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Despite favorable agricultural conditions, disruption of livelihoods due to conflict is driving assistance needs

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • June 2016
Despite favorable agricultural conditions, disruption of livelihoods due to conflict is driving assistance needs

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  • Key Messages
  • National overview
  • Key Messages
    • Insecurity and conflict in various parts of the country have led to the displacement of more than 130,000 people in the first half of 2016. The greatest overall concentrations of newly displaced populations are in and around the cities of Kabul, Hirat, and Mazar-i-Sharif. Many of the displaced have lost normal sources of food and income and are in need of humanitarian assistance. Further displacement is likely throughout 2016 in various parts of the country.

    • According to the WFP/FAO/FEWS NET Pre-Harvest Assessment, aggregate 2016 wheat production in most areas is likely to be near average and slightly better than last year. Second-season crops are expected to develop normally, except in localized areas where late main season wheat harvests will delay planting. 

    • In addition to a wheat harvest that is expected to be near-average, tree crop production, and particularly almonds, has been better than last year. Almond production may be up to 40 percent above 2015 production in northern and northeastern provinces.

    • Although agricultural production is expected to be the same or slightly above that of last year, many IDPs affected by conflict, as well as returnees and households affected by natural disasters such as flash floods, plant diseases, and pests, are likely to experience Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.

    National overview

    Current Situation

    Although the October 2015 to May 2016 wet season started with sufficient precipitation for the planting of winter wheat in October, cumulative precipitation, as well as snow depth and extent, was very low through mid-February 2016. This seasonal dryness occurred despite the El Niño event, which increases the probability for above-average precipitation over much of Central Asia. In late February, however, Afghanistan received multiple large storms, bringing significant snow accumulation in higher elevations. Precipitation in March and April was above-average throughout much of the country, facilitating the planting and development of spring, rainfed wheat and increasing snow water equivalent in most basins to average to slightly below average levels. As of June 20th, seasonal precipitation across provinces ranged from 73 percent of normal (Zabul Province) to 179 percent of normal (Nangarhar Province). The exception was Kunduz Province, which received just 47 percent of normal precipitation, according to satellite-based estimates. However, more than 85 percent of wheat production in Kunduz Province depends on irrigation water from higher elevations where precipitation was average to above-average. Accordingly, the impact of below-average precipitation on aggregate wheat production and agricultural labor availability is expected to be low.

    The 2016 cereal harvest is ongoing, having begun in May in lower elevation areas, while harvests in higher elevation areas will begin in September or even later in the highest cultivated areas. In Bamyan Province in the central highlands, poor households have started purchasing wheat or wheat flour from the market prior to the wheat harvest in September. As labor wages in June in this province were lower than last year, the purchasing power of poor households has deteriorated.

    Overall area planted under irrigated wheat for the 2015/2016 primary season is reported to be slightly greater than last year, whereas for rainfed wheat it is similar to the 2014/2015 season. Some Increase in planted area on irrigated land was noted in many of the primary production areas, including northeastern, north-central, western, southern, and southeastern regions. Nevertheless, planted area for rainfed wheat declined in some provinces in northeastern, north-central, south-central, and southern Afghanistan due to the two-month dry spell at the beginning of the wet season, which prevented cultivation of rainfed winter wheat in some areas. The FAO/WFP/FEWS NET Pre-Harvest Assessment indicated that, in most areas, aggregate wheat production is likely to be slightly better than last year.

    In areas where winter wheat or other winter crop harvests are complete, the planting of second crops takes place in June and July. In intensive irrigated areas, second crops such as rice and cotton will be planted, contingent upon good water availability. Early second season crops are becoming established and are expected to be in average condition, except in the conflict affected areas where farmers were not able to complete the planting process of their second crops, such as in Kunduz Province, where some of the farmers in insecure areas were not able to even start planting rice due to ongoing conflicts.

    In terms of regional wheat production, Pakistan is expected to harvest 27.5 million metric tons (MMT), which is higher than last year and above average. Kazakhstan’s 2015 wheat production was similar to average and six percent above the previous year.

    Melons and watermelons are important cash crops in some parts of Afghanistan, particularly in the northeastern region. They are also consumed by producer households to help diversify the diet, and can be stored until December. Melon, in some areas, is dried to diversify the winter and lean season diet. There are currently no reports of any major impact of pests or diseases this year for melons and watermelons in northern Afghanistan. In southern provinces, both melon and watermelon crops are reported to be developing well. In some areas, harvesting has already started in June, and will continue through September.

    The 2015/2016 winter in Afghanistan was relatively mild in most areas, with above-average temperatures throughout most of the wet season. The above-average temperatures prevented frost in areas with tree crops that had been adversely affected in recent years. This has been particularly beneficial for almond production prospects, which may be up to 40 percent better than last year. Almond production is primarily located in northern and northeastern provinces.

    In the higher elevations of the central highlands and the northeastern region, temperatures were slightly below-average throughout much of the wet season. This has helped preserve snowpack and has helped farmers to prepare more lands for cultivation due to the availability of water for irrigation, particularly in downstream areas.

    The snowmelt continues to provide sufficient irrigation water in the vast majority of irrigated areas. The irrigation water and slower-than-usual snowmelt at higher elevations has provided water for intensive agriculture, including horticultural production, winter and spring grain crops, and for the ongoing second plantings of cash crops such as cotton, grains used for fodder, and secondary grains including maize and rice. Although the June to September dry season can often include scarcity of water for irrigation as well as human and livestock consumption in some areas, there have not yet been reports of major water scarcity issues at the beginning of this year’s dry season.

    In addition to the largely positive impact on agricultural activities, the near-average precipitation and above-average temperatures this year have contributed to good pasture conditions in most regions of the country. This has led to improved livestock health and higher livestock prices as compared to recent years. Higher livestock prices are likely to increase food purchasing power for agro-pastoralist and pastoralist (Kuchi) households. According to qualitative information from the Pre-Harvest Assessment, Terms of trade (ToT) for sheep to wheat have improved in five regions (northeastern, northern, south-central, western, and central highlands) due to good livestock and pasture conditions, although they have deteriorated in four regions (eastern, south-eastern, south-western, and north-central). Table 1 shows sheep to wheat flour ToT using quantitative data from selected markets.

    In May, the average sheep-to-wheat terms of trade (ToT) in markets monitored, a proxy for purchasing power for pastoral, agropastoral, and mixed farming households, was 242 KG of wheat per head (one year-old female), representing a 10 percent decline in comparison to the five-year average. In May, month-on-month sheep-to-wheat ToT remained fairly stable in all monitored markets. 

    Although increased spring rainfall and consistent, above-average temperatures in lower elevation areas led to generally good crop and pasture conditions, significant spring precipitation events increased incidence of pests and diseases among planted grain crops and fruits, leading to localized adverse impacts on production. The prevalence of wheat rust, for example, which spreads more rapidly in humid conditions and warmer temperatures, was reported to be much higher this year as compared to 2015, which will impact wheat yields in affected areas. According to estimates from the provincial offices of MAIL, approximately 15 to 30 percent of wheat crops have likely been affected by rust in Baghlan, Kunduz, and Takhar Provinces.

    Similarly, locust infestation was higher than last year and affected many provinces. The damages were greater in areas where people did not expect locusts to reach, whereas in provinces where locust infestation is more common, farmers and local authorities were prepared to combat the infestation with limited resources as well as using local means to eradicate fields from locusts, keeping damages to a minimum. However, in the worst affected areas reported in Ghor Province (Du Layna District, Dawlat Yar District, and parts of Chaghcharan District), farmers reported that locusts affected 60 to 70 percent of agricultural land while the wheat crop was at tillering stage. In some other provinces, such as Takhar, the locusts attacked crops toward the end of the harvest, causing limited damage. The impact on vegetable production is likely to be greater, as these are harvested later.

    In most areas, non-agricultural labor wages are lower than last year, particularly in southeastern region, where wages have deteriorated by nearly 20 percent in the reference market of Kandahar between May 2015 and May 2016. In the northern region, by contrast, labor wages have increased, while in eastern, northeastern, and western regions, they are similar to the same period of last year. The decreased labor wages in the southeast and other regions are primarily due to lower demand for labor in the construction and other industrial sectors, largely as a result of the withdrawal of the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), reduced foreign private investment, and increasing insecurity.

    May 2016 prices for wheat flour were mixed across markets, with price changes ranging from – 10 percent in Maimana to + 9 percent in Kabul and Kandahar, as compared to May 2015.


    With consistent spring rainfall and sufficient snowpack in most areas, the ongoing harvest is likely to be slightly better than last year. With fairly stable prices for staple foods, the majority of households are not currently facing major shocks leading to acute food insecurity. At this time of year, there is a relative peak in food consumption and dietary diversity. In areas where livestock are kept, the availability of milk is generally good. Income earned from agricultural and non-agricultural labor, as well as remittances from household members abroad or in other areas within Afghanistan, are keeping consumption at seasonally typical levels for market-dependent households until the harvests come in. As such, most areas of Afghanistan are currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. However, throughout much of the country, there are households who have suffered major losses of livelihood assets or crops due to conflict, natural disasters, and in some cases pests and diseases, and may be facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes. These households include people recently displaced by conflict who are still in the process of recovering livelihoods, or establishing new means of obtaining necessary food and income.

    The most likely scenario for June 2016 to January 2017 is based on the following assumptions:

    • Aggregate 2016 domestic wheat production is expected to be near average, and slightly greater than last year.
    • The potato harvest in the central highlands, particularly in Bamyan Province, is expected to be below last year and the five-year average. This is likely to lead to below-average market availability of domestic potatoes during September – December 2016.
    • The cultivation of second season crops, primarily rice and maize, is underway in North, Northeastern, and Eastern regions, and aggregate production is expected to be near average.
    • Although ENSO conditions do have impact on precipitation over Afghanistan, additional climate system drivers as well as the inherent weather variability in this mountainous region create a significant spread of possible seasonal precipitation outcomes, regardless of ENSO status. Nevertheless, during the upcoming October 2016 – May 2017 wet season, there is an elevated risk of below-average precipitation, due to the greater than 70 percent likelihood of La Niña conditions.
    • Staple food prices are expected to remain near-average and mostly similar to last year, and will follow typical seasonal trends, with an increase in prices during the second half of the outlook period (October – January) as households stock food in preparation for winter.
    • Imports of wheat grain and wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan are expected to continue at normal volumes during the outlook period.
    • Pastoralists’ income from livestock sales during Eid ul-Adha (September) and the pre-winter months is expected to be greater than last year and the average.
    • Remittances from people working in Gulf countries are expected to remain stable. However, the level of remittances from Iran may increase from recent years, due to improving economic conditions there.
    • Displacement due to conflict is likely to remain high throughout the outlook period. Displacement is assumed to be similar to 2015, which was significantly greater than during recent previous years.
    • Agricultural labor opportunities and wages are expected to remain within normal ranges during the primary and secondary harvesting period.
    • Casual labor opportunities and wages are expected to remain stable, but well below normal due to ongoing economic stagnancy in Afghanistan.
    • Without major shocks reported that could likely impact acute malnutrition prevalence, the national prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) is expected to remain similar to last year over the outlook period.
    • The production of second-season crops will be better than usual in lower elevation areas that have already harvested winter crops and spring wheat, as water availability and soil moisture remain favorable. However, in higher elevation areas where the initial wheat harvest has been delayed, many households will not have an opportunity to plant second-season crops. The reduced growing period will lead to low yields and lack of maturation before winter for some households that choose to plant second crops later in the season.
    • Labor opportunities for main season harvests, second-season planting and weeding, second-season harvests, and for the planting of 2016/2017 winter crops in the agricultural surplus-producing areas are expected to be similar to last year.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    The main harvest has started in May, and will continue through September at the higher elevations. Most of the northern and western rural population still have food stocks remaining, and as the harvest comes in households will be able to replenish stocks. Some households will sell some grain, replenishing market supplies.

    With livestock prices largely favorable and a peak in demand for Ramadan in June, poor households should be able to procure their needed food. In Bamyan Province, over half of Afghanistan’s potatoes are produced. Pastoral households’ economic access to food has already increased in most parts of the country due to higher livestock prices, particularly for sheep, while poor and landless households continue to depend primarily on agricultural labor wages, which are generally similar to last year, although with some variability across the country. This will provide similar or slightly lower economic access to food in some areas due to rising food prices in those locations. Labor wages are expected to experience a seasonal increase in the coming months, but are likely to remain slightly below average due to weak demand for non-agricultural labor throughout the country. Wages generally peak during the wheat harvest, when a laborer is likely to earn AFN 600 - 1000 (USD 8.7 – 14.7) per day in northern wheat-growing areas. With the increase in planted area this year, labor demand will be higher during the harvest, further increasing wages.

    As a result of primarily normal, average seasonal progress and without large-scale shocks, food security outcomes are anticipated to be classified at Minimal (IPC Phase 1) in most areas of Afghanistan. Some households that are likely to suffer major losses of livelihood assets or crops due to natural disasters and/or conflicts may be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3). These include internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been recently displaced by the ongoing conflict or may be displaced during the outlook period.

    The prevalence of acute malnutrition at national level is likely to remain fairly stable over the scenario period, as a result of average harvests, stable prices for the staple food, continued health and nutrition support programs, enhanced capacity of implementing NGOs, increased awareness of people on age appropriate feeding, and also as a result of national insecurity situation. However, deterioration of the nutritional situation could occur in areas heavily impacted by conflict, due to limited access to health and nutritional services, as well as reduced access to food. 


    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 for a typical year

    Figure 1

    Seasonal calendar for a typical year

    Source: FEWS NET

    Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) percent of normal, rangeland areas, June 11 – 20 2016

    Figure 2

    Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) percent of normal, rangeland areas, June 11 – 20 2016

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Sheep (one year-old female) to wheat flour (low quality) terms of trade in selected markets (KG/head)

    Figure 3

    Sheep (one year-old female) to wheat flour (low quality) terms of trade in selected markets (KG/head)

    Source: Calculated with data from WFP

    Casual labor to wheat flour terms of trade in selected markets (KG/day)

    Figure 4

    Casual labor to wheat flour terms of trade in selected markets (KG/day)

    Source: Calculated with data from WFP VAM

    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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