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Normal harvests provide adequate winter food Normal harvests provide adequate winter food reserves, except in the West-Central Highlands

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • October 2013 - March 2014
Normal harvests provide adequate winter food Normal harvests provide adequate winter food reserves, except in the West-Central Highlands

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Areas of Concern
  • Events that Might Change the Outlook
  • Key Messages
    • Food security outcomes from October to March 2014 are anticipated to be Minimal (IPC Phase 1) in most parts of the country as first and second havests were normal to above normal. This brought decent labor opportunities for landless households and increases food availability both at the household and market levels.

    • The main wheat harvest this year in the West-Central Highlands Agropastoral Livelihood Zone was well below average and has led to a current and potential significant food consumption gap for poor households. However, external assistance is likely to offset food shortages from October to March 2014, resulting in Stressed (IPC phase 2) food security outcomes.

    • Newly displaced internally displaced persons (IDPs) could see Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food security outcomes from October 2013 to March 2014 if additional assistance is not provided during wintertime, as alternate income opportunities from now until December are decreasing.  

    National Overview
    Current Situation

    The 2013 main national wheat harvest was above normal and the second harvest of maize, cotton, and rice, which is currently underway, is also expected to produce average volume. This has improved food availability and access over much of Afghanistan. However, in Khust Province, too much rain lowered second season crop volumes compared to a normal year.

    The well above-average national grain production has not only improved physical access, contributing to household reserves and market supply, but has also maintained prices for wheat (the primary staple grain) below or near the five-year average in reference markets.

    High demand for agricultural labor during the main May to August above-average harvest brought higher than normal day labor opportunities and wages for poor households and landless households. Similarly, households who depend on sharecropping for their food have earned more food and income than average.

    Due to good pasture conditions in many parts of the country, livestock prices remained well above normal throughout the year, which brought in adequate income for livestock herders.  

    Remittances from the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf are continuing at normal rates. They are a significant source of income in southern and southeastern Afghanistan. Remittances from Iran, however, are significantly lower than in recent years, but are increasing seasonally, enabling households to procure sufficient food for the coming winter. Nowadays, relatively fewer migrants are choosing Iran as a labor migration destination due to a combination of high local living costs and the relatively low value of those wages as compared to previous year. Yet remittances from Iran are still considered an important source of income for the West-Central Highlands Agropastoral Livelihood Zone and western Afghanistan.

    The watermelon and melon harvests in southern and northern Afghanistan, which occur from July to September in different areas, had a higher volume harvest than last year and higher producer prices than last year, increasing producers’ purchasing power.

    All abovementioned favorable conditions are a repetition of last year’s food security outcomes. Two successive years of favorable harvests are increasing households’ resilience in the event that households are exposed to potential shocks. 

    The wet season has just begun, however, with no or very low precipitation which is normal for this time of the year. Winter wheat planting has also begun, including in higher elevations, which is likely to continue until December in lower elevations. In anticipation of the winter planting season, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) has started distributing improved wheat seeds, those less vulnerable to disease and generally yielding higher volumes, while providing a 30 percent subsidy to households with low purchasing power in northern Afghanistan.

    Continued conflict is the main cause of new internal displacement where 336 households have been displaced from Qaisar, Almar Pashtonkut, and Ghormach districts of Faryab Province in the past month. These internally displaced persons (IDPs) have received WFP and UNHCR food and non-food assistance. The distributed food can last 2-3 months if the household size is small (six or less).

    Northeastern livestock herders graze their animals from spring to fall season in Sheva Valley pastures in Badakhshan Province. Sheva pasture conditions have been favorable this year, however, the local clash between Khash and Jurm districts caused severe livestock loss. According to FEWS NET field reports, Jurm livestock herders killed over 160 sheep/goats in the Khash district while the Khash district held 400 Jurm districts sheep/goats hostage. This is going to affect livelihoods and households’ food security in cases where households lost their entire or a significant portion of their livestock herd.  

    In addition to conflict, some land used for agriculture in Zebak District of Badakhshan has been damaged as a result of a landslide. Twenty people and approximately 100 sheep/goats/cattle were killed.

    As result of generally favorable conditions for the second year in row and normal to above-normal levels of most food and income sources, current acute food security outcomes are Minimal (IPC Phase 1) in most parts of the country (Figure 1). However, in the West-Central Agropastoral livelihood zone, as a result of an exceptionally poor harvest that resulted in a shift in food sources (from own production to external assistance), poor households have moved into Stressed (IPC Phase 2). IDPs who have been displaced over the past year are also continuing to be classified as Stressed (IPC Phase 2). However, since IDPs are spread out throughout the country, and represent less than 20 percent of the resident population, they do not meet the mapping criteria for IPC classification.

    • Livestock prices will increase briefly in the days before Eid Qurban in early October, however they are expected to decrease within a normal, seasonal range following Eid Qurban. Further decreases in livestock prices will be seen from December to March as many livestock lose weight and have poorer body conditions due to a reliance on stored fodder during the winter.
    • Imports of wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan will continue at a seasonally normal rate, but prices will be higher than the last several years due to high international wheat prices.
    • Remittances sent by domestic labor migrants and civil servants from October to March will be normal, as will remittances from the Persian Gulf countries.
    • According to the United States Geological Survey, the long-term, precipitation forecast is normal to below normal from October to March. However, an early winter, possibly in November as in previous years, is not expected nor are extremely wet or snowy conditions.
    • Winter livestock deaths in January and February will not likely exceed their typical range as long as winter temperatures do not get unseasonably low.
    • Land preparation and sowing for winter wheat and barley from October to December are expected to be normal, given the MAIL improved seed distribution, as will the corresponding demand for labor.
    • Military operations, as well as insecurity, will seasonally decrease during the winter months of December to March, which reduce displacement and lessen disruptions to livelihoods.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    October to March food security outcomes depend on the first and second harvest volumes, available seasonal labor opportunities, wage labor rates, food market prices, livestock prices, and the volume of remittances. With above-normal and normal first and second harvests, respectively, farmers will be able to store sufficient staple foods to meet households’ nutritional needs though March 2014. 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 from income earned through above-normal labor opportunities from the main season harvest (May to September 2013).

    Higher than average livestock prices across much of Afghanistan and an increasing number of livestock sales leading up to Eid Qurban in early October have greatly increased income and therefore purchasing power for livestock herders. Winter crop planting from October through December will provide normal income earning opportunities while remittances further 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. Food security outcomes will remain Minimal (IPC Phase 1) for much of Afghanistan from October until March. The exception to these positive food security outcomes are poor households in the Western Agropastoral Livelihood Zone and the new IDPs who are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from October to March 2014.

    Areas of Concern

    West-Central Highlands Agropastoral Livelihood Zone

    Current Situation

    Poor households are currently acquiring their foods from ongoing external humanitarian assitance distributions. This is atypical for this time of year as this part of the country usually obtains their wheat harvest in late September, lasting until February or March depending on land size per household. However, this year the wheat harvest was exceptionally poor, even a complete failure in the case of rainfed wheat (for example in Sari Pul) where people subsequently had to rely heavily on external assistance (Figure 4). By this time, these poor households have exhausted their household savings from diminished wage labor as a result of reduced yields. In addition, livestock incomes that came from early seasonal livestock sales due to poor pasture conditions have also been exhausted.

    Farmers in this livelihood zone chose to cultivate more poppy than usual, instead of wheat, on irrigated land, due to the perceived higher profits associated with poppy production. However, colder than normal temperatures this spring, March to May, damaged poppy crops, and consequently, the harvest was very poor with many fields failing to produce plants. The income level from labor migration this spring and early summer, particularly from labor for the Helmand poppy harvest, has declined significantly compared to recent years. Poppy is a labor-intensive crop, and wages are generally favorable, but the volume of the poppy harvest in Helmand was very far below average. Nevertheless, income from labor migration to Herat have remained stable and even improved a bit because of increased demand for laborers during the wheat harvest in June to July due to the above-average volume harvested in other parts of the country. 


    In addition to the national assumptions described above, the following assumptions have been made about the West-Central Highlands Agropastoral livelihood zone:

    • External assistance is planned, funded, and likely for August and September with food distributed to some poor households by the World Food Program (WFP), Afghan Red Crescent Society, and from the locally-stored government strategic grain reserves. WFP is targeting 8000 poor households; the Afghan Red Crossent Society is targeting 1500 households; and the government is distributing approximately 8000 MT of wheat grain.
    • Due to poor pasture conditions that resulted in poor animal body conditions, livestock prices are likely to decrease further between now and March. However, in early October livestock prices are expected to temporarily increase in anticipation of Eid Qurban when wealthy households often buy livestock for the holiday and then donate food (including meat) to the poor.  
    • Both wages and the availability of labor opportunities are likely to decrease from October to March due to the coming winter.
    • Due to normal seasonal patterns and a significant reduction of wheat harvesting, food diversity from October to March is expected to be very poor.
    • The potato harvest is expected to be normal, with reserves lasting for up to 3 months.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    From October to March, poor households are likely to meet their immediate minimal food requirements through external assistance. This will occur in spite of the significant reduction in normal sources of food, such as own production, due to cold temperatures that affected crop germination rates and no/poor precipitation during the crops’ growing stage (April-June). As a result, there were reduced incomes from local and external labor and the poppy harvest failure.

    Households may also increase their level of borrowing to procure food, which is atypical for this time of the year. Apart from this strategy, households do not have other coping options given they already sold their livestock. Thus, from October to March, food security outcomes are expected to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as households minimum food needs can be covered through external aid, but the non-food requirements will likely go unmet.

    Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

    Despite the above-average grain harvest across the country for the second year in row and generally favorable economic conditions, conflict continues to displace more households every month. In August 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that over 6,500 people were displaced by conflict. According to UNHCR estimates, as of August 2013 a total of at least 590,134 people were internally displaced across the country (Figure 5).

    Particularly from May 2012 until the present, new IDPs with heightened needs are estimated at 193,000 people. The displaced households have lost their entire livelihoods which were mainly animal husbandry and farming. The new IDPs receive external assistance, food, and non-food items at least once, which can cover food needs for up to 3 months. The available livelihood options for new IDPs are limited to begging, plastic collection to resell for income, and wages for ad hoc daily labor.

    • New IDPs received external assistance at least once, which covered up to 3 months of their food needs.
    • Daily labor opportunities are decreasing over wintertime, which makes it hard for the new IDPs to find daily wage labor more than once a week.
    • Living costs will increase during wintertime because of heating costs. IDPs are particularly at risk during this time of an increasing mortality rate, particularly children and the elderly.
    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Monthly displacement due to conflict is assumed to maintain current levels or potentially decrease over the winter months (October to March) as conflict seasonally decreases across much of the country. After December, the amount of labor opportunities will decrease in rural areas while competition for urban labor increases. With limited ability to replace lost sources of income, the newly displaced tend to rely heavily on assistance called winterization and charity from better-off households. Winterization packages include food, firewood, and blankets. If IDPs do not receive this additional external assistance during the wintertime, acute food security outcomes are likely to shift to Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Events that Might Change the Outlook



    Impact on food security outcomes

    Nationwide, but particularly urban households, the landless

    Pakistan bans wheat and/or wheat flour exports

    If Pakistan bans wheat or wheat flour exports, wheat flour prices in Afghanistan can rise dramatically in response. High prices decrease households’ access to food, particularly in the highland areas, particularly the western parts of central highlands where market-dependence is expected to be higher than usual.

    South and southeastern Afghanistan

    Remittances from Gulf significantly decline from current levels

    If remittances from Gulf countries decrease, then this could reduce households’ purchasing power.

    Nationwide, particularly southern Afghanistan

    Civil insecurity remains tense

    If insecurity remains tense as during the summer, further displacement and increased needs for assistance for IDPs is likely.


    Pakistan and Iran forcibly repatriate Afghan refugees

    The large influx of returnees would likely lead to increased demand and thus increased prices for staple foods, and increased supply of casual labor and thus more competition for labor opportunities, especially in urban areas.


    Temperatures drop well below average

    If temperatures drop well below average during the wintertime, this could increase mortality among IDP children and the elderly.

    Figures Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Current food security outcomes, October 2013

    Figure 2

    Current food security outcomes, October 2013

    Source: FEWS NET

    Rainfall Estimate (RFE), spring deficits in rainfed areas, Sari Pul (March to June 2013)

    Figure 3

    Rainfall Estimate (RFE), spring deficits in rainfed areas, Sari Pul (March to June 2013)

    Source: USGS

    Total IDPs in Afghanistan by region, as of August 2013

    Figure 4

    Total IDPs in Afghanistan by region, as of August 2013

    Source: UNHCR

    Figure 4


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

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