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Conflict and areas with poor rainfed production will drive assistance needs in post-harvest period

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • June 2017 - January 2018
Conflict and areas with poor rainfed production will drive assistance needs in post-harvest period

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Conflict has continued to drive a high number of displacements, with nearly 150,000 people newly displaced in 2017. Conflict throughout most provinces of the country has also disrupted normal livelihoods patterns and marketing activities in some areas. Furthermore, more than 200,000 Afghan nationals have returned to the country in 2017, primarily from Pakistan. Many of these households will have few income-generating opportunities as agricultural labor demand declines after September, and will likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the absence of assistance. 

    • Although peak snow accumulation during the 2016/2017 winter was above average in all basins monitored, spring rainfall in March and April was well below average in several areas dependent on rainfall for wheat and other staple crop production, particularly in parts of the north and northeast. Extended dry spells were also observed in some areas. Many households whose own production was adversely affected are likely to face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes or worse from October through at least January 2018. 

    • Stable imports of wheat and improved labor wages in some areas compared to recent years, as well as above-average terms of trade for livestock to wheat flour, are likely to facilitate seasonally normal food access for most poor households who have not been directly affected by ongoing conflict or spring rainfall anomalies.


    Current Situation

    The relationship between food security and civil instability (conflict, displacement, etc.) is complex and dynamic in Afghanistan. Food insecurity can be both a cause and consequence of these dynamics. For years, poor households have often experienced reduced food availability and access due to local conflict, especially when agricultural production and markets are disrupted. The security situation has deteriorated in 2016 and 2017, with an expansion in the geographic extent of conflict, particularly in the north, northeast, and east. For 2016, this led to the greatest number of displacements since 2002. Insecurity continues to disrupt normal livelihoods, both through displacement and by disrupting safe access to normal income opportunities and typical sources of food access. Currently, these factors are the primary drivers of acute food insecurity.

    Poor food and nutritional security outcomes are increasingly concentrated in conflict-affected areas, typically affecting poor households, especially those who rely on labor opportunities for income with which to purchase staple foods. Many people who are displaced from rural conflict areas are farmers, meaning that their crops are often left untended and unharvested. Small livestock, such as sheep and goats, and other household assets are also often left behind.

    In addition to the immediate impact of displacement and conflict on livelihoods, the associated destruction of property and disruption to normal livelihoods can lead to severe difficulty in meeting basic needs in the medium term. Conflicts often lead to situations that leave communities with destroyed infrastructure, lost assets, and reduced livelihoods options, from which medium-term recovery is often unlikely in the absence of external assistance.

    During the month of June, harvesting of both rainfed and irrigated wheat was near completion in much of the country, except in the higher elevations, primarily across the central highlands and northeast. Local wheat harvesting typically occurs over the course of nearly one month, providing a brief period of time in which labor demand is strong, leading to increases in daily wages in the range of 40 to 60 percent. There are reports that in some areas, particularly along highly contested areas between the government and insurgent forces in parts of southern, northern, and northeastern regions, farmers have not been able to harvest their wheat due to ongoing conflict and inability to access their fields.

    After a dry beginning of the 2016/2017 wet season, above-average precipitation in January and February brought snow levels above the historical average in all basins. The availability of water for irrigation has been generally adequate throughout the main season, and is likely to be near-normal for second-season production, including rice and cotton. However, spring rainfall in April and May was below-average in many rainfed production areas, with extended periods of dryness (Figure 1). This has led to poor wheat production for farmers and laborers in several rainfed cropping areas.

    Below-average temperatures in higher elevation areas during much of the spring helped preserve snowpack and limited the extent of flooding. For 2017 through June 15th, around 35 incidents of flooding have been recorded, affecting approximately 25,000 people. The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) and humanitarian agencies have responded to the floods using their emergency mechanisms. Most of the affected households have received both food and non-food items in a timely manner. However, because of the loss of houses, cultivated crops, livestock, and human life, flood-affected households are likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2!) during the outlook period as they re-establish normal livelihoods patterns.

    By the beginning of the dry season in late May/June, the risk of flooding has decreased significantly. However, eastern Afghanistan remains prone to flooding during the summer months (June to August), due to the possibility of heavy rainfall events associated with the Indian monsoon. These floods typically occur in Kunar, Nangarhar, Paktya, and Laghman Provinces.

    The onset of the dry season in June has been accompanied by rising temperatures. Higher temperatures have helped wheat crops mature for an on-time harvest at lower elevations in northern and northeastern Afghanistan. However, rainfed wheat production is expected to be below-average, particularly in northern and northeastern regions, due to the below-average rainfall in April and May and extended periods of dryness. Furthermore, a significant increase in area planted with poppy in some provinces has led to a slight reduction in area dedicated to wheat production as compared to last year. Accordingly, aggregate harvests for wheat and other cereals are expected to be below-average. This is likely to increase Afghanistan’s demand for imports of wheat and wheat flour from regional suppliers. Early estimates indicate that cereal imports may increase by up to ten percent from last year.

    According to UNHCR and IOM, an estimated 32,593 documented and 218,218 undocumented people have returned to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran during the first half of 2017, with limited options for establishing livelihoods and preparing for the upcoming winter. Many of those returning have lived outside of Afghanistan for many years and even decades, and will need support from the government and humanitarian actors both on arrival and as they seek to reintegrate into a country already struggling with widespread conflict and displacement.

    After a political dispute between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan led to a temporary closure of major border crossings by the Pakistani government in March 2017, the influx of Afghan nationals returning from Pakistan has resumed, although at a slower rate than during the final months of 2016. Many repatriated households are facing a lack of employment opportunities, shelter, and security, making it difficult to establish livelihoods in their new environment. Many returnees, particularly those who were undocumented, have few assets with which to meet basic needs, and are highly dependent on limited assistance from communities and humanitarian agencies.

    Spring rainfall in March and April was well below average in some rainfed cultivation areas. Crops were particularly affected by dryness in Hirat, Zabul, Faryab, Badghis, and Sar-i-Pul Provinces (Figure 1)­­­­­. Wheat production was reported down significantly in Hilmand, Kandahar, and Zabul Provinces, although at least part of this decline was likely due to expanded area under poppy cultivation, expanded area under orchard crops, and to some extent expanded area used for urbanization.

    Although labor opportunities have remained below-average in 2017, the average terms of trade between casual labor and wheat flour on eight markets monitored by WFP have improved slightly from last year (Figure 2). However, population movements away from insecure areas to cities and other more secure areas has increased competition for limited employment opportunities.

    The extent and intensity of conflict between Afghanistan’s National Security Forces (ANSF) and non-state armed groups (NSAG) has been increasing in recent years. During 2016, more people were conflict-displaced than at any time since 2002. Conflict and displacement have continued at similar or worse levels in 2017, with estimates indicating that nearly 150,000 people had been displaced by the end of June. Although the greatest displacement of people has occurred in Kunduz and Takhar Provinces, most provinces have been affected, with the exception of parts of the Central Highlands. Other provinces with high numbers of IDPs include Uruzgan, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Faryab.

    Many displaced households have abandoned their homes, lost property, and sold livestock at low prices due both to the immediate need for cash and due to the inability to care for livestock during displacement. In addition to the upheaval faced by displaced populations, insecurity has also had some impact on the livelihoods of households who have not been displaced, in part due to reduced access to pasture and cropland. In some areas, this has limited household agricultural production and ability to harvest normally, and reduced access to normal sources of income for affected households.

    According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), total area under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has expanded by an estimated 10 percent compared to last year, to 201,000 hectares. In 2016, opiate production was estimated to account for 16 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP. Many communities have become dependent on the income from labor in the opium poppy sector to sustain their livelihoods.

    The value of sheep, monitored as an indicator for small livestock prices, has increased in comparison to the five-year average in most markets monitored. As poor households often sell small livestock to make purchases of staple foods, they typically benefit from a higher value for sheep. The terms of trade between sheep (one-year old female) and wheat flour is above the five-year average in all markets monitored, with the exceptions of Kabul and Jalalabad (Table 1).

    However, heavy snowfall and cold weather during the month of March had an adverse impact on the livestock sector in parts of northern, northeastern, and eastern regions. Furthermore, due to below-average rainfall and long dry spells in April and May, pasture areas are in below-average condition in Hirat, Zabul, Faryab, Badghis, and Sari-Pul Provinces. In Badghis Province, some pastoralists have begun selling livestock early, leading to a decline of 15-20 percent in sheep prices.

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

    The government of Pakistan, an important supplier of wheat to Afghanistan, estimates 2016/2017 wheat production at 27.069 million metric tons (MMT), similar to last year’s production. The government has fixed procurement targets of wheat at 7.05 MMT, and support prices of PKR 1,300 per 40 kg bag. Wheat stocks are reported at 4.3 MMT, which will likely increase above 10 MMT after the harvests. Near normal production in Pakistan and strong stocks are likely to help maintain stability in the Afghan wheat market.    


    The most likely scenario for June 2017 to January 2018 is based on the following assumptions:

    • It is most likely that the availability of water for irrigation will be near-normal throughout the main harvest and second-season harvests.
    • Non-agricultural labor opportunities and wages are likely to remain similar to last year, but below average. In areas where there is an increase in the supply of labor due to population movement or reduced non-agricultural labor opportunities, daily wages and the availability of labor opportunities may be below average.
    • It is assumed that the pace of displacement during the scenario period will be similar or worse than the first six months of 2017, due to a longer period of mild weather. Civil insecurity and military operations are likely to continue in most parts of Afghanistan throughout the scenario period.
    • Although domestic production of staples is likely to be below-average, particularly in rainfed production areas, near-average production in Pakistan and Kazakhstan is expected to support a normal flow of imports, providing stability to wheat markets in Afghanistan. Prices are likely to remain stable throughout the period, with seasonally normal variations. There are no new trade restrictions expected in the region.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes 

    With main season harvests from June – August, most households who have cultivated in irrigated areas will have average access to food from their own harvests. However, in many rainfed production areas, harvests will be below-average due to below-average rainfall and extended dry spells during the March – May period. However, access to income through seasonal agricultural labor during the June to August harvest period, sale of cash crops, and sale of livestock will support food access during the summer months, and support the accumulation of household reserves prior to the reduction in income-generating opportunities later in the year. Improved access to milk due to improved livestock conditions since the beginning of the season will not be maintained during the scenario period, due to worse than normal pasture conditions and the increased need to migrate livestock for grazing.  

    For households that do not grow wheat, do not have access to land, or do not grow enough wheat to stock for the lean season, improved labor to wheat flour terms of trade as compared to last year will support purchases of necessary stocks during the October to November stocking period. For many households, these purchases will use income from livestock sales, with livestock to wheat terms of trade being favorable to households that raise livestock. As a result, most poor households are likely to have near-normal food consumption during the scenario period. However, dietary diversity will deteriorate seasonally, as access to fresh milk, vegetables, and fruit declines later in the year.

    Below-average supply of locally-produced cereals following the completion of the harvest will cause many households to rely more on market purchases of imported wheat and wheat flour. For poor households in much of the country, the level of market dependency for food access is likely to be greater than last year. However, market supply and prices are likely to remain seasonally stable, with normal import flows, particularly for wheat and wheat flour from Kazakhstan and Pakistan.

    Most poor households whose livelihoods are not directly affected by the ongoing conflict are likely to improve to Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food security from June through at least September. However, as households prepare for the winter and lean season, those who have experienced below-average own production during the main staple season, primarily in rainfed areas, may face Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes as they reduce expenditure on non-food necessities in order to meet basic food needs during the winter.

    Many households affected by conflict, however, through both displacement and through disruptions to normal livelihoods and marketing activities, are likely to require assistance during the period if they are to maintain adequate food consumption. Similarly, many Afghan nationals returning to the country are likely to arrive with limited assets and few labor opportunities or other means of establishing adequate livelihoods options prior to winter.

    IDPs and returnees with no or limited access to land for cultivation and who will not have access to food from own harvests, sale of cash crops, or livestock will be primarily dependent on seasonal agricultural labor on the farms of their host communities during the June to September harvest period. From October at least through the end of the scenario period in January 2018, these households are likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) in the absence of assistance.

    Regional political factors have had a large impact on the rate of return of Afghan nationals living abroad in the region, leaving a range of uncertainty in the likely rate of migration during the scenario period. IOM has estimated that approximately 600,000 undocumented Afghans could return from Pakistan and Iran in 2017.

    Planting for winter wheat, mostly on irrigated land, will begin in November. Although improved seeds have been distributed to some farmers through the district offices of the Ministry of Agriculture (DAIL), there remains additional need and demand for improved seeds. Farmers who do not have access to these inputs will either using their own produced seeds from the previous season, or will purchase seeds from the local market.

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

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

    For 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.


    Figure 1

    Current food security outcomes, June 2017

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 1. Estimated precipitation anomaly (mm), March-April 2017

    Source: UCSB/CHIRPS

    Figure 4

    Figure 2. Casual labor to wheat flour terms of trade (KG/day), average of eight markets (Faizabad, Hirat, Jalalabad, Kabul, Kandahar, Maimana, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Nili)

    Source: Data from WFP

    Figure 5

    Table 1. Sheep (one-year old female) to wheat flour terms of trade (KG/head)

    Source: Data from WFP

    To project food security outcomes, FEWS NET develops a set of assumptions about likely events, their effects, and the probable responses of various actors. FEWS NET analyzes these assumptions in the context of current conditions and local livelihoods to arrive at a most likely scenario for the coming eight months. Learn more here.

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