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Due to low water availability, second-season crops face stress conditions

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Afghanistan
  • August 2023
Due to low water availability, second-season crops face stress conditions

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • Updated Assumptions
  • Outlook through January 2024
  • Most likely food security outcomes and areas receiving significant levels of humanitarian assistance
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes persist in Samangan and Badghis provinces due to the adverse impacts of three years of recurrent drought. In the rest of the country, the harvest and some access to labor opportunities are closing food consumption deficits, supporting Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes. Amid high unemployment and continued lower-than-normal income, food consumption deficits are expected to increase in October as household food stocks are depleted, notably in northern drought-affected areas as well as in the highlands. As a result, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to emerge across widespread areas of the country. In areas where Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected to continue, households are likely to close consumption deficits through casual labor opportunities and income earned from the sale of harvested crops. 
    • Second-season crops, mainly rice and maize in northern, northeastern, and eastern parts of the country, are in generally stressed condition due to water shortages resulting from lower groundwater availability and early snowmelt coupled with high temperatures. Given below-average water availability at main water basins of the relevant regions, second-season production is expected to be below average. 
    • In July, WFP reached 4.4 million people with food aid and nearly 1.3 million people with cash-based transfers. After a suspension of aid since January food assistance distributions resumed in Ghor in July following the implementation of safeguards and monitoring mechanisms. Due to funding constraints, assistance distributions have declined in recent months. Since August 2020, assistance distributions in Afghanistan have been historically high, deviating from past typical trends whereby assistance would decline during the harvesting months then increase with the lean season. This year, food aid distributions during the harvesting period declined seasonally as observed in historical trends prior to August 2020. 
    • Nationally, prices of staple food commodities have remained stable in the past few months. Domestic and imported wheat prices are over 30 percent lower than the same time last year and around 15 percent lower than the three-year average. The recent price declines are attributed to the domestic harvest, good inflow of imports, and reduced staple food import tariffs by the government.

    Current Situation

    Cropping Conditions: Due to early snow melt in early 2023 and generally below-average precipitation for the 2022 to 2023 precipitation season, water availability for second-season and irrigated crops is lower than normal, driving continued below-normal second-season harvest prospects. Rice and maize are the dominant second-season crops mainly in northern and eastern parts of the country. Apart from this, fruits such as melon and oilseed crops are also grown in second seasons, mostly in northern provinces. Most farmers are relying predominantly on deep wells to access water for maize, rice, and sesame. Given low soil moisture and groundwater availability across much of the country, second-season crops are in stress conditions (Figure 1). Additionally, the government has imposed restrictions to limit groundwater depletion by limiting the number and depth of new deep wells. 

    Figure 1

    Soil moisture for August 2023 as a percent of normal
    Soil moisture for 0-10 cm as a percent of normal

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Flooding: Heavy unseasonal rainfall in late July resulted in flash flooding in eastern, central, southeastern, southern, and western areas of the country. According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, flooding impacted around 126,000 people across 18 provinces, predominantly in southern Afghanistan. Maidan Wardak Province in central Afghanistan was the hardest hit, with the highest number of deaths reported at 37. The flooding also resulted in the destruction of property, roads, and agricultural land. Over 13,000 hectares of agricultural land were flooded and over 1,100 livestock killed. According to key informants, the flooding has impacted the upcoming apple harvest, which serves as a crucial source of income for farmers in Maida Wardak Province. While the severely affected population was not large and impacted households began recovering gradually following the flooding, households have been forced to use income earned not only on their basic needs but also on rebuilding their livelihoods and homes. As a result, these households are facing increased financial hardship. 

    Staple food prices: Prices of staple foods remained stable in August and are lower than the three-year average. Nationally, local and imported wheat prices are over 30 percent lower than the same time last year and over 15 percent lower than the three-year average. The decline in prices is attributed to the harvesting season within Afghanistan, steady supply and prices in source markets such as Kazakhstan, reduced import tariffs instituted by the government, and a steady decline in transportation costs. Diesel prices are nearly 45 percent lower than last year, contributing to lower transportation costs.

    The price of the food basket remained stable in comparison to last month and decreased compared to August 2022 and the three-year average. Overall, the food basket is nearly 25 percent lower than the same time last year and 5 percent lower than the three-year average. Nuristan is the only location in the country where the food basket price is higher than last year. There, the food basket price is nearly 20 percent higher than in August 2022, mostly due to the remoteness of the province from Jalalabad, which drives high transportation costs, as well as this area’s large supply deficit compared to its neighbors. 

    In May, livestock prices started to decrease slightly. However, prices in August are stable compared to July. In comparison to last year at the same time, prices have significantly decreased by 9 percent due to poor livestock body conditions and excessive sales by drought-affected households. Meanwhile, livestock-to-grain terms of trade remained similar to last month, increased around 10 percent from the three-year average, and are over 40 percent higher than last year at the same time. 

    Labor market: Seasonal improvements in casual and agricultural labor opportunities are observed throughout the country, with most provinces offering an average of one to three days of work per week. The average number of labor days per week has increased by 30 percent compared to the same period last year and by 3 percent compared to the three-year average. Casual labor wages remained stable between July and August and are close to the three-year average in many provinces. Overall, there has been a slight increase in income among households with access to casual labor this season due to the modest improvement in labor availability; however, many people remain outside of the labor market, limiting access to these seasonal improvements. 

    Casual labor terms of trade have improved slightly compared to last month and significantly improved by 63 percent and 17 percent compared to last year and the three-year average, respectively. The improvement is due to the reduction in prices of wheat grain in the country.

    Food assistance: In July, around 4.4 million people were targeted with food aid, of which 1.3 million people were assisted with cash-based assistance. Due to a funding shortage, WFP was not able to reach the selected target. Food aid distribution has been resumed after a pause in Ghor in July. Food aid diversion and redistribution among communities remain a concern, limiting the food security of the most vulnerable households in some parts of the country. In addition, WFP provided packages of specialized nutritious foods to treat and prevent moderate acute malnutrition to 800,000 children (aged 6–59 months) in different parts of the country. 

    Food security outcomes: Given below-average production, most households have already depleted their food stocks, especially in the north and highlands. As a result, these households will be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. Meanwhile, below-average income from the livestock sector also has impacted agropastoral households in the north, which will further deteriorate food security conditions. Floods in August, especially in eastern and central parts of the country (Laghman and Wardak), destroyed agricultural and orchard lands, adversely impacting the food security of affected households.   

    Updated Assumptions

    The assumptions used to develop FEWS NET’s most likely scenario for Afghanistan’s Food Security Outlook from June 2023 through January 2024 remain unchanged.

    Outlook through January 2024

    Despite the below-average harvest, food security is expected to slightly improve until the end of September, especially in the eastern, central, and western parts of the country. In northern, northeastern, and central highland areas adversely impacted by drought and below-average production, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected until the end of the scenario period. While the lean season is approaching, the population facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse outcomes will likely increase through at least January 2024 as the lean season approaches. In addition, during the lean season, some very poor and landless households are likely to face Emergency (IPC Phase 4) outcomes in drought-affected areas of the country. In other rural areas across the country, Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely, as households can meet their food needs by consuming their own foods. Throughout the projected period, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected in main urban areas of the country due to the generally poor economy and typical lack of employment opportunities during the winter.

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

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Afghanistan Food Security Outlook Update August 2023: Due to low water availability, second-season crops face stress conditions, 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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