wheat flour are likely to remain mostly stable through June, after which they will experience a seasonal decline due to the main season harvests. Traders are expected to continue to import normally from Kazakhstan and Pakistan. Along with continued displacement due to conflict and insecurity, road access will also remain difficult for trade and the provision of humanitarian assistance. The seasonal increase in the incidence of human diseases is likely to lead to increased prevalence of acute malnutrition between April and July.

    Early indications for area planted, rainfall, and the availability of irrigation water suggest that main season harvests are likely to be near average. However, more information on harvest prospects will become available in May, after the joint MAIL/WFP/FAO/FEWS NET pre-harvest assessment. Food security outcomes for the majority of poor households are likely to improve gradually throughout the country over the next months. From April to September 2016, although many areas of the country are anticipated to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2), the total number of people facing acute food insecurity is likely to decline following local harvests.

    Conflict-induced displacement is likely to increase from April to September 2016, as conflict is typically more intense and widespread during the warmer months. In some areas, newly displaced households will likely enter Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the period, despite harvests and seasonal improvements in labor demand. Although conflict was widespread throughout much of the country in 2015 and difficult to predict, early indications during the spring suggest that provinces that could be of elevated concern for conflict-induced displacement include parts of Badakhshan, Kunar, Nuristan, Hilmand, Kunduz, Baghlan and Takhar. Although most IDPs live in camps, a large number live among host populations either in informal settlements or in the homes of host communities. 

    Figures Cumulative precipitation versus average, October 1 2015 – April 20 2016

    Figure 1

    Cumulative precipitation versus average, October 1 2015 – April 20 2016

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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