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Presence Country
Food Security Outlook

Conflict, dry spells, and weak labor opportunities will lead to deterioration in outcomes during 2018 lean season

October 2017 to May 2018

October 2017 - January 2018

February - May 2018

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Would likely be at least one phase worse without current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET classification is IPC-compatible. IPC-compatible analysis follows key IPC protocols but does not necessarily reflect the consensus of national food security partners.
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

IPC 2.0 Acute Food Insecurity Phase

Presence countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3: Crisis
4: Emergency
5: Famine
Remote monitoring
countries:
1: Minimal
2: Stressed
3+: Crisis or higher
Would likely be at least one phase worse without
current or programmed humanitarian assistance
FEWS NET Remote Monitoring countries use a colored outline to represent the highest IPC classification in areas of concern.

Key Messages

  • Declining purchasing power, disruption of normal livelihoods due to conflict, and poor rainfed staple performance will contribute to an increase in food assistance needs as compared to recent years and last year. Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected among newly displaced people, households whose production and labor opportunities were adversely affected by dry spells, and undocumented returnees from Pakistan, as well as among poor households in the Central Highlands and in northeastern agro-pastoral areas, particularly during the peak lean season from January through April 2018.

  • Estimates for aggregate 2017 domestic wheat harvests indicate production of 14 percent below the five-year average, due to very poor rainfed wheat production in a number of provinces after below-average cumulative precipitation and extended periods of dryness during crop development. This is likely to have an adverse impact on household food reserves for many poor households in these areas as they enter the 2017/2018 winter. Provinces that were most severely affected according to MAIL production estimates include Takhar, Balkh, Badakhshan, Samangan, Jawzjan, Baghlan, Sar-i-Pul, and Ghor.

  • Widespread conflict between the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) and various anti-government insurgent groups has continued throughout 2017, after causing greater displacement in 2016 than in any year since 2002. Since January 2016, more than 950,000 people have been internally displaced by conflict. Newly displaced persons who have lost key sources of income are likely to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or worse during the lean season and will rely heavily on external assistance.

  • La Niña conditions are expected to continue throughout the northern hemisphere fall and winter. This increases the risk for below-average precipitation over much of Central Asia during the 2017/2018 wet season, including Afghanistan. However, there remains a large spread of possible precipitation outcomes for the season. Near-surface air temperatures are expected to be above both the long-term and short-term average, which could have implications on snowpack in mid-elevation areas but also could lead to earlier spring rainfall in some areas.

National overview

Current Situation

The 2016/2017 wheat harvest is near completion, and supplies have reached local markets. Estimates from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock (MAIL) indicate a total harvest of 4,281,000 metric tons (MT), six percent below last year’s estimate and 14 percent below the five-year average. The reduced harvest is the result of poor rainfed wheat production in many areas after extended dry spells and below-average cumulative precipitation affected crops during development, leading to production of 588,000 MT, 57 percent below the five-year average and the third-worst rainfed harvest during the period of record since 2005. For some areas, this is the third consecutive year of poor performance in rainfed wheat production, due primarily to erratic rainfall distribution during the spring months. Large areas of the north and northeast were most heavily affected, as well as more localized areas in central and northwestern provinces. Below-average precipitation during the 2016/2017 wet season has led to dry soil moisture conditions and limited availability of water for irrigation of second-season crops, including maize, rice, cotton, and horticultural cash crops such as fruits and nuts, which provide important sources of income throughout much of the country.

Prolonged periods of dryness have also adversely impacted rangelands, especially in parts of Badakhshan, Samangan, and Baghlan Provinces in the northeast. Vegetative conditions are also reported below average in some areas in the central and south-central regions. In some higher-elevation areas of the central highlands, including areas of Bamyan and Ghor Provinces, below-average precipitation decreased the availability of pasture and fodder for livestock.

In addition to below-average staple harvests, many poor households are facing increased constraints on food access for this time of year due to weakened labor opportunities, conflict, and displacement. Although the terms of trade for casual labor to wheat flour have gradually improved in major markets monitored since early 2016 and are currently near average to above average (Figure 1), declines in daily agricultural wage rates were reported in some parts of the country during the May to August period of high demand for agricultural labor, which many poor and landless households rely upon for immediate needs as well as for food access during the lean season and winter. This decline in wages was in part due to reduced employment opportunities in other sectors, which increased the supply of agricultural labor. Furthermore, households who depend on sharecropping (dekhani) earned less food in-kind than last year, especially in rainfed areas. Information from WFP indicates that labor opportunities have remained stagnant in major markets monitored (Figure 2), while field reports indicate a decline in labor opportunities in some other areas.

The value of sheep is above average in markets monitored, both in terms of nominal prices and relative to the cost of wheat flour (Figure 3). As sales of sheep and other small livestock are an important source of cash for many poor households, particularly in higher-elevation areas of the central highlands and northeast, strong sheep values prior to the onset of winter are typically beneficially to households’ ability to stock sufficient grains for winter. Meat demand in many parts of the country seasonally increased since the spring, in anticipation of Eid Qurban in late September, which helped support livestock prices during the period.

Households in several regions have begun purchasing grain stocks in anticipation of minimal labor opportunities and seasonally poor market access during the winter, particularly those living at higher elevations in the central and northeast highlands. Market purchases in these regions typically peak in October and November. In Nili (Daykundi Province) and Faizabad (Badakhshan Province), the reference markets for the central highlands and northeast, respectively, poor households likely have lower capacity to make these purchases than in recent years, due to weak labor opportunities and low purchasing power.

Following the deterioration of security and increase in military operations and fighting between non-government armed groups and Afghanistan’s security forces, displacements in the northern, northeastern, eastern, and southern regions have increased. Activities of the Taliban and other insurgent groups have led to continued high levels of displacement during 2017, with nearly 300,000 people displaced this year through October, according to UNOCHA. Although displaced households are experiencing major disruptions to normal livelihood activities, reports of restricted physical access to food have been limited to localized areas and for no more than a few days. As of October 15th, the provinces with the greatest number of conflict-induced displacements in 2017 were Nangarhar (34,900 people), Kunduz (29,100), Badghis (24,600), Baghlan (18,800), Uruzgan (17,100), Faryab (16,000), Kandahar (14,400), Hirat (13,400), Ghor (11,500), and Badakhshan (10,300). An additional 12 provinces have more than 5,000 people displaced in 2017. Many displaced people have lost their normal livelihoods options, and find few employment opportunities in their places of displacement. Many of these people are experiencing acute food insecurity, and will face greater difficulty in accessing adequate food with the onset of winter and throughout the lean season until late spring.

Although the number of undocumented Afghan returnees from Pakistan has decreased substantially in 2017 compared to the large influx of late 2016, approximately 92,000 Afghan nationals have returned from Pakistan in 2017. The majority of these returnees (~85 percent) have received assistance through IOM, but will likely require further assistance through the coming winter and lean season.

Regional summaries

The following regional summaries indicate general conditions for the corresponding areas. Within all regions of the country, there are populations that are estimated to be in Crisis (IPC Phase 3) and Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity, particularly among recently displaced households, undocumented returnees, and very poor households affected by a lack of labor opportunities and poor agricultural production.

Eastern Afghanistan – Nangarhar, Kunar, Laghman, and Nuristan Provinces

The total output of the wheat harvest in May and June was similar to last year, but lower than the five-year average. However, wages remained stable and typical during the October second-season harvest, in part due to favorable vegetable and fruit production. 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 production and similar to last year. 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 areas 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. The vast majority of households have sufficient and seasonally normal access to food and income sources, leading to current estimated area classifications of Minimal (IPC Phase 1) and Stressed (IPC Phase 2) in the region. However, exceptions include people who have been displaced by conflict. Many of these households are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), while a smaller number may be facing Emergency (IPC Phase 4).

Southern Afghanistan – Kandahar, Zabul, Hilmand, and Uruzgan Provinces

Wheat production during the May to June harvest in this region was below last year and the five-year average. However, overall production of horticultural products is reported to be slightly above average, and prices for most of these products are near average and above prices of last year, leading to near-average income from horticultural production. The pomegranate harvest has begun in Kandahar Province, with a slight decrease reported as compared to last year due to frost at the beginning of the season, with prices 30 - 40 percent higher than last year.

Labor wages and demand in Kandahar Province are currently near-average, due to land preparation in October and November for poppy cultivation. Cross-border trade is functioning normally, with exports of high-value horticultural crops to Pakistan. Pomegranate may also be exported to India after the harvest. This year, the exporting process of fruits to Pakistan has proceeded without major disruptions.

Normal market functioning and incomes are facilitating typical physical and financial access to food for most households, who are engaged in seasonally normal livelihood activities. Most areas of the southern region are currently Stressed (IPC Phase 2), while other areas are estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

Northern Afghanistan – Samangan, Balkh, Jawzjan, Sari Pul, and Faryab Provinces

Poor households who depend on rain-fed crops or farm labor for food and income have harvested less grain this year than the five-year average. Continued agricultural activities, including the start of land preparation for winter wheat and barley, are providing labor and income-earning opportunities. However, as in much of the country, labor wages are below the five-year average. Favorable pasture conditions since the spring and subsequent average livestock health and body conditions, as well as August - September’s Eid Qurban, have contributed to above-average livestock prices in September and near-average sheep to wheat flour terms of trade in the reference markets of Mazar-i-Sharif (Balkh Province) and Maimana (Faryab P­­rovince). Exceptions include conflict-displaced IDPs in Balkh (Mazar-i-Sharif, Nahri Shahi, and Dihdadi), Sar-i-Pul (Kohistanat and Sayyar), Samangan (Aybak), Jawzjan (Shiberghan), Faryab (Maimana, Dawlatabad, Qaysar, Pushtun Kot, and Almar), and Badghis (Ghormach) Provinces, as well as undocumented returnees and some very poor households, affected primarily by the weak labor market.

In this region that includes major rainfed production areas, the total output of the wheat harvest in June and July was less than last year and below the five-year average. The lower harvest has meant that even households that usually depend on sharecropping (dekhani) are not able to rely primarily on their own stocks of wheat. With below-normal income and household grain stocks that are lower than last year, much of the area is currently classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity. However, many conflict-displaced households are likely facing Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

Northeastern Afghanistan – Takhar, Kunduz, Badakhshan, and Baghlan Provinces        

The June to September wheat harvest was below the five-year average, but higher than last year. However, staple cultivation in some parts of this region was heavily affected by poor rainfall distribution and/or conflict, particularly in Badakhshan Province. Below-average labor wages and opportunities have reduced the purchasing power of poor households. However, agricultural labor wages have been seasonally higher since the start of weeding activities in March and April. Good pasture conditions and above-average livestock prices 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 average.

With continued displacement disrupting livelihoods, and undocumented returnees, northeastern Afghanistan is currently classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity. The major exception to these conditions are the recently displaced households, very poor households affected by poor agricultural production, and undocumented returnees, many of whom are likely in Crisis (IPC Phase 3).

Central Highlands of Afghanistan – Ghor, Bamyan, and Daykundi Provinces

The total output of the wheat harvest in July and September was less than last year and below the five-year average. However, in part due to favorable potato and apple production, wages remained stable and typical during the month of September. Remittances from domestic labor migration to the cities are below normal, while income from remittances from Iran is reported at near-average. Much of this area is currently classified in Stressed (IPC Phase 2) acute food insecurity.

Central-East AfghanistanParwan, Panjsher, and Kapisa Provinces

Wheat production during the May to June harvest was similar to last year, but below the five-year average. Overall production of horticultural products is reported to be average, with near-average prices and income. This region is currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

South East Afghanistan – Paktya, Paktika, and Khost Provinces

Wheat production during the May to June harvest was generally below last year and lower than the five-year average. Remittances sent by domestic labor migrants to this region and civil servants is in an average range. Most of this area is currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity.

Western Afghanistan – Hirat, Farah, Badghis, and Nimroz Provinces

Wheat production during the May to June harvest was generally better than last year and higher than the five-year average. Overall production of horticultural products is reported to be average, but prices for most of these products are below average. As a result, income from horticultural production in this region is slightly below average. Much of the western region is currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity. However, Badghis Province is a major exception, where current Stressed (IPC Phase 2) outcomes are likely to deteriorate in the coming months (see Areas of Concern section for further details).

South-Central Afghanistan – Kabul, Logar, Wardak, and Ghazni Provinces

Wheat production during the May to June harvest was similar to last year, and near the five-year average. Overall production of horticultural products is reported to be near average, but prices for most of these products are below average. As a result, income from horticultural production in this region is slightly below average. Much of this region is currently estimated to be in Minimal (IPC Phase 1) acute food insecurity, while most of Ghazni and Wardak Provinces are estimated to be Stressed (IPC Phase 2). 

Assumptions

  • Imports of wheat flour from Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and India are expected to continue at a seasonally normal rate. Domestic wheat flour prices are likely to follow typical seasonal trends, due to normal production and functioning of staple food markets in the region. Imports are expected to be adequate to supply markets. For more information, please see the Central Asia Regional Wheat Supply and Market Outlook.
  • Remittances sent by domestic labor migrants and civil servants will be below-average during the outlook period. However, remittances from the Persian Gulf countries and Iran are expected to remain stable.
  • Short-term precipitation forecasts in late October indicate a continuation of dry conditions throughout much of Afghanistan. As a result, a late onset of the October to June wet season is expected.
  • Climate models indicate temperatures are likely to remain above normal during the outlook period. Therefore, it is assumed that the early winter months will neither be severely cold, nor receive excessive snow.
  • Due to the elevated likelihood for the continuation of La Niña conditions during the northern hemisphere fall and winter, cumulative precipitation for the October 2017 – May 2018 wet season is expected to be below average.
  • Due to the likelihood for below-average October to May rains, area planted with winter wheat is likely to be lower than usual, reducing land preparation activities and the demand for labor below seasonally normal levels.
  • Given that winter temperatures will not be atypically low, winter livestock deaths in January and February will not exceed their normal range.
  • Military operations and civil insecurity are expected to continue during the winter months, as has been the pattern in recent years. These conflicts will cause further displacements, and may disrupt normal market functioning in some areas.
  • 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.

Most likely food security outcomes

With the onset of winter, labor opportunities will seasonally decrease throughout the country. Typically, the availability of construction labor declines from peak-season employment by nearly 60 percent, and agriculture-related activities decline by 70-80 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-earning opportunities. With ongoing political instability and reduced employment opportunities, the number of people engaging in seasonal labor migration to neighboring countries, Persian Gulf countries, and Europe is expected to increase above normal during the scenario period.

Though domestic wheat production was less than last year and below average, markets are expected to remain well-supplied due to normal imports of wheat flour from Pakistan and Kazakhstan. This will contribute to normal market availability for households to stock grain for winter, except in conflict-affected areas where ongoing fighting is continuously affecting the supply and demand process. Furthermore, the increased livestock sales leading up to Eid Qurban in August and September assisted some households in accessing food through market purchases and supported their stocks for the winter and lean season.

Labor demand during the planting of winter crops from October through December, primarily wheat, is likely to be below average, due to the weak labor market in other sectors and resulting saturation of opportunities in the agriculture sector, as well as the likelihood of reduced area planted due to expected below-average precipitation during the first months of the wet season due to La Niña conditions in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This is expected to result in below-average income for most poor households leading up to the winter and lean season.

Overall international remittance levels are likely to be average due to an increasing number of labor migrants. However, income per household with a member working abroad is likely to decline due to limited opportunities in some neighboring countries.

The prevalence of acute malnutrition at national level is likely to deteriorate over the scenario period, as a result of the gradual depletion of household grain stocks and below-average income-earning opportunities prior to winter. Furthermore, the early months of the year constitute the seasonal peak of Acute Respiratory Illnesses (ARIs) and measles, which limit the body’s ability to utilize available nutrients. Ongoing conflict, particularly in Kunduz, Nangarhar, Hilmand, Badakhshan, and Farah Provinces, is also likely to limit access to health and nutritional services, and in some cases will limit access to food.

The conflict and political instability in Afghanistan continues to damage and undermine local economies, leading to forced migration, increased disease burden, and acute food insecurity. Although fighting may decline temporarily during the winter in inaccessible areas, widespread conflict is likely to continue during the scenario period and beyond. As a structurally food-deficit country with high dependence on market purchases of staples among poor households, Afghanistan is vulnerable to any sudden spikes in food prices, which have been reported at the local level in and around conflict areas. Conflict and insecurity further deteriorates household food security by damaging their food stocks and inhibiting physical access to markets.

Seasonal fluctuations in agricultural activities affect employment in most parts of the country, and weak labor opportunities during the winter are a leading factor in chronic food insecurity. This is an especially critical factor among people living in rural areas who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, as well as those who depend on casual labor opportunities in other areas.

As employment opportunities throughout most of the country have been negatively impacted and have been below average in terms of availability and wages, food and income deficits during the upcoming lean season are expected to be worse than last year and average amongst the poorest households. Many poor households in affected areas are likely to have limited capacity to stock sufficiently prior to winter, and will face difficulty in meeting basic food and non-food needs during early 2018, as household food stocks are gradually depleted and employment opportunities are at a minimum until spring agricultural activities begin. Due to the broad geographic distribution of these labor market anomalies as well as widespread conflict, food security outcomes throughout much of the country are expected to worsen from Minimal (IPC Phase 1) to Stressed (IPC Phase 2) as the winter months begin. With the beginning of the peak lean season in January/February, some poor households throughout the country and particularly in much of the central highlands and northeast are expected to face Crisis (IPC Phase 3) at least through May 2018, as well as newly displaced persons and many undocumented returnees.

 

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About Scenario Development

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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The Famine Early Warning Systems Network is a leading provider of early warning and analysis on food insecurity. Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis on some 34 countries. Implementing team members include NASA, NOAA, USDA, and USGS, along with Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica. Read more about our work.

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