AFGHANISTAN* (9 February)
Latest reports and satellite imagery show that heavy snowfall as well as above average rainfall throughout much of the country, though less so in the south and south-west, may substantially replenish the depleted water tables throughout the country. In addition, the heavy snowfall is seen to provide the much-needed water for irrigation throughout spring and summer. Sufficient soil moisture will also enable many farmers, particularly in the North of the Hindukush Mountains, to plant significantly large areas with rainfed cereals. It is too early to forecast cereal harvest as the overall harvest depends on spring and summer precipitation, temperatures as well as locust, pests and disease outbreaks. However, the prospects are for a good harvest this year provided favourable weather conditions prevail and locust, pests and diseases remain under control. Last year drought conditions existed in much of the country and aggregate cereal harvest was estimated at about 3 million tonnes, which was 43 percent down on the record harvest in 2003 and 21 percent down on the average harvest in 1998.
Provided extraordinary factors do not affect crops this year, the need for imported food aid will significantly diminish. However, food assistance, preferably domestically procured if feasible, will still be necessary as access to food by many vulnerable households remains difficult.