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Above average precipitation and soil moisture likely to facilitate the 2019 agriculture season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • February - September 2019
Above average precipitation and soil moisture likely to facilitate the 2019 agriculture season

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Cumulative precipitation for the ongoing 2018/19 wet season is above average across the country; however, below average area planted of winter wheat will impact the 2019 agriculture season. Heavy snowfall in late January and February decreased snow water equivalent deficits in all water basins. The current snowpack is anticipated to be sufficient for normal irrigated crop development. As cumulative precipitation is forecast to be above-average; facilitating the positive development of rainfed crops. Pasture conditions are expected to be average improving livestock body conditions and facilitating drought recovery in pastoral and agropastoral households.

    • The negative impacts of the drought, weakening of the casual labor market, persistent conflict, below average remittances from Iran, and displacement continue to negatively impact livelihoods as the lean season is ongoing. As a result, most households are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are present in high elevation areas of Daykundi and Badakhshan provinces. Humanitarian assistance is mitigating outcomes in areas Badakhshan, Badghis, Herat, and Ghor Provinces to Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) and Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!). Food security outcomes are anticipated to improve across the country, as labor opportunities and the wheat harvest become seasonally available.

    • Displacement and insecurity continue disrupt normal livelihoods by limiting access to farms, rangeland, markets, and labor opportunities. Despite some seasonal improvements in access to food and income during the spring and summer months, displacement and reduced non-agricultural labor opportunities is likely to continue to be below average. IDPs and areas of Badghis and Badakhshan continuing to recover from the drought are likely are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • According to the IOM, last year more than 800,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Iran and Pakistan. Humanitarian agencies and the Government of Afghanistan anticipate a slight decrease in repatriation during the coming year. The largest population movements are anticipated during the warmer month from March through October 2019.  Many of these people are likely to return with minimal assets and will most likely require assistance upon arrive as well as income-earning opportunities.


    Current Situation

    Poor households across Afghanistan were impacted by several factors in 2018 leading to high assistance needs for the ongoing 2019 lean season. This year the effects on food security are more severe and widespread compared to recent years due to the 2018 drought and conflict, especially in the northwest, west, and south regions. The significantly below average harvest coupled with severe restriction in labor opportunities, the lean season started atypically early, in December, across most areas of the country as many households depleted their household food stocks, have significantly below-average incomes from labor, and are relying on markets for food. This is coupled with limited market access in some remote areas during the winter months due to snow.

    Although aggregate national wheat production in 2018 was significantly below the five-year average, strong regional wheat availability and continued imports from Kazakhstan and Pakistan sustain normal wheat availability and stable prices in most monitored markets. As well, despite the blockage of some roads and transportation routes due to heavy snow during the month of February, reports indicate the transportation of wheat flour and other commodities to major provincial and district markets remained normal, keeping most wheat prices stable. In January, the average price of wheat flour in monitored markets was about 27 Afghani per kg (AFN/KG) with an overall 8 percent increase compared to last year’s prices and nearly the same as the five-year average. However, larger prices were seen in Maimana, Kabul, and Jalalabad by 20, 18, and 11 percent, respectively. This is most likely due to decrease in market supplies, increased market demand, and localized conflict affecting market access.

    As it is currently the peak of the lean season and winter continues, snow is covering much of the land area around the country, and competition for labor opportunities continues; below-average agriculture and non-agriculture labor opportunities are limiting household incomes. Currently a daily wage laborer finds work 1 to 3 days week, compared to 2 to 3 days a week typically available during this time of year. Daily labor wages earn on average only 300 Afghani (AFN), which is atypical for this time of year. Field reports indicate labor wages in remote areas are lower than reported wages in monitored markets, restricting household income and purchasing power. Although many households are paid through in-kind means with the harvest, as such there is the likelihood of delayed payment to poor households.

    Shortage of livestock feed during the winter months is typical; however, due to poor pasture conditions in 2018, the amount of fodder available is significantly below-average across the country. Livestock body conditions continue to deteriorate through the winter season as fodder prices are above-average with most households selling livestock to purchase fodder for their remaining livestock. These conditions have resulted in below average livestock prices with the lowest prices in the central highlands, northern, and northwestern areas of the country. As well, field reports indicate milking and reproduction levels are below average, but no outbreaks of common winter livestock diseases have been reported.

    In January, the average terms of trade (ToT) between sheep (one-year-old female) and wheat flour across eight monitored markets in the country was slightly below the five-year average. Similarly, the average terms of trade (ToT) for wage labor to wheat was 12.2 Kg of wheat per day of labor; allowing a daily labor to purchase about 12.2 kgs of wheat.  On average, the daily wage labor to wheat ToT deteriorated by one percent from December 2018 to January 2019, although compared to the same time last year, the ToT is below average due to the decrease in daily wage rate by 10 percent on average across monitored markets.

    According to IOM, last year an estimated 800,000 undocumented returnees returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran. The total number of undocumented returnees from Iran since January 1, 2018 is 757,292 and from Pakistan is 32,027. In mid-February, slightly under 50,000 people have returned to Afghanistan since the start of 2019. Many of the newly retuned people are likely to have minimal assets and need assistance upon return to have an opportunity to build livelihoods. The economic conditions in Iran and restrictions on Afghani workers by the Iranian government continues to restrict employment opportunities in Iran and increase the competition for employment opportunities within the country. Remittances from Iran are an important income source for many poor households and particularly during the winter months as more household rely on markets for food. The high number of returnees from Iran has decreased the quantity and frequency of remittances and incomes of households heavily reliant on this as a source of income. Most of these households are generally unable to fully replace this income source with other livelihood activities.

    According to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 2018 was one of the deadliest years for civilians, as conflict by various insurgent groups continues across the country. The decreased stability of the security and political situation continues to have broad impacts on the ability of Afghans to maintain their normal livelihoods. Insecurity and conflict force households to frequently adapt to new local realities. In some provinces, insecurity is disrupting households’ access to farms and rangeland during normal times for planting, limiting market access both for selling and purchasing needs, as well as limiting economic activity and labor opportunities. 

    The opium production continues to provide labor opportunities for households and is part of the local economy in some provinces. According to UN estimates, the total opium poppy cultivation area was estimated at about 260,000 hectares in 2018, 20 percent lower than 2017. Production of opium decreased mostly due to the drought.

    The 2018/19 wet season started on time throughout most of the country although started erratically as is typical. Cumulative precipitation through February has been significantly above-average; however, localized precipitation deficits remain in southwestern parts of the country, according to satellite-based estimates (Figure 1) and field reports. The snowpack in higher elevated areas is above average due to the above average precipitation and above-average snow water equivalent in most water basins across the country (Figure 2)

    The erratic start to the season and lack of confidence in the season by farmers due to the poor performance of the winter wet season last year delayed planting of winter rainfed and irrigated wheat in some areas, particularly in the north and northeast regions. Many households who wanted to plant winter wheat in areas affected by the 2018 drought had limited ability to plant. These households had a below-average quantity of seeds for planting as some households consumed their seeds for planting as food. Also, some farmers elected to not plant winter wheat and wait to plant spring wheat in March or April. The area planted with winter wheat was below average despite some households limited seed reserves due to some seed distributions and buying seeds on credit.  Spring wheat planting activities are ongoing in lower and middle elevated areas as the ground is not frozen.

    Based on SMART assessments in the second of half of 2018, the Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence by weight-for-height Z-score (WHZ) in Balkh is 10.6 percent (7.6-14.5 95 percent CI) indicating a “serious” level of acute malnutrition according to the WHO Classification. Also based on the WHO Classification, Baghlan, Kanadahar, Rural and Urban Kabul, and Khost all face an “poor” level (5.0 to 9.9 percent) of severity with GAM prevalence by WHZ of 7.4, 8.7, 9.4, 8.9, and 9.1 percent, respectively. However, it should be noted these surveys were conducted during the post-harvest period which is when there are typically improvements in the nutrition situation due to the increased availability of food.

    SMART assessments conducted also in the post-harvest period in some of the drought affected hotspots such as Badakhshan, Badghis, Jawzjan as well as in Paktika provinces the level of severity was found to be “serious” (10 to 14.9 percent) and “critical” (15 to 29.9 percent). The GAM prevalence by WHZ was 13.0 percent (10.9-16.2 95 percent CI) in Badakhshan, 10.0 percent (6.6-15.0 95 percent CI) in Badghis, 15.0 percent (11.7-21.1 9 percent CI) in Jawzjan, and 15.0 percent (12.7-18.3 95 percent CI) in Paktika provinces.

    The ongoing drought response by FSAC (WFP and partners) continues to reach nearly 2.8 million people in drought-affected provinces across the country with food assistance. Almost one-quarter of assistance is being delivered to Badghis province.  Following the depletion of the stocks in with the onset of the lean season, the households whom were not targeted for humanitarian assistance in several regions continue to purchase grain with the income from minimal labor opportunities and below average level of remittances from Iran, particularly those living at higher elevations in the central and northeast highlands and drought affected households.

    Persistent conflict and last year’s drought continue to drive high levels of displacement across the country. Many displaced households have abandoned homes, lost and property, and sold livestock at low prices due to the immediate need for cash and inability to care for livestock. In addition to the upheaval faced by displaced populations, insecurity has also impacted normal livelihoods, for example, by reduced access to pasture for livestock and cropland for planting.

    Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are present in areas where the winter ends slightly earlier, and labor opportunities have been reported to slightly increase.   Drought-affected and recently displaced households along with undocumented returnees and poor households with limited ability to access incomes and restricted access to food are in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) particularly in southern, central, western, and northern areas of the country. These households have reported limiting the quantity and frequency of meals, consuming seed stocks for the upcoming planting season, selling assets atypically, and decreasing expenditure on improved seeds and fertilizers. Areas worst affected by drought and conflict in Badghis, Badakhshan, and Daykundi are experiencing Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes as these households have sold most of their livestock, migrated in search of food, begging for food, and have significantly decreased the quantity and frequency of meals. These households have had no food stocks since December and limited access to income earning activities to purchase food from markets. However, the relatively mild winter in some areas has helped households who live in temporary shelters or other forms of shelter that lack sufficient heating systems cope, particularly for IDPs. Humanitarian food assistance is improving outcomes to Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) in Badghis and Kohistan and Arghani Khwa districts in Badakhshan. In most areas of Ghor and Herat provinces, as well as Khawaja Du Koh and Khan Aqu in Jawzjan province, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are present as a result of the distribution of humanitarian food assistance.


    The most likely scenario for February to September 2019 is based on the following assumptions:

    • Cumulative precipitation is forecast to be above average for the November 2018 to May 2019 wet season with above average snow pack in high elevated areas. This is expected to facilitate the normal development of winter and spring crops.
    • As of late February, snowpack is above-average throughout the country. 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 above-average.
    • Given record snow accumulation in most basins there is an increased risk of flooding, particularly in March and April.
    • Favorable climatic conditions are likely to lead to a normal spring planting season, however due  to the limited availability of seeds, some households are anticipated to plant at below average levels. The grain harvests are likely to provide average household stocks of own-produced food in households with the available inputs.
    • Demand for agricultural labor is likely to be near-normal. However, in areas where there is an increase in labor supply due to population movements or reduced non-agricultural labor opportunities, daily wages, and availability of labor, income earned from labor is anticipated to be below average.
    • Expectations for favorable performance of spring precipitation is likely to result in above-average pasture and water availability for livestock, which will most likely lead to average livestock body conditions, livestock prices, and productivity and above-average availability of livestock products for sale and for milk consumption specifically.
    • Imports of wheat and wheat flour from Kazakhstan and Pakistan are likely to remain stable, due to near-normal market conditions in both countries. Domestic wheat prices are not expected to increase to a level significantly higher than their current levels; however, they are anticipated to trend slightly above the two-year average (Figure 3).
    • Due to the likely higher humidity and temperatures, this will most likely create favorable environment for crop diseases such as Rust wheat and other diseases; however, this is anticipated to impact cropping conditions at average levels.
    • The rate of returnees from Iran and Pakistan is most likely to continue a similar trend as seen in 2018. The IOM is projecting the return of over 570,000 individuals from Iran and a minimum of 50,000 returns from Pakistan. This will most likely continue to increase competition for labor opportunities within the country, decrease labor wages, and most likely decrease income earned from labor opportunities.
    • Area planted for poppy is anticipated to continue to be at the levels similar to recent years, providing an average number of labor opportunities and income.
    • Given the difficulty in projecting the evolution of conflict, this scenario assumes the continuation of conflict similar to recent years. This is most likely continue disrupting overall agricultural activities and livelihoods and is anticipated to cause further deterioration of the labor market and economic activities.
    • Humanitarian assistance is planned and likely to be distributed to households worst affected by the drought in Badghis, Ghor, Herat, and Jawzjan. Assistance delivery is anticipated to cover about 30 percent of beneficiaries’ minimum kilocalorie needs with a food basket composed of grains (wheat and rice), a pulse, oil, sugar, and salt.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    In most provinces, February through May is considered the peak of the lean season, when poor households have seasonally low income-earning opportunities and have depleted household food stocks. However, this year due to the drought, the effects of the lean season are atypically severe. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely in most parts of the country during the February to May period, largely due to the impact of reduced remittances from Iran, continued impacts from the 2018 drought including limited livestock holdings and non-agricultural labor opportunities as households are unable to meet their basic non-food and food needs. In higher elevated areas, poor households have depleted their food stocks atypically due to the 2018 drought and sold off their livestock to purchase food. Households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated to continue selling livestock and households assets, reducing the quantity and frequency of meals, and sending households members to beg to access food. Humanitarian assistance will most likely mitigate Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in areas of Herat, Jawzjan, Badghis, Ghor, and Herat and will be facing Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!). In an effort to save the last remaining livestock, households in southern parts of Badghis will continue to deplete their household assets, beg, and decrease the quantity and frequency of meals. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes will continue in Badghis till the harvest, however, humanitarian assistance will most likely continue to mitigate these outcomes and households will experience Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) in Badghis.

    In lower and middle elevated areas, the end of March and beginning of April mark the start of planting for spring crops. Although distribution of improved seeds may take place, some farmers lack access to both improved and regular seeds. Farmers who do not have access to these inputs will have to purchase seeds from the market. However due to restricted incomes and consumption of seeds, some households will not have access to an average level of seeds. On average across the country, most poor households are anticipated to have average access to food from own harvest and income through seasonal agricultural labor, although below average, and income from the sale of cash crops and livestock. Normal income from labor, labor migration, and access to share cropping during the scenario period will most likely increase the purchasing power of poor households. Improved access to milk due to improved livestock conditions is most likely will be maintained at least throughout the second half (June to September) of the scenario period due to better than normal pasture conditions and the reduced need to migrate livestock for grazing. Livestock prices are anticipated to peak in August due to Ramadan with most poor households most likely to have a near average income from livestock and livestock product sales for market purchase of staple foods. Although seasonal improvements to food and income will occur during the spring and summer, displacement, reduce agriculture labor opportunities, below-average remittances, and small livestock herds are expected to drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes through much of the country in the June to September period. However, households in Badghis and Badakhshan recovering from the drought will most likely have a slightly below average harvest and have areduced livestock herd. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are most likely in newly displaced due to conflict, returnees from Iran or Pakistan, or households that are recovering from the drought in areas of Badghis and Badakhshan.

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


    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1.  Seasonal Rainfall Accumulation Percent of Normal (Average 1981-2010) from October 1, 2018 to February 20, 2019

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Seasonal Rainfall Accumulation Percent of Normal (Average 1981-2010) from October 1, 2018 to February 20, 2019

    Source: USGS/EROS

    Daily progression of snow water volume in all basins on average in mm as of February 27, 2019

    Figure 3

    Daily progression of snow water volume in all basins on average in mm as of February 27, 2019

    Source: USGS/NASA

    Wheat flour price trends in Kabul Market for the July 2018 to June 2019 period

    Figure 4

    Wheat flour price trends in Kabul Market for the July 2018 to June 2019 period

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Industry and Livestock/FEWS NET

    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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