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Decline in labor opportunities will reduce food access for poor households during lean season

  • Food Security Outlook
  • Afghanistan
  • October 2015 - March 2016
Decline in labor opportunities will reduce food access for poor households during lean season

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  • Key Messages
  • National Overview
  • Key Messages
    • Market and household stocks have improved from last year, with  a more favorable wheat harvest, better livestock prices, and increased fruit harvest. However, due to reduced income from limited labor opportunities, and continued conflict-related displacements, much of the country will be in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) with the start of the winter.

    • As the lean season begins in February, poor households in the Western-Central Highland Agropastoral, Northeastern Highland Agropastoral, and South-Central Mixed Farming livelihood zones will enter Crisis (IPC Phase 3) through the remainder of the outlook period. 

    • Internally displaced persons (IDPs) continue to flee their homes due to conflict. Newly displaced persons who have lost key sources of income are likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) during the lean season and will rely heavily on external assistance. 

    National Overview

    Current Situation

    Total 2014/2015 wheat harvests were greater than the previous season, but reamined below the five-year average. Improved national grain and fruit production, as compared to the previous season, have eased economic access to the primary staple foods of wheat and wheat flour. During the period of high demand for agricultural labor for the May to August harvests, daily agricultural labor rates, which poor and landless households rely upon, declined in some parts of the country. This decline in wages was due to reduced employment opportunities in other sectors, which increased the supply of agricultural labor. However, households who depend on sharecropping (dekhani) earned more food in-kind than last year, especially in rainfed areas.

    Near-average precipitation during the October 2014 to May 2015 wet season improved soil moisture and the availability of water for irrigation of second crops, including maize, rice, cotton, and horticultural cash crops such as fruits and nuts, which constitute important sources of income throughout the country. However, some areas, including Kunduz and Hilmand Provinces, received significantly below-average precipitation (Figure 4). In some higher-elevation areas of the central highlands, including areas of Bamyan and Ghor Provinces, below-average temperatures reduced the availability of pasture and fodder for livestock. However, pasture conditions in the rest of the country were average to above average this year due to the favorable quantity and timing of precipitation. Good pasture conditions and water availability in most of the country facilitated animal health and good body conditions, which led to above-average livestock prices. Continued precipitation during the remainder of October and November is important for winter wheat planting.

    Activities of the Taliban and other insurgent groups have led to increased displacement during 2015, with an estimated 170,000 people displaced this year through August, according to UNHCR. Although displaced households are experiencing major disruptions to normal livelihood activities, reports of restricted physical access to food have been limited to very localized areas and for no more than a few days.

    Despite the improved grain harvest, September wheat prices remained higher than the five-year average in the majority of reference markets, with the exception of Kabul, which is supplied primarily by imported wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan. Although remaining above five-year averages, prices are, in general, lower in 2015 than 2014. Wheat grain and wheat flour prices in main cities are 4.5 percent lower than this time last year, but reamin 11.7 percent above the five-year average of September prices. Despite a 14 percent depreciation of the AFN to the USD since January of 2015, prices have remained lower in 2015 than 2014 due to near average domestic production and lower wheat prices in Pakistan and Kazakhstan in comparison to last year. 

    Similarly, the current average retail price of Low Quality Rice is 6.2 percent lower compared to this month last year, while remaining 2.4 percent higher than the five-year average of September prices. The current average price of High Quality Rice is 9 percent lower than this month last year, but 9.1 percent above the five-year average. Vegetable oil prices are 4.7 percent lower than this time last year, and 5 percent below the five-year average.

    The price of sheep has varied across markets in relation to the five-year average of the same month (Figure 5). Market prices were near average (-5% to +5%) in Jalalabad, Kabul, and Nili, while prices were below average in Kandahar, and above average in Faizabad, Hirat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Maimana. Of these increases, the most signigicant was seen in Faizabad, where September’s price was 21.8 percent above the September five-year average. Meat demand in many parts of the country seasonally increased since the spring, in anticipation of Eid Qurban in late September.

    Households have started purchasing grain stocks for winter, especially in the central highlands and northeastern highlands. Market purchases are expected to peak in October and November.

    The wage labor to wheat terms of trade (ToT) compared to the five-year average of the same month have deteriorated in both Faizabad (-25.8 percent) and in Nili (-9 percent). This has contributed to a lower purchasing power for poor households who rely on labor wages for market purchases during the lean season.

    In eastern Afghanistan, including Kunar, Laghman, and Nangarhar Provinces, the total output of the wheat harvest in May and June was below the five-year average. Despite this, and in part due to favorable vegetable and fruit production,  wages remained stable and typical during the October winter wheat harvest, second crops’ harvest, and main grain harvest. The Indian monsoon rains, which take place between June and August, were weaker than last year, which resulted in a reduction in cropped area lost to flooding. The ongoing vegetable and fruit harvests have been generally average in terms of income from market sales and produce available for consumption. Early indications for the maize harvest, primarily in October, indicate average to above-average production. Maize is primarily grown as a second crop after wheat, and it serves both as grain for human consumption and to store as fodder and silage for livestock during the winter. The rice harvest in Qarghaee and Alingar Districts of Laghman Province, Behsud, Kama, Mazeena, Aska Mena, and Khewa Districts of Nangarhar Province, and Watapur District of Kunar Province has started normally this year, likely as a result of good availability of water for irrigation. As the vast majority of households have sufficient and seasonally normal access to food and income sources; this area is currently classified in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. However, exceptions include internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been displaced by conflict; many of these households are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    In southern Afghanistan, wheat production during the May to June harvest was below the five-year average in Kandahar, Zabul, Daykundi, and Uruzgan Provinces. Overall production of horticultural products is reported to be slightly above average, but prices for most of these products are below average. As a result, income from horticultural production in this region is near average. The pomegranate harvest has begun in Kandahar Province, and is reported to be average to above average, with prices similar to last year. Labor wages and demand in this province are currently average, due to land preparation in October and November for poppy cultivation. Cross-border trade is functioning normally, with higher-value horticultural crops being exported to Pakistan, and wheat, wheat flour, rice, vegetable oil, sugar, and other necessities being imported. Normally functioning markets and incomes are facilitating normal physical and financial access to food for most households, who are engaged in seasonally normal livelihood activities. The southern region is currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. The major exception to these conditions are the recently displaced households, many of whom are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

    In northwestern Afghanistan, including Samangan, Balkh, Jawzjan, Saripul, Faryab, and Badghis Provinces, poor households who depend on rainfed crops or farm labor for food and income have harvested more grain this year than last year. Continued agricultural activities, including the start of land preparation for winter wheat and barley, have kept wages and labor demand similar to previous months. However, as in most of the country, labor wages have been below the five-year average. Favorable pasture conditions since the spring, subsequent average livestock health and body conditions, and September’s Eid Qurban have all contributed to above-average prices in September. The good harvest has meant that even households that usually depend on sharecropping (dekhani) are able to rely primarily on their own stocks of wheat. With normal income and continued household level grain stocks, the area is currently classified in Minimal (IPC phase 1) acute food insecurity. Exceptions include conflict-displaced IDPs in Balkh (Mazar-i-Sharif, Nahri Shahi and Dihdadi), Sar-i-Pul (Kohistanat and Sayyar), Samangan (Aybak), Jawzjan (Shiberghan), Fayab (Maymana, Dawlatabad, Qaysar, Pushtun Kot and Almar), and Badghis (Ghormach) Provinces.

    Similarly, in northeastern Afghanistan, in Takhar, Kunduz, Badakhshan, and Baghlan Provinces, the May to July wheat harvest was below the five-year average, but better than the previous year, and supported near-average labor wages. Weeding began in the spring, in March and April, and agricultural labor wages have been seasonally higher since the start of weeding. Good pasture conditions, and livestock prices higher than the five-year average, have also increased incomes. The income from sale of the second harvest cash crops such as rice, potatoes, flax, and maize, as well as tree fruits, has been normal this year. However, remittances from domestic labor migration to the cities are below normal. Additionally, income from remittances from Iran is below average, due to the depreciation of the Iranian rial (IRR) against the Afghanistan afghani (AFN) and broad disruptions to the Iranian economy. Furthermore, with continued displacement disrupting livelihoods, northeastern Afghanistan is currently classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity.

    Conflict-induced displacement in Afghanistan

    According to UNHCR, as of  September 2015 the total estimated number of IDPs was 1,013,553. From January to August of 2015, over 170,000 persons were newly displaced. Following the deterioration of security and increase in military operations and hostilities between the armed groups and Afghan military forces, displacements in the northern, northeastern, eastern, and southern regions have increased. As of July 2015, the largest populations of newly displaced IPDs are residing in Faryab, Kunduz, and Nangarhar Provinces. During the annual voluntarily repatriation period, which took place from January to August this year, 50,763 individuals have returned to Afghanistan, mostly from Pakistan and Iran, with the assistance of UNHCR. Many displaced people have lost their normal livelihoods, and encounter few employment opportunities in their places of displacement. Many of these people are food insecure, and will face greater difficulty in accessing adequate food with the onset of winter.

    Pastoralist populations during the winter

    Due to adequate precipitation in most areas in 2015, pastoralists are generally finding sufficient pasture available for their livestock. Livestock prices increased in September due to Eid, during which pastoralists have a strong market for selling animals. No major shocks affecting food security outcomes for pastoralist populations are currently observed or expected.

    Winter labor opportunities

    With the onset of winter, labor opportunities seasonally decrease throughout the country; construction reduces from peak-season employment by nearly 60 percent, and agriculture reduces by 80-90 percent. This is compounded by the fact that few employment opportunities are currently available in other sectors, resulting in income-earning deficits for the majority of the population. The seasonal decline leads some to migrate to Iran and Pakistan in search of income opportunities. With ongoing political instability and reduced employment opportunities, the number of people engaging in seasonal labor migration to neighboring countries, gulf countries, and Europe is expected to increase above normal during the scenario period.

    The nutritional context of Afghanistan indicates significant vulnerability to shocks affecting food access. The June 2015 National Nutrition Surveillance System indicated Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) prevalence of 9.6 percent, (boys 11.4 percent, girls 8.6 percent), and Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) prevalence of 21 percent (boys 22.1 percent, girls 19.9 percent). Micronutrient deficiencies are common in Afghanistan, with the following prevalences reported in the 2013 NNS:


    Micronutrients Deficiency

    Children Age 6 – 59 Months

    Women Age 15 – 49 Years




    Iron Deficiency Anemia






    Vitamin A



    Vitamin D



    Iodine for Children Age 7 – 11 Years





    • Imports of wheat flour from Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan will continue at a seasonally normal rate, but the prices will be higher than last years due to the depreciation of the Afghanistan afghani against the other currencies. Imports from Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan will be adequate to supply markets.
    • Remittances sent by domestic labor migrants and civil servants will be below-average during the outlook period. However, remittances from the Persian Gulf countries are expected to remain stable.
    • According to NOAA and USGS, temperatures will be above normal during the outlook period. Therefore, it is assumed that the early winter months will neither be severely cold, nor receive excessive snow.
    • The short-term precipitation forecast remains above normal; as a result, a timely onset of the October to June wet season is expected.
    • Given that winter temperatures will not be atypically low, winter livestock deaths in January and February will not exceed their normal range.
    • Land preparation for winter wheat planting is expected to be above normal given the above-average precipitation and above-average temperature. As a result, demand for labor for land preparation and sowing of winter wheat, barley, and poppy from October to December will be relatively high. However, given the high supply of labor due to a lack of employment opportunities in other sectors, labor wages are not expected to rise with the high demand.
    • Military operations and civil insecurity are expected to decrease during the winter months of December to February, as is typical. However, conflict will likely continue to displace some households, and possibly disrupt the functioning of markets. Households already displaced will have difficulty finding new sources of food and income.
    • The World Food Program (WFP) and other local and international humanitarian partners are expected to complete winterization programs before the onset of winter, improving poor households’ food stocks during the outlook period.
    • Both the May to June winter wheat harvest and the June to July spring wheat harvest in lowland areas are expected to be near-average.
    • Afghan refugees currently living in Pakistan and Iran will remain in camps or among host populations in those countries.

    Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

    Normal market functioning is expected, due to favorable harvests above last year’s levels, contributing both to household stocks and market availability. This will increase the availability of food in markets for households reliant on market purchases during the winter months. Furthermore, increased livestock sales leading up to Eid Quarban in late September will assist some households in accessing food through market purchases. Winter crop planting from October through December will progress at normal levels, providing normal-level wage earning opportunities. However, wage rates for this labor will be slightly lower than the five-year average, due to lack of employment opportunities in other sectors, increasing labor supply for farm activities. Furthermore, overall remittance levels will be lower than average, further reducing purchasing power. While it is expected that households will consume less quantity, and a less diverse diet, during the February to May lean season, this year’s consumption will be slightly better than last year’s due to greater stocks and better economic access. As a result, while it is expected that acute malnutrition rates should increase seasonally with the lean season, they will increase less drastically than last year.

    Food security outcomes will regress from Minimal (IPC Phase 1) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) for much of Afghanistan as the winter months begin. As the lean season begins in February, newly displaced persons, households in extreme northern Badakhshan and the Wakhan Corridor, and households in the central highlands who have seen decreased income-earning opportunities, are expected to degrade to Crisis (IPC Phase 3) for the remainder of the outlook period. 


    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 Afghanistan

    October 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015 accumulated precipitation, compared to 2002-2011 average

    Figure 2

    October 1, 2014 – June 30, 2015 accumulated precipitation, compared to 2002-2011 average

    Source: USGS/FEWS NET

    Sheep prices compared to the five-year average (one year old female)

    Figure 3

    Sheep prices compared to the five-year average (one year old female)

    Source: WFP

    Figure 4


    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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