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Further conflict-induced displacement and repatriation will continue to drive assistance needs

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • February - September 2017
Further conflict-induced displacement and repatriation will continue to drive assistance needs

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Key Messages
    • Although aggregate 2016 wheat harvests were near-average, the weakening of the casual labor market since 2013 has made it more difficult for poor households to earn sufficient income to support dietary needs during the lean season. Furthermore, 2016 rainfed production was poor in some areas, including in Ghor, Balkh, and Jawzjan Provinces­­­­­. Poor households affected by poor own production or who were not able to find sufficient employment to support food purchases are likely experiencing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes until spring labor opportunities.

    • The ongoing conflict between various insurgent groups, primarily the Taliban, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has escalated in the last two years, leading to greater population displacement in 2016 than at any other time in the record of estimates since 2002. Furthermore, insecurity has continued to disrupt normal livelihoods through disrupting access to farms and rangeland, limiting market access both for the selling and purchasing needs of poor households, and limiting economic activity and labor opportunities. UNOCHA estimates that approximately 650,000 people remain displaced, and further displacement is likely as the spring and summer months approach and fighting intensifies.

    • Although the beginning of the ongoing wet season from October through December was very dry, heavy precipitation in the latter half of January and through much of February has led to average to above-average snow accumulation throughout the country. Although there remains a large spread of possible outcomes, climate models indicate a likelihood for average to above-average precipitation during the remainder of the wet season through May. It is expected that water availability for irrigation purposes will be sufficient for the normal development of irrigated crops, and water availability for second season crops is likely to be average to above-average. Although cumulative precipitation is likely to be sufficient for spring rainfed crops, all rainfed areas must be monitored closely, as the distribution, frequency, and timing of rainfall is crucial for determining harvest outcomes.

    • Last year, an estimated 600,000 people returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran. Humanitarian agencies anticipate a similar number of people repatriating during the coming year, with the largest population movements expected during the warmer months from March through October. As in 2016, many of these people are likely to return with minimal assets, and will need assistance upon arrival as well as income-earning opportunities. Many will likely face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity if humanitarian assistance funding shortfalls and difficulty in accessing income-earning opportunities persist. 

    National overview

    Current Situation

    Due to near-average agricultural production and normal conditions for livestock in 2016, many poor rural households are currently experiencing a fairly typical lean season. Nevertheless, by February many of these households have nearly exhausted food stocks, yet remain with few income earning opportunities. As household food reserves run low, poor households support their caloric needs primarily through market purchases with income earned earlier in the season, or through limited ongoing income-earning activities. Even in a typical year, many poor households experience difficulty in accessing sufficient food and maintaining adequate dietary diversity during the months of February, March, and April.

    Around 1,000,000 Afghanistan nationals, over 350,000 documented and near 700,000 undocumented (spontaneous and deported) have repatriated from Pakistan and Iran in 2016, with limited options for establishing livelihoods before winter. Many of those returning have lived outside of Afghanistan for decades, and will need support from the government and humanitarian actors both on arrival and as they seek to reintegrate into a country already struggling with widespread conflict and displacement.

    The interruption in Afghanistan’s relationship with Pakistan, once again as last year would initiative a flood of Afghans living there to return, severely pulling their war-ravaged homeland’s properties just as it is experiencing a climb of conflicts and insecurity.

    The situation has been formed in a way that, mostly likely Afghanistan will experience the same number of returnees while the situation in the country is not ready of receiving this number of people. Conflicts, insecurities, lack of employment opportunities and lack of living space and proper shelters will be added problem to the top of those a repatriated family is normally experiencing in the country. According to the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation (MoRR), there are 61 camp sites being built to house returnees who have nowhere else to go. But at present, none of these sites is ready. The documented repatriated households will remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) while the undocumented returnees are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Although aggregate wheat production in 2016 was near-average, some rainfed production areas were adversely affected by rainfall anomalies, particularly in Ghor, Balkh, and Jawzjan Provinces­­­­­. Rainfed wheat production was also down significantly in Hilmand, Kandahar, and Zabul Provinces, although at least part of this decline was likely due to expanded area under poppy cultivation. Households who experienced substantial losses to their main season harvests in 2016 have experienced increased dependence on labor income for food purchases, and are likely experiencing a more severe lean season than is typical.

    Although the progression of 2016 agricultural seasons was mostly normal and accompanying agricultural labor opportunities were near average, employment opportunities have remained weak in other sectors such as construction, small private enterprises, and official employment. Population movements away from insecure areas to cities and other more secure areas has increased competition for limited employment opportunities, leading to a decrease in wages offered for casual labor. In eight markets where WFP monitors wheat flour prices and casual labor wages, the average purchasing power of a day of labor in terms of its value in wheat flour (terms of trade) has been notably lower during the past three years (Figure 4). The most significant declines in purchasing power for wheat flour were in Maimana and Mazar-i-Sharif (Figure 5)

    Increasing conflict between Afghanistan’s National Security Forces (ANSF) and non-state armed groups (NSAG) in 2016 caused extensive displacement, with estimates indicating that more than 650,000 people were displaced during the year. One of the notable developments in the conflict has been its extension into areas that had previously been relatively peaceful, particularly parts of the north and northeast. In 2016, people were displaced in almost all provinces, with the exception of parts of the Central Highlands. The greatest displacement of people occurred in Kunduz, Takhar, Baghlan, Farah, Badghis, Nangarhar, and Hilmand Provinces, as well as Sheberghan District in Jawzjan Province. Many displaced households have abandoned their homes, lost property, and sold livestock at low prices due both to the immediate need for cash and due to the inability to care for livestock during displacement. In addition to the upheaval faced by displaced populations, insecurity has also had some impact on the livelihoods of households who have not been displaced, in part due to reduced access to pasture and cropland. In some areas, this has limited household agricultural production and ability to harvest at the proper time, and reduced access to normal sources of income for affected households. Many IDPs are in urgent need of emergency assistance with food and non-food items and services, and are estimated to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    The Opium production in Afghanistan rose by 43 per cent to 4,800 metric tons in 2016 compared with 2015 levels, according to the latest Afghanistan Opium Survey. The area under opium poppy cultivation also increased to 201,000 hectares (ha) in 2016, a rise of 10 per cent compared with 183,000 ha in 2015.

    The beginning of the 2016/2017 wet season was delayed by as much as two months in some areas, with the first significant precipitation in December rather than by the end of October, as is typical in most areas. As of mid-January 2017, cumulative precipitation for the season was well below average across the country, according to satellite-based estimates as well as qualitative information from different regions of Afghanistan. The poor start to the season delayed planting of winter wheat in some areas, particularly in the north and northeast. In areas where precipitation was too late for germination prior to freezing conditions, some farmers elected to plant their land as spring wheat later in the season.

    However, the normal availability of irrigation water throughout 2016, and particularly during the September to December sowing period for winter wheat, enabled planted area to remain similar to the previous season. Planted area for winter crops serves as one of the earliest indicators of the size of the 2017 grain harvest.

    Since mid-January, Afghanistan has received significant precipitation across all regions. As of February 28th, all basins in the country are registering average to above-average snow accumulation, with some basins at record levels (data since 2001). Through February 20 2017, cumulative precipitation is substantially greater than last year in almost all regions, with the exception of parts of eastern Afghanistan (Nangarhar, Laghman, Kapisa, and Panjsher Provinces), which are similar to last year. Recent precipitation has led to favorable soil conditions in most areas where farmers typically plant rainfed wheat between late February and April.

    Despite the blockage of some roads and transportation routes due to heavy snow during the month of February, reports indicate that transportation of wheat flour and other commodities to major provincial and district markets remained normal, keeping prices stable. However, market access for some remote communities has been adversely impacted by the heavy snow accumulation, particularly where routes that are normally clear have been blocked. Wheat flour prices for January 2017 were very similar to the five-year average in all reference markets monitored by WFP.

    The value of sheep, monitored as an indicator for small livestock prices, has increased in comparison to January 2016 in most markets. In comparison to the five-year average for January (2012-2016), the terms of trade (ToT) of sheep to wheat flour last month were up in Hirat (29 percent), Faizabad (22 percent), and Mazar-i-Sharif (11 percent), but below average in Jalalabad (-6 percent), Kabul (-9 percent), Nili (-12 percent), and Kandahar (-14 percent). In Maimana, this ToT was near average. As poor households often sell small livestock to make purchases of staple foods, they typically benefit from a higher value for sheep.

    A shortage of feed for livestock during the winter months is common in Afghanistan, and most people are using dry chaff to feed their animals. In 2016, well distributed rainfall supported the availability of pasture in most areas, and available information indicates that body conditions, milking, and reproduction are normal. No outbreaks of common winter livestock diseases have been reported.

    From October 2016 to February 2017, temperatures averaged above normal in most of the country. The relatively mild winter has helped households who live in temporary shelters or other forms of shelter that lack sufficient heating systems cope with their situation, particularly internally displaced persons (IDPs). However, temperatures over the central highlands and northeastern region have been slightly below the long-term average, which will help preserve the snowpack for irrigation later in the year. Although in many years, market access becomes very difficult in winter, through the month of January 2016 major markets were still generally able to receive supplies, as many roads have remained open for trade between areas of supply and demand during the mild winter. Market access in some areas has been inhibited by heavy snowfall during the month of February. Above-average temperatures in February and the current good soil moisture conditions from the heavy rains and snowfall during the month allowed some farmers in parts of Balkh, Takhar, Kunduz, Jawzjan, Faryab, Saripul, and Samangan Provinces to plant spring wheat on rainfed land at the same level of last year than is typical.

    In aggregate, remittances from Afghanistan nationals living in various countries of the Persian Gulf region are continuing at a normal rate. These remittances provide a significant source of income for some households, particularly in southern and southeastern Afghanistan. However, remittances from Iran remain lower than in recent years, due to economic conditions that have led fewer labor migrants to choose Iran as a destination, and due to new restrictions on Afghan workers established by the Iranian government. Given the diversity in household sources of income in areas that have typically received remittances from Iran, and the availability of labor opportunities with the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP), it is expected that most households are able to adequately cope with the decline in remittances and labor opportunities in Iran.

    The most recent representative food security indicators are from the 2016 Seasonal Food Security Assessment (SFSA), conducted between April and June 2016. Based on FEWS NET’s analysis of food consumption indicators collected in the survey, including Food Consumption Score (FCS), Household Hunger Score (HHS), and Reduced Coping Strategy Index (RCSI), the provinces with the greatest proportion of households in need of food assistance at the time of the survey were Badakhshan, Baghlan, Bamyan, Ghor, Hirat, Kandahar, Nangarhar, Nuristan, Paktika, Parwan, and Takhar Provinces. However, it is important to note that the survey results identified populations in need of assistance in all provinces. Although there may be some correlation between the 2016 survey results and current food security outcomes, it is important to note that rainfed agricultural production anomalies as well as conflict are major factors that may have altered the areas likely to experience the greatest prevalence of acute food insecurity during the outlook period.

    In October 2016, WFP began conducting mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM) surveys in parts of the country. Although to date these surveys have only been conducted in select areas, they have identified restrained food access in some conflict-affected districts of Farah and Faryab Provinces.

    The most likely scenario for February to September 2016 is based on the following assumptions:

    • Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the eastern equatorial Pacific are now within the ENSO neutral threshold, having warmed from the La Niña conditions prevalent in late 2016. There is a wide spread of possibilities for cumulative precipitation during the remainder of the 2016/2017 wet season through May, with a most likely scenario of average to above-average precipitation.
    • Temperatures in recent years in Central Asia are typically above the long-term average. However, near-surface air temperatures are also likely to be above the short-term average of recent years through at least May 2017. Given record snow accumulation in several basins, above-average spring temperatures are likely to increase the risk of flooding, particularly from February through April.
    • As of late February, snowpack is above-average throughout the country, with record accumulation in several basins. According to historical data, it is most likely that peak snow accumulation has not yet been reached in almost all basins. Water availability for first season irrigated crops, primarily wheat, is very likely to be sufficient for normal crop development. It is also likely that water availability for second-season irrigated crops will be average to above-average.
    • The most likely scenario during the remainder of the rainfed spring wheat planting season and early development (February – April) is for average to above-average cumulative precipitation. However, there remains a wide spread of possibilities for cumulative precipitation. Furthermore, forecast models do not provide guidance on the frequency and distribution of spring rainfall, which are also important for harvest outcomes.
    • Average to above-average 2016/2017 precipitation will likely result in above-average pasture and water for animals in most grazing areas, including key rangelands of the north and northeast. This is likely to result in improved livestock body conditions and productivity as compared to last year, and above-average availability of livestock products for sale and for consumption.
    • Favorable climatic conditions are likely to lead to a normal spring planting season, and grain harvests are likely to provide average stocks of own-produced food at the household level. Demand for agricultural labor is likely to be near-normal. However, in areas where there is an increase in the supply of labor due to population movement or reduced non-agricultural labor opportunities, daily wages and the availability of labor opportunities could be below average.
    • Average to above-average precipitation and above-average temperatures are likely to be favorable for the normal development of various horticultural and tree crops that some poor households depend on as a source of income. However, the mild winter temperatures increases the risk of damage due to periods of freezing temperatures and frost during the coming months, as budding and blossoming will occur earlier than normal in many areas.
    • Estimates indicate that more than 650,000 people were displaced due to conflict during the course of 2016, the highest number of displacements since records began in 2002. Humanitarian agencies are expecting that internal displacement in 2017 will be similar to or worse than last year. As is typical, conflict will likely increase with the onset of spring. Civil insecurity and military operations are likely to continue in most parts of Afghanistan throughout the scenario period.
    • Due to near-average domestic production and normal imports, primarily from Pakistan and Kazakhstan, food prices are expected to remain stable throughout the season and will follow the normal seasonal trend, with prices peaking in April before a gradual decline.
    • Due to expectations for a continuation of slow economic growth in 2017 (~3.1 percent annual GDP growth according to the IMF), non-agricultural labor opportunities and wages are likely to remain similar to last year and below average.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The scenario period from February 2017 through September 2017 includes the harvest period and post-harvest period, prior to the peak of the lean season from June to September 2017. Since average harvests are likely this season, access to food will improve by the beginning of the harvest in June/September. Most households who have cultivated this year will have average access to food from own harvest, access to income through seasonal agricultural labor during May to August harvest period, sale of cash crops, and sale of livestock. Improved income during the scenario period will boost the purchasing power of poor households. Improved access to milk due to improved livestock conditions since last August will be maintained at least during the first three months of the scenario period due to better than normal pasture conditions and the reduced need to migrate livestock for grazing.  

    Planting for spring, mostly rainfed wheat will begin in March. Spring wheat planting will continue through mid-April, assuming sufficient precipitation. Although improved seeds have been distributed to some farmers through the district offices of the Ministry of Agriculture (DAIL), there remains additional need and demand for improved seeds. Farmers who do not have access to these inputs are either using their own produced seeds from last year, or are purchasing seed from the local market.

    The primary harvests will begin in May, and continue through September at higher elevations. Most rural households in northern and western regions still have food stocks from 2016 harvests, and as this year’s harvest comes in, households will be able to replenish stocks. Some households will sell some grain, replenishing market supplies before the coming harvest.

    Poor households in higher elevation areas are likely to deplete food stocks by May, and will sell some of their livestock in order to purchase food between May and their own grain harvests in September, as is typical. With livestock prices largely stable and an expected peak in demand in May and June due to Ramadan, most poor households are likely to have typical income from livestock sales for market purchases of staple foods.

    The start of the irrigated grain harvest at lower elevations in May typically leads to a sharp increase in labor demand, at which point some households will already start replenishing their stocks for the next season.

    Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely in most of the country during the majority of the outlook period from February through September, largely due to the impact of reduced non-agricultural labor opportunities. However, outcomes following the end of the lean season in March/April will depend heavily upon normal seasonal progress towards the 2017 staple harvests. Many newly displaced persons (IDPs) and natural disaster-affected households who have lost access to land will likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    The exceptions are the IDPs and refugees with no/limited access to cultivation who will not have access to food from own harvest, sale of cash crops, and limited households for sale on markets. The main viable income source for IDPs and refugees during the scenario period is seasonal agricultural labor on the farms of their host communities during the May to September harvest period.

    The prevalence of acute malnutrition at the national level is likely to deteriorate over the scenario period, as a result of seasonal peak of diarrheal diseases from May to September. Furthermore, constant conflict, particularly in Nangarhar and Hilmand provinces, is also likely to limit access to health and nutritional services and access to agriculture products and food.

    Although seasonal improvements in access to food and income will occur during the spring and summer months, displacement and reduced non-agricultural labor opportunities are expected to drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout much of the country during the scenario period, with many households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Some poor households, as well as many who have been displaced or who have returned from Pakistan or Iran, are benefitting from ongoing cash and food voucher programs implemented by several aid agencies, including various NGOs, WFP, and the Afghan government. However, the scale of these programs is not estimated to be large enough to alter any IPC area classifications.


    For further information on specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of this page.

    Figures Estimated food security outcomes, February 2017

    Figure 1

    Estimated food security outcomes, February 2017

    Source: FEWS NET

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Figure 2

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Terms of trade, KG of wheat flour that can be purchased with wages from a day of casual labor, Jan 2010 – Jan 2017

    Figure 3

    Terms of trade, KG of wheat flour that can be purchased with wages from a day of casual labor, Jan 2010 – Jan 2017

    Source: Data from WFP

    Terms of trade, KG of wheat flour that can be purchased with wages from a day of casual labor, Jan 2010 – Jan 2017

    Figure 4

    Terms of trade, KG of wheat flour that can be purchased with wages from a day of casual labor, Jan 2010 – Jan 2017

    Source: Data from WFP

    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.

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