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Increased conflict and below-average remittances sustain below-average food access

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • October 2019 - May 2020
Increased conflict and below-average remittances sustain below-average food access

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Despite the above-average harvest, low household purchasing power and disruption of normal livelihoods due to conflict is expected to limit poor households’ food access. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are present in areas of the country where incomes are limited and households are still recovering from the 2018 drought, as well as among displaced and undocumented populations. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected across the rest of the country. As winter approaches, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are likely to emerge in areas where a disruption in the labor market and an early depletion of winter food stocks is expected

    • Populations continue to flee their homes due to insecurity across the country with the highest concentrations of conflict events in four of the nine regions: southeast, southwest, northeast, and northwest. Approximately 355,000 people have been displaced by conflict in 2019 through mid-October. Many displaced households in areas where conflict is not protracted are likely to return to their homes to rebuild normal livelihoods. In areas with more frequent conflict events, IDPs remain displaced for longer periods of time and face difficulty establishing livelihoods or finding new income sources. As a result, many of these populations are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    • The October 2019 to May 2020 wet season started in late-October across most of the country, except the northeast where seasonal snowfall started in September. The forecast is for average cumulative precipitation for the 2019/20 season. In most areas, winter wheat planting is ongoing. In insecure areas, farmers are facing some difficulty accessing agricultural lands due to conflict. However, ground reports indicate many temporarily displaced households are likely to engage in agriculture production upon returning to their homes. This, coupled with the fact that agriculture engagement is increasing, indicates area planted for winter wheat is likely to be above average. 

    • Rangeland conditions are likely to remain near or above the median until the onset of snowfall in November/December in lower elevated areas. As a result, livestock body conditions are expected to continue improving through December. Livestock productivity is average, facilitating normal household consumption. Despite the average to above-average livestock prices, many pastoral and agropastoral households’ purchasing power is below normal. This is due to below-average herd sizes as the result of livestock losses during the 2018 drought.

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL), preliminary 2019 wheat production totals are above last year and the five-year average; however, this is not expected to meet Afghanistan’s consumption requirement. Afghanistan is typically dependent on regional surplus-producing countries. According to FEWS NET’s Central Asia Regional Supply and Market Outlook, imports from Kazakhstan and Pakistan are slightly below average. This is due to Afghanistan’s decreased import requirement, 19 percent compared to marketing year (MY) 2018/2019. Overall, imports from these countries are expected to meet Afghanistan’s needs. In areas with little to no conflict, market functioning is normal. Typically, conflict disrupts normal market functioning for a short term and returns to normal once the conflict has subsided.

    According to MAIL, August 2019 wheat prices on average across all provinces remained near average (Figure 1). As per MAIL, wheat prices in August ranged from 23 AFN/kg in Ghazni Province to 33 AFN/kg in Badakhshan and Daykundi Provinces. The high wheat prices in these provinces compared to other provinces is most likely due to their remoteness and high transportation costs. Additionally, Afghanistan is heavily reliant on rice, the second most important staple food, from Pakistan. Current estimates indicate rice production in Pakistan is above average. This is leading to stable, near average rice prices across Afghanistan.

    The 2019 harvest has replenished household food stocks after 2018 stocks were depleted atypically early at the start of 2019, due to the 2018 drought that drove below-average production that year. Most households are consuming own produced wheat, vegetables, and livestock products, along with purchased wheat flour. Households depending on sharecropping (dehkani) for food earned more food in-kind this year than last year, especially in rainfed areas where sharecropping is an important food source. Crops like grains, rice, cotton, and horticulture cash crops like fruit and nuts are important sources of income for poor households across different regions of the country. Many households are selling horticulture crops and cotton for income to access wheat from markets. The income earned from these sales is near normal. Additionally, many poor households are stocking own foods for winter with some poor households continuing to consume own foods.

    Pasture conditions across the country are above the median (Figure 2) due to the favorable 2018/19 wet season, ensuring regeneration of normal livestock conditions hence higher than normal livestock prices. However, in some areas, insecurity is preventing some households from accessing pastures, although livestock conditions even in these areas are generally favorable. According to MAIL price data, livestock prices on average across the country increased in 2019 and remain above the two-year average. Despite the increase in livestock prices, purchasing capacity is below average for pastoral and agropastoral households across wealth groups due to below normal herd sizes.

    Many agropastoral and pastoral households are rebuilding their sheep herds after losses during the 2018 drought. Households with medium (100 to 500 livestock) and large (500+ livestock) herd sizes, lost nearly 50 percent of their herds. These households, typically pastoral, have recovered about 20 to 30 percent of their lost portion of livestock. This is the result of livestock births and buying of livestock. Poorer households, typically agropastoral, with only a few livestock (1 to 10) lost 60 to 70 percent of livestock during the drought and are slowly regenerating the herd. These households are dependent on births to regenerate their herd since they are unable to purchase livestock. As a result, livestock holdings remain below average.

    Late October signaled the start of the 2019/20 wet season; however, steady precipitation has yet to be fully established across the country. Northeastern parts of the country have received two early-season snowstorms starting the season. though winter wheat planting started and is mostly complete in higher elevations. Planting is likely to continue through December in lower elevation areas as the ground does not typically freeze until then. In anticipation of the winter planting season, MAIL and FAO will be distributing around 13,000 MT of improved wheat seeds. In conflict-affected areas, when households are able to return to their homes when conflict subsides, they are expected to begin re-engaging in the ongoing planting season.  In areas, where conflict is more protracted, farmers are facing difficulty accessing their lands, which could affect their ability to prepare for effective winter wheat planting. Despite the increase in conflict in recent months, area planted for winter wheat is likely to be above average. This is the result of favorable 2018/19 climate conditions and more households engaging in agriculture activities as this is becoming a favored income source according to field reports.

    Land preparation and agriculture labor demand is close to the normal seasonal trend. Daily wage labor rates are below the two-year average. Daily wage rates have generally been decreasing since the withdrawal of NATO forces began in 2014, although still following seasonal trends. This has led to an overall decrease in household purchasing power (Figure 3). Labor wages and demand in areas where poppy is cultivated is near average with land preparation activities ongoing in October and November.

    The period with the highest level of voluntary repatriation is typically from March to November with a seasonal decrease during the winter months. According to IOM, in 2019 through mid-October, nearly 385,000 undocumented individuals returned to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan. 95 percent of the returnees are from Iran and roughly 10 percent of returnees are documented. Documented returnees are part of a voluntary repatriation program where they receive assistance from UNHCR and the Ministry of Refugees. Undocumented returnees return to their place of origin or in most cases to urban areas attempting to re-establish livelihoods and participate in agriculture activities. Although, in many instances, these individuals have difficulty finding labor opportunities as they have been outside the country for long periods of time.

    Remittances from the Gulf region are continuing at normal rates and are an important source of income across the country, specifically for southern and southwestern areas. However, according to field reports remittances from Iran are lower than in recent years due to the international financial embargo on Iran. This has resulted in a decrease in Iran’s economic prosperity. Additionally, relatively fewer migrants are choosing Iran as a labor migration destination from a combination of high local living costs, comparatively low value of wages, and preference to engage in agriculture in Afghanistan. The continued repatriation is decreasing household access to this income source as well as increasing demand for an already-weak winter labor market. The below-average level of remittances is negatively impacting household income.

    Conflict and political instability have been widespread across the country for over a decade. From August to mid-October, there was an uptick in conflict, with the largest number of events near Kabul, Helmand, and Kunduz provinces (Figure 4). As per ACLED data, the number of fatalities from January to late-October 2019 has been over 50,500 people. Since ACLED, started collecting conflict-related data on Afghanistan in 2017, this year has the highest number of fatalities so far to date. According to UNOCHA, as of late-October 2019, the number of IDPs was 355,000 people displaced in 30 out of 34 provinces. This level of displacement is slightly higher than in the same period last year and already above the total for 2 of the past 4 years. Due to inaccessibility to these areas, information regarding the food insecurity situation and humanitarian needs is limited. IDPs are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity because of the loss of typical livelihood activities and poor network and skills to enter weak labor markets.

    According to the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster (FSAC), humanitarian food assistance continues across the country to IDPs, households affected by flooding, and to rural populations within a few provinces. Information provided by FSAC indicates humanitarian assistance is planned to reach 1.1 million people with both food and livelihood response in October through December. Current and up to date data on humanitarian food assistance distribution, including the beneficiaries reached and ration size was only available for a few provinces. As such, this analysis includes the role of humanitarian food assistance only where data was available.

    Based on results of nutrition (SMART) and mortality surveys conducted in the first half of 2019 by ACF, the global acute malnutrition (GAM) prevalence by weight-for-height z-score (WHZ) was 12.8 percent (10.5 - 15.6, 95 percent CI) in Nuristan province indicating a “serious” level of malnutrition according to the WHO classification. The prevalence of GAM in Badghis, Khost, Kabul rural and Kabul urban GAM prevalence by WHZ was 9.9 percent (7.6-12.8 95 percent CI), 9.1 percent (6.6-12.5, 95 percent CI), 9.4 percent (7.3-12.0, 95 percent CI) and 8.9 percent (7.1-11.1, 95 percent CI), respectively. All these areas are classified as “poor” according to the WHO classification.

    In almost all areas of the country, there are households that have not fully recovered from the losses of livelihood assets due to conflict and the 2018 drought. Specifically, pastoral and agropastoral households who lost livestock due to last year’s drought are still recovering their lost herds. Many of these households are starting to rebuild their livelihoods; however, despite the above-average harvest these households are yet to fully recover. Poor households relying on market purchase are accessing food from markets with income earned from agricultural and non-agricultural labor, as well as remittances. However, incomes are below average and, as a result, many areas are facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) or Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Areas with the greatest proportion of people estimated to be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes include many parts of the north and central highlands that are heavily dependent on rainfed agriculture and livestock grazing, as well as areas that have been heavily affected by ongoing conflict.


    The most likely scenario for October 2019 to May 2020 is based on the following national-level assumptions:

    • The start of the wet season from October through December is likely to be above average with average cumulative rainfall for the 2019/20 wet season. 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 near average temperatures are anticipated throughout the country through February 2020. Therefore, it is assumed the early winter months will not be severely cold and facilitate snowpack development.
    • Access to markets will likely follow seasonal trends with access somewhat limited during the winter from December/January to March. Market access is expected to return to normal in late March or early April when snow starts to melt. Snow typically blocks access of district market to central provincial markets restricting the flow of supplies to district markets. Though some localized and temporary road blockages are likely around conflict events. Although generally access to markets is expected to be normal with some short-term localized market disturbances.
    • Demand for labor for land preparation and sowing of winter wheat and barley from October to December will be relatively high due to average conditions. Agricultural inputs will be available on markets and area planted is likely to be above average.   
    • Imports of wheat flour from Kazakhstan and Pakistan are anticipated to meet Afghan market demands due to normal production and market function in the region. Wheat flour prices will likely remain stable throughout this period with normal seasonal variation, although slightly above average and last year’s prices (Figure 4).
    • Pastures are expected to regenerate normally starting in March and livestock body conditions will continue to improve through April. Livestock prices are anticipated to be above average following normal seasonal trends. Livestock deaths during the winter through February will likely be average.
    • The prices of imported food and non-food items, with the exception of wheat, are anticipated to be slightly higher than average as the Afghani continues to depreciate against the dollar.
    • Remittances from labor migrants will likely remain stable from Gulf countries; however, remittances will likely be below-average from Iran due to worsening economic conditions in Iran, a 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 is also projected to be half of usual peak seasonal employment. Agricultural labor opportunities are anticipated to decline by 80 to 90 percent. This will most likely lead to high competition labor to due migrant returnees.
    • Military operations, civil insecurity, conflict, and displacement will likely be similar during the projection period driving further displacement, specifically leading up to the possible second-round Presidential election, currently scheduled for late April 2020. Conflict is expected to continue disrupting agriculture and livelihood activities. Additionally, it is anticipated to cause further deterioration of the labor market and economic activities, including migration for labor.
    • 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

    Despite the above-average 2019 harvest and households’ stocking food for the winter, many households are expected to be market dependent starting in November/December. As household incomes are expected to remain below average, market access to food is likely to be comparatively lower than normal. Most poor households whose livelihoods are not directly affected by the ongoing conflict and with slightly below normal employment opportunities are likely to remain in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) from October 2019 to January 2020. However, as households prepare for the winter lean season, those who have below-average remittances and/or labor wages during the main season and have limited to no household food stocks are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    At the peak of the lean season, February to April 2020, the number of households facing food consumption gaps due to below-average access to market foods is expected to increase. There will most likely be a risk of localized flooding events in April and May as snow melts and rainfall continues, this will most likely impact riverine areas at lower elevations. Flooding typically results in some displacement and crops and livestock losses; although the impacts are not typically extensive. Due to the broad geographic distribution of labor markets, widespread conflict and early depletion of food stocks, food security outcomes throughout much of the country is expected to deteriorate from Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) with the onset of winter in many areas. The rest of the country is expected to be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2).

    IDPs and returnees with no or limited access to land for cultivation and food from own stocks or sale of cash crops or livestock will be primarily dependent on seasonal agricultural labor on the farms of their host communities during the October 2019 to May 2020 period. Most of these populations are expected to remain in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    In late-April/May, as spring begins, seasonal labor opportunities will increase at the end of winter with spring wheat cultivation. Labor wages are anticipated to 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.

    Events that Might Change the Outlook

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

    AreaEventImpact on food security outcomes
    NationwideGreater depreciation than assumed of Afghan Currency against US dollar.Considering the devaluation of Afghan currency against US dollar, there is a risk of higher staple food prices in Afghanistan, which will further deteriorate the purchasing power of the poor households.
    Western and Central HighlandsGreater depreciation than assumed depreciation of the Iranian Rial (IRR) against the Afghanistan Afghani (AFN)For households receiving a large proportion of their income as remittances from Iran, food access would likely deteriorate due to the decline in household incomes.
    East-central mountainous agropastoral livelihood zoneAn excessively cold winter with temperatures well below average and average snowfall volumeIf the winter turns to be exceptionally cold, conditions for livestock may deteriorate, leading to excess livestock mortality. Poor health of livestock would limit the availability of milk through March, and market access for food purchases. This would overall limit the ability of market purchases to make up for the shortfall in livestock production. This would likely lead to an increase in the food-insecure populations. 
    NationwideDeterioration of the security situation If the number of conflict events increases during the harvest period in large parts of the country, it could prevent farmers from collecting the harvest, decreasing market supplies. Additionally, this will likely lead to an increase in the level of displaced households.

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

    Figures Map of Afghanistan illustrating the IPC Acute Food Insecurity Phases across the country.

    Figure 1


    Figure 2


    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 3

    Figure 1.

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock

    Figure 4

    Figure 2.

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock

    Figure 5

    Figure 3.

    Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock

    Figure 6

    Figure 4.

    Source: ACLED

    Figure 7

    Figure 5.

    Source: FEWS NET estimates based on MAIL data

    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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