FAO/GIEWS - Foodcrops & Shortages 3/01 - Afghanistan

The country is gripped by a grave food crisis, following the third successive year of below average crop production due to drought, continuing civil conflict and a harsh winter. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission which visited the country in May 2001 issued its report on 8 June.
The Mission found that rainfed crops (wheat and barley) had almost totally failed, except in a few pockets in different regions. The rainfed wheat production in 2001 was estimated to be about 40 percent less than even last year's extremely low output. The 2001 irrigated cereal production was also, like that of 2000, severely affected by drought. However, given slightly better rainfall in some areas and transfer of land and irrigation water from poppy to wheat, the irrigated wheat production in 2001 is estimated about 14 percent more than in 2000, but still about 24 percent less than in 1999. The production of secondary crops (rice, maize, barley) was estimated to be about 24 percent more than last year's extremely low output, but remains some 42 percent less than in 1999. The Mission thus estimated the 2001 total cereal production at 2.03 million tonnes - about 12 percent larger compared to 2000 but smaller by 37 percent compared to 1999. As a result, the cereal import requirement in the 2001/02 marketing year (July/June) was estimated at about 2.2 million tonnes, slightly less than last year's record high level of 2.3 million tonnes, but about double the volume of 1.1 million tonnes in 1999.

Due to loss of revenue receipts of the Taliban Authorities as a result of abandonment of poppy cultivation this year and intensifying economic problems affecting both traders and consumers, Afghanistan's commercial import capacity has further declined this year compared to last year. Nevertheless, a generous estimate of commercial cereal imports of some 760 000 tonnes, about 25 percent lower than the estimate for last year, is made, which still leaves a gap of 1.4 million tonnes. WFP estimates emergency food aid needs at 386 000 tonnes, leaving an uncovered gap of over 1 million tonnes. A shortfall of this magnitude, coupled with seriously deteriorating purchasing power of the population, if unmet, could have disastrous consequences.

Millions of Afghans of all categories - sedentary, transhumant and nomad - have little or no access to food through markets due to purchasing power problems, and their access to food through self production has been severely undermined by drought, as well as by the deteriorating irrigation infrastructure and capacity of the farmers to access necessary inputs. Their purchasing power has been seriously eroded by the lack of employment opportunities within and outside agriculture; abandonment of poppy cultivation and decline in other cash crop production such as onions, potatoes, almonds and apricots; and dwindling numbers of livestock along with low livestock prices. A further factor pushing the rural poor into a vicious impoverishment process is rural indebtedness. Rural borrowing from those few who continue to be resourceful entails very high interest rates. The Mission came across examples of 50 percent interest payable in two months. The repayment of the principal and interest increasingly pauperizes the borrowers from year to year, eventually turning them into destitutes.

The overall situation is very grave, with starvation facing of millions of Afghans, most of whom have exhausted most of their coping mechanisms so that the only remaining option for them is to leave home and join the ranks of IDPs or refugees. This alarming situation will continue to deteriorate further as the 2001/02 marketing year progresses. Through its countrywide travel, the Mission found mounting evidence of the prevalence of a large number of pre-famine indicators such as substantially reduced food intakes, collapse of the purchasing power, decimating livestock, large-scale depletion of personal assets, soaring food grain prices, rapidly increasing numbers of destitutes, and ever swelling ranks of IDPs and refugees. The issue of "life saving" in Afghanistan is going to be even more crucial this year than it was last year.