Food Security Outlook

Winter and spring crops are developing well and supporting agricultural labor demand

April 2013 to September 2013

IPC 2.0 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 2.0 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 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Remote monitoring
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

  • With the arrival of spring slightly early this year, most sources of food and income have seasonally improved, especially the availability of agricultural labor opportunities and the availability of dairy products. Most areas of Afghanistan are currently classified at Minimal (IPC Phase 1), meaning that more than four in five households are meeting their food and essential non-food needs without engaging in atypical, unsustainable coping strategies.

  • March to May spring rains are expected to continue normally with good distribution. Early indications are of normal wheat crop development. With steady rains, an average to above average harvest is likely from May to September of both winter and spring wheat crops. This would be the second year in a row with an above average wheat harvest.

  • Over half a million persons were internally displaced (IDPs) as of February 2013, and new displacements over the spring and summer are likely both due to armed conflict and localized natural disasters such as river bank erosion and flooding. IDPs and households recently displaced by natural disasters have often lost their assets and their livelihoods. They are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) through September, despite receiving humanitarian assistance. 

National Overview

Current Situation

The start of the 2012/2013 west season was slow with limited amounts of rain and snow from October to December, though there were larger storms in some areas. As winter wheat is predomantly planted on irrigated land, and water availability in 2012 was above normal, planted area under winter wheat was near average. As soils were already moist from the previous season and some irrigation water was available, land preparation and planting proceeded on schedule and at a normal level.

By late January though, while winter crops all over the country are in the dormancy stage, snowfall amounts increased. At the same time, temperatures at higher elevations in the central highlands and the northeastern mountains were remained wekk below average, facilitating the accumulation of the snowpack in January and February. That continued into March and early April at the highest elevations.

During late February and in March, spring rains started on time, and they have continued at a regular frequency and in normal amounts. While the spring rains have thus been near normal in terms of their total precipitation, total seasonal precipitation since October remains below the 2002 to 2011 average in northern and central parts of the country (Figure 4).

While temperatures remain seasonally low at the higher elevations, temperatures at lower elevations in northern Afghanistan started to be above average as early as late January. With regular rains and warmer than usual temperatures, in addition to good supplies of saved seed from the 2012 harvest, spring wheat land preparation and sowing occured 15 to 20 days earlier than normal in rainfed areas of northern Afghanistan. The regularity and continuity of the spring rains through early April encouraged farmers in northern, rainfed areas to increase area planted under spring wheat. Early estimates are that planted area for spring wheat is more extensive than the area from last year and that it is near or slighltly above average.

Crop conditions for both winter and spring crops are normal at this stage with most areas having winter or spring wheat crops in the vegetative, emergence, or flowering stages, depending on elevation and local conditions. Some slower development of crops due to colder temperatures was reported in eastern Afghanistan. Also, wheat rust and stem rust has been reported in some localized areas in southern and eastern Afghanistan. The rust is likely associated with the very wet spring conditions and the continuity of the rains this year, though the areas affected remain quite small. In general, vegetation conditions, including irrigated croplands, rainfed croplands, and rangelands, are normal or slightly better than normal (Figure 5).

Crop and water models also suggest normal to above-normal conditions of crops both in rainfed and in irrigated areas.The Water Requirement Satisfaction Index (WRSI) so far indicates that standing rainfed wheat crops are likely to be developing normally in both most rainfed and irrigated areas. According to the extended water supply and demand model, irrigated water supply is currently widely available though total irrigated water supply is less than last year. Evapotranspiration (ETa), a model for evaporation of water from vegetation using temperatures as a key input, indicates fairly normal to above normal conditions across most wheat surplus-producing areas in northern Afghanistan.

In April, most parts of Afghanistan emerged from the lean season. Demand for agricultural labor resumed from its winter hiatus at a time earlier than normal in lowland areas. With spring livestock births, milk production resumes, and milk and milk product availability increases. Currently labor wages are similar to last year at around AFN 300 per day in many parts of the country. Livestock moved into spring grazing areas up to a month earlier than usual in many areas, helping households preserve some fodder stocks for next winter. In the more remote, higher elevation areas, improved road access during the spring has reestablished physical access to markets and to labor opportunities for migrants.

Livestock prices in most reference market have remained well above their five-year averages since last year. Higher prices have  resulted in favorable terms of trade between livestock and wheat. Typically, poor household in higher elevation areas sell some of their livestock between March and May to buy food after they exhaust their winter household stocks.

This year, as wheat and wheat flour prices in international markets, specifically in Kazakhstan, began to rise in August, prices in Afghanistan also rose. Since August or September, wheat flour prices have continued to rise slightly or remained at their new higher price (Figure 6). Wheat grain prices, which are sources more from local production than from imports, have remained more steady and closer to their respective five-year averages due to stocks from the well above average 2012 harvest. In March, wheat flour prices were somewhat above the five-year average in many reference markets, particularly in Mazar and Jalalabad, key markets for wheat flour imports from Kazakhstan and from Pakistan, respectively. While above the five-year averages, wheat flour prices, generally, remain below their 2008 peak prices.

Irrigated areas at lower elevations where intensive agriculture is practiced, particularly in eastern, southern, western, and northern Afghanistan have already obtained a normal, early vegetable harvest in March and April. This harvests allows households who grow or buy vegetables to increase their dietary diversity. Vegetable sales income is mostly normal, though in eastern Afghanistan, competition with low-cost, Pakistani vegetable imports may suppress profits compared to previous years.

With seasonally improving sources of food and income, especially agricultural labor, stronger household stocks from 2012 lasting longer into the spring and lean season than usual, and improved availability of and access to milk and other dairy products, most areas of Afghanistan are currently classified at Minimal (IPC Phase 1), meaning that more than four in five households are meeting their food and essential non-food needs without engaging in atypical, unsustainable strategies, including any reliance on humanitarian assistance.

Every year, some households, primarily in eastern and northern Afghanistan, are negatively affected by spring flooding. So far, the floods this spring have been less than last year. However, the regular rains in March have led to some flooding in eastern Afghanistan. 1,650 households were displaced in March, but they have recieved emergency assistance. Natural disaster-impacted households displaced by flooding or who have lost valuable assets are classified at Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in April though they are, generally, receiving some assistance.

In addition to many important sources of food and income restarting with the spring such as milk or the availability of agricultural labor opportunities, conflict also tends to increase with warmer temperatures. This year has been no exception. On January 31, the United Nations High Comissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs), primarily displaced by conflict was over 490,000 people. By February, 28, this number increased by over 11,800 people due to new displacements. As IDPs have more limited livelihood options and rely heavily on assistance, IDP settlements throughout the country are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in April.

  • The March to May spring rains are expected to continue at their normal levels, which istypically less in May than in March and April. Rains will continue to be well distributed, tapering off between now and the end of May (Figure 7).
  • Some June to August Indian monsoon rains will fall in eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, but they are not expected to be either particularly dry, damaging crops, or to be particularly strong, leading to widespread flooding and waterlogging.
  • With many indications for continued, normal progress of the rainy season, and indications that wheat crops are developing normally, both the winter wheat harvest in May/June and the spring wheat harvest in June/July in lowland areas are likely to be near average. The extended WRSI model suggests that, if precipitation continues near its normal level, soil moisture should be available in adequate quantities for crop development for the remainder of the season. Highland grain harvests later in the season in September are also assumed to be near normal.
  • In case of small-scale, localized shocks such as spring floods and related displacement, affected households will be able to benefit from the Government of Afghanistan’s and aid agencies’ stockpiles of emergency food and non-food essentials.
  • Pakistan’s 2013 Rabi winter wheat harvest starts in April, and it is expected to be above average. If early estimates of yields hold up, it could be a record setting year for wheat production in Pakistan. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates the 2013 wheat harvest may be a record and about three percent above the 2010 to 2012 three-year average. The estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service (USDA/FAS) is also for three percent above average though not for a record year. Pakistan is expected to continue exporting wheat flour to Afghanistan from April to September with no significant new restrictions on trade.
  • While planting in Kazakhstan does not typically start until May, early indications are for a better season than last year due to better soil moisture in northern Kazakhstan from fall rains and winter snow. Early estimates indicate wheat production is still likely to be slightly above the five-year average according to USDA/FAS and slightly above the three-year average according to FAO. Once the harvest starts in August, there is expected to be more competition from Russia on the northern export route, so sales to points south of Kazakhstan, including Afghanistan, should pick up in August and September. In anticipation of the better season than last year, wholesale export prices in Kazakhstan already started to ease slightly. This trend is expected to continue through September as harvest expectations become clearer.
  • Wheat market prices, especially imported wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan, are unlikely to decrease during between April and June due to the tight international wheat markets and seasonally normal, but relatively high demand for market purchases in Afghanistan. However, domestic wheat grain prices are likely to decrease during the harvest starting in May and lasting into September at the highest elevations. By August, wheat and wheat flour prices are likely to be lower due to the local wheat harvest, lower cost exports from Kazakhstan, and overall, higher regional wheat supply. However, by September, prices may start to rise slightly as demand for purchases on markets starts to increase as households build winter stocks.
  • While voluntary repatriation of former Afghan refugees continues, neither Pakistan nor Iran is expected to forcibly deport Afghan refugees between now and September.
  • Afghanistan’s new social safety net programs run by the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled will continue to function year-round, which will help cover the cash and food needs for qualifying groups including widows, disabled people, and households who have lost a household member in the war. People who have died fighting in the war are locally referred to as martyrs. These survivor and disability benefits will continue, but they are not expected to increase or decrease significantly in value for qualifying households.
  • Insecurity will seasonally increase as roads become more accessible in April and May. However, the security situations will not deteriorate to the extent that private sector trade of goods or usual local and long-distance labor migration would be significantly curtailed.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

The spring rains are likely to taper off in May, though there is likely to be steady, frequent rains of moderate amounts and intensity between now and then. In May, the main harvest will start and continue through September at the highest elevations. Most of the northern and western rural population still have food stocks from the above average 2012 harvest, and as the harvest comes in households will be able to replenish stocks. Some households will sell some grain, replenishing market supplies.

Poor households’ food stocks in higher elevations are likely run down by May, and households will, as is typical, sell some of their livestock in order to purchase food between May and their own grain harvest in September. With livestock prices largely favorable and a peak in demand for Ramadan in July, poor households should be able to procure their needed food. In Bamyan Province where over half of Afghanistan’s potatoes are produced, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL), MAIL estimates that potato income, starting in September this year, will increase by over 10 percent from last year. This is due to over 2,000 new potato storage facilities that have been built, allowing potato-selling households to stagger their sales and take some advantage of seasonal variation in potato prices.

The poorest households are likely to benefit from ongoing aid agencies’ cash or food voucher programss. In additions, some households benefit from the government’s new safety net programs.

As a result of primarily normal, average seasonal progress and without large-scale shocks, food security outcomes are anticipated to be classified at Minimal (IPC Phase 1) in the vast majority of areas of Afghanistan. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) and natural disaster-affected households who have lost access to land will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2). 

Areas of Concern

Northern Rainfed Mixed Farming livelihood zone (AF21)

Current Situation

The last harvest in July and August 2012 in this zone was mostly above average. The rainy season in these areas started more or less on time around November, but total seasonal precipitation was below average by December and has remained so since then. However, by February, precipitation became very regular and has been largely steady since then. While total rainfall and snowfall have not recovered to average, spring rains in February through April have been regular and in near normal amounts, for the most part. In late February with temperatures higher than normal and with steady spring rains having started earlier, land preparation and plating for spring crops including wheat began. With frequent and timely spring precipitation, particularly during March, more land than usual was planted under spring crops. By early April, the spring crops were generally in the vegetative or emergence stages. NDVI suggests continued development of the rainfed crops at a slightly above average or earlier than usual level (Figure 8). The WRSI crop model suggests mostly near normal crop development in these areas, but with growth and moisture conditions possibly not being quite as good as last year. Early field reports also indicate good crop development, thus far.

Early planting also resulted in the resumption of local agricultural labor demand earlier than normal. Wages this year have been broadly similar to last year at around AFN 300 per day.

Unusually for April, many households still have wheat or wheat flour stocks from the 2012 harvest while other households have income left from last year’s cash crop sales, agricultural labor wages, or other sources of income. With more income than usual, households can purchase a more diversified diet including cooking oil, rice, and sugar, even during the latter part of the lean season.

In March/April, livestock give birth, pasture becomes available, and milk production resumes. The resumption of milking effectively ends the lean season, contributing to higher dietary diversity. Sheep prices are well above their five-year averages. Good pasture conditions last year, the short winter of 2012/2013 which ended with higher than normal temperatures in February, as well as currently normal spring pasture conditions have maintained livestock body conditions and prices at an above average level. Rangeland conditions, according to NDVI, indicate slightly above average or early greening of pasture likely due to the warm temperatures in February and March (Figure 9).

March wheat flour prices in Maimana, Faryab Province were 31 percent higher than last year (Figure 10), which is strongly associated with the high, though now declining, wheat flour prices in Kazakhstan. In addition the households most vulnerable to high prices are likely to be benefitting from humanitarian and developmental aid from a variety of organizations operating in this livelihood zone. With higher availability of their own stocks, better cash resources than usual, the resumption of milk production, and good agricultural labor opportunity availability this spring, this livelihood zone is currently categorized as Minimal (IPC Phase 1) (Figure 1).

Most Likely Scenario Assumptions
  • Approximately ten percent of population is currently employed by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) and likely to continue working and being paid by the government for the entire April to September period, ensuring steady, uninterrupted income from formal employment for some households in this region.
  • Agricultural labor demand from nearby, irrigated areas is expected to be above average due to high expected availability of irrigation water. This is expected to maintain wages near or above their current levels with agricultural labor wages both inside and outside of this livelihood zone peaking between June and July.
  • Remittances are likely to continue near their current, stable level. Domestic migration, primarily to larger cities in Afghanistan, is a key source of income for some households.
Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

Unusually, households are continuing to consume food from their own stocks through the end of the lean season. The barley harvest should start in May and the wheat harvest in June, but both may start slightly earlier due to the early planting. As indications are that these harvests will be mostly average, many households will be able to replenish their grain stocks. Other households will be able to sell their surplus grains into the market at farily favorable prices as wheat prices are not expected to dramatically fall. The poor, landless households will depend more on agricultural labor, and the average level of the harvest should support adequate wages both within the zone and in nearby irrigated areas with the highest wages and highest demand for labor during the later part of the harvest in June and July. Cash crops, including but not limited to cumin and sesame, are likely to continue being harvested through September, providing additional labor opportunities and sources of cash income.

With milk likely to be more widely available through August, households will be able to supplement their grain consumption with milk, purchased foods, and vegetables and fruit from their home gardens. Deitary diversity should thus stay seasonally normal through September at its annual peak.

Due to pasture and fodder availability, livestock prices are likely to remain well above their five-year averages. Households who sell livestock in September will then likely face local cereal prices lower than they currently are. This should allow both households who sell livestock and landless households to purchase stocks for winter at a time of year when prices are more favorable. Most households though will primarily stock from their own production this year, for the second consecutive year.

Typically, access to drinking water deteriorates from June to September in some parts of this zone. In these cases, households save winter and spring precipitation in kunda (above-ground water storage tanks), and then use it for drinking water during the dry months. While earlier precipitation was poorer, spring precipitation will likely fill most kunda to be able to last through September.

In most likely scenario, food security outcomes in the Northern Rainfed Mixed Farming livelihood zone are expected to be at Minimal (IPC Phase 1) from April to September (Figure 2). This depends heavily on continued, regular spring rain into May. The end of season rains can be difficult to forecast, so a less likely scenario with rains ending before the end of the season would lead to significantly worse food security outcomes as described in the less likely scenario, below.

Less Likely Scenario Assumption

In the less likely scenario, all assumptions from above remain the same, other than the national assumption regarding the end of the April to May rains. The changed assumptions is that:

  • The spring rains will taper off earlier than usual in late April or early May, reducing the total water available to the planted crops.
Less Likely Food Security Outcomes

Unusually, households are continuing to consume food from their own stocks through the end of the lean season. While the barley harvest should start in May and the wheat harvest in June, both would likely have significantly reduced yields due to moisture stress at the end of the season in late April and May. This would reduce demand for local agricultural labor, a key source of income for both landless households and poorer households with land access. Households would then seek labor opportunities in nearby irrigated areas where the end-of-season rainfall would likely have had a more minimized impact on yields. However, with more households sending migrants in search of agricultural labor, wages would likely be reduced.

While increasing imports would make wheat and wheat flour available in local markets, prices would likely rise to attract additional supplies into the more rural areas and those areas further away from major roads. The rising prices and falling wages would reduce the labor to wheat flour terms of trade in the area. In previous years with poor rainfed harvests, livestock prices decrease, probably due to reduced domestic demand as better off households in various parts of the country shift more of their income from meat to cover staple food purchases.

With unusual household stocks still on hand and some earnings from planting and land preparation during the spring, most households would continue to access adequate quantity and quality of food through June. However, as many sources of income depend on the rainfed harvest, poor households, estimated to make up about half the total population of this livelihood zone, could easily lose more than half of their typical income sources. Intensification of migratory labor is unlikely to be a particularly rewarding coping strategy, but livestock sales, for households with livestock, would increasingly be necessary for households to purchase food from July to September. Hower, livestock prices would likely be less favorable than they are currently and prices higher. The declining livestock to wheat flour terms of trade mean households would need to sell even more livestock to cover their consumption needs.

Food security outcomes would be likely to remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) from April to June as households still have food stock from last harvest and some income from recent agricultural labor opportunities. However, by June, food security outcomes are likely to shift to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as poor households increasingly need to sell livestock, undertake unusual labor migration, or sell other valuable assets to cover their food needs (Figure 11). By the end of September, food security outcomes could shift to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) for the poorest households, as they further stretch their remaining stocks and income in the absence of a scaled-up of humanitarian response in the livelihood zone. Impacts on other livelihood zones in the country are likely though changes to food security outcomes would most likely be delayed until after September.

Internally displaced persons (IDPs) and natural disaster-affected households

Conflict will likely continue to displace more households in 2013. In 2012, over 126,000 persons became displaced from their places of origins, mainly in southern, western, and eastern Afghanistan. In 2013, conflict-related displacements could easily increase substantially compared to last year.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are over 502,000 IDPs in Afghanistan as of February 2013 (Figure 12). During January and February 2013, approximately 9,800 individuals were newly displaced.

Levels of displacements due to conflict are assumed to increase from March to August when typically conflict intensifies. As IDPs are often in unfamiliar environments, they have not established their livelihoods or found new sources of income following displacement. They typically live in camps though a large number live among a host population either in informal settlements or in the homes of the host population.

IDPs are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from April to September as they will depend heavily on support from host communities and on humanitarian assistance.

In 2012, around 34,000 households were affected by natural disasters during the spring, mainly flooding and riverbank erosion. As significant time has passed since then, most of these households have reestablished their livelihoods, apart from the approximately 4,000 households who lost access to their arable land and their houses. In March 2013, around 1,650 households in eastern Afghanistan were affected by flooding, and they have been assisted. Food security outcomes of newly affected households and the 4,000 households from last year that have not regained access to land remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and are likely to remain that way through September.

Events that Might Change the Outlook



Impact on food security outcomes


Significant increase in conflict and related insecurity

If conflict intensifies during the May to July harvest, there may be areas insecure enough where households are unable to harvest. This would reduce opportunities for agricultural labor and likely reduce the total size of the harvest, reducing both household stocks and market supplies of less expensive domestic wheat for the remainder of 2013. While imports later in the year could compensate for market supplies, prices would likely rise to attract additional imports.


Pakistan bans wheat and wheat flour exports

In years with relatively tight international market supplies and high prices, export bans are more likely. Wheat flour prices in would likely rise in response to an export ban. Southern markets, where traders do not traditionally source from northern or Kazakh supplies would see the most impact, though price rises would be transmitted to markets across the country, especially affecting urban areas or areas that have structural wheat deficits. If the ban were to occur before September, highland areas in the central highlands and the northeastern mountains, where the local wheat harvests does not start until September would be especially affected, as many households in these areas are sourcing food from markets.

About Scenario Development

To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.


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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