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Ghor faces Emergency (IPC Phase 4) amid suspended aid; large-scale deliveries continue elsewhere

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • February - September 2023
Ghor faces Emergency (IPC Phase 4) amid suspended aid; large-scale deliveries continue elsewhere

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year
  • Areas of Concern
  • Most Likely Food Security Outcomes and Areas Receiving Significant Levels of Humanitarian Assistance
  • Key Messages
    • Food assistance needs in Afghanistan are expected to peak during February and May, which coincides with the peak of the lean season. Millions of households in Afghanistan face food consumption deficits due to low incomes, high food prices, and below-normal purchasing power, as the availability of income-earning activities and household capacity to cope with shocks has been eroded after years of conflict, poor macroeconomic conditions, and an ongoing drought that has persisted for at least two years. The share of the national population experiencing acute food insecurity places Afghanistan among the most food-insecure countries globally.

    • Large-scale humanitarian food assistance distributions are still playing a critical role in mitigating severe food consumption deficits for households in many provinces. In February, WFP distributed food assistance to over 10.2 million people across the country, covering 50 percent or more of their food needs on average. However, humanitarian access is increasingly subject to challenges, including the diversion of assistance and barring of female staff. In areas of high concern where aid deliveries are likely preventing worse outcomes, including Badakshan and Nuristan, Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are expected, with some households in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) through at least May, when the harvest begins. However, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are most likely to persist in Ghor through May, where assistance distributions have been suspended since December, and households face extreme difficulty accessing food due to a lack of household food stocks and limited ability to purchase food on the market.

    • Levels of acute food insecurity are less severe in lowland areas, and continued improvement is expected after June, when the wheat harvest is expected to start. The availability of food from own production is expected to prevent or mitigate food consumption deficits, and many areas are expected to see improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist in higher elevation areas, where the harvest does not typically occur until October and household capacity to purchase food is expected to remain low.

    • Precipitation from October through February was mixed across much of the country. The season started favorably, facilitating winter wheat planting through late November/early December. However, precipitation deficits emerged across much of the country from mid-December through February. As of late February, precipitation deficits were most visible in southern and western areas of the country, whereas precipitation was generally favorable in the northeast. Based on forecasts developed in February, March to May precipitation for the spring season will be near average; however, due to the lower-than-normal snow water volumes, and reservoir levels, there is concern that hydrological drought will persist in western, southern, and northern areas of the country through at least September.

    • Despite the mixed precipitation performance of the 2022/23 season, planted crops are generally in good condition, including planted winter wheat. While higher agricultural input costs have reportedly had slightly negative impacts on households’ ability to plant, it is not assessed to be significant. Furthermore, spring wheat planting in lower-elevation areas concluded in February at near-average levels, with planting expected to start in early March in the highlands. Spring wheat area planting will likely be near average. The availability of agricultural opportunities is likely to slowly improve in the coming months; however, income from this source is expected to continue to be lower than average.


    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Precipitation performance: While initial forecasts were optimistic about precipitation prospects during the October to February winter season, precipitation did not materialize as forecast across much of the country. Critically, the start of season saw favorable precipitation totals during the window for winter wheat planting; however, the rest of the season performed poorly. Furthermore, precipitation tapered off atypically early, resulting in deficits as large as 60 mm compared to average monthly totals in February. Overall, cumulative precipitation during the October to February winter wet season was broadly below average, though the depth of precipitation of deficits varied considerably from slight to significant. The deepest deficits were in the northwest and south, where precipitation ranged between 45 and 75 percent of average (Figure 1). The exception to this trend is observed in the northeast, where some areas experienced average to above-average precipitation.

    Insufficient precipitation has raised concerns for a third consecutive year of hydrological drought, though it is early in the year, and forecasts remain indicative of more favorable precipitation in the March to May spring season. Snow water volumes were generally average or approaching average through mid-February, but high temperatures and below-normal precipitation drove a rapid decline in many basins across the country in late February (Figure 2). Snow water volumes in many basins were not only depleted atypically early this year, but also even earlier than what occurred in 2022. As a result, some water basins have record-low volumes, with negligible volumes observed in most basins in the west and south. Currently, water basin volumes are sufficient to meet water demand for people, irrigation, and livestock in most areas of the country; however, water availability for crops remains low in some downstream areas.

    Figure 1

    Seasonal precipitation, October 1, 2022, to February 28, 2023, compared to normal
    Seasonal precipitation, October 1, 2022, to February 28, 2023, compared to normal

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 2

    Snow water equivalent anomaly in basins as of Feb. 28, 2023
    Snow water equivalent anomaly in basins as of Feb. 28, 2023

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Crop production: Winter wheat planting concluded in November at near-average levels nationally, facilitated by the favorable precipitation at the start of the season. Households generally planted non-improved seeds and have limited access to fertilizer which drove down fertilizer use. Households prioritized accessing seeds to plant over seed quality and fertilizer, which could have some negative implications on crop yields. Crop development is near normal in most areas with planted crops, as winter wheat production predominantly relies on irrigation, which has helped to mitigate the impact of cumulatively below-average winter precipitation. However, declines in yields are expected in the areas with the deepest precipitation deficits in the northwest and south. The national trend also reflects well above-average planting levels in the southwest, as households have shifted from poppy cultivation to winter wheat production due to the enforcement of the 2022 ban on poppy production.

    Spring wheat planting, which is 100 percent rainfed, is complete in the low-lying areas of the country but has yet to begin in the highlands. Notably, area planted with spring wheat in lower elevation areas is significantly higher than last year and the five-year average, which reverses the trend observed over the last two drought years in some areas of the county, such as Ghor Province, where almost no spring wheat planting occurred in 2021 or 2022. Meanwhile, planting for spring wheat in the central and northeastern highlands will commence in March/April as the snowpack melts. As of late February, spring wheat planting is similar to normal nationally across the lowlands.

    Due to the increasing precipitation deficits, there are concerns about crop conditions and development for planted crops, predominantly in the lowlands, in late February and early March. Moreover, freezing February temperatures raise concerns for crop development and yields in the country's northern, western, and southern areas, which could impact crop yields.

    Cash crop production: Cash crop production, such as vegetables and poppy, is historically an important source of income for poor households across the country, derived from both crop sales and agricultural labor. The vegetable harvest typically begins in November and continues on a rolling basis for different types of vegetable crops through February in eastern areas of the country. In February, the cucumber, potato, and onion harvests are ongoing. The lower-than-normal rainfall has not significantly impacted the vegetable harvest as vegetables are typically planted close to water sources, and production is near average.

    Conversely, poppy production has likely significantly declined due to the enforcement of the 2022 ban on poppy cultivation. The crop is typically planted in October/November across the country, especially in the southwest. While the government banned cultivation in April 2022, the 2022 crop – which had been planted in late 2021 – was exempt, leading to a lag in the observed impact of the ban on production and related household income. The effect of the ban is most likely to materialize with the 2023 harvest, as farmers have shifted away from poppy production to other crops, such as wheat. Information on poppy planting and production is limited. If any crops were planted, they will reach maturation at the start of the harvesting period in March/April.

    Macroeconomy: Macroeconomic conditions in Afghanistan have stabilized after severely contracting in 2021, but the economy remains fragile with limited prospects for growth in 2023. In 2022 and early 2023, low levels of conflict, the partial resumption of aid, and investments by the UN have eased the severity of hard currency shortages and supported exchange rate stabilization. Additionally, the World Bank reported a doubling of merchandise exports in 2022 compared to the four-year average, that not only contributed to the alleviation of currency shortages, but also likely benefitted workers in the agriculture, minerals, and textile sectors. Nevertheless, the removal of Afghanistan from the international banking community and low government revenue continues to result in liquidity challenges and limited government investment. In this environment, household income-earning opportunities remain largely informal, and low effective consumer demand for goods and services impedes the rebound of the private sector, reinforcing a cycle of anemic economic growth.

    The value of the Afghan Afghani (AFN) has been generally stable in early 2023, trading around 86.5 AFN/USG in February. The government has strict controls on the illegal export of foreign currency and withdrawal limits. According to WFP, the stability in the currency can be partially due to the steady influx of USD from UN agencies into Afghanistan. 

    The inflation rate has steadily declined since reaching its peak in June 2022. According to the World Bank, as of February, the annual inflation rate was below double digits, standing at 3.5 percent. Overall, the headline and food inflation rates are currently similar. The decline in headline inflation is primarily driven by declines in diesel and food prices (predominantly cooking oil), a seasonal slowdown in economic activity and demand in winter, and stability in the exchange rate. However, the basic household goods inflation rate, calculated by the World Bank, rebounded in February, rising to 0.7 percent. Increases in domestic rice prices drove the month-on-month increase from January to February.

    Fuel prices are above average, contributing to higher transportation costs, making it costlier for people and goods, including food, to move. Diesel prices in February were, on average, 85 AFN/liter. Diesel prices are higher in highland markets, where the movement of goods is further limited by snowpack. While prices have declined in recent months due to stable imports from Iran and sufficient domestic supply, diesel prices are nearly 15 percent above last year and 45 percent above the two-year average.

    Figure 3

    Headline, food, and basic household goods inflation from July 2021 to February 2023
     NSIA and World Banks

    Source: NSIA and World Banks

    Import and export volumes: Afghanistan is typically a deficit-producing country and relies heavily on imports to fulfill its domestic food needs through imports from Kazakhstan. After lifting the export ban in Kazakhstan in September 2022, exports slowly resumed. According to the World Bank, Afghanistan imported around 2.5 to 2.8 million metric tons of wheat flour and wheat grain from September 2022 to January 2023. Steady and normal movement of goods from source markets is supporting market supply.

    Afghanistan exports agricultural products to its neighbors as well as coal, textiles, and dried fruits. Pakistan and India remained the key export destinations of Afghan agricultural products, and the catastrophic floods in Pakistan in late 2022 provided an opportunity for the value of Afghan food exports to increase three-fold. According to the World Bank, exports from the agricultural sector typically account for nearly 60 percent of total exports. Additionally, coal exports to Pakistan doubled in 2022 due to high demand and competitive prices on the regional market. The atypical rising trend in coal exports, specifically, has had a mixed effect on poor households. Domestic coal prices are high, which is curbing access to poor households. On the other hand, increased exports and demand for labor have paved the way for short-term seasonal increases in new casual labor opportunities in coal-producing areas of Badakhshan, Takhar, and Herat provinces from mid to late 2022.

    Market supply: In lowland areas, market supply levels are seasonally normal due to favorable import flows and the generally undisrupted movement of goods within the country. In higher-elevation areas, however, market supply levels are variable, ranging from near normal to low due to winter weather conditions. Snowpack in highland areas limits trader movements, and the availability of supply is further constrained by the below-normal 2022 harvest in some of these areas. In some markets, traders prepositioned goods before winter, which is now supporting stable market supply; however, in some more remote areas outside of the provincial capitals, such as parts of Badakhshan and Ghor provinces, traders did not have the opportunity to preposition goods, resulting in more limited market supplies. Additionally, communities in more remote areas outside of towns face additional challenges regarding physical market access, as the snowpack limits movement to and from towns during winter.

    Market prices: In February, staple food prices, remained well above the five-year average, but were somewhat stable compared to the same month in 2022. On average, the national price of wheat, which is the most important staple food, trended over 30 percent above average but around 5 percent below last year (Figure 4). Monthly trends in food prices have also been relatively stable in recent months across most markets. Prices of wheat are generally stable due to strong Kazakh production and the resumption of Kazakh imports, along with a February shipment of wheat from the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Wheat prices are the highest nationally in Laghman, Nimroz, and Panjsher provinces, where prices are nearly 10 percent higher than the rest of the country due to the higher transportation costs, lower than normal market supply, and specifically in Panjsher political tensions. Additionally, in remote markets of the central and northeastern highlands, wheat prices likely remain elevated.

    Figure 4

    Wheat prices on average nationally and in key reference markets
    Wheat prices on average nationally and in key reference markets

    Source: WFP

    In contrast to monthly trends in wheat prices, the price of rice, which is predominantly imported from Pakistan, has risen since October. This is primarily attributed to price transmission from Pakistan. Rice prices in February were nearly 20 percent higher than the same time last year and over 30 percent higher than the two-year average. Rice prices increased on average by around 10 percent from January to February.

    The national food basket, which is calculated by the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster, is comprised of wheat flour, lentils, rice, cooking oil, and iodized salt. The price was four percent lower on average nationally in January 2023 compared to the same time last year (Figure 5); in some provinces, the price declined more steeply by as much as 12-14 percent. The decline in the food basket price reflects reductions in imported wheat and cooking oil prices. Nevertheless, the cost of the basket remains higher than it was in August 2021, prior to the shift in the government. Furthermore, there are a few notable exceptions to the national year-on-year trend. In Bamyan, Nuristan, and Panjsher, the price of the food basket actually rose by 9-19 percent compared to last year, most likely related to the impact of winter road conditions, high transportation costs, and periodic conflict in Panjsher.

    Figure 5

    Percent change in the price of the food basket price between January 2023 and January 2022
    Percent change in the price of the food basket price between January 2023 and January 2022

    Source: Calculation by Food Security and Agriculture Cluster of WFP data

    Pasture availability and livestock body conditions: Temperatures have been relatively mild this winter, facilitating earlier-than-normal pasture availability for livestock in the eastern, southeastern, and northern lowlands in late January and February. The availability of pasture resources, coupled with the habitual tendency of households to supplement pasture with purchased livestock feed, has supported generally near-average livestock body conditions across the lowlands.

    In contrast, pasture and grazing areas are not typically available in the highlands during the winter months due to snowpack, and this has generally remained the case in most areas this season. As a result, households in the central and northeastern highlands must predominantly purchase livestock feed, including straw, due to the minimal availability of pasture, placing pressure on household expenditures. Based on field reports, household stocks of straw and the availability of straw for purchase is limited due to the impacts of the 2021/22 drought. In February, animal feed prices were around 10 percent higher than last year and the two-year average. Due to the higher straw prices and lower household income, households face difficulty purchasing sufficient animal feed and straw for livestock consumption, and they are reportedly seeking gifts from better-off neighbors and relying on credit or other means to sustain the health of livestock, which are a key source of food and income in these agropastoral areas. However, in some highland areas such as Ghor and Badakhshan provinces, livestock body conditions are likely lower than normal due to the more severe impacts of consecutive years of drought in these areas and the related difficulties households face in purchasing sufficient livestock feed.

    Livestock market supply and prices: In most markets across the country, the supply of livestock has been stable over the past few months, given relatively salable body conditions and steady demand. Similarly, livestock prices were stable, on average, between January and February. However, mixed trends in livestock supply/demand dynamics have driven varying sales price trends compared to last year, and prices range from above average to below average. In February, livestock prices declined by 10 or more percent compared to the same time in 2022 in areas such as Ghor, Hirat, Samangan, and Kunduz provinces, likely driven by an atypical increase in distress sales over the past year as households sought to earn more income in an effort to purchase sufficient food. In contrast, livestock prices significantly increased in Sar-i-pul, Laghman, Kunar, and Nangarhar provinces due to improved pasture conditions and higher export demand. These markets supply livestock to markets in Iran and Pakistan, where demand remains strong.  

    The quantity of wheat grain that a household can buy with the sale of a sheep – which is a proxy for household purchasing power known as the sheep-to-wheat terms-of-trade (ToT) – has been broadly stable since August 2021 on average nationally, as variations in livestock prices generally offset variations in wheat prices (Figure 6).  Additionally, at the provincial level, there were a few positive deviations from the stable national trend on a monthly basis from January to February. The ToT increased at the highest rate in Takhar, Badghis, Sar-e-pul, and Ghor provinces, as the relative decline in wheat prices and moderation of livestock prices have been favorable for household purchasing power. In Ghor Province, for example, wheat prices declined while livestock prices remained generally stable, though at low levels. Regardless, the ToT are still around 10 percent lower than the two-year average, mainly attributed to above-average wheat prices.

    Figure 6

    Sheep-to-wheat grain terms of trade on average across all monitored markets
    Sheep-to-wheat grain terms of trade on average across all monitored markets

    Source: WFP

    Casual labor income: Casual labor availability for unskilled workers has broadly declined since 2020. Available monitoring data suggests laborers could only access 1.7 days per week of work on average nationally in 2022, a trend that continued in January and February 2023. While sub-national trends suggest some areas have seen a rebound or stability in labor demand since June of last year – particularly in areas with demand for coal and other  labor – unskilled laborers have lost, on average, nearly a whole day of work per week over two years. At the same time, wage rates have remained somewhat stable or declined, leading to a net reduction in household income from this source.

    On a seasonal basis, labor opportunities are typically lower in the winter months and start to improve around February as winter ends and casual labor activities start to become available. This year, the decline in casual labor availability has been higher than usual in Kabul, Hirat, Mazar, and Jalalabad. Furthermore, more workers are seeking casual labor work opportunities due to suppressed business activity in formal employment and non-labor informal sectors amid persistently poor economic conditions.

    After sharply declining from late 2020 to mid-2021, the quantity of wheat grain that a casual laborer could purchase with a day’s wage – a proxy for purchasing power known as the labor-to-wheat grain ToT – have been stable on average nationally since late 2021 (Figure 7). From late 2021 to the present, a day of work could purchase about 7 kilograms of wheat grain, about 3 kilograms lower than in 2020 and early-to-mid 2021. If the average household of eight people were to only buy wheat grain with their income, this would be sufficient for about two weeks of food. There are downward variations at the provincial level, such as in Nili market in Daykundi, where a laborer can only purchase about 4.5 kilos of wheat grain with a day’s wage. For the average household of eight, this provides only about nine days of wheat for consumption. Other exceptions to the national trend include Laghman, Ghor, Kapisa, and Kabul, where the ToT dropped from January to February. In contrast, the ToT improved in Helmand and Badghis in February compared to the preceding month.

    Figure 7

    Casual labor-to-wheat grain terms of trade in key reference markets
    Casual labor-to-wheat grain terms of trade in key reference markets

    Source: WFP

    Agricultural labor and sales income: At this time of year, income derived from agricultural labor and crop sales comes from vegetable production – which is primarily occurring in eastern areas – and the start of land preparation and planting of spring wheat in northern areas. Domestic and export demand for vegetables is currently favorable and support by high prices in Pakistan. While traders and other middlemen primarily benefit from elevated wholesale and retail prices, available evidence suggests vegetable farmers are able to earn near-average income from this source, given favorable demand and price trends.

    However, one factor that is limiting greater increases in income at the household level, particularly among wheat farmers, is increased competition for these opportunities. As demand for labor during spring wheat cultivation approaches its peak in northern parts of the country, many casual daily laborers have returned to their place of origin to pursue agricultural labor due to challenges earning sufficient income from casual labor in the national environment of anemic economic growth. The increased competition among the labor supply has driven declines in agricultural wage rates and the number of days the typical farm laborer is able to work. Overall, for those who are able to access agricultural labor, income is lower than average.

    Given the seasonality of poppy production, coupled with the ban on cultivation, income from this source among poor households is likely lower than last year. Typically, the majority of farmers sell their outputs during the harvesting period, May to July, and field information suggests poor poppy-producing farmers have already sold their products from last year and are currently consuming food purchased with this income. Based on field reports, the price of opium per kilogram increased from about 116 USD in December 2022 to about 300 USD in February 2023, likely in anticipation of reduced supply, given the ban. As a result, better-off households are not selling off their product yet in anticipation of maximizing income earned in the future.

    Remittances: Due to the poor economy and loss of employment in urban areas over the past two years, the relative contribution and importance of remittances from Iran, Pakistan, and Gulf and Western countries to household income has significantly increased compared to recent years. However, while data on formal and informal remittance flows in 2022 and early 2023 is limited, available information suggests remittances from Iran and Pakistan have decreased while remittances from the Gulf and western countries have risen compared to the last two years.

    Remittances from Iran are typically significant for households in the central highlands in provinces such as Ghor, Bamyan, and Daykundi, but the value of remittances per transaction per household has decreased due to high labor competition and poor economic conditions in Iran, which has driven the return of workers from Iran back to Afghanistan. According to the IOM, return migration from Iran to Afghanistan increased from nearly 66,000 people in January to 86,000 in February, while outflows decreased from around 52,700 to almost 50,000 people during the same period. Of those who returned, over 50 percent of the people who returned to Afghanistan reported doing so out of necessity.

    Remittances from Pakistan, which are typically important in eastern areas of Afghanistan, have reportedly declined in recent months. The decline is associated with visa restriction policies imposed by the government of Pakistan, limiting the residence and movement of people into the country. Based on field information, the decline in the value of remittances has been a contributing factor to reduced demand for goods and services in eastern and central areas of Afghanistan, which, in turn, is exacerbating the decline in already limited casual labor opportunities in the main towns and markets.

    Conflict: Levels of conflict remain significantly lower than levels observed prior to the shift in government control. According to conflict events recorded by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) in 2022 and early 2023, conflict has been relatively low, with few reports of active fighting relative to previous years (Figure 8). Conflict in late 2022 and early 2023 has been concentrated in Takhar, Nangarhar Kabul, and Baghlan Provinces. The lower levels of conflict are allowing for a relative increase in the freedom of movement of people and goods in the country.

    Figure 8

    Number of conflict events and fatalities from conflict from January 2021 to February 2023
    Number of conflict events and fatalities from conflict from January 2021 to February 2023

    Source: ACLED

    Displacement: According to OCHA, the number of people who fled their homes in 2022 is very low compared to the last five years (Figure 9). This trend continued in early 2023, with few people fleeing their homes due to conflict. Displaced populations are currently concentrated predominantly in Baghlan and Panjsher provinces. According to field reports, current stability in security conditions has facilitated the return of many displaced households – including those that were displaced to urban areas – to their place of origin and permitted them to re-establish their livelihoods.

    Figure 9

    Number of people who fled their homes due to conflict by year from 2017 to 2022
    Number of people who fled their homes due to conflict by year from 2017 to 2022

    Source: UNOCHA

    Humanitarian food assistance: Humanitarians continue to prioritize reaching the most acutely food-insecure households with food assistance, but reported funding shortfalls, restrictions on female aid workers, and heavy snowfall in the central highlands has resulted in significant challenges that impede humanitarian access and distribution levels. According to food assistance distribution reports from WFP, the number of recipients of food aid deliveries, specifically, dropped from approximately 11.6 million people in January to 10.2 million in February, a decline of around 1.4 million people. Both rural and urban areas are being targeted for assistance, and beneficiaries are receiving slightly more than 50 percent of their kilocalorie needs on average from food assistance. However, there are also reports communicating concern for high levels of diversion of assistance from intended beneficiaries, in part due to interference in the selection of beneficiaries and interference in staff recruitment. Assistance delivery distributions have been most significantly disrupted in Ghor and Daykundi provinces, where humanitarians were compelled to suspend their response in these areas in February. While some distributions took place in Daykundi prior to the suspension, no aid has been distributed in Ghor since December.  

    Nutrition Outcomes: Levels of acute malnutrition vary significantly within Afghanistan, and elevated levels are primarily attributed to the impacts of multi-year drought and poor macroeconomic conditions on access to clean water and sufficient quantity and quality of food. The most recent acute malnutrition data, collected between June and October 2022, show the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) ranges from Alert (GAM 5.0-9.9 percent) to Critical (GAM 15.0-29.9 percent). The highest levels of acute malnutrition observed during this period in Afghanistan were within the Serious (GAM 10.0-14.9 percent) and Critical (GAM 15.0-29.9 percent) ranges, observed in Parwan, Kabul, Kapisa, Panjshir, Ghazni, Nangarhar, Laghman, Kunar, Paktika, Zabul, Blakh, Jawzjan, and Farah provinces. Since June, it is likely that levels of acute malnutrition have increased due to declining food consumption during the winter season; even though data on children admitted for treatment of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is lower than late 2022 (Figure 10), this is likely related to the fact that snowpack limits household access to health services during the winter months, thereby limiting the number of children diagnosed. However, it is important to note that acute malnutrition in Afghanistan is not only driven by poor food consumption, but also poor sanitation and elevated disease incidence.

    Figure 10

    Admissions of children with SAM from January 2021 to February 2023
    Admissions of children with SAM from January 2021 to February 2023

    Source: UNOCHA

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Food assistance needs in Afghanistan are approaching their annual peak, driven by the erosion of livelihoods in the aftermath of conflict, the persistence of high food and non-food prices and a weak labor market that limits household purchasing power, and a seasonal economic slowdown during the winter months. Although ongoing humanitarian food assistance is mitigating the size of food consumption deficits for beneficiaries across much of the country, the decreased extent of food assistance distributions due to access and funding challenges, coupled with diversions of assistance, is reducing the impact of food assistance on food security outcomes. As a result, millions of households still have food consumption gaps or are using coping strategies to mitigate them. Furthermore, the suspension of aid in Ghor province has removed this critical lifeline for households in this area. Overall, households across much of the country have exhausted food from the 2022 production year and are reliant on markets for food. Across much of the country, income-earning from labor and remittances is low due to the ongoing winter/lean season. Even with modest declines in the cost of the food basket, household financial and coping capacity to access food is low in many areas of the country. Not only are households contending with difficulty accessing food, but they are also faced with the hard choice of choosing to purchase fuel for staying warm and food in many cases in both rural and urban areas. The financial barriers are the largest in the central and northeastern highlands, where income-earning options and access are limited.

    The severity of acute food insecurity is highest in Ghor Province, where assistance distributions have been suspended, and households are experiencing widening food consumption gaps, especially in the more remote areas of the province. Due to the snowpack, households have limited financial and physical access to markets. Households are relying on the little food they have in their homes and market purchases as food is available on the markets. As a result, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are ongoing. In other areas of high concern, such as Badakhshan and Nangahar, ongoing humanitarian assistance deliveries play a critical role in mitigating large consumption deficits and mitigate the use of severe coping strategies to access food such as migrating, and very high livestock sales, and Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes are most likely ongoing.

    Many areas across the rest of the country are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes, especially in the highlands and areas with precipitation deficits. Compared to Ghor, Badakhshan, and Nangahar, market access in the other highland areas is relatively better due to lower snowpack, trader movement, and or financial access. Nevertheless, many households in these areas are experiencing food consumption deficits due to insufficient income to purchase enough food to meet their minimum kilocalorie needs. Elsewhere, Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are likely ongoing in areas where assistance deliveries are occurring, and diversion is not significant. In these areas, assistance is high, allowing for households to meet their food needs; however, due to lower than normal income, populations are facing difficulty meeting their nonfood needs.


    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Assumptions

    The most likely scenario from February to September 2023 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • Based on forecast models as of February, cumulative precipitation from March to May 2023 in Afghanistan will most likely be average throughout most of the country. However, there is uncertainty in the forecast due to the transition from La Niña to ENSO neutral conditions.
    • Temperatures are likely to be above average throughout the projection period, which will likely contribute to early snow melt and the development of crops.
    • Flooding events are likely to occur at lower-than-normal levels considering the current snow water volume and the precipitation forecast for the remainder of the 2022/23 wet season. Isolated flash flooding is likely in the spring, as is typical.
    • Given current water volumes and expectations for precipitation through May 2023, snow water volumes are anticipated to be near to below average in most basins. While water availability is expected to be higher than in recent years, lower-than-normal snow water volume will contribute to lower-than-normal water availability for a second season and irrigated crops. 
    • Area planted for rainfed/spring wheat is expected to be average due to forecasted near-average spring precipitation and households shifting to planting wheat instead of poppy, especially in southwestern areas. Poor households will likely have some difficulty accessing agricultural inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizer due to their high costs; however, this is not expected to be a significant barrier to planing with lower quality seeds. Areas that are not planted with irrigated wheat will likely be planted with oil seeds and pulses. 
    • Second-season crop production prospects are mixed. In areas where snow water volumes are expected to be average, second-season planting will likely be above average, with favorable crop development anticipated. In areas where there is below-normal snow water volume, predominantly in northeastern and eastern areas, there is some concern for crop development. Maize and rice production, which are the primary second-season crops, is expected to be below average due to below-average water availability in basins. Taken together, and based on current and expected snow water volumes and expectations for favorable crop development, the net harvest starting in September will likely be average. 
    • Nationally, wheat production is expected to be near average due to favorable precipitation and households switching from poppy production to wheat production. Wheat production in most regions is expected to be near average; however, production will likely be below average in the southeast due to below-average rainfall and above-average expected temperatures.
    • Due to the government ban on poppy production, it is likely that poppy production is expected to be very limited.
    • Despite signs of economic stabilization in Afghanistan, the economy will face significant challenges. The Afghan economy has contracted and has reached a new norm, with a projected 2.0 to 2.4 percent GDP growth rate in 2023 and no anticipated improvement in per capita income, based on projections by the World Bank and other institutions.
    • Headline inflation has reduced from double digits in recent months, driven by declines in key commodities, including fuel, cooking oil, and wheat, but it will likely trend above the five-year average by between 5 and 10 percent in the outlook period, driven by macroeconomic challenges. Although the AFN has recently stabilized against major foreign currencies, there is no indication that the banking sector has recovered. The removal of Afghanistan from the international banking community is expected to put upward pressure on the prices of imported commodities and electricity as liquidity challenges force businesses to use less reliable and more expensive informal money transmission networks for credit. Government revenue for social services in the outlook period is expected to come from regional trade and tariffs as revenue from the taxable population decreases.
    • Despite increased agricultural and coal exports in 2022, it is anticipated that imports and exports to Pakistan are likely to occur at low levels due to continued political tensions between the national governments. It is likely that there will be border closures at specific border crossings during the projection period. In contrast, imports of wheat flour from Kazakhstan are expected to be at normal levels and to support normal wheat supply within Afghanistan due to the favorable wheat harvest in Kazakhstan and the end of the export ban on wheat from Kazakhstan.
    • A stable supply of wheat in Afghanistan during the projection period will help maintain wheat flour prices at their current  trend at the national level (Figure 11). Prices of staple foods, such as wheat flour, will likely remain above average during the entire scenario period, with prices following seasonal trends and starting to decrease with the harvest in June/July and through the end of the scenario period.
    • Despite average to lower than average prices for horticulture and dried crops like apples, grapes, and pomegranates due to declines in domestic and international demand, income from the sales of these crops will be near average, given slightly better production compared to 2022. It is likely that there will be some localized areas where income from this source will be lower than average due to poor rainfall or freezing temperatures during the flowering and producing stages in northern areas of the country.
    • Vegetation conditions are expected to remain at typically seasonally low levels during the remainder of the winter months. Vegetation conditions are likely to improve but remain below average through September, due to the lingering effects of two consecutive droughts.

    Figure 11

    Projected wheat flour prices in Afghanistan
    projected wheat flour prices in Afghanistan

    Source: FEWS NET analysis of WFP data

    • Due to the availability of pasture and fodder, livestock body conditions are expected to be near normal in most of the country. However, herd sizes are likely to remain lower than normal due to drought-associated losses in 2021 and 2022. No atypical livestock migration is anticipated, as herders will move their livestock to areas where pasture is available. 
    • While milk production is expected to be normal and seasonally peak in February/March for cattle and August/September for shoats, overall milk availability is expected to be lower than normal due to lower-than-normal herd sizes. This is expected to drive lower-than-normal income from milk production. A shortage of fodder and grazing areas from June to September is likely to reduce livestock productivity, adversely impacting own consumption and sales of surplus dairy products in the market.
    • Livestock prices will most likely remain stable and average through mid-2023. Livestock prices are expected to increase in June due to increased domestic demand associated with the Eid ul Adha holiday. Thereafter, prices are expected to remain near average and stable.
    • Agricultural labor opportunities are expected to be available at below-average levels. In addition, due to the loss of formal employment, more people will be searching for agricultural employment opportunities, driving high labor supply and pushing wage labor rates down. Additionally, better-off households are likely to hire fewer workers due to lower-than-average purchasing power, driving down wages further. As a result, even for those who access agricultural labor opportunities, income from this source will be lower than normal.
    • The total quantity of remittances from Iran is expected to be higher than average, primarily due to the high number of people who have migrated to Iran; however, the amount per household is expected to be lower than average. Remittances from Western and Gulf countries are expected to be above average as more people have fled to these countries for labor. Overall, due to losses of income in the formal and informal sector, poor household reliance on remittances as an income source is expected to be higher than normal. Total income earned from remittances is not likely to close the income gap left by other income sources. 
    • Although humanitarian assistance deliveries are expected to continue throughout the projection period, a declining trend in monthly distributions is expected. Typically, assistance distributions decrease in the spring and summer months in Afghanistan as the harvest becomes available in lower-elevation areas in March and higher-elevation areas in September. This year funding is also low, and humanitarians are likely to face challenges carrying out their activities, including the ban on female aid workers and high levels of diversion, which will likely drive even further, atypical declines in delivery during the harvesting period. Those who receive assistance are expected to receive 50 percent or less of their kilocalorie needs from assistance.
    • Overall, conflict will continue at low levels, with conflict events concentrated in urban areas and along the border with Pakistan. The conflict will result in some disruptions in market and livelihood activities in these areas; however, it is expected to be short-lived, with minimal impacts on acute food insecurity.
    • Based on the political situation, conflict-induced displacement is likely to be low. Nationally, the displaced population is expected to decline during the projection period as households return to their area of origin to access income-earning activities and fields for land preparation during the spring.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    As the lean season peaks during the February to April period, the size of the acutely food-insecure population and the severity of acute food insecurity are expected to increase in Afghanistan. Food assistance needs in Afghanistan are expected to reach an annual peak during this period, and the share of the population that is food insecure is expected to among the highest globally. Needs will be particularly elevated in highland areas, where winter conditions are suppressing economic and income-generating activities as well as market functioning in an already poor economic environment. Low levels of household income, coupled with high food prices, will render it difficult for millions of households to meet their minimum kilocalorie needs. In Ghor Province, where humanitarian food assistance delivery is expected to remain low, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to persist.

    Around late April/early May, food security conditions are expected to begin to marginally improve, starting in low-lying rural areas. Households in lower elevation areas will experience seasonal improvements in income earned from agricultural and non-agricultural labor, which will most likely drive an increase in their ability to purchase food. With the arrival of harvest in May/June, food availability and access will improve further and more households will be able to meet their minimum food needs. While Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to remain widespread in highland areas through at least May, lowland areas will begin to see gradual, increasing improvements from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as the harvest increasingly becomes available. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in lowland areas from June to September, when households are expected to be able to meet their food needs, but will likely continue to face difficulty meeting their non-food needs without engaging in negative coping strategies.

    However, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist through September in areas of the central and northeastern highlands, where prolonged drought and weak market dynamics have continued to erode local livelihoods, particularly in terms of income-earning in the labor and livestock sectors. Additionally, remittances from Iran and Pakistan are expected to remain lower than normal, suppressing a critical source of income for many households. In terms of seasonality, seasonal improvements in the central and northeastern highland areas of the country start later in the year, during the June to September period. While labor opportunities, especially agricultural labor, are expected to improve during the second projection period, overall income levels will most likely remain atypically low and inadequate against high food prices.

    In urban areas, many poor households will most likely continue to face low income and purchasing power due to the weak labor market, increased labor competition, reduced remittances, and high food prices. Additionally, these households are expected to face difficult decisions between paying for their housing, heating, and electricity and purchasing food. Households will likely face consumption deficits across many urban areas, resulting in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes throughout the projection period. While some households that receive food assistance will likely be Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!), the level of aid among the population is not expected to be sufficient to change area-level outcomes.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    AreaEventImpact on Food Security Outcomes
    NationalBelow-average March to May precipitationIn the event precipitation is lower than normal for the March to May spring season, this would likely have negative implications on wheat production and availability of agricultural labor. While below-average production levels would still provide months of stocks and help to moderate food consumption deficits, it is possible that more widespread Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes would occur during the post-harvest/harvesting period.
    Irrigated/ Rainfed AreasEpisodic above-average and/or prolonged March to May precipitation, characterized by excess moistureExcess moisture leading up to the harvest would likely adversely affect production in MY 2022/23, including a risk of increased incidence of fungal diseases in wheat crops. Additionally, late precipitation during spring (March–April) may prevent farmers from planting rainfed wheat and lead to below-average national production.
    NationalWithdrawal of NGOs and/or UN operations are suspendedIn the absence of assistance, more households would face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in the near term. In the medium term, households would be expected to mitigate the severity of food consumption deficits in some areas due to the availability of the harvest and agricultural labor income.

    Areas of Concern

    Ghor Province

    Current Situation

    Background: Livelihoods in Ghor are based on a mixture of rainfed and irrigated agricultural production. The area is dominated by rangeland, that is used by residents and Kuchi pastoralists during the summer months. Cattle, small stock, and poultry are the dominant livestock kept by households, although poorer households own fewer cattle. Oxen-pulled plows are the most common form of land preparation, but modern plows have been recently introduced for land preparation. Households that lack the necessary two oxen must borrow or rent animals from neighbors or family members. Most households also engage in mixed agriculture, producing wheat, potatoes (only in the irrigated areas), and barley, in addition to livestock keeping. The barley is used as animal fodder, while the wheat and potatoes are for household consumption. Relatively modest landholdings translate into low crop yields for poorer households. To compensate, the poor work for the better-off in exchange for wheat.

    Crop production: Typically, the wheat and potato harvest commence in this province from September to October. For the last three years, this province has been experiencing drought, negatively impacting production. This resulted in lower-than-normal 2022 production. It is likely that many households have consumed most of their harvest.

    Precipitation: Cumulative seasonal precipitation during the October to February period was similar to that of the last two drought years, but this masks inter-annual differences. From October through January, precipitation deficits were even lower than that seen during the same time in 2021 and 2022; however, heavy precipitation in February helped to decrease the severity of the large deficits. Snow is currently present in areas of the province, as is typical during winter. While snow depth is generally below normal overall, it is still around one meter in some of the northern parts of the province.

    Pasture availability and livestock conditions: Livestock body conditions, livestock products, and productivity have been adversely impacted by the two years of consecutive drought during the 2020/21 and 2021/22 production years. The drought has driven low pasture and livestock feed availability. The low availability of these resources, coupled with the low household purchasing power that limits the ability of poor households to buy animal feed, is driving poor livestock body conditions. Additionally, livestock herd sizes are low due to excess sales of livestock during the drought, which is now resulting in low livestock productivity and low food and income from livestock in the current season.

    Water availability: The availability of drinking water for most of the population is low. Wells and kariz (localized underground tunnels) used to be the main sources of drinking water; however, most are dry in rural areas of the province. Most households are now melting snow or using rainwater for household and livestock use as well as consumption.

    Market supply and prices: Based on key informant information, most roads are currently blocked in this province due to the snowpack, limiting physical access to local and district markets. In addition, road blockages are hindering supplies from source markets like Herat, contributing to the above average food and non-food prices in Ghor province.

    Staple food prices in the provincial capital are slightly above (nearly 10 percent) the two-year average but around seven percent lower than the same time last year. Based on field reports, prices in rural markets outside the capital are significantly higher than average due to high transportation costs and impassible road conditions.  

    Livestock prices: During the month of February, livestock prices were similar to that in January in the main provincial market; however, they are over 10 percent below the same time last year. Moreover, livestock are around 25 percent lower compared to November 2022. November 2022 was right before the start of snow precipitation in the province, which disrupts the movement of goods. As of February, the ToT of the amount of wheat grain a livestock can purchase is nearly 25 percent lower than average. The poor livestock body conditions are contributing to lower livestock prices, adversely impacting household income from livestock sales. 

    Casual labor availability: Typically, during winter there are not a significant number of labor opportunities available in the main market. Before the Taliban takeover in 2021, internationally funded projects supplied labor opportunities in this province throughout the year although lower during the winter months, benefiting poor households. These opportunities are no longer available. Overall, in February, labor availability is low with only one day of labor available with rage rates 25 percent lower than in January.

    Humanitarian food assistance:  WFP suspended humanitarian activities in Ghor province in February. The last time assistance distribution in the province occurred in December. In December, over 30 percent of the population received a 70 percent ration. It is likely most households consumed their rations within a month and exhausted it in January.  

    Figure 12

    Reference map for Ghor Province
    Reference map for Ghor Province

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Levels of acute food security in Ghor province are very high, and the suspension of humanitarian food assistance distributions has left households without support to mitigate the size of their food consumption gaps or prevent the use of severe coping strategies. In addition to the erosion of livelihoods due to compounding shocks over time, household income is currently constrained by poor economic conditions and winter conditions. Seasonally, there is limited movement in remote areas of the province where roads are impassable until late March due to heavy snow, which is limiting market supply and household access to markets in town. Overall, income from casual labor and income from livestock production is atypically low, exacerbated by the cumulative effects of consecutive years of drought. Furthermore, households have little to no food stocks remaining from own production. As a result, households have few means of accessing food and are faced with large kilocalories deficits. As a result, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are ongoing.

    Assumptions

    The assumptions for this area of concern are covered in the national overview.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected to persist in Ghor province through May as the lean season persists and approaches its peak. During this time, some agricultural labor is expected to become available as land preparation activities begin with the start of spring, mitigating more extreme deterioration. However, income from this source is expected to be inadequate to drive improvement in food security during this period. Other typical sources of income that households rely on during the lean season, such as remittances from family members that migrated to Iran, are also expected to be atypically low. Households are also expected to resert to selling off their livestock – undermining the sustainability of their livelihoods and ability to meet their food needs in the long term – and begging in an effort to access food.

    Marginal improvement is expected during the June to September period, as temperature rise and snowpack melts. Since Ghor is in the highlands, the area will not benefit from a seasonal harvest until late in the year. However, improvement in road conditions will generally facilitate a relative increase in market access and functioning, alongside a seasonal increase in household access to casual labor and other income-generating opportunities. Livestock health, salability, and dairy production is also expected to improve as snowpack melts and pasture becomes more accessible. Overall, households are expected to realize an increase in their ability to access food, permitting a relative increase in kilocalorie consumption. Most households are expected to be able to prevent large consumption gaps through their own sources of food and income, but the level of incomes will most likely be insufficient to prevent deficits altogether. As a result, it is most likely that households will face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes through at least September.


    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes and Areas Receiving Significant Levels of Humanitarian Assistance

    FEWS NET. Afghanistan Food Security Outlook February to September 2023: Ghor faces Emergency (IPC Phase 4) amid suspended aid; large-scale deliveries continue elsewhere, 2023.

    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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