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Access to food remains limited, continuing to drive severe outcomes in Ghor

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Afghanistan
  • April 2023
Access to food remains limited, continuing to drive severe outcomes in Ghor

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Projected Outlook through September 2023
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • Notwithstanding the moderate seasonal improvement in household access to income and food in April as winter subsides, many poor households continue to have atypically low access to income for food purchases compared to average. This trend, coupled with higher-than-normal food prices and limited food stocks until the harvest begins, continues to drive food consumption deficits for millions of households. Food consumption deficits are largest in Ghor province, where many poor households face extreme financial difficulty purchasing food and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are ongoing. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to remain widespread in the rest of the country through May. While humanitarian food assistance deliveries are declining, aid continues to play an integral role in moderating food consumption deficits in several areas where Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) and Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes are mapped.   

    • With the arrival of the harvest in the lowlands in June, household food availability and income earned from agricultural labor will seasonally improve across much of the country, though localized production deficits are expected in some areas. Widespread improvement to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes is expected. In the highlands, however, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist as the harvest does not start until later in 2023. In these areas, modest improvements in income from labor and livestock are likely; however, the income earned is not likely to allow households to meet their food needs. In Ghor Province, the availability of income is anticipated to mitigate the largest consumption deficits as income seasonally improves; however, consumption deficits consistent with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected from June to September.

    • October to April precipitation was largely below average across much of the country, with drought conditions re-emerging in northern areas, marking the third-consecutive drought year in the north. While water supplies were sufficient to support favorable production prospects for rainfed and irrigated wheat across much of the country, poor rainfed crop conditions in some northern areas and flooding in the east are reducing production prospects. There are also reports of locusts in localized areas of northern Afghanistan. While the information on the extent of crop damage is limited, it is FEWS NET's analysis that the locust impacts on crops are localized and not as significant a driver as the drought.

    • WFP reached around 13 million people in March and 9.2 million in April with food, nutrition, and livelihood assistance nationwide. Food assistance typically starts declining in the spring as households access income from labor and food security conditions improve. However, ration sizes were atypically cut from 75 to 50 percent in March due to funding shortfalls. Furthermore, after a brief resumption of assistance delivery for almost a week in late March and early April, aid distributions in Ghor province were suspended again by the local government for most of April.

    Current Situation

    Rainfall: Cumulative precipitation from October 2023 to April 2023 was below average across most of the country (Figure 1).

    Figure 1

    Precipitation as a percent of average for October 1 to April 30, 2023
    Rainfall as a percent of normal in Afghanistan.

    Source: CHC/UCSB

    The most significant precipitation deficits were observed in northern Afghanistan, ranging from 45 to 60 percent of normal. With these precipitation deficits, drought conditions emerged in the north in April. This marks the third-consecutive drought in these areas.

    Despite the drought conditions in the north, average to above-average April precipitation was observed in the rest of the country. Heavy rainfall in late March and early April resulted in flash flooding in eastern parts of the country, including Laghman and Nangarhar provinces. The heavy precipitation also contributed to an increase in snow water volumes in northern and southern basins, although snow water volumes remain below average across many basins.

    Cropping Conditions: Despite below-average precipitation to date for the 2022/23 season, the planted area for rainfed and irrigated wheat is near the five-year average and well above last year across much of the country. Snow depth is below average, limiting water availability for crops in downstream areas, especially in the country's southern, northern, and southwestern regions. Average precipitation in April across the country supported crop growth. Although, flooding led to some crop damage and waterlogging in eastern areas of the country, decreasing yield prospects. According to key informants, rainfed crops in Samangan, Baghlan, and Kunduz provinces are in stressed to poor condition, while cropping conditions are generally normal across the rest of the country. Irrigated crops are generally in good condition.

    According to key informants, some vegetable and stable grain crops were damaged in localized areas of Nangarhar and Laghman provinces in late April due to flooding, negatively impacting production prospects in these areas. 

    Locust infestations have been observed in eight provinces, Badakhshan, Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Kunduz, Samangan, Sar-e-Pul, and Takhar. Based on information from key informants, while there has been some localized damage to crops, the extent of damage is expected to be less significant than the poor rainfall in northern areas. Farmers are using traditional methods along with some application of pesticides through the support of FAO and the government.

    Pasture and livestock conditions: Pasture is generally available in much of the country, except in areas impacted by below-average precipitation. In areas where pasture is generally poor, particularly in the north, households are feeding their livestock crops in poor stands and dried stalks. Due to pasture and fodder's seasonal availability, livestock remains in relatively favorable condition.

    Labor income: Casual and agricultural labor opportunities are seasonally improving across the country, with an average of one to three days of work per week available in most provinces. According to WFP, the average number of days per week available for labor increased by 11 percent between March and April. This represents an increase compared to the same time last year but remains lower than normal. Casual labor wages have been stable between March and April and near the two-year average in many provinces. Overall, income from casual labor has slightly increased in the last month due to the slight improvement in labor availability.

    Staple food prices: Although staple food prices remain generally higher than average, they have declined in recent months due to stable food supplies, modest declines in global food prices, and government-implemented price controls on the market. In April, average prices for wheat grain and flour, and cooking oil decreased in most provinces by up to 16 percent compared to March and 25 percent compared to the same time last year. Prices of food commodities are significantly lower in highland areas such as Bamyan and Ghor due to seasonal improvements in accessibility, as transportation costs are lower than in the winter season.

    Due to declines in staple food prices alongside modest income improvements, trade terms have improved, although still slightly lower than the two-year average. On a national level, casual laborers are able to purchase 22 percent more wheat flour in April than in March and nearly 40 percent more than at the same time last year. While the relative percent increase in improvement of terms-of-trade is somewhat favorable, the previous terms of trade were so low that this is not a markable improvement. Overall, households can only purchase about half a kilogram more in April than in March on average nationally. The grain-to-livestock terms of trade l also improved by nearly 10 percent on average nationally from March to April.

    Humanitarian Assistance: In April, WFP reached 9.2 million people with food, nutrition, and livelihood assistance nationwide. WFP continues to cut food assistance deliveries, with an estimated 8 million people who have not been reached based on assistance targets for April. However, humanitarian assistance distributions typically decline at this time of year. Those receiving food assistance received a 50 percent ration after the cut of rations in March. In Ghor Province, where food access remains extremely limited, food aid deliveries were suspended for much of April after being suspended by the local government.  

    Current Food Security Outcomes: Modest seasonal improvements in food and income availability and access associated with the seasonal economic increase have yet to result in significant improvement in food security outcomes across Afghanistan. Households continue to face significant financial barriers to accessing market foods, and households cannot purchase sufficient food. Across many country areas, this drives Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Acute food insecurity remains the most severe in Ghor Province, where households continue to experience wide food consumption deficits, especially in the more remote areas of the province, as assistance distributions have been suspended for most of April. Households are relying on the little food they can purchase on the market. As a result, Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are ongoing. Crisis! (IPC Phase 3!) outcomes continue in other areas of high concern, such as Badakhshan and Nangarhar. Humanitarian assistance continues to play a vital role in mitigating the employment of severe coping strategies and mitigating food consumption deficits.

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET's most likely scenario for the Afghanistan Food Security Outlook for April to September 2023 remain unchanged, except for the following:

    • Cumulative precipitation for March to May 2023 will most likely be below average in the country's northern, northeastern, western, and southwestern areas, with increasing concerns for drought and abnormal dryness across northern and central areas.
    • Given current snow water volumes and expectations for precipitation, snow water volumes are anticipated to be below average in most basins through May 2023.
    • Given current reservoir and streamflow levels, hydrological drought is likely ongoing and will most likely persist through at least September 2023 across parts of the west, south, and north.
    • Flooding in localized areas has resulted in some crop damage, driving lower-than-normal production in localized areas.
    • National wheat production is expected to be slightly lower than average due to poorer rainfall in northern Afghanistan and isolated flooding impacts. Wheat production is expected to be below normal in the east, north, and northeast of the country, with average to above-average production expected in the rest of the country.
    • Second-season crop production prospects continue to be mixed, with slightly below-average production expected with the next harvest in September. In areas where snow water volumes are expected to be average, second-season planting will likely be average, with favorable crop development anticipated. There is some concern for crop development in areas with below-normal snow water volume, predominantly in northeastern areas. Maize and rice production is expected to be below average due to below-average water availability in basins.
    • Outside of northern Afghanistan, vegetation conditions will likely remain normal to below average due to the ongoing and the last two years of drought. In the north of Afghanistan, while pasture availability is expected to be low, households are expected to feed dried crops to their livestock. Across the country, available fodder and pasture are expected to support normal livestock body conditions.
    • Due to the current political and poor economic situation in Iran, the return of Afghan labor migrants has increased. As a result, the amount and frequency of income from remittances has decreased. Total income earned from remittances is not likely to close the income gap left by other income sources.

    Projected Outlook through September 2023

    Overall, while moderate seasonal improvements in some food security conditions are observed in April and May, this is yet to result in widespread improvements in food security outcomes. Households across Afghanistan continue to face difficulty accessing food and income due to the financial barriers for households to purchase food. The harvest in May/June is expected to improve food availability and access, with more households able to meet their food needs. Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes are expected through May in Ghor Province, where food access and assistance delivery remains low. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to remain in much of the country through May.

    As the harvest becomes available and livestock productivity seasonally increases, food security is expected to gradually improve to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in the lowland areas. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to persist in these areas as households continue to face difficulty meeting their non-food needs without engaging in negative coping strategies. While drought conditions are now present in areas of northern Afghanistan, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are still likely as households are still expected to access some food from production during the post-harvest period. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to persist in the June to September period in the northeastern and central highlands as seasonal improvements do not occur until later in the year when the harvest begins in September. While labor opportunities, especially agricultural labor, are expected to improve during the second projection period, overall income levels will most likely remain atypically low and inadequate against high food prices.

    In urban areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are anticipated to persist through at least September as households continue to have difficulty accessing income to purchase sufficient food to meet their needs. Humanitarian assistance in urban areas is expected to mitigate food consumption deficits with Stressed! (IPC Phase 2!) outcomes among populations that receive assistance.

    Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance

    Recommended Citation: FEWS NET. Afghanistan Food Security Outlook Update, April 2023: Despite moderate seasonal improvements, food access and income remain restricted, notably in Ghor Province, where Emergency (IPC Phase 4) persists. 2023.

    This Food Security Outlook Update provides an analysis of current acute food insecurity conditions and any changes to FEWS NET's latest projection of acute food insecurity outcomes in the specified geography over the next six months. Learn more here.

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