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The second highest grain harvest on record improves food security

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • October 2012 - March 2013
The second highest grain harvest on record improves food security

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • With market and household stocks from the well above average May to August wheat harvest, above average livestock prices, and higher than average labor wages, both food availability and households’ economic access to food have improved tremendously since last year, keeping a large portion of the population at the None or Minimal (IPC Phase 1) level of acute food insecurity from October to December.

    • Most of Afghanistan will remain food secure, but as the February to May lean season sets in, poor households in extreme northern Badakhshan and the Wakhan Corridor who lost livestock last year and a small fraction of poor households in the central highlands who rely primarily on remittances from Iran will become Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    • Internally displaced persons (IDPs) continue to flee their homes due to conflict, primarily in southern, western, and eastern Afghanistan. The newly displaced who have lost key sources of income are likely to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and rely heavily on external assistance during the October to March period due, in part, to the low level of seasonal employment opportunities during the winter. 

    • In September, wheat and wheat flour prices were generally below the five-year average, but they have started to increase in some markets, especially those dependent on imports. However, the current year’s import requirements for wheat and wheat flour have declined 60 percent below the five-year average which should continue to moderate pressure on price from October to March.

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    The 2012 grain harvest was the second highest harvest on record for the past 35 years. It has improved food availability and access over much of Afghanistan. The well above average harvest this year has reduced the gap between production and consumption from 2 million metric tons (MMT) last year to only 400,000 metric tons (MT) for this year (Figure 4). This has reduced demand for imports substantially.

    Beside the improved physical access from increased household and market stocks, the well above average national grain production has eased economic access to the primary staple foods of wheat and wheat flour. High demand for agricultural labor during the main May to August harvest brought higher than normal daily labor wages for poor households and landless households. Similarly, household who depend on sharecropping (dehkani) for their food earned more food in-kind than last year, especially in rainfed areas. The above normal precipitation during the October 2011 to June 2012 wet season improved the availability of water for irrigation of and soil moisture for second crops like maize, rice, cotton, and horticultural cash crops like fruits and nuts, which are all important sources of income in different regions of the country (Figure 6). There were some areas at higher elevations in the central highlands where below normal temperatures affected pastures and reduced both pasture and fodder availability. However, pasture conditions in the rest of the country were average to above average this year due to a good wet season. Pasture and water conditions ensured adequate animal health and hence higher than normal livestock prices due to average to above average body conditions.

    Livestock prices in most reference markets are well above the five-year averages . For example, in eastern Afghanistan, current livestock prices are almost 50 percent higher than the five-year average, partially due to increasing demand for meat. Meat demand in many parts of the country has increased since the spring, both seasonally in anticipation of Eid Qurban in late October and due to rising population and rising incomes. Due to the above average grain harvest, the wheat prices in September are below the five-year average in the majority of reference markets. Higher than average labor wages and livestock prices and below average wheat prices have improved the term of trade (TOT) both between labor and wheat and between livestock and wheat. As is typical for this time of year, the price of wheat and wheat flour increased slightly starting in late September and early October as households started building stocks for the winter, especially in the central highlands and northeastern highlands. These market purchases typically peak in October and November.

    One of the other drivers of the recent slight rise in wheat flour prices since July was that Kazakhstan’s harvest was well below last year harvest. Kazakhstan’s wheat has been in high demand from many buyers including China, partly as a response to rising prices of wheat and wheat flour exported by Russia. In September, data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’s Global Information and Early Warning System (FAO/GIEWS) indicates that the Kazakhstani export wheat price was over 40 percent above last year. The demand for Pakistani wheat flour in Afghanstan’s markets has increased as a substitute for wheat flour and wheat from Kazakhstan. Imported food supplies from Pakistan remain available despite Iran’s higher than usual wheat imports from Pakistan which were arranged for in a barter deal earlier this year. The increase in demand for Pakistani wheat flour, together with increased international wheat prices has increased the price of imported wheat flour by seven percent in September since July (Figure 7). The highest increase in the September prices of imported wheat flour compared to last year are in the more import-dependent markets. For example, in September, wheat flour was 22 percent, 20 percent, and 18 percent more expensive than last year in Mazar, Jalalabad, and Nili, respectively.

    During first ten days of October, localized rains were recorded in Agam District of Nangarhar Province, Waigal District of Noristan Province, Qarghaee and Alingar Districts of Laghman Province, and Asadabad District of Kunar Province. During the second week of October, light rains were also recorded in the North and Northeast, in east-central Afghanistan, and in some parts of northwestern Afghanistan (Figure 5). These conditions so far indicate a fairly normal start of the wet season, but conditions are below last year’s more complete onset of the wet season. Precipitation at this time of the year is likely to improve soil moisture for the winter wheat planting that started in October and continues until December.

    In the East, in Kunar, Laghman, and Nangarhar Provinces, the May and June wheat harvest was above average in terms of volume. This led to higher than usual wages during the harvest and afterwards for the planting of second crops in June and July and later in October for planting winter wheat. The June to August summer Indian monsoon was weaker compared to last year which had a positive impact of weaker summer monsoon floods and fewer crops lost to flooding. The continuing vegetable and fruit harvests have been largely normal both in terms of income from market sales and for consumption. The maize harvest reached its peak in October, and it appears to be normal to above normal in terms of volume. Maize is primarily grown as a second crop after wheat, and it serves both as grain for human consumption and to store as fodder and sileage for livestock during the winter. The rice harvest in Qarghaee and Alingar Districts of Laghman Province, Behsud, Kama, Mazeena, Aska Mena, and Khewa Districts of Nangarhar Province, and Watapur District of Kunar Province has started at an above normal level this year, probably due to good irrigation water availability. As the vast majority of households have sufficient and seasonally normal access to food and income sources, this area is classified as No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1) for October. However, exceptions include internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been displaced by conflict and resettled or sought shelter in the eastern areas. These households are classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for October.

    In southern Afghanistan, in Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul, and Uruzgan Provinces, wheat production in May and June was well above the five-year average except in Uruzgan, indicating an improved availability of wheat in household stocks compared to recent years. Production of horticultural products, mainly melons and grapes, is reported to be slightly below average in terms of volume, but prices for most of these products are higher than average. Hence, income from horticultural production in this region is near average and appears to have near average corresponding purchasing power. The pomegranate harvest in Kandahar has started and is reported to be average to above average. Pomegranate prices are slightly higher than last year. Labor wages and demand are currently above average due to the October and November land preparation for poppy cultivation. Cross-border trade so far is functioning normally with higher value horticultural crops being exported to Pakistan and traders returning with wheat, wheat flour, rice, vegetable oil, sugar, and other necessities. Smoothly functioning markets and slightly above normal incomes allow most the households to have sufficient physical and financial access to food, despite the fact that Kandahar, Zabul, and Uruzgan have net wheat deficits, even in a relatively good year for production. The population is engaged in seasonally normal livelihood activities, and the area is classified as No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1). The major exception to these conditions are the recently conflict-displaced IDP households classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Poor households in northwestern Afghanistan, in Samangan, Balkh, Jawzjan, Saripul, Faryab, and Badghis Provinces, who depend on rainfed crops or on-farm labor for food and income have harvested much more grain this year than last year. The average increase of the rainfed crop in the northwestern provinces was 250 percent above last year. Like the rest of the country, labor wages have been well above the five-year average since the weeding of the wheat crop and planting of spring crops began in March and April. Continued agricultural activities, including the start of land preparation for winter wheat and barley have kept wages and labor demand high. Due to good pasture conditions since the spring, livestock health and body conditions have been better than average. The September livestock prices were above the five-year average. The above normal harvest has meant even households that depend on sharecropping (dekhani) are able to rely primarily on their own stocks of wheat. With sufficient income and continued household level grain stocks, the vast majority of the population is classified as No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC phase 1). Exceptions include conflict-displaced IDPS in Aybak, Dara-I-Suf Payin, Nahri Shahi, Dihdadi, Shiberghan, Maymana, Pushtun Kot, Almar, Qaysar, Kohistan, Gurziwan, Dawlatabad, Ghormach, and Sayyad Districts.

    Similarly, in northeastern Afghanistan, in Takhar, Kunduz, and Baghlan Province, the May to July wheat harvest was above average which supported higher than average labor wages. Weeding began in the spring in March and April, and agricultural labor wages have been higher since the start of weeding. Good pasture conditions and higher livestock prices have also been increasing incomes. The income from sale of the second harvest cash crops such as rice, potatoes, flax, and maize and of tree fruits have been largely normal this year. Remittances from labor migration to the cities has been behaving normally, but the income from remittances from Iran has decreased recently due to depreciation of the Iranian rial (IRR) and of broad disruptions to the Iranian economy. However, only a small fraction of households from this region depend heavily on remittances from Iran. With ample household grain stocks and sufficient income from ongoing agricultural activities, livestock sales, and remittances, northeastern Afghanistan is currently classified as No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1).

    • Livestock prices will further increase in the days before Eid Qurban in late October. Livestock prices are expected to decrease to a normal, seasonal range following Eid Qurban. Livestock prices will be lower from January to March as many livestock lose weight and have poorer body conditions due to relying on stored fodder during the winter. However, the seasonal decline will not be as pronounced as last year.
    • Imports of wheat flour from Pakistan will continue at a seasonally normal rate, but the prices will be higher than the last several years due to high international wheat prices. Imports from Kazakhstan will decrease due to the high prices. Imports from Pakistan will be adequate to supply even northern markets which have been supplied by Kazakhstani wheat flour for many years. Afghanistan’s annualized wheat import requirement is estimated to be 60 percent below the five-year average, so overall import demand being low will help moderate price increases from October to December during the stocking period.
    • Remittances sent by domestic labor migrants and civil servants from October to March will be normal as well remittances from the Persian Gulf countries. Similarly, income levels from remittances from Iran will likely not drop off completely. The Iranian rial will likely continue to depreciate against the afghani (AFN) and decrease the value of remittance from Iran, but it will likely not drastically fall between now and March.
    • According to the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University, the medium-term, temperature forecast is for above normal temperatures from November to January. Therefore it is assumed that the early winter and the months just before the winter will not be severely cold, extremely snowy, or have an early start of winter weather over much of Afghanistan.
    • The short-term precipitation forecast remains largely normal, so it is expected that the October to June wet season will start normally.
    • Winter livestock deaths in January and February will not likely exceed their typical range as long as winter temperatures do not fall to unseasonable lows.
    • Land preparation for winter wheat plantation is expected to be normal given the normal precipitation conditions. Demand for labor for land preparation and sowing of winter wheat, barley, and poppy from October to December will be relatively high due to average conditions. Agricultural inputs will be available on markets. For poor farmers who cannot afford to purchase inputs on markets, a large number but not all are expected to receive some inputs distributed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
    • Military operations as well as insecurity will seasonally decrease during the winter months of December to February. Military operations and insecurity from October to March are not expected to disrupts normal functioning and generate excessive displacements. Households that are displaced will be highly affected and find difficulty finding new sources of food income in their new locations.
    • The World Food Program (WFP) and other local and international humanitarian partners are expected to complete winterization plans for some of the poorest households before the onset of winter, allowing limited resource households to stock some food before winter.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    With the second highest grain harvest on record  (Figure 8), contributing both to household stocks and market availability, smooth market functioning is expected to ensure adequate availability of food on markets for market-dependent households who buy food during the winter or who stock food from October to December for the winter. The purchasing power of the poor has been supported by higher than average livestock prices across much of Afghanistan and an increasing number of livestock sales leading up to Eid Qurban in late October. Winter crop planting from October through December will provide normal wage earning opportunities, and remittances will also facilitate households’ economic access to food from October to March. Due to these positive factors, poor households are expected to have average, seasonal food consumption patterns from October to March. While households consume less quantity and a less diverse diet during the February to May lean season, this year their stronger stocks and better economic access should lead to a slightly more diverse diet and slightly more adequate quantity of food. Last year, very poor nutritional outcomes were recorded in several places at the end of the lean season following the below average 2011 grain harvest. However, this year, acute malnutrition rates should seasonally increase less than last year, as more households have sufficient food stocks and more households are preparing for the lean season by building stocks with market purchases. Food security outcomes will remain at No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1) for much of Afghanistan from October until March. Some exceptions to the generally positive food security outcomes are expected including newly displaced persons, households in extreme northern Badakhshan and the Wakhan Corridor, and the small number of households in the central highlands who still depend heavily on remittances from Iran. Among these populations, during the February to May lean season, outcomes are expected to degrade to Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    Areas of Concern

    East-central mountainous agropastoral livelihood zone

    Current Situation

    The recent September and October harvest of wheat was estimated to be near average, and the rainfed wheat production has improved substantially, especially if compared to the incredibly below average 2011 rainfed, wheat harvest. Potato production in September, which is a major source of food and income for a majority households in this livelihood zone was above average due to good soil moisture, though some areas may still be harvesting. Following a colder than average spring, pasture conditions during the summer ensured good livestock body conditions leading to somewhat favorable livestock prices. September livestock prices were 10 to 15 higher than last year. Labor wages during the wheat and potato harvests were average to above average. While total income from remittances from Iran has decreased by 50 to 60 percent recently compared to three years ago, dependency on remittances from Iran has been declining for several years, and now only around one out of twenty labor migrants chooses Iran as his labor migration destination. In this zone, some people have joined the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) and Afghanistan National Police (ANP) which are also stable sources of income for a large number of households. With supplies from their own harvest and enough income to provide market access for food, food security outcomes are currently classified as No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1).

    • Remittances from migrant laborers and domestic, casual labor opportunities within this livelihood zone will decrease with the onset of winter in November and December. However, a normal level of handicraft production will occur duing its seasonal November to February peak.
    • Households will sell a near average number of livestock to support stocking of food and other cash needs. Sales will be especially prevalent right before Eid Qurban near the end of October.
    • Income from formal employment with the ANA and ANP and as civil servants within the livelihood zone will be normal. Government safety net programs, remittance transmission, and community social support will continue during the winter at seasonally usual levels.
    • Livestock feed prices will increase in February and March as is seasonally expected, but the increase will not be so much that households are unable to care for their livestock and unable to afford fodder.
    • The remainder of the potato harvest is forecast to be above average. The prices of potato are expected to stay near current levels providing some income for producers. As a consequence of the average to above average harvest, the availability of potatoes for household consumption will be average to above average.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Recent findings indicate that in a normal year, own production of food in this part of the central highlands provides around six months of staple food for the poor

    ( The above normal grain production will contribute more than six month of staple food, even for the poor households in the east-central mountainous agro-pastoral livelihood zone. Income from cash crop sales including potato will be average. Households in this zone procure food from markets a few times a year as snowfall in winters and poor road conditions during rains both make markets inaccessible during the wet season, especially from December to February. As other sources of income will be enough for stocking and household stocks are already higher than usual, the lean season should be particularly mild this year, with many households well stocked through March. No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1) is expected to continue from October to March. However, for the tiny number of households who have undiversified and highly limited sources of income, continuing to depend very heavily on remittances from Iran, they will be Stressed with the start of the lean season from February to March, as they will have limited income to repelnish their stocks with market purchases and will likely face quite high wheat flour prices during this time.

    Extreme northern Badakhshan and the Wakhan Corridor

    Current Situation

    In a typical year, like 2012, poor households’ single largest source of food in the period after the harvest in extreme northern Badakhshan and the Wakhan Corridor is their own agricultural production, primarily wheat and potato. While households are currently well supplied with food from their own production or that they have gained as in-kind payment for agricultural labor or sharecropping (dekhani), they have started to make purchases in October for additional winter stockpiling. Income for these market purchases for winter stockpiling in October and November typically comes from the sale of livestock and their wool and skins, sales of cash crops like potatoes, and remittances sent by migrant laborers to major cities, mainly Kabul, Mazar, and Hirat. Additional sources of income for winter stockpiling include labor migration to Iran and formal employment in the ANA and ANP. A large flow of remittances from migrant laborers is typically sent during the time of winter stockpiling in October and November, and so far, there are no signs of it being less than usual this year. Increased deaths of livestock last winter have limited poor household capacity to store or sell as many livestock as they normally would. Also, this means households have produced fewer livestock products such as milk products like quroot and ghee or dried meat. For the livestock that survived last winter, conditions improved later in the summer season this year with good access to pasture (Figure 9) and water resources. However, other sources of income remained normal to above normal, enabling households to procure food for winter. With normal livelihood activities continued, despite reduced herd sizes among the poor, these areas of Badakhstan are currently classifies as No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1).

    • Money changers will continue to operate during the winter to transfer money sent by ANA and ANP employees and civil servants and remittances from migrant laborers.
    • Better off households’ wheat stocks will be enough to sell some of it to the poor who need to purchase during winter months when market access is limited. However, the better off households will offer this wheat at seasonally typical, very high prices, for a profit.
    • Due to accelerated losses of livestock last winter, the household stocks of livestock products like quroot, ghee, and dried meat will be below normal this winter. Similarly milk production towards the end of the scenario period in March will be below normal, due to smaller herd sizes than two years ago. Livestock sales will be below normal before winter, but for households with livestock to sell, overall income from livestock sales will be nearer to average, due to higher than average livestock prices.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    With normal income from sources other than livestock and livestock products and good local production, poor households are expected to be stocked with staple foods, primarily wheat flour and potatoes, to last through the entire scenario from November until March. However, at the household level, the availability of dried meat and dried milk products like quroot will be below normal during the winter months, and poor households are likely to have limited animal protein sources in February and March, having fewer milking animals in March and little to no stock of dried products. While strong households stocks of grains, potatoes, and other foods will provide a seasonally normal diet in extreme northern Badakhshan and the Wakhan Corridor from October to January, the poor will be classified as No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1). However, as household food stocks run low during the February to May lean season, especially as very little milk will become available in March, and all dried livestock products will be largely unavailable, during February and March, households that cannot afford expensive winter protein sources and supplements to their stocks will be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2). Some assistance is expected to be provided for these households, and assistance is expected to prevent food consumption deficits for many of the poor, though targeting will likely not be able to reach all of the poorest households in the most remote areas. This Stressed (IPC Phase 2) caterogy will also include households who experienced an accelerated loss of livestock last winter and who are unable to fully stock for the winter and lean season.

    Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

    Despite the above average grain harvest across the country and generally favorable economic conditions, conflict continues to displace more households every month. In September, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that over 15,000 people were displaced by conflict. According to UNHCR estimates, over 445,000 people were internally displaced as of September. Additional information on the numbers of IDPs by region can be found in Figure 10.

    Levels of displacements due to conflict are assumed to remain stable over the winter months of December to February, as conflict decreases across much of the country. As IDPs are often in unfamiliar environments, they have not established their new livelihoods in camps or among a host population. Also, after December, the number of labor opportunities tends to drop in rural areas while competition for urban labor opportunities increases. With limited ability to replace lost sources of income, the newly displaced tend to rely heavily on external assistance and are especially likely to remain Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from October to March.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Western Afghanistan and the central highlands

    Drastic depreciation of Iranian rial (IRR)

    For the few households still dependent on remittances from Iran, food access will deteriorate due to falling income from remittances, especially during January to March when food prices tend to be high and other income opportunities are more limited

    East-central mountainous agropastoral livelihood zone

    An excessively cold winter with temperatures well below average and above average snowfall volume

    If the winter turns to be exceptionally cold, conditions for livestock may deteriorate, leading to excess livestock mortality. Poor health of livestock limits the availability of milk in March, and heavy snowfall limits market access for food purchases into later than normal in March and April, limiting the ability of market purchases to make up for the shortfall in livestock production.

    Nationwide, but particularly market-dependent and landless households

    An additional, sharp increase in wheat market prices due to international price movements and their impact on export prices in Pakistan and Kazakhstan

    A sudden and unexpected increase in imported wheat and wheat flour prices in the region would limited access to food for households who rely on market purchases. The number of households who purchase wheat or wheat flour tends to be particularly high from October to December as households purchase wheat stocks for the more limited market access during the winter in January and February.

    Figures Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal Calendar for a Typical Year

    Source: FEWS NET Afghanistan

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2012

    Source: FEWS NET Afghanistan

    Wheat production and import requirements as proportion of total needs, 2007-2012

    Figure 3

    Wheat production and import requirements as proportion of total needs, 2007-2012

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL)

    Current season accumulation, October 1 to 20 compared to 2002-2011 average, by province

    Figure 4

    Current season accumulation, October 1 to 20 compared to 2002-2011 average, by province

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

    Cumulative precipitation in Balkh province, RFE2 estimates, 2011-12, 2010-11, 2002-2011 mean

    Figure 5

    Cumulative precipitation in Balkh province, RFE2 estimates, 2011-12, 2010-11, 2002-2011 mean

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Wheat and wheat flour prices in Kabul, 2007-2012, Afghan afghani per kilogram

    Figure 6

    Wheat and wheat flour prices in Kabul, 2007-2012, Afghan afghani per kilogram

    Source: FEWS NET

    Wheat production, 2007-2012

    Figure 7

    Wheat production, 2007-2012

    Source: MAIL

    eMODIS Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for rangeland in Badakhshan Province, time series values for 2011, 2012,

    Figure 8

    eMODIS Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) for rangeland in Badakhshan Province, time series values for 2011, 2012, and 2003-2011 mean

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    IDPs in September 2012, by region

    Figure 9

    IDPs in September 2012, by region

    Source: UNHCR

    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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