During the second half of 2020, a moderate to strong La Niña phenomenon was registered that is causing extreme weather conditions in various parts of the world. This phenomenon, which affects temperatures, precipitation and storm patterns, is expected to continue at least until spring 2021, according to the World Meteorological Organization.
In Afghanistan, this commonly results in below-average rainfall and snowfall across the country. The timing of this La Niña event coincides with the main wheat season with harvests in May-July 2021, which are critical following the lean season (January-April). In the past, drier-than-average conditions associated with La Niña have affected winter crops in the country. For example, the 2017/18 winter wet season was characterized by persistent dry conditions across most of the country, combined with high temperatures, which were likely induced by La Niña. In April 2018, the Government of Afghanistan officially declared a drought emergency. The drought continued during the spring and summer months, with substantial cumulative rainfall deficits throughout the country, resulting in the lowest wheat production since 2011. These dry conditions may also lead to an increased risk of floods. As soil deteriorates, it is too dry to absorb rain runoff as well as melting snow in late March/early April which could trigger flash floods.
Instead of responding in the aftermath of these events, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has switched to anticipating the impact of La Niña in Afghanistan in order to safeguard the livelihoods of families, including herders, who rely on winter wheat production. Thanks to Belgium’s contribution of USD 580 000, through the Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Activities ‒ Early Warning Early Action window, FAO is able to act quickly and prevent a full blown food crisis by implementing the project entitled “Curbing the potential impacts of La Niña-induced dry conditions in Afghanistan”. The intervention is critical in Afghanistan, where 42 percent of the population is already estimated to be in acute food insecurity at crisis or worse levels (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification Phase3+, November 2020-March 2021), and a limited wheat harvests could further exacerbate the situation.
The objective of the project is mainly to mitigate the impact of reduced precipitation due to La Niña resulting in drier or drought-like conditions during the agricultural season. The intervention will benefit 2 000 households through provision of crop production packages and training on pest management. In addition, legume and oilseeds – traditionally more resilient to direr conditions – will be provided to diversify beneficiaries’ production. About 1 500 additional households will also either engage in cash-for-work activities to repair/rehabilitate local irrigation and flood protection systems or receive unconditional cash transfers valued at USD 50/household. An additional 2 000 livestock keepers (known as Kuchis) will receive livelihood protection packages with animal feed and fodder seed along with healthcare kits for vaccinations and deworming. This activity will be implemented in collaboration with the Animal Health Directorate and Veterinary Field Units who will also support local trainings on climate-resilient livestock management. Staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) will be trained to strengthen their knowledge on anticipatory action and its importance for agriculture. FAO will also collaborate with MAIL and other relevant actors to produce and disseminate agricultural advisory services providing seasonal management advice on wheat production and pest management to farming communities. This is expected to continue beyond the duration of the project.
The project will target the most vulnerable people, including female-headed households, agricultural labourers with no land, herders and food-insecure smallholder farming households.
FAO collaborates closely with government agencies, civil society, and affected communities to select and implement its activities, which will strictly adhere to regulations and protocols for safe delivery to contain the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Sensitization and communications on COVID-19-safe practices will be facilitated at local markets as well as with herders to ensure they are aware of the latest conditions and health practices.