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Emergency assistance needs are atypically high through the lean season across the country

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • October 2018 - February 2019
Emergency assistance needs are atypically high through the lean season across the country

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Due to drought and prolonged conflict, Afghanistan is experiencing its worst food insecurity emergency since the 2011 drought with an atypically high number of households in need of emergency assistance. The drought mainly affected rainfed wheat production and livestock pasture. Other agriculture products did not have as severe production losses, in part because households in some areas used irrigated water for second season and horticulture production.

    • Most of the country is currently experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Areas worst affected by drought and conflict in Badghis are currently in Emergency (IPC Phase 4). The number of households facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) will increase through the peak of the lean season in April with Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes anticipated in Badakhshan, Badghis, and Daykundi. At the peak of the lean season in early 2019, an estimated 6 to 7 million people will be in need of humanitarian food assistance.

    • To date in 2018, the number of people displaced due to conflict continues to surpass displacement due to drought. IDPs have lost key sources of income and are likely to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through May 2019. Humanitarian food assistance will be necessary through the upcoming winter to mitigate food consumption gaps, as employment opportunities and income during the October to March period are at a seasonal low due to snowfall.

    • The national cereal production deficit is expected to be offset by imports, primarily from Kazakhstan and Pakistan, stabilizing market supply and prices. Nonetheless, during the winter months access to trade routes and main food markets will likely be restricted due to snowfall increasing food and fuel prices, which will likely further limit household’s purchasing power. Due to the forecast weak El Niño, average to above-average precipitation is anticipated during the 2018/19 wet season, benefiting harvest prospects after the 2019 lean season.


    Current Situation

    Agriculture Production: Drought has significantly affected rainfed wheat production across the country. The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) reported the total wheat production for the 2017/18 agriculture season was just over 3.6 million metric tons (MT) (Figure 1). The estimated wheat deficit is about 2.3 million MT based on the needs of the total population. The deficit is expected to be filled, however, through intra-regional trade normal wheat supply and stable wheat prices will continue in markets across the country.

    Irrigated wheat production was not as severely impacted as rainfed wheat and the irrigated wheat harvest was only slightly lower than last year. Despite drought conditions across the country, other irrigated agriculture products including, orchards crops, melons, and watermelons were not significantly impacted. Owing to these crops’ high profitability, farmers throughout the country paid for irrigated water. Above-average temperatures in the mid to lower elevated areas prevented frost during the flowering stage encouraging fruit development.  

    The ongoing average fruit and vegetable harvest will contribute to the overall average horticultural products harvest, as they are mainly irrigated crops, except localized areas of Kandahar. However, the potato harvest in the northeast and central highlands was below the five-year average. Early indications for the maize harvest, indicate average to above-average production. Maize is primarily grown as a secondary crop and serves both as grain for human consumption and as fodder for livestock to store for the winter. The rice harvest has started normally, due to the availability of irrigated water. Poppy cultivation was average due to the below average market price compared to last year, as 2017 was a record year.

    Currently in areas where there was a harvest, poor households are consuming their own wheat, vegetables and livestock products along with purchased wheat flour, while drought affected households rely solely on market purchases for food. Many poor households typically depend on sharecropping (dekhani) for food, however with the drought they are unable to rely on this source. Land preparation has started for winter wheat planting in some areas for the 2018/19 harvest. These activities are limited with area planted not yet known. MAIL has started distribution of 10,000 MT of improved wheat seeds and 20,000 MT fertilizer in 34 provinces to almost 200,000 farmers to support planting. Other organizations such as FAO have also planned seed and fertilizer distributions.

    Livestock: Livestock migration started atypically early in July as the availability of fodder, pasture land, and water for livestock significantly decreased due to the drought. Additionally, in some area’s livestock movements are restricted due to social tensions between different groups, as well as political boundaries between government and nongovernment-controlled areas. Due to the drying of pastures and lack of fodder, livestock owners do not have available fodder to store over the winter. Livestock fodder is available in markets, but high prices restrict household purchase of fodder. Body conditions of sheep, goats, and other livestock have deteriorated with a significant decrease in milk production. Livestock prices started to decrease atypically early in September with price decreases seen across most major markets. Livestock prices on average in monitored markets are 11 percent below the same time last year, with the Faizabad market in the Northeast indicating the largest price decrease of 27 percent.  As per field reports, sheep, goats, and other cattle were sold as a result of drought, even though they are high valued assets in poor households. Pastoral households are selling livestock at low prices significantly impacting household’s ability to earn income and purchase food and fodder for the winter. 

    Income & Labor Opportunities: Currently, a daily wage laborer finds work 2 – 3 days a week and the available labor days atypically low with over a day less of work per week available compared to the past 4 years (Figure 2). Daily agriculture labor rates have decreased from the same time last year. Last year, a laborer would receive 400-500 Afghani (AFN) per day while this year the wage for the same work is 250 AFN. Field reports indicate labor wages in rural areas are lower than the reported wages in monitored markets, further restricting household income and purchasing power.

    The repatriation of large numbers of undocumented Afghans from Iran and Pakistan has increased labor competition in rural areas and reduced employment opportunities in all sectors. Remittances for income from domestic labor migration from urban areas Afghanistan are below average. Also, remittances from Iran decreased due to the depreciation of the Rial (IRR) against the Afghani (AFN) and broad disruptions to the Iranian economy. In areas where poppy cultivation takes place and land preparation is underway, this is helping to provide some labor opportunities and income for households, even though it is below-average.

    Macroeconomy: The macroeconomy has deteriorated following the disengagement of foreign militaries in the ongoing conflict leading to the continued decrease in investment into the country and in labor opportunities. Specifically, in 2018 the Afghani (AFN) was reached its lowest value against the USD in 15 years at 74 Afghani (AFN) per USD in September. This has negatively impacted imported basic good prices and destabilizing non-food prices. Although staple food prices are mostly stable, due to overall good regional supply.

    Markets, prices, and terms or trade: Cross-border trade is functioning normally, as high-value horticultural crops are exported to Pakistan while wheat, wheat flour, rice, vegetable oil, sugar, and other necessities are imported from Pakistan and other countries across Central Asia. Wheat imports are stable from Kazakhstan, the region’s largest exporter and importer into Afghanistan. The cereal import requirement mostly composing of wheat for Market Year (2018/19) is forecast to be 8 percent higher than last year and more the 25 percent above the five-year average. Typical marketing channels for importing wheat and wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan are contributing to supply and price stability in wheat markets.

    In September, wheat prices slightly increased in main markets, with slightly higher prices in remote markets. The average wheat flour price slightly increased since July due to a decrease in supply and negligible price increases in Pakistan. It should be noted the price of wheat does not largely fluctuate and will remain near the five-year average as the regional wheat supply remains stable. As a structurally food-deficit country with high dependence on market purchases of staples among poor households, Afghanistan is vulnerable to any sudden spikes in food prices, which have been reported at the local level in and around conflict areas.

    The wage labor to wheat terms of trade (ToT), compared to the month on month five-year average has deteriorated most significantly in both Faizabad (-25.8 percent) and in Nili (-9 percent) markets and remains below the five-year average. In 2018 the average, the ToT in monitored markets decreased and in September was equal to the five-year average. This has contributed to the lower purchasing power for poor households relying on labor wages for market purchases.

    Conflict: The withdrawal of most ISAF forces in 2014, resulted in an increase in insecurity and political instability in recent years. The conflict and security environment continued to degrade over the last few years as fighting between military, non-government armed groups, the Afghan National Army (ANA), Afghan National police (ANP) increased. The number of fatalities increased in 2018 for civilians and all previous mentioned groups. The insecure environment has broad impacts on the ability of Afghans to maintain their normal livelihoods, leaving many to adjust frequently to new local realities that alter aspects of daily life such as labor opportunities, market access, access to field for farming and grazing land for livestock, and the ability to engage in temporary migratory labor.

    Displacement: Continued insecurity and conflict is driving increased displacement in 2018, with an estimated 282,000 people displaced this year to date by conflict and over 220,000 people displaced by drought through end of October in Badghis, Ghor, and Herat Provinces, according to UNOCHA. Insecurity continues to significantly contribute to food insecurity across the country with some areas not under control of government, where the armed group in control will illegal tax farmers about 10 percent of their production. Most displacement from the drought is occurring in the Northwestern part of the country. Displacement from both conflict and drought disproportionately affects poor households who rely on rainfed agriculture and labor for income to purchase staple foods. Displaced households are experiencing major disruptions to normal livelihood activities, reports of restricted physical access to food have been limited to localized areas. In many cases due to displacement households have left their farms unattended, small livestock such as sheep and goats, and other household assets.

    Undocumented Returnees and Remittances: Over 15,000 documented individuals returned to Afghanistan mostly from Pakistan (13,051 individuals) and Iran (1,839 individuals) since the beginning of the year. However, over 687,000 undocumented returnees from Pakistan and Iran returned to Afghanistan in 2018 to date (October, 2018 IOM). Undocumented returns from Iran increased from more than 200,000 to over 535,000 between January and October 2018. During the same period in 2017, 235,000 undocumented returnees were reported. This is largely driven by recent political and economic challenges in Iran including the massive currency devaluation. The economic conditions in Iran and restrictions on Afghan workers by the Iranian government have restricted employment opportunities in Iran. Remittances from Iran is an important source of income for many poor households. The high number of returnees from Iran has decreased the quantity and frequency of remittances and therefore decreased the income of many households across the country. Households heavily reliant on remittances will likely be unable to fully replace this source of income with other employment activities.  

    Current Food Security Outcomes

    Due to drought and severe reduction in rainfed wheat production, household food stocks are significantly below-average restricting household food consumptions as households plan for the winter months in many areas. Households with access to ground water and second season cropping have a below-average harvest, slightly mitigating the effects of the drought. Most poor households are currently relying on income from agriculture and non-agriculture labor as well as remittances from urban areas in Afghanistan or abroad to purchase food, although these sources of income are below-average.

    Across the country many households have lost their source of livelihood assets or crops due to drought, conflict, natural disasters, and in some cases pests or disease. As a result, these households are employing coping mechanisms such as borrowing, using credit, consuming seeds, selling off assets, limiting the frequency and quantity of meals, and spending their savings to attempt to close their food consumptions gap. These households are facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) acute food insecurity, particularly among drought affected households, recently displaced households, undocumented returnees, and poor households affected by the lack of labor opportunities and reduced purchasing power. Specifically, in Faryab, the impacts of the drought were not as severe as previously anticipated due to irrigated crops and the availability of agriculture labor opportunities in preparation for winter wheat with areas experiencing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are present in areas of Badghis, having been affected by both conflict and drought restricting a household’s ability to cope and access food, as they normally depend heavily on rainfed agriculture and livestock grazing. Across the country declining purchasing power, disruption of normal livelihoods due to drought and conflict, and poor rainfed staple performance during the most recent agricultural season will contribute to an increase in food assistance needs since as compared to 2011.


    The most likely scenario for October 2018 to May 2019 is based on the following assumptions:

    • Based on the current forecast of a weak El Nino the onset of precipitation is anticipated to be erratic with cumulative rainfall for the season likely to be average to above-average. Therefore, cropping conditions are expected to improve with the possibility of flooding through the end of the rainy season over northern Afghanistan.
    • Climate models indicate above-average temperatures are anticipated throughout the country through February 2019. Therefore, it is assumed the early winter months will not be severely cold.
    • Seasonal access to markets will likely be limited during the winter from January to March but resume to normal in late March or early April when the snow starts to melt.
    • Due to the likelihood of an El Nino, area planted is expected to average, with land preparation and agriculture labor demand close to the normal seasonal trend. Inputs for planting and agriculture tools households will likely be obtained through household coping strategies such as borrowing and according to conversations with officials, planned seed and fertilizer distributions from MAIL and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
    • Imports of wheat flour from Kazakhstan and Pakistan are anticipated to meet Afghan market demands due to normal production and functioning of markets in the region. Domestic wheat flour prices will likely remain stable throughout this period with normal seasonal variation.
    • As most grazing pastures did not regenerate normally, livestock body conditions will continue to deteriorate through April with prices expected to be significantly below average. Livestock deaths during the winter through February will likely be above-average.
    • Imported food and non-food prices, besides wheat are anticipated to be slightly higher than average as the Afghani continues to depreciate against to the dollar.
    • Remittances from labor migrants will likely remain stable from Persian Gulf countries; however, remittances will likely be below-average from Iran due to worsening economic conditions in Iran, high number of returnees, and devaluation of the Iranian Rial (RR) against the afghani (AFN).
    • With the onset of winter, labor opportunities will likely seasonally decrease throughout the country. Demand for construction labor will also likely be half of usual peak-season employment and agricultural labor opportunities are anticipated to decline by 80-90 percent. This will most likely lead to high competition labor to due migrant returnees.
    • Households with the ability cope are anticipated to use the following strategies: selling livestock, using credit, selling household assets, reducing the quantity and frequency of meals, sending household members to beg, and working for food.
    • Military operations, civil insecurity, conflict and displacement will likely be similar or worse during the projection period driving further displacement, specifically leading up to the Presidential election, currently scheduled for late April 2019. 
    • The World Food Program (WFP) and other local and international humanitarian partners are expected to complete typical winterization programs before the onset of winter, improving household food stocks during the outlook period.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Across the country, the primary source of staple food and income are below-average as the rain-fed wheat harvest was severely impacted by drought. Even as market wheat prices and supply remain average, household purchasing power will likely continue to decrease as households have below-average incomes, normal livelihoods are disrupted, and displacement continues due to conflict and drought. Households heavily reliant on casual labor for income will likely continue to have lower incomes compared to past years, mainly due to the reduction in foreign and domestic investment and spending. Below-average livestock prices will likely continue to have a negative impact on agro-pastoral and pastoral households as they will likely have to sell livestock to purchase fodder at higher than normal prices to feed their remaining livestock.

    Many poor households in affected areas are likely to have limited capacity to sufficiently stock food prior to winter and will likely face difficulty meeting their basic food and non-food needs during early 2019 until spring agricultural activities begin and employment opportunities are available. Staple food stocks on average will last 3-5 months (December through March) across most of the country, which is atypical as stocks usually last through at least April. Poor households affected by the drought and below-average precipitation will deplete their stocks as early as September. Poor households in drought and conflict affected areas will use coping strategies to mitigate the impact of stock depletion atypically early likely through rationing food, among other strategies.

    Due to the likelihood of a weak El Nino, area planted is expected to average, with land preparation and agriculture labor demand close to typical seasonal trends. Inputs for planting and agriculture tools will likely be obtained through seed and fertilizer distributions from MAIL, FAO, and other organizations and household coping strategies such as borrowing and. Livestock body conditions during early spring will likely return to normal increasing the availability of livestock products and income from the sale of livestock at average prices. Employment opportunities throughout most of the country has been negatively impacted and will likely remain below average in terms of availability and wages.

    Conflict and political instability will continue to damage and undermine local economies, leading to further displacement and the disruption of livelihoods. Conflict and insecurity will likely further deteriorate household food security by damaging food stocks and inhibiting access to markets. Newly and recently displaced households will likely have difficulty finding sources of food and income.

    Food consumption among poor households affected by drought, conflict, and below-average remittances will decrease through the end of lean season. These households will likely rely on credit purchase and/or in-kind payment form the villagers or negative coping strategies. These strategies will help households close their food consumptions gaps, but is anticipated to be insufficient. Livelihoods will also be negatively impacted through asset depletion during the lean season, but households will not deplete all their livelihood assets, saving some resources to participate in the next agriculture season. Seasonally and due to impacts of drought, the nutritional condition will likely deteriorate with atypically high levels of acute malnutrition in children under five years of age and pregnant and lactating mothers.

    Due to the broad geographic distribution of labor markets, widespread conflict, poor harvest, and early depletion of food stocks food security outcomes throughout most of the country is expected to deteriorate from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with the onset of winter. At the peak of the lean season in March/April, there will be an estimated 6 to 7 million people in need of emergency food assistance. Poor households throughout the country, particularly in western areas are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through May 2019, as well as newly displaced persons and many undocumented returnees. Households most severely affected by the dry conditions, insecurity, poor incomes, and depleted assets will likely face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes through the lean season particularly in Badakhshan, Badghis, and Daykundi Provinces. However, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are anticipated for in Kunar, Laghman and Nangahar for the February to May 2019 period as the winter ends earlier than in most parts of the country with the agriculture production activities beginning in February/March. Seasonally, labor opportunities will increase at the end of winter with spring wheat cultivation and labor wages will likely be seasonally average. At the same time, the normal availability of pasture areas will result in normal livestock migration at the end of winter and early spring.


    For information on specific areas of concern, please click the download button at the top of this page for the full report.


    Figure 1


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 1. Wheat production from 2008 to 2018 (000 MT)

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

    Figure 3

    Figure 2. National average of labor availability in days per week

    Source: WFP

    Figure 4

    Figure 3. Conflict and natural disaster displacement trends by region in 2018

    Source: IOM_DTM

    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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