1998 cereal harvest in Afghanistan expected to reach 20-year high, although need for emergency aid remains

Although civil conflict continues in some areas of Afghanistan, security has improved in some agricultural zones over the past few years and the country has made progress towards self-sufficiency in food production. An FAO/World Food Programme (WFP) mission that visited the country in May has issued a report confirming that this positive trend is continuing and that the 1998 harvest should be the largest in 20 years. But the need for emergency food aid remains. According to the report, "large imports will be required to feed the growing population".

The civil strife that has continued almost without interruption since 1979 has severely disrupted the Afghan economy. Agriculture has suffered from damaged irrigation structures, land mines and farmers abandoning their land in insecure areas. At the peak of the fighting in the early 1990s, some 30 percent of the population either fled the country or became internally displaced. Since 1992, about half of the 6 million expatriate Afghans have returned.

Supported by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the mission gathered information to estimate the 1998 cereal harvest and import requirements and to assess whether the trend toward self-sufficiency, first observed in 1997, is continuing.

The positive trend towards agricultural self-sufficiency is continuing in Afghanistan. The country's 1998 cereal harvest is expected to be its largest in 20 years, although blocked supply routes will prevent surpluses from penetrating traditional markets. Large cereal imports will be needed to meet the demand of a growing population.

The country's 1998 cereal production is expected to reach 3.85 million tonnes. That would amount to a 5 percent increase over last year and the largest harvest since 1978. But conflict and blockades are still disrupting traditional trading channels. So while some areas will post food surpluses, others will suffer shortages. In the Hazarajat region, a blockade from the south and instability in the north have halted the export of goods to the traditional markets in Ghazni and the capital city of Kabul.

A series of natural disasters has compounded existing production and infrastructure problems. Heavy snowfall, extensive flooding, and a May 30 earthquake that devastated a large area near the border with Tajikistan have left many areas facing acute food shortages. According to the report, Afghanistan will need to import 740 000 tonnes of wheat and milled rice to meet demand from the larger population as well as the increase in emergency food aid needs.

"Much remains to be done in the agricultural sector, but the evidence is that farmers are responding to the improved situation, except in areas where conflict and blockades disrupt trading channels and in those affected by natural disasters," the report concluded.

The Special Report issued by the mission provides an overview of Afghanistan's food production in 1997/1998 and projects the food supply situation for 1998/1999.

31 July 1998 

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