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Households have above-average food stocks as the 2013/2014 lean season gets underway

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • January - June 2014
Households have above-average food stocks as the 2013/2014 lean season gets underway

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Could Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • The largely favorable climactic conditions for the second year in row created adequate food supply and income sources that has led to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food security outcomes from January through June 2014 in most parts of the country. Despite the current wet season’s below normal performance to date, the forecast for the remainder of the 2013/2014 wet season is expected to be near normal.

    • For areas in the Western Central highlands affected by harvest losses, food security outcomes from January to March are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) as usual seasonal food sources will be replaced by external assistance. Food security outcomes are expected to improve from April through June 2014 to be Minimal (IPC Phase 1!) as seasonal livelihood activities resume with continued external assistance.

    • Food security outcomes for new internally displaced households are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) from January through June 2014 given they will rely entirely on humanitarian assistance and not on their usual food and income sources. Households not receiving assistance during winter will likely shift to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from January to March when income earning opportunities reach their seasonal low.

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) estimates the 2013 grain harvest to be 5,169,000 tons, a 16.5 percent increase in volume as compared to the 2010 reference year. This above-average production is allowing much of rural Afghanistan to enter into the 2013/2014 lean season with ample food stocks. In addition, production volumes from the second season harvest (maize, cotton, and rice) were normal. Both of these harvests have improved food availability and access over much of Afghanistan.

    The well above-average national grain production has not only improved physical access, contributing to household reserves and market supply, but has also maintained relatively stable prices for wheat, despite the rise in wheat prices in regional source markets compared to last year. 

    High demand for agricultural labor during the main May to August above-average harvest brought higher than normal day labor opportunities and income for poor households and landless households. Similarly, households who depend on sharecropping for their food earned more income and were able to produce more food for own consumption and market sales.

    However, in the Western Central Highlands Agropastoral livelihood zone, colder than usual spring temperatures and dry summer conditions lowered wheat crop volumes significantly. This zone only produced 20 percent of its rainfed wheat crops and 40 to 60 percent of its irrigated wheat compared to a normal year.

    Generally favorable conditions for livestock are expected during winter due to good pasture conditions from last summer. Fodder will be available during winter and demand for livestock will continue to rise. Contrary to typical winter prices where sheep prices decline, December 2013 sheep prices remained above the five-year average in all reference markets, with the exception of Nili market where prices are 16 percent lower than the five-year average. This is a result of low fodder availability from a poor wheat harvest in the Western Central highlands livelihood zone, leaving sheep with poor body conditions.

    Remittances from the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf are continuing at normal rates. They are a significant source of income in southern and southeastern Afghanistan. However, remittances from Iran are significantly lower than in recent years, but are expected to increase from their current rate beginning in January through June.

    The wet season performance from October 1, 2013 to January 10, 2014 was below normal in much of Afghanistan, with the exception of eastern Afghanistan where precipitation was above the long-term average. However, this did not restrain farmers from winter wheat planting, which is reported to be normal (Figure 1). Poor households throughout the country who could not afford market prices for improved seeds and fertilizer have benefited from MAIL’s seed and fertilizer distribution program.

    Continued conflict is the main cause of new internal displacement. From February to November 2013, 121,933 individuals have been displaced across the country. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) received WFP and UNHCR food and non-food assistance. The distributed food can last up to 2-3 months if the household size is small (six or less).

    As result of generally favorable conditions for the second year in row and normal to above-normal levels for most sources of food and income, current acute food security outcomes are Minimal (IPC Phase 1) in most parts of the country (Figure 1). However, in the Western Central Agropastoral livelihood zone, as a result of an exceptionally poor harvest that resulted in a shift in food sources (from own production to external assistance), poor households are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2!). IDPs who have been displaced over the past year and who do not receive winterization packages will continue to be classified in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as income earning opportunities reduce to their minimum during wintertime. Since IDPs are spread out throughout the country, and represent less than 20 percent of the resident population, they do not meet the mapping criteria for IPC classification.

    • According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the long-term, precipitation forecast is normal to below normal from January to June. Potential rainfall deficits are not expected to be significant enough to generate below-average crop production.
    • Imports of wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan will continue at a seasonally normal rate.
    • International wheat market prices are not expected to increase more than their current level between January and June 2014.
    • Remittances from January to June sent by domestic labor migrants and civil servants will be normal, as will foreign remittances from the Persian Gulf countries.
    • The spring flooding season is not expected to surpass a level of flooding or an area affected significantly higher than in normal year. From March to May, the impact of floods and avalanches will remain localized.
    • Pakistan and Iran will not force the deportation of Afghans. However, voluntary repatriations from both countries are expected to continue at a seasonal rate.
    • Insecurity will seasonally increase starting in March, after the snow melts. However, it is not anticipated that insecurity will deteriorate to the extent that private sector trade or local and long distance labor migration will be restricted during the scenario period.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Due to above normal wheat harvest, a normal second harvest, livestock prices above the five-year average, and high demand for agriculture labor during the 2013 agricultural seasons, January to June food security outcomes are favorable. Poor farmers have sufficient staple foods to meet households’ nutritional needs, at least through March 2014. In addition, incomes generated from agricultural production and livestock sales will cover non-food costs. The landless households will also be able to cover their food consumption needs through sharecropping and from income earned from above-normal labor opportunities during the main season harvest (May to September 2013).

    By the end of winter (in March), normal seasonal activities are expected to resume, providing usual labor opportunities for households reliant on agriculture labor. Due to these favorable factors, poor households are expected to have average, seasonal food consumption patterns from January to June, though with less food diversity during wintertime. Therefore, food security outcomes will remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) for much of Afghanistan during the entire outlook period. However, new IDPs and urban households nationwide, who have been entirely reliant on the now waning construction sector, are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from January to June 2014.

    Areas of Concern

    West-Central Highlands Agropastoral Livelihood Zone

    Current Situation

    Contrary to a normal year where poor households receive their winter foods from own production, poor households obtained their foods this winter from external humanitarian assistance distributions, which will last through March 2014. Prior to these distributions, households had exhausted their earnings from reduced incomes due to the poor harvests in this area. In addition, incomes that came from early seasonal livestock sales, where scarce pasture conditions led to poor livestock body conditions, have also been exhausted.

    Income earning opportunities during the January to May lean season generally decrease to their minimum and road access to source markets (Herat and Kabul) are seasonally closed. Seasonal precipitation from October 1, 2013 to January10, 2014 was 13 percent below normal. Above-normal temperatures from October to late December allowed for normal winter wheat planting. However, from the last ten days of December until January 10, 2014, temperatures fell below normal. Field reports have not indicated any negative impacts on wheat planted.

    Between September and November, external assistance was distributed in response to the significant reduction in usual sources of food, such as own production, due to cold temperatures that affected crop germination rates, and no/poor precipitation during the crops’ growing stage (April to June 2013). This led to reduced income from local labor, as well as lowered livestock prices because of poor pasture conditions. Humanitarian assistance through WFP targeted 8000 poor households; the Afghan Red Crescent Society targeted 1500 households; and the Afghan government targeted approximately 6000 households.


    In addition to the national assumptions described above, the following assumptions have been made about the West-Central Highlands Agropastoral livelihood zone:

    • The external assistance distributed to the 15,500 poor households (approximately 100,000 individuals) will cover these households’ food needs through March 2014.
    • Due to the lack of fodder, livestock prices are likely to remain below the five-year average through March 2014. However, if normal pasture conditions resume by April, livestock prices are likely to increase again.
    • Availability of labor opportunities are expected to remain limited between now and March due to the ongoing winter season. 
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From January to March, poor households will be able to meet their minimal food requirements through the external assistance, offsetting the income limitations of winter By now, households have exhausted their coping strategies as they have already spent their earnings, sold their livestock earlier than normal, and borrowed food. Thus, from January to March, food security outcomes are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) as households minimum food needs can be covered through external assistance but their non-food needs will remain uncovered. April to June food security outcomes will depend on the continuation of external assistance and resumption of normal seasonal activities, which could bring down food security outcomes to Minimal (IPC Phase 1!). In the absence of these options, food security outcomes will remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, at this point, FEWS NET anticipates the continuation of external assistance and the resumption of normal seasonal activites, therefore resulting in Minimal acute food insecurity.

    Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

    Despite the general favorable food security conditions in the country, conflict continues to displace households on a daily basis. According to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of November 2013, a total of 624,561 people were internally displaced across the country (Figure 2). From February to November 2013, UNHCR estimated that 121,933 people were displaced by conflict across the country, of whom 19,416 people were displaced within the western region, mainly from rural to urban areas.

    These newly displaced households left their livelihoods, which were mainly animal husbandry and farming. The new IDPs receive external assistance, food, and non-food items at least once, which can cover food needs for up to 3 months. The available livelihood options for new IDPs are limited to begging, plastic collection for resale, and wages for ad hoc daily labor. However, daily labor opportunities decrease to their minimum during wintertime, further restricting IDPs’ access to income in order to procure food.

    According to the August 2013 report, Herat, Helmand, Nangarhar, and Kandahar provinces host the highest numbers of IDPs in Afghanistan, respectively, while the highest numbers of IDPs origininate fromHelmand, Badghis, Ghor, and Kandahar provinces (Figure 3). The highest concentration of conflict occuring in Badghis and Helmand draws IDPs to Herat province, as it is considered safer and is a major regional trade hub in the western region of the country. Helmand province sees high rates of both incoming and outgoing IDPs as there is significant ongoing migration from rural areas to urban centers.

    • Some new IDPs received external assistance at least once, which covered up to 3 months of their food needs. The rate of entry for new IDPs currently exceeds the number of people targeted by humanitarian assistance programs, therefore at the present time, not all IDPs are receiving winterization packages.
    • Day labor demand is decreasing over wintertime, which makes it hard for the new IDPs to find daily wage labor opportunities more than once a week.
    • The cost of living will increase during wintertime because of heating, which could potentially reach cost-prohibitive levels. During this time, IDPs are particularly at risk of an increasing mortality rate, particularly children and the elderly, and those who live in tents.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Monthly displacement due to conflict is assumed to maintain current levels or potentially decrease over the winter months (January to March) as conflict tends to seasonally decrease across much of the country. During wintertime, the amount of labor opportunities decreases in rural areas, while competition for urban labor increases where the IDPs have concentrated. With limited ability to replace lost sources of income, particularly in a time when day labor is reduced to its minimum, the newly displaced tend to rely heavily on assistance in the form of winterization and charity from better-off households. Winterization packages include food, firewood, and blankets. For those IDPs who do not receive this additional external assistance during the wintertime, acute food security outcomes are likely to shift to Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Badakhshan Province

    According to MAIL’s Agriculture Prospect Report, released in January 2014, the 2013 harvest in Badakhshan province was 93 percent higher than in a normal year (2010), 200 percent higher than in a bad year (2011), and 66 percent higher than in 2012, which was a record high harvest. This has enabled households to have sufficient staple food stocks for the ongoing lean season (January to May). In addition, the above-normal harvests provided ample agriculture labor opportunites during main agriculture season from September to October. During this period, the wage labor rates reached up to 500 Afs/10 USD per day. Livestock prices remained above the five-year average in most of the country including Badakhshan. Within this province, only IDPs and flood- or avalanche-affected households (approximately 1000 to 1500 households, less than 20 percent of the province’s population) could be considered acutely food insecure. Given the long winter and seasonally inaccessible roads, households know to stock sufficient food reserves prior to the arrival of winter. As this year’s harvest was well-above average, the majority of households in the province are not expected to face food consumption gaps. Despite the favorable conditions, WFP distributed 7400 tons of food assistance from January to September 2013, which likely provided a safety net for households more vulnerable to the effects of displacement and natural disasters.  

    Events that Could Change the Outlook

    Table 1: Possible events over the next six months that could change the most-likely scenario.



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Nationwide, but particularly rural farming households

    Poor performance of wet season

    If the current wet season does not performance normally, then the wheat harvest (particularly rainfed wheat) is going to be exceptionally poor, limiting producers’ access to staple foods.

    Nationwide, but particularly urban landless households

    Pakistan bans wheat and/or wheat flour exports

    If Pakistan bans wheat or wheat flour exports, wheat flour prices in Afghanistan can rise dramatically in response. High prices decrease households’ access to food, particularly in the highland areas, particularly the western parts of central highlands where market-dependence is expected to be higher than usual.

    South and southeastern Afghanistan

    Remittances from Gulf significantly decline from current levels

    If remittances from the Gulf countries decrease, then this could reduce households’ purchasing power.

    Nationwide, particularly southern Afghanistan

    Civil insecurity remains high during winter

    Further displacement is likely, with subsequent increased needs for assistance for IDPs


    Pakistan and Iran forcibly repatriate Afghan refugees

    The large influx of returnees would likely lead to increased demand and thus increased prices for staple food, and increased supply of casual labor and thus more competition for labor opportunities, especially in urban areas.


    Temperatures dropping well below average

    If temperatures drop well below average during wintertime, this may increase mortality among IDP children and the elderly in particular.


    Figures Afghanistan Seasonal Calendar FOR A TYPICAL YEAR

    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET Afghanistan

    Figure 1. Precipitation from October 1, 2013 to January 10, 2014

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Precipitation from October 1, 2013 to January 10, 2014

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 2. Total IDPs in Afghanistan by region, as of November 2013

    Source: UNHCR

    Figure 3. Top 10 provinces with the highest concentration of  incoming and outgoing IDPs, August 2013

    Figure 4

    Figure 3. Top 10 provinces with the highest concentration of incoming and outgoing IDPs, August 2013

    Source: UNHCR

    Figure 5


    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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