FAO Liaison Office in New York

Afghanistan: prioritizing agriculture and food production amidst a multifaceted crisis


Connecting live from Kabul, FAO Director of Emergencies and Resilience Rein Paulsen briefed journalists on the food security situation in Afghanistan, and the response of FAO and partners at today’s noon briefing, held by the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Spokesperson

Conflict, rural poverty, and recurrent and severe drought, are among the main the drivers of food insecurity in Afghanistan, now being compounded by the current political upheaval and the still-present economic downturns from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joining today’s press briefing live from Kabul was FAO Director of Emergencies and Resilience, Rein Paulsen, who is currently in Afghanistan after taking the first UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flight into Kabul since the service resumed last Sunday.

“FAO is on the ground here in Afghanistan, and our focus is very much on shoring up livelihoods and support to local food production, and the reason why we are concentrating on this area is because the importance of agriculture to the lives of rural populations in Afghanistan simply cannot be overstated,” Paulsen said, stressing that “agriculture is indispensable in keeping the people of Afghanistan fed, keeping them alive, and keeping them self-reliant”. 

A hidden crisis in the countryside

With 7 out of 10 Afghans living in remote and rural areas and up to 80 percent of the country’s population depending directly or indirectly on agricultural livelihoods, FAO has been closely monitoring the situation on the ground to identify the needs to respond to an acute crisis where one-third of Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from. An urgent scale up of support to agricultural livelihoods is imperative to keep Afghans fed today and in the future. The agriculture sector directly employs 45 percent of the Afghan workforce and generates 25.5 percent of national GDP, Paulsen explained.

“There is a severe drought that is impacting fully 7.3 million Afghans. It is the second drought in four years,” Paulsen moved on to say, underscoring the detrimental knock-on effects felt when successive crisis take place on already vulnerable populations, especially with drought currently affecting 25 out of the 34 provinces in the country. Concretely, this is taking place against a backdrop where 14 million Afghans who are in food crisis or emergency situations (IPC 3 or IPC 4, respectively); 4 million of those are in emergency status and contending with extreme gaps in food consumption, very high levels of acute malnutrition and excess mortality, Paulsen outlined. 

Moreover, there are approximately 400 000 newly displaced people this year alone, mainly from rural areas, and the numbers are on the rise, Paulsen said, before adding that 3 million life-sustaining livestock are also at risk from drought due to lack of adequate pastureland, fodder or feed.

Paulsen spoke of an unfolding situation compounded by challenges on the cash and banking system, on market access, and on the availability of agricultural inputs. “All of this is threatening the most important cropping season in Afghanistan: the winter wheat season,” he said. “Farmers needs to start planting now, this month, by the end of September,” he warned.

The critical winter wheat season is due to begin in October, a deadline that translates into food or lack thereof for millions, as 80 percent of staple foods for Afghans come from wheat and over half of Afghans’ daily caloric intake depends on this vital staple good.

Investing today to prevent an insurmountable hunger and displacement crisis tomorrow

Echoing the sentiment expressed by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu at this week’s High-level Ministerial Meeting on the Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan, Paulsen underscored the extreme urgency behind supporting farmers before the winter in order to prevent the collapse of the agricultural sector and, with it, the livelihoods of millions who would be forced to leave their lands and homes to become internally displaced.

Acting now and accelerating delivery before a crisis deteriorates further or before new compounding disasters surface remains the best bet in fending off future losses of life and livelihoods. 

“The single-most important factor to mitigating displacement as we look at this drought is keeping farmers in their fields and herders with their flocks. This is absolutely key to preventing a deepening crisis”.  The collapse of agriculture will drive up malnutrition, displacement, and the overall humanitarian burden, he said. “For less than USD 150,” Paulsen continued, “a winter wheat seed package, with fertilizer, can produce enough food to cover a family’s wheat and flour needs for a year”.

Despite the upheaval, FAO has been able to assist more than 200 000 people with essential livelihoods support in August alone. Since the beginning of the year, FAO has reached more than 1.9 million people, Paulsen noted, adding that FAO has provided cash and livelihood assistance in 28 out of the 34 provinces this year so far. 

While FAO remains on the ground in Afghanistan and is well poised to deliver in rural areas to meet rising needs, more resources are required, Paulsen stressed. Under the Flash Appeal for Afghanistan, FAO is urgently requesting USD 36 million to support an additional 3.5 million people between now and the end of the year.


Related links