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Precipitation deficits increase in December due to delayed start of wet season

  • Food Security Outlook Update
  • Afghanistan
  • December 2023
Precipitation deficits increase in December due to delayed start of wet season

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  • Key Messages
  • Current Situation
  • UPDATED ASSUMPTIONS
  • Projected Outlook through May 2024
  • Key Messages
    • Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected in northern and western areas of the country where household food stocks and access to income are lower than normal, due to the cumulative impact of drought over the past three years. Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are expected in eastern, southern, and southeastern areas as food stocks from the primary and second season production are expected to support household food, alongside remittances and labor income. In many urban areas, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to continue through at least May as households experience low income associated with declines in employment opportunities and remittances.
    • Despite expectations for above-average precipitation, the 2023/24 precipitation season was delayed by up to ten weeks. From October to December, precipitation deficits increased, with historical levels of dryness recorded in the north. Despite the precipitation deficits, farmers are actively planting and irrigated winter wheat planting is at near-average levels nationwide. Due to the delayed precipitation, planting is expected to continue in the northern and northeastern areas through January. However, rainfed winter wheat planting, particularly in the north, is yet to start despite the typical planting window closing, as farmers wait for an effective start to the wet season due to poor soil moisture. In other areas where farmers dry planted rainfed winter wheat, the poor soil moisture conditions and dry season need close monitoring especially as spring begins.   
    • According to the IOM report, from mid-September through December, 489,900 people were forced to return from Pakistan, and around 436,000 people returned from Iran. The number of returnees crossing the Torkham and Spen Boldak borders has increased from 200 per day in early October to 25,000 per day by early November. Although the number of individuals crossing from Pakistan at official border points has decreased since the peak in early November, totals remain higher than pre-September 15 levels. Most returnees intend to travel to their place of origin and are receiving a one-month ration at the border. Nevertheless, the lack of shelter and difficulty for returnees to access livelihood activities for food and income is driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes among returnees.   
    • As of November, the national average prices of staple foods remain well below normal and somewhat stable. The national average price of imported wheat flour was 33 AFN/kg, around 6 percent lower than last month and 36 percent lower compared to prices last year. The Food Security and Agriculture Cluster's (FSAC) food basket prices also declined to 5,982 AFN/basket, nearly 25 percent, and 15 percent lower than last year and the three-year average, respectively. The recent decline in prices is attributed to the stability of the AFN against the USD, the availability of the 2023 harvest, and the stable inflow of trade in the country. 

    Current Situation

    Precipitation: The 2023/24 winter wet season started with drier-than-normal conditions. Between October and December, there were eight to ten consecutive weeks of below-average precipitation, resulting in a delay to the start of the season. Despite the ongoing El Niño, which is typically associated with above-average precipitation, rainfall has been below average across much of the country (Figure 1). However, some parts of the east, northeast, and northwest received 10 to 25 millimeters of precipitation in December which helped to reduce the soil moisture deficit and allowed farmers to plant primarily irrigated winter wheat, while rainfall deficits and dry conditions remain ongoing across the rest of the country. In the north, historically dry conditions have been recorded and are impacting the wheat crop and rangeland resources (Figure 2). 

    Figure 1

    Accumulated Precipitation compared to average, October 1-December 31, 2023.
    Rainfall as a percent of normal in Afghanistan.

    Source: UCSB/CHC

    Figure 2

    Ranking of rainfall received during the Oct. 1 - Dec. 31, 2023, period compared to the 40-year historical record
    Rainfall rank in AF

    Source: UCSB/CHC

    Planting: The irrigated winter wheat planting process is almost complete in lower elevation areas of the country, with near average area planted. However, the cumulative below-average precipitation has led to delays in the planting of rainfed winter wheat, with the planting window expected to close atypically late in January. The rainfed winter wheat areas most affected by dry conditions include the northern and western parts of the country, particularly Balkh, Saripul, Faryab, Samangan, Jawzjan, Kubudz, Baghlan, Herat, and Badghis provinces. Limited rainfall in the north and northeastern regions in mid-December improved planting opportunities before the closure of the winter wheat planting window in January, and some farmers are planting rainfed wheat despite poor soil moisture. Estimates suggest that around 10 to 15 percent of the land typically planted with rainfed wheat has been planted, but farmers will plant more irrigated and rainfed wheat if there is precipitation in January 2024.

    Livestock Condition: The dry conditions in northern parts of the country are leading to poor pasture conditions and limiting water access for livestock. Seasonal improvements in livestock body conditions are lower than normal and milk production is persistently below average. In the areas impacted by dry conditions, income from the livestock sector is also being affected as livestock prices have decreased between 15 to 20 percent compared to last year. 

    Staple food prices: In November, staple food prices in Afghanistan remained stable, with slight decreases observed in the price of wheat, wheat flour, cooking oil, rice, and pulses. This stability can be attributed to the positive impact of the local harvest which ensured that many households still had food stocks from their own production; the appreciation of the AFN against the USD and other currencies, which has enabled increased imports; and government regulations such as market price controls and import tariff concessions which also played a significant role in maintaining stable prices. Rice prices remained steady due to sufficient imports from Pakistan, as well as moderate local rice production in eastern and northern provinces. 

    The value of the FSAC food basket has declined year on year and compared to the three-year average similar to staple food prices. The cost of the FSAC food basket in November declined to 5,982 AFN (~85 USD), around 5 percent lower than October, and 23 percent lower than last year. Furthermore, diesel prices also decreased to a national average of 67 AFN/liter (0.95 USD/liter), but prices range from 61 to 82 AFN/liter (0.87-1.16 USD/liter) across the country. In general, diesel prices decreased over the past month, likely driven by factors such as consistent diesel supply from Turkmenistan and Iran, as well as the appreciation of the AFN against the USD. 

    Labor market: Afghanistan’s casual labor market in November experienced a 5 percent decrease in the national average number of workdays available per week, declining to 2.4 available days per week in November compared to October. However, the number of days available in November is 40 percent higher than the same period last year and just over a 20 percent increase compared to the three-year average. Skilled and unskilled wages have remained largely stable compared to last year. However, the availability of agricultural wage work has significantly decreased due to the delayed precipitation that has limited agricultural labor opportunities, along with lower-than-normal liquidity among better-off households to hire labor.


    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, besides the following:

    • The overall area planted under rainfed winter wheat is expected to be lower than to a typical El Niño event. 
    • The wheat supply from Kazakhstan is expected to remain stable. Staple food prices are expected to remain lower than last year and the three-year average throughout the outlook period.
    • Despite the delayed precipitation at the start of the wet season, average to above-average precipitation in northeastern Afghanistan is most likely for the March to May 2024 spring wet season. Precipitation is likely to be near average elsewhere in the country.

    Projected Outlook through May 2024

    Winter wheat planting will continue into January 2024 due to the dry start to the wet season, which will also facilitate limited agricultural labor opportunities in different parts of the country. The area planted under irrigated winter wheat is likely to be near normal, but the area planted under rainfed winter wheat is likely to be well below normal. Farmers are likely to try and compensate for missed winter wheat planting opportunities in November and December during the spring rainfed planting in February and March 2024. Labor opportunities are expected to be seasonably low during the winter, and households are expected to rely on purchasing food from markets due to decreasing food stocks, along with relying on remittances and livestock sales at below-average prices to access food. As spring begins, poor households are expected to start accessing labor opportunities as they become available; however, this will happen slowly. Overall, household access to income and purchasing power is not expected to be sufficient to meet household food needs, driving Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes across the north, central highlands and west of the country. Among some beneficiary households, food aid will mitigate consumption deficits, but this will not be widespread across all areas, particularly areas where roads are impacted by snowfall. 

    Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to persist in many eastern, southern, and southeastern areas, with the worst-affected households likely to be facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through the winter period. In these areas of the country, household food stocks and income from remittances and livestock are expected to support household food consumption through May. 

    From January to April, the peak of the lean season, poor households’ access to income from casual labor opportunities is likely to typically decline in most of the urban areas of the country, negatively impacting households' purchasing power. Remittances are also expected to remain below normal. In general, this will keep purchasing power low, limiting food access. The large influx of returnees will also likely put pressure on already limited casual labor opportunities. Poor households will likely continue to purchase and consume less nutritious and lower quantities of food, leading to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes in many urban areas. 

    Recommended citation: FEWS NET. Afghanistan Food Security Outlook Update December 2023: Precipitation deficits increase in December due to delayed start of wet season, 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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