Afghanistan

GIEWS Country Brief: Afghanistan 15-July-2021

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FOOD SECURITY SNAPSHOT

  • Drought affecting agricultural livelihoods

  • Above‑average cereal import requirements forecast in 2021/22

  • Food prices and inflation easing but high levels of food insecurity prevail

  • Food security outcomes expected to deteriorate with unstable security and political situation

Erratic rainfall resulted in drought

Harvesting of the 2021 winter wheat and barley started in May in the eastern part of the country and will be completed in August in the mountainous areas. Sowing of spring wheat, for harvesting from August, was completed in April. The majority of the wheat grown in the country is of rainfed winter cultivation.

The 2020/21 agricultural season was marked by erratic rainfall resulting from La Niña weather conditions. The first significant rainfall of the season occurred in the second decade of November 2020 and allowed the finalization of winter wheat sowing under relatively favourable conditions. Snow accumulation, critical for protecting dormant crops from frost kill and an important source irrigation water for spring planted crops, was below average from December 2020 to February 2021. Ample, albeit not uniformly distributed in time and space, precipitation amounts from mid‑February through early May partially eased soil moisture deficits. The government declared a drought emergency on 22 June 2021 as, according to news reports citing the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock, severe dry weather conditions affected 75 (out of 421) districts in various parts of the country.

Below‑average cereal harvest expected

Although the overall conditions of winter cereal crops in parts of central and northeast areas have been generally satisfactory, the production of rainfed crops in western, southwestern and southern areas is likely to be below average.

The 2021 aggregate cereal production is preliminarily forecast at a 4.6 million tonnes, about 20 percent below the 2020 harvest and 15 percent below average. In addition to the unfavourable weather conditions, the lack of quality inputs, particularly certified seeds suitable for rainfed areas, constrained yield potential.

The poor precipitation has severely affected pastoralist livelihoods. Reports indicate that low availability of pasture, water and supplementary feed is forcing livestock owners to resort to distressed sales, putting a downward pressure on prices of live animals.

Elsewhere in the sector, despite eradication efforts, opium production has increased. According to the 2020 Opium Survey (released in April 2021), the 2020 total area under opium poppy cultivation was estimated at 224 000 hectares, an increase of 37 percent compared to 2019, but below the record level of 330 000 hectares cultivated in 2017. The majority of the cultivation took place in the southwestern part of the country which has been affected by drought in 2021, presumably decreasing the 2021 opium output. Potential opium production in 2020 is estimated at 6 300 tonnes, about the same as in 2018 and 30 percent less than the 2017 record output. The farmgate opium prices decreased from USD 63/kg in 2019 to USD 55/kg in 2020.

Above‑average cereal import requirements forecast

Cereal import requirements, mainly wheat and wheat flour, in the 2021/22 marketing year (July/June) are forecast at an above‑average level of 3.6 million tonnes, 28 percent higher than in the previous year. Even during years with an above‑average domestic wheat production, the country imports large quantities of wheat flour due to the inadequate domestic milling capacity. Imported flour is often blended with domestic flour in order to improve its protein content. Pakistan and Kazakhstan are the main sources of wheat and wheat flour of the country. Export availabilities in both countries in the current marketing year are estimated at average to slightly above‑average levels.

Food prices and inflation easing

In Kabul, wheat prices remained stable at AFN 31/kg between April and June 2021, at the same level of June 2020. By contrast, wheat flour prices eased from AFN 35.50/kg in April 2021 to AFN 32/kg in June 2021, about 15 percent below the price levels in June 2020, reflecting adequate market availabilities. Large regional differences prevail, reflecting high transportation costs due to a poor road network, security concerns and supply chain bottlenecks. For example, in June 2021, wheat flour was 30 percent more expensive in Kandahar than in Herat. Although prices declined from the high levels reached in April 2020, they generally remained above the pre‑COVID‑19 levels in early March 2020.

Food prices have increased also due to record high prices of diesel as global oil prices strengthened in 2021. While in February 2021 diesel sold for approximately AFN 42/litre, in the first week of July 2021, in almost all provinces, it was selling for over AFN 50/litre, even exceeding AFN 60/litre in Kunduz and Sari‑pol provinces.

The year on year food price inflation rates gradually eased from almost 17 percent in April 2020, the highest level in the past seven years as households stockpiled at the beginning of the COVID‑19 pandemic, to negative 5 percent in April 2021 and negative 1.5 percent in May 2021. The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which in the last 12 months fluctuated between 4 and 6.4 percent, eased to 1.4 percent in May 2021. The overall inflation rate in the country is largely determined by changes in prices of food products.

High levels of food insecurity prevail

From March to May 2021, corresponding to the end of the lean season, about 10.9 million people were estimated in IPC Phase 3: “Crisis” and IPC Phase 4: “Emergency”, representing one‑third of the population analysed. During the harvest and post‑harvest seasons, between June and November 2021, a slight improvement in the food security situation is expected, with the number of people in IPC Phase 3: “Crisis” or above decreasing to 9.5 million.

Between January and June 2021, about 604 000 returnees from the Islamic Republic of Iran and 6 800 from Pakistan were recorded, well above the number of the returnees recorded in the same period in 2020 (362 000 from the Islamic Republic of Iran and 2 000 from Pakistan). Lack of employment opportunities and abuse by authorities are among the most frequent reasons to return from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Many Afghan returnees end up displaced and are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Following the planned withdrawal of foreign troops from the country scheduled to be completed by 31 August 2021, the Taliban seized control of a number of districts across the country. Sustained territorial gains by the group are likely to aggravate the already fragile security, economic and social situation in the country. In an immediate term, increases in violence and displacement are likely to occur. The worsening security situation will have a negative impact on the country’s economic performance, eroding part of the estimated improvements in food security outcomes. In addition, the vulnerable households with limited income‑earning opportunities continue to be affected by increasing number of COVID‑19 cases as the vaccination campaign progress remains very slow.

Disclaimer: The designations employed and the presentation of material in this information product do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.