Skip to main content

Average wheat harvest is anticipated to improve food security outcomes across the country

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • June 2019 - January 2020
Average wheat harvest is anticipated to improve food security outcomes across the country

Download the Report

  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Poor households dependent on rainfed wheat and on-farm labor in northern, northeastern, and northwestern Afghanistan are expected to experience an improvement in food consumption as the harvest continues. These households are expected to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as most households will not be able to meet all their minimum non-food needs. However, undocumented returnees, IDPs, and households with below-average remittances are likely to experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as they become more reliant on markets for food.

    • National wheat production in Afghanistan is likely to be significantly above last year and average levels as a result of the significantly above-average precipitation across the country. Many areas across the north, northeast, and northwest of the country, where livelihoods are heavily dependent on rainfed staple production and livestock rearing are experiencing improvements in typical food and income sources. Preliminary harvest estimates indicate that the 2019 wheat harvest will be the highest since at least 2015 at 5.2 million metric tonnes (MMT).

    • According to OCHA, through mid-June 2019, insecurity and conflict in various parts of the country has led to the displacement of more than 150,000 people. Conflict to date in 2019 occurred in over half of the provinces. Conflict continues to disrupt livelihood patterns and market activities in these areas. Furthermore, there have been nearly 225,000 undocumented returnees from Iran and Pakistan since the start of 2019. Many of these households will have few income-generating opportunities and labor opportunities, specifically after September as agricultural labor demand decreases.


    Current Situation

    Above average 2018/19 precipitation across the country led to above-average cropping conditions and water availability for irrigation (Figure 1). Flooding occurred at normal levels during the transition from winter to spring. According to OCHA, as of June 5, flooding affected nearly 272,000 people in 23 provinces. As a result, according to the National Statistics Institute Authority (NSIA) and satellite estimates, many households planted in the spring leading to above-average area planted as households used all their available resources to access either improved and/or local wheat seeds. Additionally, more households are engaging in agriculture activities this year than normal due to the favorable performance of the precipitation season. The incidence and severity of spring flooding is above last year and near normal. Flooding had minimal impacts on the national cereal harvest; however localized affects in Kandahar, Hilmand, Herat, Badghis, and Ghor provinces are expected where crops were washed out. The snowmelt at higher elevations in the spring provided water for intensive agriculture; including horticultural production, winter and spring grain crops, and for the ongoing second season of cash crops such as cotton, grains used for fodder, and secondary grains including maize and rice. As a result, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) and NSIA’s, Agriculture Production Report (APR) estimate aggregate crop production to be 5.2 MMT, 1.5 MMT above last year’s production, and 19 percent above the four-year average (Figure 2).

    In areas where winter wheat or other winter crop harvest is complete, planting of second season crops has started. In intensive irrigated areas, second season crops such as rice and cotton are estimated to have areas planted above last year and similar to the five-year average. Melons and watermelons are important cash crops; in addition to saffron and poppy in some parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the northern and northeastern region. Current estimates indicate second season and melon production is likely to be average.

    Afghanistan is a typically deficit wheat producing country and is reliant on imports to fulfill its national wheat consumption requirement. Preliminary estimates from MAIL indicate the wheat deficit will be about 1.0 to 1.5 MMT. This is anticipated to decrease Afghanistan’s demand for imports by about 50 percent compared to last year. Wheat production in both Kazakhstan and Pakistan is expected to be average this year, facilitating imports to meet domestic demand through normal marketing channels. Official estimates from Kazakhstan indicate wheat exports in MY 2019/20 will be 7.5 MMT. In Pakistan, the total availability (production and stocks) of 31.5 MMT of wheat at the start of the marketing year, maintaining stability in the Afghan wheat market. Typical marketing channels for importing wheat and wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan are contributing to price stability in wheat markets.

    Wheat prices were similar to or slightly above the five-year average (Figure 3) in May 2019. Imports from Kazakhstan and Pakistan and the start of the 2019 harvest are contributing to the price stability. Although, prices in Kabul and Jalalabad are above the five-year average. In both markets, the market drivers are complex: increase in conflict, trade dynamics with Pakistan, as well as the influx of IDPs and undocumented returnees in and around these areas, all of which have affected market prices. Livestock prices remain stable (Figure 4) in some areas, notably Kandahar, Maimana, and Mazar-e-Sharif, prices have started to increase as the result of improving livestock body conditions. Satellite data and reports indicate that spring pasture conditions have been favorable, supporting healthy body conditions for livestock. However, insecurity is preventing some households from accessing pastures.  

    Casual labor wages and availability have remained stable or increased since the start of 2019. The increased availability is the result of the start of the harvest and more agriculture labor opportunities. However, compared to the five-year average, labor wages and availability have decreased. This is primarily due to lower demand for labor in construction and other industrial sectors, largely as a result of political instability, reduced private investment, increasing insecurity, and competition between the repatriated Afghans from Iran and Pakistan seeking domestic employment opportunities.

    Conflict and insecurity remain widespread, although the number of events is lower compared to the same period in 2018. Although the conflict events have spread in geographic extent, particularly in the north, northeast, west, and south (Figure 5). High levels of displacement and as well as fatalities continues. The prevailing insecurity conditions continue to have broad impacts on the ability of Afghans to maintain and establish livelihoods and participate in the ongoing agriculture season. This leaves many households frequently adjusting to the changing local conditions that alter daily life including: market access, labor opportunities and availability, access to grazing lands, and ability to participated in the ongoing agriculture season. Many IDPs affected by conflict, as well as undocumented returnees are most likely to have a below-average household harvest.

    According to UNHCR and IOM, since the beginning of the year through mid-June, over an estimated 225,000 documented and undocumented people have returned from Iran and Pakistan. Returnees, especially those who are undocumented, have limited options for re-establishing livelihoods and participating in the ongoing agriculture season. The number of returnees is lower than estimates at the beginning of the year. Many of those returning have lived outside of Afghanistan for many years and have 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 and are highly dependent on limited assistance from communities and humanitarian agencies. Furthermore, population movements away from insecure areas to cities and more secure areas has increased competition for limited employment opportunities. Undocumented returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) now compose most of the influx of populations to urban areas.

    The majority of poor households in central, western, and northwestern provinces receive money from household members who are labor migrants in Iran, which is a key income source. Remittances from the Persian Gulf region continue at a normal rate. However, according to MAIL/NSIA, due to the international financial embargo on Iran, Iran’s economic prosperity has decreased, which negatively affected the level of remittances from Iran. A recent FEWS NET assessment indicates remittance reliant households have started seeking alternative income sources by working in the formal sector by joining the Afghan National Army (ANA) or the Afghan National Police (ANP), creating self-employment opportunities, and engaging in agriculture labor.  

    The prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) as measured by weight-for-height (WHZ) is “Serious” (10.0 to 14.9 percent) to “Critical” (> 15.0 percent) per WHO Classification in most provinces. Ongoing conflict, low access to basic services, high incidence of disease, and the impact of natural disasters have exacerbated the existing vulnerabilities of communities, contributing to the high rates of acute malnutrition.

    According to FSAC information, humanitarian food assistance continues across the country to IDPs, households affected by flooding, and to a few provinces. Current and up to date data on humanitarian food assistance distribution, including the number of beneficiaries and ration size was only available for a few provinces. As such, this analysis includes the impacts of humanitarian food assistance only where data was available.

    In addition to food from own harvests, poor households are currently relying on income earned from agricultural and non-agricultural labor, as well as remittances from household members abroad or in other areas within Afghanistan; however, these income sources are mostly below average. As a result, most poor households are estimated to be facing Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Many returned households have few income-generating opportunities as agricultural labor demand declines after September and will likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). In almost all areas of country, there are households who have not been fully recovered from the major losses of livelihood assets or crops due to last year’s drought and conflict. Many of these households are starting to rebuild their livelihoods; however, despite the above average harvest these households are not able to fully as they still have depleted livestock herds and few assets. Many of these households are currently facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Areas with the greatest proportion of people estimated to be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes include many parts of the north and central highlands that are heavily dependent on rainfed agriculture and livestock grazing, as well as areas that have been heavily affected by ongoing conflict.  


    • The most likely scenario for June 2019 to January 2020 is based on the following assumptions:
    • International wheat market prices, especially for exports of wheat and wheat flour from Kazakhstan and Pakistan, are likely to remain stable leading to normal import quantities of wheat grain and wheat flour from both countries.
    • Domestic wheat prices are expected to remain stable with some changes in prices due to further devaluation of Afghan currency against US dollar which will destabilize the prices in Afghanistan and in the region.
    • The above average 2018/19 wet season and favorable pasture conditions across most of the country is anticipated to lead to improvements in livestock body conditions and productivity with average access income from livestock products. Households are also anticipated to start rebuilding their herd sizes.
    •  Livestock migration from higher elevation areas to lower elevations is expected to happen as normal in August and September.
    •  Livestock prices are likely to remain stable. However, in August, prices are expected to increase before Eid-a-Qurban (Eid of Slaughter).
    •  Production from the second season crops will most likely be average to above average as water availability and soil moisture remain above average.
    • Household food stocks are likely to be average from own-produced foods, helping limit the length of time in which poor households are reliant on food purchases to access staple foods for 6 to 10 months.
    • Poppy production is expected to increase in 2019 compared to 2018 with harvest levels near that of 2017. Taking into consideration the current political instability and insecurity, the labor income from the poppy harvest will most likely be average.
    • In 2019, the IOM is projecting a return of over 570,000 returnees from Iran linked to ongoing economic challenges and a minimum of 50,000 returns from Pakistan, a figure that has already been endorsed by the Governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The remaining undocumented and Afghan Citizenship Card holding caseloads of more than 1,000,000 people may also face deportation from Pakistan in 2019/2020. 
    • The international sanctions on Iran will most likely lead to decreased work opportunities; decreasing remittances from Iran.
    • Household purchasing power will likely improve, and households will most likely rely atypically on credit from stores, relatives and/or on in-kind payments from better-off households.
    • The nutrition situation continues to be of concern due to Chronic drivers of acute malnutrition, however the nutrition situation is expected to remain stable or slightly improve with the completion of the first and second season harvests.
    • Given the difficulty in predicting the evolution of conflict, this scenario assumes the continuation of conflict similar to recent years. This will most likely continue to disrupt overall agriculture activities and livelihoods and is anticipated to cause further deterioration of the labor market and economic activities, including migration for labor.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Food security outcomes are anticipated to generally improve across the country from June to September, due to the above-average wheat harvest, favorable livestock prices, and high demand for agriculture labor during the harvest. Poor farmers have sufficient staple foods to meet households’ food needs, at least through September 2019. 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 income earned from labor opportunities during the main season harvest. Most poor households across the country are likely to face Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to continue in displaced households, undocumented returnees and areas of Badghis province which was significantly affected by last year’s drought and conflict. New IDPs and urban households nationwide, who have been entirely reliant on the now waning construction sector, are expected to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) from June to September.

    Rural poor households are likely to continue relying on food stocks, although they are most likely going to start relying on markets food. Wheat prices are estimated to be remain stable, however, below average incomes, will most likely restrict market purchases. As a result, most poor households are likely to have below normal food consumption during the scenario period. IDPs and returnees with no or limited access to land for cultivation 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. Many poor households are likely to not have fully rebuilt their livelihoods due to the last year’s drought. From October through January 2020, many households are likely to deteriorate to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) as many households are still trying to recover from the drought and face food consumption gaps.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

    Possible events over the next eight months that could change the most-likely scenario.

    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationalFurther depreciation of Afghan Currency against US dollar.Considering the devaluation of Afghan currency against US dollar, there is a risk of higher price of staple food items in Afghanistan which will further worsen the purchasing power of the poor households I the country.
    National, but particularly Urban Area.Pakistan and/or Iran accelerate the repatriation of Afghan refugeesIf Iran and/or Pakistan do accelerate forcible repatriate Afghan refugees, labor wages would likely further deteriorate.


    Afghanistan and Central Highlands

    Further depreciation of the Iranian Rial (IRR) against the Afghanistan Afghani (AFN)For households receiving a large proportion of their income as remittances from Iran, food access would likely deteriorate due to the continued decline in income.
    Nationwide, but particularly urban households in eastern and southern provincesPakistan bans wheat and/or wheat flour exportsIf Pakistan bans wheat or wheat flour exports, wheat flour prices in Afghanistan especially in eastern and southern provinces can rise in response. Due to political tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan and political instability in the country, export bans are more likely. High prices decrease household access to food.


    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 Afghanistan seasonal calendar. Mid-October to March is the winter wet season. March to May is the spring wet season. March to

    Figure 1

    Source: FEWS NET

    Map of Afghanistan illustrating above average 2018/19 precipitation across the country led to above-average cropping conditio

    Figure 2

    Figure 1.

    Source: USGS/EROS

    Figure 2.  Wheat production in MT from 2010 to 2019. The 2019 harvest is estimated to be above average at about 500,000MT.

    Figure 3

    Figure 2

    Source: Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, Industry, and Livestock (MAIL)

    Wheat Flour Prices in AFN/KG Chart indicating prices compared to the five year average and the percent change

    Figure 4

    Figure 3.

    Source: WFP

    Graph illustrating sheep prices in AFN/KG from May 2014 to May 2019.

    Figure 5

    Figure 4.

    Source: WFP

    Graph illustrating conflict events and fatalities over the past three years from January 2017 to mid-June 2019.

    Figure 6

    Figure 5

    Source: ACELDDATA

    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