Food Security Outlook Update

Below-average 2021 crop production likely, with worst deficits expected in southern and western areas

April 2021

April - May 2021

June - September 2021

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
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.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
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.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
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.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC v3.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

Key Messages

  • Below-average precipitation in the 2020/21 season is expected to impact both irrigated and rainfed wheat production in parts of Afghanistan. Concern for irrigated production is highest in southern and western areas, while below-average rainfed production is expected in some northern and western areas. Below-average precipitation has also likely affected rangeland and pasture conditions in some northern and western areas. Worsening pasture conditions and fodder shortages are likely in worst-affected areas.

  • In rural areas, seasonal increases in availability of food and income from agricultural and livestock activities around the spring is expected to improve food security outcomes for many poor households. Improvement from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) is expected in many areas with arrival of the first harvests around May/June in low elevation areas and around July/August in high elevation areas. However, areas significantly impacted by lower production in combination with the impacts of other drivers such as conflict are likely remain in—or deteriorate to—Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the June to September 2021 period.

  • In urban areas, seasonal improvements in casual labor availability and wages during spring and summer will improve income-earning for many poor households. Additionally, agricultural and livestock production from nearby rural areas will contribute to seasonally lower food prices. As such, most poor households will likely experience some improvements in food access during this time, with improvement from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes expected at the area level around June. However, below-average remittances and overall above-average food prices will likely continue constraining resources for many, with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely among worst-affected households in the absence of humanitarian assistance.

  • Levels of conflict and insecurity are likely to increase in the spring and summer months. This is expected to drive high levels of internal displacement in Afghanistan, particularly in the southern and southeastern provinces. Newly displaced households will be separated from assets and livelihoods, with food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely unless humanitarian assistance is provided.

CURRENT SITUATION

High levels of conflict and insecurity have continued to impact local people and livelihoods in Afghanistan throughout early 2021. According to UNAMA, 1,783 civilian causalities (573 killed and 1210 injured) occurred due to conflict in Afghanistan in the first quarter of 2021. Though this number is 11 percent lower than the five-year average, it is 29 percent higher than the same time period of last year. Meanwhile, according to OCHA, 87,302 individuals were displaced by conflict from January to March 2021, with most displacement occurring in January. The number displaced in this period is 12 percent lower than the five-year average but 10 percent higher than the same time last year. The majority of these new displacements occurred in the eastern, northeastern, and southern provinces. As of late April, withdrawal of international troops had started in Afghanistan, with full withdrawal of US troops planned by September 2021. Intra-Afghan peace talks have been postponed.

In the first quarter of 2021, natural disasters (mostly floods and flash floods) affected 6,657 individuals according to OCHA. This total was 89 percent lower than the same time period of last year and 85 percent lower than the five-year average. Significantly less flooding during this period of 2021 is due to below-average precipitation driven by ongoing La Niña conditions. The majority of these incidents were limited to the eastern provinces where spring precipitation was above average.

According to the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH), a total 59,225 cases of COVID-19 and 2,598 associated deaths have been confirmed in Afghanistan as of April 26, 2021, though underreporting of cases is expected due to limited testing capacity. In March and April 2021, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily in Afghanistan has been increasing again after remaining relatively low in much of the first quarter of 2021. The number of new cases is also spiking in neighboring Iran and Pakistan. On April 27, Pakistan announced increased screening measures for people entering its borders, effective immediately, as well as plans for a two-week lockdown of Pakistani cities with high disease prevalence, effective early May. Similarly, effective April 29, Iran closed its borders for local travel with Afghanistan, though borders remain open for trade. As such, trade at all of Afghanistan’s borders is currently functioning normally.

From February to March 2021, prices of most food items remained stable at above-average levels. As of March 2021, staple wheat flour prices were 9 percent higher than the same time last year and 29 percent higher than the four-year average according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL). Meanwhile, average prices of cooking oil in March remained 52 percent higher than the same time last year and 38 percent above average. Higher wheat flour prices are likely due to higher prices in source markets (mainly Kazakhstan). For instance, in March 2021, wheat export prices in Kazakhstan were 30 percent higher than the five-year average. Unofficial taxes by anti-government elements are also contributing to higher prices in much of Afghanistan.

Casual labor wages in main provincial markets of Afghanistan have remained relatively stable in recent months according to MAIL data. In March 2021, casual labor wages were near average (2 percent below average) at the national level, though trends differed across provinces. Availability of labor remained stable in March 2021 according to WFP monitoring, though at levels 22 percent below the five-year average. Meanwhile, restrictions on labor migration to Iran continue to limit labor opportunities and stress domestic labor markets in Afghanistan. Labor migration to Pakistan in the eastern and southern provinces had improved due to easing of visa issuance, though with the recent restrictions in Pakistan, labor migration to Pakistan and labor opportunities will likely be impacted.

As of March 2021, purchasing power for casual laborers as measured by terms of trade (a ratio) between casual labor wages and wheat flour prices was around 25 percent below average at the national level and below average in every province except Kunduz according to MAIL data. These below-average terms of trade are primarily being driven by above-average wheat flour prices, though below-average wages in some provinces are also contributing. Additionally, the weak labor market inside the country is contributing to reduced wages and availability of labor, further reducing purchasing power. Meanwhile, livestock prices increased slightly, on average, between February and March. In March, the average price of a one-year-old female sheep (alive) at the national level was 10 percent higher than at the same time last year and 22 percent above the four-year average. As of March 2021, purchasing power for pastoralists as measured by the terms of trade between the price of a sheep and wheat flour prices were similar to the same time last year but five percent below average. In some provinces, above-average wheat flour prices are driving below-average terms of trade despite above-average livestock prices, while in other provinces above-average livestock prices are compensating for the above-average wheat flour prices, resulting in average or above-average terms of trade (Figure 1).

According to Cross-Border Return and Reintegration (CBRR) data of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 254,766 undocumented Afghan migrants returned to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan in the first quarter of 2021, only seven percent of whom received humanitarian assistance upon arrival. Of all the returnees, the vast majority (more than 98 percent) returned from Iran. This is 13 percent higher than the same time last year and 93 percent higher than the five-year average. Due to restrictions at borders with Iran, it is likely that the number of migrant workers in Iran remains below average and, as a result, levels of remittances to Afghanistan (which are sent mainly from Iran and Gulf countries) are expected to be below average.

In Ghor Province, a nutrition SMART survey conducted in December 2020 revealed that the prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) by weight-for-height z-score (WHZ) in children 6-59 months was 10.4 percent (7.8-13.8 95% CI) and prevalence of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) by WHZ in children 6-59 months was 1.9 percent (1.1-3.1 95% CI). These results suggest slight improvement since the last SMART survey conducted in September 2016. Similarly, in Charekar District of Parwan Province—a district severely affected by August 2020 flooding—a rapid SMART survey conducted in March 2021 revelated that prevalence of GAM by WHZ in children 6-59 months was 5.7 percent (3.5-9.2 95% CI) and prevalence of SAM by WHZ in children 6-59 months was 1.3 percent (0.5-3.4 95% CI). These findings suggest improvement since the last SMART survey conducted in February 2020, where prevalence of GAM by WHZ was 8.1 percent for the whole province.

According to Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition (IMAM) data from the Public Nutrition Department (PND) of the MOPH, 178,949 children with acute malnutrition were admitted into the IMAM program during the first quarter of 2021. Of these, 65,123 children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) were admitted into IPD and OPD severe acute malnutrition programs, while 113,826 children with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) were admitted in the OPD MAM (TSFP) program. Overall, total SAM cases in the first quarter of 2021 were similar to the same time last year (2 percent below) at the national level. However, in Uruzgan province, the number of SAM cases increased significantly relative to last year, both in absolute terms (by over 1,000) and in relative terms (by 48 percent). During this period, SAM cases in Uruzgan were also 44 percent more than the three-year average.

Overall, the 2020/21 wet season has been poor, with below-average precipitation recorded throughout most of Afghanistan (Figure 2) due to prevailing La Niña conditions associated with lower precipitation in Central Asia. However, the spring wet season—which started in March 2021—brought above-average precipitation to some northern, northeastern, and central parts of the country (Figure 3). This erased cumulative precipitation deficits in some areas and reduced deficits in others. According to field reports, this precipitation reduced water stress in irrigated areas and facilitated spring cultivation in both irrigated and rainfed areas. However, in the southern, western, and central highland regions as well as in parts of the northern region, spring precipitation was also below average and cumulative precipitation deficits persisted. As a result, cumulative precipitation from October 1, 2020, to April 25, 2021, has been below average across most of the country, and significantly below average in southern and western regions.

Due to below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures, snowpack development in the 2020/21 season has also been below average across much of Afghanistan (Figure 4). In some water basins—particularly in the southern and western regions—snow water volume (SWV) was at or are near historic minimum levels as of April 27. As a result, lower water availability has likely impacted wheat production performance in those areas, according to field reports. Additionally, pasture conditions as measured by the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) are likely below average across much of the western and northern regions (Figure 5). 

According to field reports, spring precipitation has supported the development of winter wheat and the cultivation of spring wheat in the northeastern region (Badakhshan, Baghlan, Kunduz, and Takhar provinces). It is likely that average area is cultivated in Baghlan and Kunduz under both winter and spring seasons, while cultivated area in Badakhshan and Takhar may be slightly below normal. In high elevation areas of Badakhshan and Takhar provinces, spring precipitation delayed spring cultivation, but recent drier weather could provide an opportunity for spring wheat cultivation. In lower elevation areas where some winter cultivation did not yield, farmers re-cultivated during this spring cultivation. As of late April, irrigated wheat was progressing well in the region, with average yield expected given near average water availability from snow water. However, rainfed wheat yield is likely to be impacted if precipitation does not occur in early May.

In the northern region (Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Samangan, and Sari Pul provinces), spring precipitation was beneficial to crop development and wheat is in flowering stages in most lower elevation areas. Irrigated wheat is developing well according to field reports, but rainfed wheat is progressing slowly. Additionally, in Balkh and Samangan provinces, wheat planted area is also reportedly lower than normal due to asafetida planting, as the latter is drought resistant and has good regional demand. Field reports and NDVI data suggest that pasture conditions are already under stress. According to field monitoring, both rainfed wheat and rangeland are likely to be impacted if it does not precipitate in early May.

In the eastern region (Kunar, Laghman, Nangarhar, and Nuristan provinces), wheat is in ripening stages with the harvest expected to start around late May. The higher-elevation Nuristan province is the exception, as the season occurs later with spring cultivation starting in May. According to field reports, the wheat crop is developing well; above-average spring precipitation was very beneficial for crops. Additionally, vegetables are being harvested and producers are content with their production according to field reports. Given the advanced stage of crop development, further significant precipitation in coming weeks would likely negatively impact crop quality and yield.

In the central region (Kabul, Kapisa, Logar, Wardak, Panjsher, and Parwan provinces), spring precipitation generally alleviated earlier concerns and both winter and spring wheat are progressing well. Contingent upon further precipitation in coming months, wheat harvest prospects are positive.

In the southeast region (Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, and Paktya provinces), irrigated wheat is progressing well according to field reports. However, cultivated area is likely lower in some areas due to below-average precipitation during winter cultivation and cold temperatures during dormancy stages.

In the southern region (Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan, and Zabul provinces), many areas have received significantly below-average precipitation to date, in both winter and spring wet seasons. This has resulted in severe to extreme meteorological drought conditions in the region as measured by the standardized precipitation index (SPI) (Figure 6). Additionally, soil moisture—an indicator important to assessing agricultural drought—is significantly below average in the region as of April 27 (Figure 7). According to field reports, water availability for irrigated crops has been below average, and both cultivated area and yield have likely been impacted by these factors. Meanwhile, as of April, the poppy harvest started in this region. Area cultivated was reported decreased due to less precipitation this year. In addition, crop diseases and winds also significantly impacted the quality of the poppy crop.

Similarly, the western region (Badghis, Farah, Ghor, and Herat provinces) received poor precipitation in both winter and spring wet seasons. As such, farmers cultivated less land in the spring. In addition to crops, pasture conditions are also likely under stress, particularly in the plains and lower elevations.

In the central highlands (Bamyan and Daykundi provinces), field reports are limited but these high elevation areas are likely to benefit from available irrigation water upstream, and positive NDVI anomalies as of April 20 do not suggest reason for concern about yield.

According to Food Security and Agricultural Cluster (FSAC) partners, around 2 million beneficiaries were targeted with food assistance during the first quarter of 2021, while about 0.4 million were targeted for livelihoods support. Meanwhile, the Afghanistan government commenced a COVID-19 relief program in late 2020, targeting households with incomes of 2 USD per day or lower (twice the national poverty line). As of late April, the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) of Afghanistan provided relief packages to 594,719 households in rural communities, while the Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG) covered around 148,679 households in urban areas.

Most households in rural areas continue to rely on food stocks and income from their average to above-average first and second season harvests in 2020. Additionally, households in lower elevation areas are likely experiencing some seasonal improvements in access to income from labor opportunities in the agricultural sector (including poppy harvesting) and non-agricultural sectors as the weather warms in April. This is likely to reduce consumption gaps for many poor households. Pastoralists and agro-pastoralists are also consuming food they procured from average to above-average livestock productivity and prices. However, availability of income from remittances is likely below average, affecting many poor households across Afghanistan. Given this and above-average food prices at the end of the lean season, many poor households likely do not have sufficient income to meet all essential non-food needs, with Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes expected across most of the country. However, many poor households have likely depleted their food stocks at the end of lean season, with an increasing number likely to be facing consumption gaps or engaging in unsustainable coping. At the area level, provinces that are worst affected by conflict, poor agricultural production, lower remittances, and very limited income opportunities are expected to be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. These provinces are Ghor, Uruzgan, Bamyan, Daykundi, Ghazni, Wardak, Samangan, Badakhshan, and Nuristan.

In urban areas, income from casual labor opportunities and remittances from abroad are expected to remain below average. This is also a time of seasonally low availability of casual labor opportunities. Meanwhile, most staple food prices remain significantly above average. As a result, many poor households are expected to be facing food consumption gaps in the absence of humanitarian assistance, with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely at the area level.

UPDATED ASSUMPTIONS

The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for the February to September 2021 Food Security Outlook report remain unchanged, except the following:

  • Levels of conflict/insecurity are anticipated to increase in the coming months as non-state actors seek to strengthen their position in light of ongoing negotiations. Southern and southeastern regions are among the most likely to be impacted by escalation given reports of escalating tensions in April and given several cities currently under siege in this region. As a result, levels of conflict-driven displacement are likely to increase during the spring and summer. Levels of conflict and displacement are expected to be higher than last year and near average levels. Escalation beyond what is currently anticipated remains possible (see “events that could change the scenario”).
  • Given significantly below average precipitation, below-average poppy production is expected in the main southern producing areas around April to June 2021.

PROJECTED OUTLOOK THROUGH SEPTEMBER 2021

Around May/June with the arrival of the first harvest in low elevation areas, access to food will improve for many rural households. In high elevation areas where the harvest occurs later, availability of milk and livestock products from late March to August will support some access to food during the lean season, though Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist for many households through at least May/June. Following this, an increase in availability of labor opportunities prior to the harvest in July/August is expected to improve outcomes to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in some areas. However, in Badakhshan, Ghor, and Uruzgan provinces, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist at the area level given expectations for below-average and delayed harvests in the 2020/21 season in addition to the impacts of conflict on livelihoods and typical sources of food and income.

In addition, with below-average harvest prospects and below-average livestock body conditions and productivity expected in many areas in the June to September period, some agricultural households who harvest little or nothing and some pastoralist households impacted by lack of available pasture and fodder are likely to experience significantly constrained access to food and income during the projection period, with deterioration to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes likely around August as available resources are exhausted. Similarly, many households in the northern rainfed belt stretching from the western region to the northeastern region are likely to harvest little or nothing, with worst-affected households expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes by July/August. At the area-level, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to re-emerge around this time in worst-affected western and southern provinces where conflict is also a significant driver of acute food insecurity in many areas.

Meanwhile, in urban areas, many poor households will likely continue to face significantly constrained purchasing power due to below-average availability of labor opportunities, below-average remittance levels, and above-average food prices. Though labor opportunity will seasonally increase around spring, availability is likely to remain below average at that time. Due to decreased income-earning opportunities, poor households are likely continue buying less nutritious/less preferred foods and consume lower quantities of food. Urban households who receive two-month packages of humanitarian food assistance would be expected to face Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes while the assistance lasts but would likely deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the absence of assistance. Economic recovery in 2021 is expected to benefit some households who rely on businesses and trade, but overall high food prices will still be constraining food access for many poor urban households. Area level outcomes for urban households are expected to improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) by June 2021 but poor households will still remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) due to adverse factors.

Internally displaced persons have lost their ability to access and maintain their livelihoods and cultivate their lands. As a result, newly displaced households who receive three-month packages of humanitarian assistance are expected to face Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes for the three-month period following displacement, with deterioration to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes expected following that due to the poor labor market and high food prices. In addition to causing displacement, conflict and natural disasters will likely decrease access to health and nutrition services. This may further deteriorate the nutrition condition of the most vulnerable groups, such as under-five children and pregnant and lactating women (PLWs).

About this Update

This monthly report covers current conditions as well as changes to the projected outlook for food insecurity in this country. It updates FEWS NET’s quarterly Food Security Outlook. Learn more about our work here.

About FEWS NET

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on approximately 30 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, USGS, and CHC-UCSB, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica.
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