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Country Briefs

  Afghanistan

Reference Date: 29-May-2020

FOOD SECURITY SNAPSHOT

  1. Generally favourable weather conditions for crop development

  2. Average cereal import requirements forecast in 2020/21

  3. Food prices and inflation increasing

  4. High levels of food insecurity prevail

Generally favourable weather conditions for crop development

Harvesting of the 2020 winter wheat and barley started in May in the eastern part of the country and will be completed by July by the harvesting of fields in the mountainous areas. Planting of spring wheat was completed in April. The majority of the wheat grown in the country is of rainfed winter cultivation.

Most of the country received timely and well‑distributed rains and favourable crop conditions prevail. Severe precipitation deficits occurred in northern provinces where precipitation amounts were well below average until April 2020 and rainfed wheat conditions are below average. In these areas, reports indicate that planted area is below average.

Adequate snow volumes in mountainous areas during the winter are critical for crop development and availability of irrigation water for spring and summer crops. Snow water volumes are at average levels in most basins across the country, but remain low in the northeast.

While heavy precipitation in late March and April 2020 benefited crop development, it caused floods in Faryab, Badghis, Ghor, Baghlan, Takhar, Badakhshan and Parwan provinces, and landslides in Badakhshan and Ghor provinces. Spring floods caused only limited damage to the well‑established winter cereal crops, but damaged agricultural infrastructure. Spring wheat was not yet planted.

Adequate precipitations benefitted pasture availability in most rangelands, supporting livelihoods relying on livestock rearing.

In the Nimruz Province adjacent to the Iranian border, a mature adult group of desert locusts was spotted in April 2020. Ground teams treated 20 hectares.

The 2020 cereal production is preliminarily forecast at a slightly above‑average level of 5.7 million tonnes, although about 7 percent below the 2019 bumper harvest. The lack of certified seeds, particularly for rainfed areas, constrained yield potential.

Average cereal import requirements forecast

The cereal import requirements, mainly wheat and wheat flour, in the 2020/21 marketing year (July/June) are forecast at an average level of 2.8 million tonnes, 17 percent lower than in the previous year. Even during years with 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.

Food prices and inflation increasing

Pakistan and Kazakhstan are the main sources of wheat and wheat flour of the country. Measures aimed at the containment of the COVID‑19 pandemic in Pakistan temporarily restricted movement of goods across the border which, combined with panic‑buying, put an upward pressure on prices. Wheat prices in Kabul increased by one‑third from AFN 25 per kg in February 2020 to AFN 33 per kg in the second week of May. Wheat flour prices increased by 16 percent from AFN 31.25 to 36.50 per kg. The most dramatic price increases were recorded in March.

The Government of India pledged to provide 75 000 tonnes of wheat as humanitarian aid. The first shipment of 5 000 tonnes was dispatched in April, the second shipment of 10 000 tonnes in early May. Kazakhstan, an important supplier of wheat flour, replaced a ban on exports, announced in March 2020, with export quotas from May to August 2020, but announced it would abolish the quotas from June 2020.

The inflation rates, which were less than 4 percent in the first quarter of 2020, reached almost 8.7 percent in April 2020. The food component of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which in the last 12 months fluctuated between 2.8 and 7 percent, increased dramatically to almost 17 percent in April 2020, fuelled by increased domestic demand as households stockpiled ahead of the pandemic. The overall inflation rate in the country is largely determined by changes in the prices of food products.

At the same time, purchasing power for casual labourers decreased as lockdown measures reduced employment opportunities. Localized protests against the high food prices took place in Nangarhar and Paktika provinces.

High levels of food insecurity

The food security situation worsened in recent months due to the impact of COVID‑19 as informal labour opportunities and remittances declined. Between April and May 2020, about 10.9 million people (35 percent of the population) were estimated to be in acute food insecurity and required urgent humanitarian action. It included around 7.4 million people in IPC Phase 3: “Crisis” and 3.5 million people in IPC Phase 4: “Emergency”. Food security in rural areas is likely to improve with the completion of the harvest and about 10.3 million people are forecast to be in IPC Phases 3 and 4 between June and November 2020. However, the food security of the vulnerable populations, including IDPs and the urban poor, is likely to deteriorate as curfews and restrictions on movements to contain the COVID‑19 outbreak would limit the employment opportunities for casual labourers.

Between January and April 2020, about 267 000 returnees from the Islamic Republic of Iran and 1 700 from Pakistan were recorded, well above the number of the returnees recorded in the same period in 2019 (147 000 from the Islamic Republic of Iran and 9 000 from Pakistan). Among the most frequently reported reasons to return from the Islamic Republic of Iran were the fear of COVID‑19, lack of employment opportunities and abuse by authorities. Many Afghan returnees end up displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance.

COVID-19 and measures adopted by the Government

On 14 March 2020, the Government introduced a variety of measures to contain the spread of the disease. The implementation details were left to the provincial governments that imposed curfews, restrictions on the number of people traveling together in one vehicle and on inter‑city travel. Many provinces eased the rules ahead of the Ramadan. Lockdown policies were lifted on 24 May 2020 coinciding with Eid al-Fitr.

Even before the COVID‑19 pandemic, protracted conflict has tested the governance systems responsible for delivering the basic services. Continuing tensions, coupled with repeated natural disasters, migration, poverty and high population density in urban centres, facilitate the transmission and increase the impact of the pandemic.

Despite the efforts to keep the key supply routes from Pakistan open, sporadic closings of the border in March and April resulted in decreased availability of food, including wheat flour, and disruptions in movement of humanitarian aid. From 15 May 2020, the Torkham and Spin Boldak border crossings were opened to cargos for six days per week without limits on the number of trucks. Regarding the movement of people, borders have been generally closed, but, starting from 1 May 2020, stranded citizens of both Pakistan and Afghanistan have been allowed to cross on foot once a week.

Border crossings with the Islamic Republic of Iran remain open to commercial traffic and crossings of citizens. As described above, large numbers of Afghans have returned home following an outbreak of COVID‑19 in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Borders with other countries are open for commercial traffic and the return of citizens.

Although COVID‑19 containment measures have not affected the activities related to crop production, it is reported that seasonal movements of Kuchis pastoralists in the northern part of the country towards summer pastures have been limited by restrictions.

In May 2020, the Government began distributing free bread as prices increased amidst supply disruptions during the COVID‑19 shutdown. More than 250 000 families in Kabul started receiving ten flat breads per day in the first phase of the project.

The Government made available USD 15 million to respond to the COVID‑19 outbreak and an additional USD 10 million was allocated from the reserve funds for Ministry of Public Health. As of 18 May 2020, USD 600 million of foreign aid was pledged to support COVID‑19 efforts in the country, including USD 100 million provided by the World Bank and USD 200 million in loans from the International Monetary Fund.

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.