14 August 2003, Rome / Kabul -- Afghanistan's cereal crop will be the largest harvest on record but many households will continue to require humanitarian assistance, according to a joint report released today by two UN food agencies.

A total harvest of 5.37 million tonnes of cereals is expected due in large part to good precipitation and better access to seeds and fertilizers, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in their report, the result of a joint mission to the country.

"We knew the harvest would be large this year but this breaks all records," said Henri Josserand, head of FAO's Global Early Warning System which forecasts harvests and predicts where food may be scarce. "We are looking at a crop that will be 50 percent larger than last year's, thanks in part to FAO's work to improve conditions in rural areas of the country."

According to the report, the bumper crop is also the result of Afghan farmers planting more wheat and using more fertilizer. The overall area planted with rainfed wheat has increased by more than 77 percent from the previous year.

A successful locust control campaign in the north of the country has also been beneficial.

Ample crop

This year's abundant harvest means that Afghanistan's cereal import requirement for the current marketing year (July 2003 - June 2004) will only be about 400 000 tonnes, which is almost a quarter of last year's import requirement. All import requirements are expected to be covered commercially.

The forecasted crop includes 4.36 million tonnes of wheat - a 62 percent increase in the country's staple crop from a year ago, as well as 410 000 tonnes of barley, 310 000 tonnes of maize and 291 000 tonnes of milled rice.

Market prices for wheat have fallen sharply in some regions and may result in financial difficulties for farmers and reductions in area planted next season.

In addition, planned construction on the Salang tunnel will likely hinder the transfer of wheat to the grain-poor south, causing prices in northern Afghanistan to fall further.

Hunger lingers despite harvest

Despite an expected record harvest this year, a considerable number of Afghans will continue to face food shortages and will depend on humanitarian food assistance, the agencies warned.

The agencies may purchase food aid locally if sufficient surpluses are available.

Over two decades of civil strife and a severe drought from 1999 to 2001 have devastated the country, damaging the agricultural sector and leaving infrastructure destroyed.

"The joint FAO/WFP mission to the country shows that, despite better harvests, a timely and effective food intervention to assist the poorest of the population in helping them rebuild an asset base for their livelihood is essential" said Susana Rico, WFP country director.

"Many of Afghanistan's poorest households will still need relief aid in the coming year. These families have been worn down by years of conflict and the improved economic and agricultural situation will simply not filter down to them," she added.

A national risk and vulnerability assessment (NRVA) is underway to determine exactly where and how much food aid will be needed among the country's population of over 22 million.

As of the end of June 2003, WFP had about 114,000 tonnes of cereal food aid in stock.

Chronic malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency disorders continue to be a major problem in Afghanistan; particularly hard hit are young children, women, refugees and people living in remote mountain areas. Even with record harvests, there will still be pockets of malnutrition in the country.

Contact:
Stephanie Holmes
Information Officer, FAO
stephanie.holmes@fao.org
(+39) 06570 56350

or

Maarten Roest
Public Information Officer, WFP
Afghanistan
maarten.roest@wfp.org
(+93) 70282547