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Precipitation during the ongoing wet season has been well below average in many areas

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • February 2016
Precipitation during the ongoing wet season has been well below average in many areas

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Key Messages
    • Estimates have indicated that over 350,000 people were displaced from their homes during the course of 2015, the highest number of displacements since records began in 2002. Humanitarian agencies are expecting that internal displacement in 2016 will be similar or worse than last year. As is typical, conflict will likely increase with the onset of spring. Civil insecurity and military operations are likely to continue in many parts of Afghanistan throughout the scenario period.

    • El Niño conditions, which are ongoing, typically drive increased precipitation over much of Central Asia, including Afghanistan. However, precipitation during the ongoing October to May wet season has been below average in many areas. Seasonal forecasts indicate that it is likely that cumulative precipitation will be below average, which could adversely impact 2016 agricultural seasons.

    • Although seasonal improvements in access to food and income will occur during the spring and summer months, displacement and reduced non-agricultural labor opportunities are expected to drive Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes throughout much of the country during the scenario period, with many households in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

    National overview

    Current situation

    The annual lean season, which starts as early as December in some areas and continues into April, is ongoing. Due to near-average agricultural production and normal conditions for livestock in 2015, many poor rural households are currently experiencing a fairly typical lean season. Poor households support themselves during this period with stored food reserves, or through market purchases with income earned earlier in the season or through limited ongoing income-earning activities. However, many poor households experience difficulty in accessing sufficient food and maintaining adequate dietary diversity during these months, even in a typical year.

    February marks the midway point of the winter and rainy season. Although in most areas the past two years have been average to above-average in terms of agricultural production, the reduced level of non-agricultural employment opportunities in recent years, as well as increasing displacement due to conflict affecting most provinces, have threatened normal livelihoods for affected households.

    During the 2014/2015 lean season, household stocks were relatively strong, after good agricultural production in 2014. Although 2015 agricultural production was generally similar, the deterioration of the security situation as well as reduced employment opportunities are making the ongoing lean season more difficult for affected households.

    Increasing conflict between Afghanistan’s National Security Forces (ANSF) and non-state armed groups (NSAG) in 2015 caused extensive displacement, with estimates indicating that more than 350,000 people were displaced during the year. Displacements occurred in many provinces, with the heaviest concentration in Kunduz, Takhar, Nangarhar, and Hilmand (Figure 3). Many displaced households have abandoned homes, lost property, and sold livestock at low prices due both to the immediate need for cash and to the inability to care for livestock during displacement. In addition to the upheaval faced by displaced populations, insecurity has also had some impact on normal livelihoods, through, for example, reduced access to pasture and cropland. In some areas, this has limited household agricultural production and ability to harvest at the proper time, and reduced access to normal sources of income for affected households. Many IDPs are in urgent need of emergency assistance with food and non-food items and services, and are estimated to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    Although the progression of 2015 agricultural seasons was mostly normal and accompanying agricultural labor opportunities were near average, employment opportunities in other sectors, such as construction, small private enterprises, and official employment related to the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) declined sharply. Population movements away from insecure areas to cities and more secure areas has increased competition for limited employment opportunities, leading to a decrease in wages offered for casual labor. For example, January casual labor wages were down by 29 percent in Maimana, 19 percent in Mazar-e-Sharif, 13 percent in Faizabad, 9 percent in Kabul, 5 percent in Kandahar, and 4 percent inJalalabad, compared to the five-year average for that month. The only places with a reported increase in casual labor wages were Hirat and Nili, both with an increase of three percent.

    At its peak, ISAF forces numbered more than 130,000 troops from 51 NATO and partner nations. An important priority for ISAF was to build the capacity of the Afghan forces. At the same time, the presence of ISAF in the country provided a strong source of employment opportunities for Afghans. These included jobs related to civil services, translating, and the need for relevant local knowledge, among others. In 2008, through the Afghan First Initiative (AFI) supporting Afghan companies, the National Defense Authorization Act authorized the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to limit competition to Afghan sources, products, and services. In 2010, further guidance was issued to agencies, which encouraged local procurement contracting for the purpose of improving the Afghan economy by building Afghan leadership, participation, capacity, and sustainability. With the withdrawal of ISAF forces over the last two years, many of the employment opportunities generated through related contracts are no longer available, leaving employment at its lowest level in 10 years.

    The primary sources of non-agricultural jobs in much of the country are with private contractors supporting the military, and with companies who subcontract to various international relief and development efforts. Some jobs are still available in support of the U.S. military through a number of government agencies and contracting companies. Although the number of these jobs is decreasing, they are still a significant source of employment.

    Facing unemployment and insecurity, many Afghans, mostly young males, have increasingly resorted to costly and perilous international migration. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), approximately 200,000 Afghans migrated in 2015 to European and other countries. Fewer youths have been interested in migrating to Iran for employment opportunities in recent years, largely due to the decrease in the value of the Iranian Rial (IRR), which has declined by about half against the Afghanistan Afghani (AFN) since mid-2013. Many youths are turning to the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) to seek employment opportunities. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that almost 80,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Europe in the first six months of 2015, compared with about 24,000 during the same period of the previous year.

    Shortage of feed for livestock during the winter months is common in Afghanistan, and most people are using dry chaff to feed their animals. In 2015, rainfall supported the availability of pasture in most areas, and available information indicates that body conditions, milking, and reproduction are normal. No outbreaks of common winter livestock diseases have been reported.

    The normal availability of irrigation water throughout 2015, and particularly during the September to December sowing period for winter wheat, enabled planted area to remain similar to the previous season. Planted area for winter crops serves as one of the earliest indicators of the size of the 2016 grain harvest.

    Although early season precipitation was sufficient for sowing and germination of winter wheat, cumulative precipitation for the season starting October 1, 2015 has been below average throughout most of the country, particularly in much of the north and south (Figure 4).

    From October 2015 to February 2016, temperatures averaged above normal in most of the country. The relatively mild winter has helped households who live in temporary shelters or other forms of shelter that lack sufficient heating systems cope with their situation, particularly internally displaced persons (IDPs). However, temperatures over the central highlands and northeastern region have been slightly below the long-term average, which will help preserve the snowpack for irrigation later in the year.

    Although in many years, market access becomes very difficult in winter, during the month of January 2016 major markets were still generally able to receive supplies, as many roads have remained open for trade between areas of supply and demand during the mild winter.

    In the majority of reference markets, wheat flour prices are higher than last year and the five-year average. As compared to last year, January 2016 wheat flour prices are mixed: in Kabul, Kandahar, Faizabad, and Nili, the price for low-quality wheat flour is up by 14 percent, 10 percent, three percent, and three percent, respectively, while in Jalalabad and Maimana, prices have decreased by 13 percent and nine percent.

    For the majority of rural households, stocks of wheat and wheat flour are estimated to be fairly typical due to last year’s near average harvest, and will last until the end of March. The average terms of trade (ToT) between sheep (one year-old female) and wheat across eight reference markets was 10 percent above the five-year average, helping households in agropastoral livelihood zones and Kuchi purchase necessary wheat stocks ahead of the winter.

    During the month of January, average terms of trade (ToT) for wage labor to wheat was 10.3 Kg of wheat per day of labor. On average, this ToT deteriorated by 3.9 percent between December 2015 and January 2016, due to a slight increase in the price for wheat (1.9 percent) and a three percent decrease in labor wages. Although this ToT has remained largely stable over the past year, it has deteriorated significantly compared to the five-year average for January, by 22.9 percent.

    Remittances from the Arab Gulf countries are continuing at a normal rate. These are a significant source of income for some households, particularly in southern and southeastern Afghanistan. Nevertheless, remittances from Iran are still lower than in recent years, both as fewer migrants are choosing Iran as a labor migration destination and as the value of remittances has fallen due to a combination of stagnant wages in Iran and the restrictions that the Iranian government has put on Afghan workers. Given the diversity in household sources of income in areas that have typically received remittances from Iran, and substitute labor opportunities with the ANA and ANP, it is expected that most households are able to adequately cope with the decline in remittances and labor opportunities in Iran.

    The most likely scenario for February to September 2016 is based on the following assumptions:  

    • Although El Niño typically results in above-average precipitation in much of Central Asia, precipitation through February has been below-average. Near-average precipitation is forecast for Afghanistan through the remainder of the wet season ending in May 2016. It is most likely that seasonal accumulation will be below average.
    • Near-surface air temperatures will be above-average through at least May 2016. There is an elevated risk that periods of freezing or frost could damage tree crops, as blooming is likely to happen earlier than usual.
    • During the primary 2016 staple season from March to August, the availability of water for irrigation is likely to be normal to below-normal, depending on the area.
    • During the spring and summer of 2016, conflict incidents are likely to increase. It is anticipated that displacement will affect at least as many people as in 2015, which was the highest level of displacement since 2002. Displacement is likely to occur in many provinces throughout most regions of the country.
    • The security situation will likely deteriorate as roads become more easily passable in March and April after the snow melts. Although in 2015 trade and market conditions were not affected to the extent that private sector trade in goods and typical local and long-distance labor migration were significantly reduced, there is a risk that insecurity could have a greater impact on these aspects during the scenario period.
    • Due to near-average domestic production and normal imports, primarily from Pakistan and Kazakhstan, food prices are expected to remain stable throughout the season and will follow the normal seasonal trend, with prices peaking in April before a gradual decline.
    • The removal of international sanctions on Iran may lead to an increase in work opportunities, which in turn may increase remittances from workers in Iran.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Planting for spring, mostly rainfed wheat will begin in March. Spring wheat planting will continue through mid-April, assuming sufficient precipitation. Although improved seeds have been distributed to some farmers through the district offices of the Ministry of Agriculture (DAIL), there remains additional need and demand for improved seeds. Farmers who do not have access to these inputs are either using their own produced seeds from last year, or are purchasing seed from the local market.

    Typically, snowfall in the mountain ranges of central Afghanistan supplies over 80 percent of the water used for irrigation. Given the below-average snowpack as of mid-February 2016, continued monitoring of precipitation during the remainder of the wet season is critical for understanding expectations for the availability of irrigation water throughout 2016 agricultural seasons (Figure 5).

    Seasonal forecasts indicate that spring rains are likely to have near-average accumulation. However, given uncertainty in the impact of anomalous sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean, there is an elevated risk that the remainder of the wet season could be irregular, with potential adverse impacts on 2016 cropping seasons.

    The primary harvests will begin in May, and continue through September at higher elevations. Most rural households in northern and western regions still have food stocks from 2015 harvests, and as this year’s harvest comes in, households will be able to replenish stocks. Some households will sell some grain, replenishing market supplies before the coming harvest.

    Planting has already begun in some lowland, rainfed areas, and indications are that area planted is similar to last year. In the northwest, planting of rainfed spring wheat is expected to start in early March. Early planting of rainfed spring wheat due to the mild winter may result in an early grain harvest in some areas, reducing the time households rely on markets to purchase food.

    The outlook for the most-likely scenario assumes that spring rains will have normal timing and distribution, with minimal adverse impact on typical agricultural activities through either flooding or poor soil moisture. However, if the remainder of the wet season brings below-average precipitation or poor distribution, harvests could be adversely affected, particularly in areas that depend on rainfed wheat cultivation.

    Poor households in higher elevation areas are likely to deplete food stocks by May, and will sell some of their livestock in order to purchase food between May and their own grain harvests in September, as is typical. With livestock prices largely stable and an expected peak in demand in June due to Ramadan, most poor households are likely to have typical income from livestock sales for market purchases of staple foods.

    Wheat and wheat flour prices are expected to remain seasonally stable throughout the outlook period, due to normal conditions for production and imports from regional markets. Urban labor opportunities are expected to remain seasonally limited until the end of the winter, and will remain below-average for the remainder of the outlook period. However, agricultural employment opportunities will increase by the end of April, helping rural households to earn income for market purchases of food as household stocks are depleted.

    The start of the irrigated grain harvest at lower elevations in May typically leads to a sharp increase in labor demand, at which point some households will already start replenishing their stocks for the next season. While the wet season has been below-average through February in many parts of the country, the impact on agricultural production and food security outcomes will depend greatly on the remainder of the wet season, which typically lasts through May. As mentioned above, although the seasonal forecast indicates average precipitation for the remainder of the season, there is a low level of confidence in the forecast due to the uncertain impact of anomalous sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Indian Ocean, in association with the ongoing El Niño defined by elevated SSTs in the eastern equatorial Pacific.

    • winter wheat planting in Pakistan was completed on-time and with area planted similar to last year. The government of Pakistan has established a fixed support price for wheat at the same level as last year (PKR 1,300/40 KG bag).

    The poorest households are likely to benefit from ongoing cash or food voucher programs by several aid agencies, including WFP, the Afghan government, and NGOs. In addition, some households are benefitting from new government safety net programs.


    Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely in most of the country during the majority of the outlook period from February through September, largely due to the impact of reduced non-agricultural labor opportunities. However, outcomes following the end of the lean season in March/April will depend heavily upon normal seasonal progress towards the 2016 staple harvests. Many newly displaced persons (IDPs) and natural disaster-affected households who have lost access to land will likely be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).


    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 Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar in a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Accumulated precipitation, October 1, 2015 to  February 20, 2016

    Figure 2

    Accumulated precipitation, October 1, 2015 to February 20, 2016

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Daily Snow Water Equivalent Difference Anomaly, February 21, 2016 minus Average (2002-2014)

    Figure 3

    Daily Snow Water Equivalent Difference Anomaly, February 21, 2016 minus Average (2002-2014)

    Source: USGS

    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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