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Food Security Outlook through March 2012

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • October 2011 - March 2012
Food Security Outlook through March 2012

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  • Key Messages
  • Current food security conditions
  • Key Messages
    • Food security conditions for households at risk of food insecurity are expected to improve as government and donor assistance programs begin to materialize in the provinces affected by the poor 2010/2011 wheat harvest. 

    • As result of good wheat flour supply from Kazakhstan and Pakistan, September wheat flour prices are similar or slightly below the five-year average in all reference markets, which will further improve access to food. Wheat flour prices are expected to remain stable over the coming six month. 

    • Early seasonal rains have performed well, which will ease access to drinking water and land preparation for winter wheat plantation. However, the long-term forecast still indicates increased likelihood of below-normal precipitation from November to January.

    Current food security conditions

    Food security conditions for vulnerable households are expected to improve as government assistance begins to materialize in the provinces affected by the poor 2010/2011 wheat harvest. The government is targeting emergency food and livelihood assistance packages in fourteen provinces in northern, western, and central Afghanistan; each package contains 10,000 vouchers per province. Each voucher includes 200 kg wheat, 25 kg rice, 50 kg improved wheat seeds, and 200 kg animal feed.

    This assistance is likely to last for two to four months, depending on the size of the beneficiary household, whether or not the households already benefited from regular assistance programs, and household’s resilience. The need for food assistance will remain until the next harvest, particularly in the northwestern rainfed zones where rainfed harvest failed to grow.

    Assistance from other donors, including an additional 40 million dollars from USAID, is expected to begin before December. ACF is undertaking a cash-for-work project which will benefit 5,000 households in two districts in Samangan provinces and Oxfam is going to assists 2,000 households in three districts of Day Kundi Province. During May through September 2011 approximately 32,000 individuals have been assisted through WFP’s various regular programs in provinces affected by the poor harvest.  The planned food assistance is expected to alleviate food insecurity in affected provinces until March, if it is well targeting.  

    The food security situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate in May 2011 when the untimely and inadequate rainy season led to below-normal cereal production. According to MAIL, the 2010/2011 cereal production is estimated to be to be 1.25 million metric tons below last year (a good year). Rainfed crops in northern Afghanistan failed completely, while irrigated wheat production underperformed, particularly in farms that were downstream or further away from irrigation water sources.  

    While this year’s national cereal balance is expected to be in deficit by approximately 2 million tons, it is unlikely that there will be a shortage of wheat or wheat flour in major and local markets. Most of the national cereal deficit is expected to be filled through private sector trade. Wheat production in Pakistan and Kazakhstan was exceptionally good this year, which is expected to ensure normal wheat supplies in the region at near normal prices, assuming no major changes in trade policies.

    In July 2011, Russia lifted its wheat export ban, creating a more competitive global wheat export market and driving prices down international wheat prices. As a result, Pakistan’s competiveness in international markets decreased, making Afghanistan a more favorable market for wheat exports. Pakistani millers have obtained permission from the government of Pakistan to export one million MT of wheat flour to Afghanistan in September 2011.

    As a result of this year’s exceptionally good harvest in Kazakhstan, the predominant wheat exporting country in Central Asia, export wheat prices fell by about 50 percent since last April. The decrease in Kazakh wheat export prices has helped stabilize wheat prices in Afghanistan and decreased wheat flour prices after its peak during the summer. Pakistan has maintained wheat flour exports to southern Afghanistan throughout most the summer; with the exception of one week in September when a temporary disruption of wheat imports increased wheat flour prices by 15 percent. 

    Wheat grain prices in September 2011 remain higher than the five-year average in almost all markets, except for Kabul. However, wheat flour prices are similar or below the five-year average in all reference market. In Nilli, Maimana, Kandahar and Jallalibad, wheat flour prices have moved close to or below wheat grain prices. This is a positive development in a low production year such as 2011 because poor households will have a cheap alternative to the wheat grain (Figure 2).

    Given the good supply from Pakistan and Kazakhstan, wheat flour prices are likely to remain relatively stable in the coming six months, though some slight increases may still occur until December while rural households stock for the winter.

    The IRI long-term probability forecast for the months of October, November, and December indicates a likely chance of below-normal precipitation and high temperatures (Figure 3). However, October has brought good precipitation. Short-term forecast reveals additional precipitation in the coming weeks. These conditions indicate a normal wet season performance startup thus far.  This precipitation is likely to improve soil moisture for winter wheat plantation that is taking place from September to December.  

    In addition to the total loss of rainfed wheat and reduction in downstream irrigated wheat yield, households in northwest Afghanistan – particularly in Kishindish, Chamtal, Shulgara, Zari, and Khulum districts of Balk province, Mardyan and Mangajek districts of Jawzajan province, and Almar, Pahtun Kot and Sharin Tagab district of Faryab provinces – access to drinking water has deteriorated more than normal this summer. Nevertheless, the recent precipitation this month has improved access to drinking water.     

    High food prices and the loss of household cereal production and income created a substantial food consumption gaps for the very poor and poor households dependent on rainfed wheat for food or on-farm labor for income. Without the materialization of food assistance, poor households in the northwest are currently in Crisis (IPC phase 3). 

    In eastern Afghanistan (Kunar, Laghman and Nangarhar), household food security is stable this year as this year’s harvest is near normal and the wheat flour supply and prices from Pakistan are within normal levels. In addition, there were more income earning opportunities during summer, which is the main time of earning, and livestock prices are higher than normal.  Nevertheless, the security situation has been deteriorated but not to the extent to disrupt market functionality and livelihood activities, with the exception of those households that have been displaced because of the violence or returned from Pakistan with no livelihood options.

    In southwestern Afghanistan (Helmand and Kandahar) there is no acute food insecurity for households living in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Helmand province received normal to above-normal cereal harvest in 2011 and Kandahar’s horticulture production is normal, which will ensure the continuation of normal incomes for this provinces.  Melon and grape prices are 20 and 30 percent higher than last year. In addition, labor wages are  30 percent higher than last year while livestock prices are 10 percent higher than last year; which all contributing positively to food security conditions and outcomes. Local wheat production in Kandahar province is reported to be poorer than last year, but given that household wheat production contributes little to the overall food source of poor households, the food security outcomes is expected to remain normal. Cross-border trade plays a significant role in food security condition which seems to be functioning normal this year.

    Most-likely food security scenario – (October 2011 through March 2012)

    The most likely food security scenario from October 2011 through March 2012 is based on the following assumptions:

    • Livestock prices have increased in anticipation of Eid Qurban. After Eid Qurban, livestock prices are expected to decrease more than normal because most animals will lose weight and their health as a result of household not gathering enough animal feed.  
    • Kazakhstan and Pakistan wheat exports will continue to meet Afghan market demands throughout the outlook period.
    • Wheat prices are expected to remain stable, but higher than normal during the outlook period. This is mainly due to the seasonally higher wheat prices during wintertime and the poor harvest earlier in the season.
    • Future military operation and insecurity will not lead to excessive displacement and market disruptions as in past years.
    • Remittances sent from labor migrants in Iran and Gulf countries are expected to remain normal compared to recent years.
    • Afghan government and other donor assistance will materialize before winter as planned, particularly for northwestern Afghanistan, and be well targeted.
    • Land is expected to be prepared for winter wheat plantation as normal and there agricultural inputs are expected to available in the market. Those households who have no capacity to purchase from market will be able to have minimum agriculture inputs from MAIL and FAO distribution.  
    • Current precipitation is normal, which indicates a good start of the wet season, though, long-term forecast indicate the possibility that precipitation will be below normal precipitation early in the season followed by normal levels of precipitation.
    Northwestern Afghanistan (Samangan, Balkh, Jawzjan, Sar-i-Pul, Faryab, Badghis)

    Poor households in northwestern Afghanistan who are dependent on rainfed crops or on-farm labor for food and income sources are the most affected by the poor harvest. In a normal year, these households can harvest enough of their own wheat or earn enough income from labor opportunities to meet their food needs throughout the year. However, given the poor wheat production this summer, this year’s household food stocks, wage rates, and labor opportunities were well below normal. Wage rates have increased in the past couple months in urban areas, but labor wages in rural areas still remain below normal.

    In addition to a poor wheat harvest and anomalously low income earning opportunities, pastures in northern Afghanistan did not regenerate as normal this year. As a result livestock health diminished. As an initial coping mechanism, households attempted to sell their livestock in the market for cash in order to meet livelihood and food expenditures. However, livestock prices were forty to fifty percent below normal this summer because of an increase in livestock sales and poor quality animals, leaving household with limited income. In anticipation of Eid Qurban in November, livestock prices increased up to 27 percent since May 2011, which will likely benefit the middle and wealthy households whose livestock herd are large and were able to keep their livestock despite the poor pasture conditions.  Currently, poor households in northwest are in Crisis (IPC phase 3).

    Winter wheat plantation typically takes place from October through December in the northwestern region. Widespread good precipitation during the second week of the current month eased land preparation and wheat seeds plantation as land moisture is currently very good. Nonetheless, IRI short-term climate forecast indicates a heighten probability for below-normal precipitation. Recent precipitation also increased drinking water availability, which reached critical level this summer in northwestern region.  

    Over the next six months, local labor opportunities will decrease in rural areas, as is normal in the winter. Milk products will be reducing to zero, which will limit households’ food options. In addition, over the same period, livestock prices decrease while wheat prices increase, which follows normal seasonal trend.

    In a normal year, households rely heavily on wheat production or income from on-farm labor earned during the summer to meet their food consumption needs throughout the year. However, the poor harvest and low income earning opportunities in combination with higher than normal food prices in 2011 resulted in sever food consumption gaps until the 2012 harvest.

    The very poor and poor households’ normal coping strategies such as labor migration, livestock sale, using savings, and reduction of quality and quantity of food are currently being exhausted. Taking into account the ongoing and planned assistances food security conditions of this region is likely to switch from Crisis (IPC Phase 3) to Stress (IPC Phase 2) in the coming six months.     

    Northeastern Afghanistan (Takhar, Kundoz and Baghlan)

    Rainfed zones in northeastern Afghanistan were also affected by the poor rainy season. Rainfed wheat failed to grow and pastures did not regenerate as normal. As a result, livestock prices and labor wages decreased by 40-50 percent during summer. However, labor opportunities in irrigated zones were sufficient for poor households to earn enough income to compensate for the lost harvest. In addition, middle income households still had bumper wheat stock from the past years. The distance to Shiwa Pasture (Badakhshan), a major livestock grazing pasture, is short compared to northwestern Afghanistan, allowing an alternative grazing option for livestock owners. As a result, livestock losses were lower in the northeast. Currently, poor households in northeast are in Stress (IPC phase 2).

    Similar to northwestern Afghanistan, winter wheat plantation takes place from October to December in northeastern parts of the country. Recent precipitation has improved land moisture, which is favorable for farmers to prepare their lands. Over the next six months, income opportunities will diminish and milk production will decrease. Similar to the northwest, drinking water availability in rainfed zones is less than normal. However, the current precipitation has mitigated water shortages to some extent. 

    Despite the poor 2011 wheat harvest, poor households in the northeast are able to cope with the upcoming lean season better than poor households in the northwest Afghanistan. This is due to the adequate level of labor opportunities in irrigated farms during the summer. One important driver of labor opportunities this summer was the good melon harvest, which generated additional income and labor opportunities for households impacted by the poor harvest. Middle and better-off households had some food stocks leftover from the previous year, which mitigated potential acute food shortages for those wealth groups. While households are able to cope with the poor harvest this year, assistance from the government and donors will further ensure that food needs are met. Households in this region will remain Stress (IPC Phase 2) for the remainder of the outlook period.

    Central Highlands Day Kundi, Bamyan, and Ghor) and Badakshan

    Zones with rainfed agriculture in the central highlands, Badakshan, and parts of western Afghanistan (Hirat) also were affected by the poor rainy season. NGOs operating in central highlands estimate that there is a 30 to 50 percent reduction in wheat harvest this year. However, the impacts of the shortfall in wheat production on household food security will not be to the same extent as those in northwestern Afghanistan. This is because households in these areas are normally more dependent on the market for their source of food than households in the northwest. Remittances, local labor, and livestock sales provide the bulk of the income for households in the central highlands and Badakshan. Wheat produced by poor households in the central highlands typically meets two to three months of their cereal needs after the harvest in August/September. 

    Considering the relevant proximal causes to food security in the central highlands and extreme northeast, there is not likely to be a considerable reduction in food security outcomes due to the poor wheat harvest this year, at least to the extent that has been assessed in the northwestern Afghanistan. Currently most households in the central highlands are able to meet their food needs without applying irreversible coping.

    Favorable livestock prices, remittances, a good potato and almond harvest, good labor opportunities and wages over the summer in combination with ongoing assistance has left most households in Stressed (IPC phase 2) until December. Due to the hazardous nature and the inherent vulnerability that poor households possess in these areas, a small proportion of poor households will likely exhaust their coping capacity and need assistance to meet their food needs, as is the case in most winters. Current assistance is designed to meet target those households. However, there is not likely to be significant and large change in food security outcomes within the population. With the exception of inaccessible districts of Ghor and Badakhshan where assistance cannot reach households, most districts will be no or minimal acute food insecurity (IPC phase 1) from December to March.

    As opposed to northern Afghanistan, winter wheat is already sown in the central highlands due to the higher altitude of this region. However, most of the agricultural land in this region is going to be planted after March 2012 when spring wheat plantation takes place. Over the next six months, access to markets will begin to deteriorate and food prices will likely increase as normal. This is due to the harsh geography and climatic conditions over the winter.

    Table I: Less likely events over the next six months that could change the above scenarios



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Northwestern Afghanistan

    No assistance programs than the government


    If additional assistance does not reaches the rainfed and on-farm labor dependent households, then food needs will likely to stay Crisis (IPC phase 3)


    Hurdle for Pakistan and Kazakhstan commodity flows

    In the event that Pakistan or Kazakhstan wheat does not make it to Afghanistan markets then there will likely be a shortage. Prices will likely rise and poor households will be in worse condition.

    Central Highlands

    Harsh winter

    If harsh winter prevails, then central highlands will be cutting off from the rest of the country which will impact both food availability and access 


    Security deterioration

    If the violence and displacement increases, acute food security conditions in southern Afghanistan may deteriorate further.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar and Critical Events

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 1: Current estimated food security outcomes, October 2011

    Figure 2

    Figure 1: Current estimated food security outcomes, October 2011

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2: Wheat grain and Wheat flour prices (USD/kg), September 2011

    Figure 3

    Figure 2: Wheat grain and Wheat flour prices (USD/kg), September 2011

    Source: FEWS NET/WFP

    Figure 3: IRI Long-term Probability Forecast for Precipitation, October to December, 2011

    Figure 4

    Figure 3: IRI Long-term Probability Forecast for Precipitation, October to December, 2011

    Source: IRI

    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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