Skip to main content

Lean season begins with better market access than normal

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • January 2015
Lean season begins with better market access than normal

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Below-average harvests in Badghis Province led to excess selling of livestock, as poor households needed cash to purchase food, and the availability of fodder was reduced. As households consume their food stocks, the province is expected to move from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) by the beginning of April.

    • Cumulative precipitation from October 2014 through January 2015 has been below-average, with the exception of parts of eastern and southeastern Afghanistan. Below-average rains during the spring wet season could lead to increasing food insecurity later in the year, especially in primarily rainfed wheat-producing areas in the north and south.

    • Although snow water equivalent estimates have improved in recent weeks in parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the north and east, the majority of basins monitored are still below-average. If further snow accumulation does not materialize in February and March, irrigated production could be affected, particularly for second season crops harvested in September and October and the planting of winter crops between September and December 2015.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    The majority of Afghanistan has entered the December 2014 to April 2015 lean season with typical access to normal food and income sources, similar to the same period of the previous season. Typically, the lean season starts as early as December and continues through April. Due to above-average temperatures and limited precipitation during the beginning of the winter season, areas where market access is typically affected by snow have experienced a slightly later start to the period in which they must rely primarily or exclusively on food stocks. Winter wheat planting has been completed, and spring rainfed wheat planting has begun and will continue until mid-February, depending on rainfall. The provincial directorates of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL), as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and various NGOs, have distributed certified, improved seeds and fertilizers to some farmers. Households who do not have access to these inputs are either using their own produced seeds from last year or are purchasing seeds from local markets.

    Irrigation is critical for agricultural production in much of Afghanistan, as rainfall during the growing season is unreliable or insufficient in many areas. Snow runoff from the mountain ranges of central Afghanistan provides over 80 percent of the irrigation water used. The timing and duration of annual snowmelt is a key factor in determining the volume of irrigation water and the length of time it is available, as well as its availability for use in marginal areas that experience below-average rainfall.

    Due to adequate availability of irrigation water, the second season harvest in September and October 2014, including rice, maize, and cotton, was estimated to be above-average. This harvest provided food, fodder, and income-earning opportunities through labor or cash crop sales in many areas of Afghanistan. Overall, rainfed grain production was 13 percent higher than in 2013.

    The 2014 potato harvest was 340,000 metric tons (MT) total. Potatoes brought normal income for producers, particularly in the central highlands, where more than 40 percent of Afghanistan’s potatoes are produced.

    Horticultural harvests in 2014 had a slightly lower volume as compared to the previous year. However, prices for many horticultural products were higher than last year, offsetting this year’s lower production volume in terms of household income from horticultural sales. Stone fruit production was adversely affected in many areas by frost during the blooming stage.

    Agricultural labor demand was considered to be near-average in 2014. However, wages for non-agricultural labor declined by approximately 15 to 20 percent, partially attributable to reduced opportunities in the construction sector. Although migration of unemployed youth to neighboring countries (primarily Pakistan and Iran) is a typical livelihood strategy, the reduction in casual labor opportunities within Afghanistan has led to an increase of approximately 15 percent in 2014. However, labor migration to Iran has become less attractive since the sharp depreciation of the Iranian rial against the afghani and other currencies in mid-2013. The reduction in casual labor opportunities has also been a factor driving youths to join the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP). Migration to western countries also increased by three to five percent. 

    A reduction in cotton prices impacted livelihoods in major cotton-producing districts in Afghanistan, including Marja, Nadali, Ghramsir, and Hazarjuft Districts in Helmand Province, Charbolak and Balkh Districts in Balkh Province, and Baghlan Jadeed and Baghlan Kuna Districts in Baghlan Province. Cotton prices this season were almost 50 percent below the level of the previous year, and were lower than in other recent years, greatly reducing profit margins. However, the normal to slightly above normal yields of other crops this year, including rice and maize, reduced the impact of lower cotton prices, as many poor households that typically rely on labor opportunities in the cotton sector were able to find other local agricultural labor opportunities.

    Normal availability of irrigation water throughout 2014, and particularly during the September to December winter wheat sowing period, enabled farmers to plant a normal area of winter crops. In preparation for the September to December 2014 winter wheat sowing period and the March to May 2015 spring wheat sowing period, MAIL and FAO have distributed approximately 9,650 MT of improved wheat seeds to households throughout the country.

    Total precipitation for the period from October 1st, 2014 to January 31st, 2015 was below the long-term average in most parts of the country, with the exception of parts of eastern Afghanistan and Ghazni Province (See figure). Although snow water equivalent estimates have improved in recent weeks in parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the north and east, the majority of basins monitored are still below-average. In much of southern Afghanistan, estimates remain near the minimum range of available historical data since 2001.

    Limited market access during the winter months is often a contributing factor to food insecurity in parts of Afghanistan. However, markets remained adequately supplied in December 2014, and major roads remained open for trade among different areas of supply and demand.

    Wheat flour prices were higher in December 2014 as compared to the previous year in most reference markets, ranging from an increase of 3.7 percent in Maimana to 6.5 percent in Jalalabad. This at least partially reflects recent rises in international wheat prices, particularly in Pakistan and Kazakhstan where Afghanistan sources the majority of its wheat and wheat flour imports. Typically, an increase in international market prices translates into a much higher percentage increase in Afghanistan afghani (AFN) terms, due both to the high cost of transportation into Afghanistan from source markets and to the large volume of Afghanistan’s wheat imports, which places pressure on the AFN due to the demand for foreign currency to cover import costs. However, in 2014, because of the above-average national cereal harvest, price increases in local markets were not as pronounced as they may have been under conditions of greater dependence on imports (See figure).

    Remittances from the Arab Gulf countries, which constitute a significant source of income in southern and southeastern Afghanistan, are continuing at a normal rate. Nevertheless, remittances from Iran are significantly lower than in recent years, both as fewer migrants are choosing Iran as a labor migration destination and as the value of remittances has fallen due to a combination of stagnant wages in Iran and the depreciation of the Iranian rial (IRR) against the Afghanistan afghani (AFN). Given the diversity in household income sources in areas that have typically received these remittances from Iran and the significant decline in the number of labor migrants going to Iran due to opportunities in joining the ANA and ANP within the country, the impacts of these declining remittances on household income is minimal. 


    • The Government of Afghanistan and aid agencies will use emergency stockpiles of food and non-food essentials to assist households affected by localized disasters during the winter.
    • Spring rains are expected to have normal timing and distribution, with minimal adverse impact on typical agricultural activities through either flooding or poor soil moisture. The spring flooding season is not expected to surpass the previous year in terms of level of flooding or area affected. From February to April, floods and avalanches are expected to have primarily localized impacts. However, similar to in 2014, around 140,000 households could easily be affected in flood-prone areas across the country.
    • Import prices for wheat and wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan are likely to remain stable or increase slightly during the scenario period, due to near-normal market conditions in both countries. Wheat prices are not expected to increase to a level significantly higher than their current levels.
    • Pakistan is expected to continue exporting wheat flour to Afghanistan from January to June, with no significant new restrictions on trade.
    • The government of Pakistan announced in January that it has no immediate plans to forcibly repatriate the 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees in northern Pakistan. It is also expected that Iran will refrain from deporting Afghan refugees during the scenario period. However, voluntary repatriations from both countries are expected to continue at around the current rate.
    • Insecurity will increase as roads become more accessible in March and April after the snow melts. However, the security situation is not expected to deteriorate to the extent that private sector trade in goods or usual local and long-distance labor migration would be significantly curtailed. 

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Primarily due to supplies from the above-average 2014 rainfed harvest, most rural households entered the January to April lean season with more food stocks than usual. For households that do not grow wheat, have access to land, or grow enough wheat to stock for the lean season, the near-average daily labor wages during the harvest enabled purchases of adequate stocks during the October to November stocking period. For many households, these purchases used income from livestock sales, with livestock to wheat terms of trade being favorable to households that raise livestock. As a result, poor households are likely to have better than normal food consumption during the January to April lean season. However, dietary diversity will deteriorate as usual as access to fresh milk, vegetables, and fruit seasonally declines.

    For urban poor households who continue to rely on markets during the winter from December to March, wheat and wheat flour prices are expected to remain relatively stable, due to the above-average domestic harvest in 2014 and good supply conditions with decreased need for imports across the country. Although urban labor opportunities are expected to be limited, market access to food should remain relatively stable through the winter.

    By the end of March, much of Afghanistan will start to emerge from the lean season as snow melts, casual day labor opportunities increase, milk products become available following the spring livestock births, donor-funded economic development activities resume, and construction work restarts. All of these typical livelihood strategies will improve food consumption as households gain income and increase their purchasing power. Also, dietary diversity increases as early vegetables and milk become available. The start of the irrigated grain harvest in May at lower elevations typically leads to a sharp increase in labor demand, and at this point, some households will already start to replenish their stocks for the next season. While the wet season has had a slow start with well below-average precipitation in most areas, snow accumulation has improved in most basins by the end of January. Precipitation later in the season could still provide sufficient snowmelt for irrigation and rainfall for spring planting. However, there is a risk that continued below-average precipitation could affect crop production in 2015, especially in areas that depend on rainfed wheat production.

    Area acute food insecurity classifications are expected to be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) in most of Afghanistan for the entire January to June period, with the exception of areas of the central highlands, northeast, and Badghis Province. However, populations in need of assistance are expected in many areas. Food security outcomes following the end of the lean season in March and April will be heavily dependent on normal seasonal progress towards the 2015 grain harvest.


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


    Figures Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET Afghanistan

    Accumulated precipitation, October 1, 2014 to January 31, 2015

    Figure 2

    Accumulated precipitation, October 1, 2014 to January 31, 2015

    Source: U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)/FEWS NET

    Wheat flour prices, 2008 - 2014

    Figure 3

    Wheat flour prices, 2008 - 2014

    Source: WFP/MAIL

    Figure 4


    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.

    Get the latest food security updates in your inbox Sign up for emails

    The information provided on this Website is not official U.S. Government information and does not represent the views or positions of the U.S. Agency for International Development or the U.S. Government.

    Jump back to top