This survey of agricultural livelihoods and food security in the context of the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and other shocks was undertaken during February 2021 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 1 380 villages within 129 districts of 20 provinces, covering all agro-ecological zones of Afghanistan. In all, 7 250 household-level respondents and 389 key informants were interviewed in person using Kobo mobile-based questionnaires.
During the assessment period, 46 percent of respondents (farmers and herders) reported experiencing idiosyncratic and covariate shocks. The mutually reinforcing nature and timing of these shocks (during the lean season, when food security is already precarious, as well as the main growing season for wheat and other winter crops) heightened difficulties for farmers and herders.
Thirty-eight percent of interviewed farmers cultivated a smaller area than last year, indicating that conflict and insecurity affected planting their decisions. Most farmers (88 percent) faced difficulties with crop production – particularly wheat farmers and those in the provinces of Zabul, Helmand and Faryab. The most frequently reported difficulties were the drought that is currently affecting the country, followed by difficulties accessing fertilizer or pesticides and quality seeds. Even amid the pandemic, land-access restrictions (cited by only 7 percent of respondents) appeared to have had fewer negative impacts than more chronic problems.
In addition to drought, the data suggest a potential bottleneck in accessing inputs. These results were corroborated by key informant interviews with agricultural input vendors. Most vendors reported that their businesses were affected by COVID-19 restrictions through lower sales, business restrictions, higher operating costs and an insufficient supply of agricultural inputs.
Of all farmers interviewed, 75 percent expected their harvest of winter wheat and other crops to be lower than last year (41 percent expected production to be reduced by at least 25 percent). Drought and difficulties accessing seeds and other inputs appeared to be associated with poor harvest expectations.
Among livestock-keeping households, 82 percent reported facing difficulties during the three months prior to the survey. In the province of Kandahar, all respondents reported difficulties. The most frequently cited difficulties were in accessing water (39 percent), feed (31 percent) and veterinary services (22 percent). Livestock production faced the greatest problems in the west (Herat, Ghor and Farah provinces), and in Parwan and Nangarhar provinces.
Throughout the 20 provinces surveyed, 68 percent of interviewed crop- and livestock-producing households faced unusual difficulties in selling their production in the three months prior to the survey – particularly in Kandahar and Herat provinces (42 percent and 43 percent, respectively). Respondents whose main source of income was the sale of livestock and livestock products faced more difficulties in marketing their production than crop farmers.
Forty-six percent of farmers interviewed reported experiencing shocks; their impacts varied depending on the farmers’ main source of income. Households living off livestock and livestock products, field crops, agricultural labour and loans were most affected. Movement and access restrictions were particularly experienced as a shock for households whose main income was the sale of livestock and livestock products (29 percent – higher than the average across the sample). These households also cited insecurity and conflict more frequently than other respondents (51 percent).
Almost all surveyed households reported the need for some form of assistance with crop and livestock production. Most of these households reported being in need of fertilizer and seeds over the coming three months in order to support their agricultural production. Many households also reported being in need of animal feed and veterinary services for animal raising.
The cumulative effects of recent shocks appear to have led a significant number of households to adopt coping strategies. For example, 91 percent of respondents had to borrow food while 84 percent sold more animals than usual, 85 percent spent savings and 84 percent consumed seeds. These coping strategies heightened respondent households’ vulnerability and increased their exposure to future shocks.