Afghan food production hit by drought and pests: poor face rising food prices

Published on 16 September 2004

Rome Afghanistan\'s agriculture has suffered widespread crop failure caused by below average rains as well as plant and animal diseases, according to a joint report issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and WFP. More than six million Afghans will need food and non-food assistance in the coming year.


16 September 2004, Rome, Italy—Afghanistan's agriculture has suffered widespread crop failure caused by below average rains as well as plant and animal diseases, according to a joint report issued today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). More than six million Afghans will need food and non-food assistance in the coming year.

Drought conditions are particularly acute in the west, southwest and south of the country, where more than half the crops have failed. In the areas north of the Hindu Kush mountains, pests and diseases as well as unseasonable rains were mainly to blame for the low harvest, according the report, which was based on a joint mission in July to Afghanistan by the two UN agencies.

The mission report also says lower harvests resulted from severe water shortages in some areas with water tables receding by up to four meters. Ironically, seasonal flash floods in the same areas have also been reported, indicating a severe lack of irrigation infrastructure to store and distribute water where and when it is needed.

"In some areas crops have failed completely, this could turn out similar to the worst Afghan drought in living memory - between 1999 and 2001," said Susana Rico, WFP Country Director for Afghanistan. "As we enter the lean season, this dramatic setback will cause food insecurity to rise sharply and, consequently, the need for assistance to grow."

Wheat prices on average are nearly 30 percent higher than the low prices at the same time last year, making it increasingly difficult for the poorest Afghans to feed themselves. Based on the 2003 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (NRVA) and the current production levels, some 6.3 million people may not be able to cover their basic food needs during the 2004/2005 marketing year.

Compared with the record harvest in 2003, this year's aggregate cereal production is down by 43 percent to around 3.06 million tonnes. As a result, the cereal import requirement in the 2004/05 (July/June) marketing year is estimated at 1.7 million tonnes, nearly 34 percent of total consumption. Some 1.4 million tonnes is expected to be commercially procured, leaving more than 0.3 million tonnes of cereal deficit for the 2004/05 marketing year.

Cereal production in Afghanistan has not been sufficient to meet consumption requirements since 1976, when production peaked at 4.5 million tonnes. Civil unrest since 1978 has contributed to a steady decline in production throughout the 1980s. The agricultural recovery of he 1990s was halted by severe drought for three consecutive years between 1999 and 2001.

Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System, said: "Crop failure has been compounded by crop and livestock diseases throughout the country, damaging livelihoods and nutrition for a majority of farm households."

The FAO/WFP report substantiates the Afghan government's request for emergency assistance for the victims of this year's poor harvest. In conjunction with the UN, the Afghan government appealed for US$71.3 million, of which US$51.8 million is for food, to cover a period of six months from September 2004 to February 2005. The report indicates that Afghanistan's agricultural assistance needs are even greater than the amount the government appealed for earlier this year.

In addition to emergency food and non-food assistance, the FAO/WFP report calls for a concerted effort to address the main causes of crop failure including irrigation infrastructure, pest and disease control, the provision of appropriate high yielding seed varieties and access to markets and credit.

As many as four million people will have access to employment through the National Emergency Employment Programme (NEEP), National Solidarity Programme (NSP) and other national cash-based interventions. Ongoing food supported programmes under WFP's current operation in Afghanistan, including 1.4 million drought affected persons targeted under the government's appeal, will reach a total 2.3 million direct beneficiaries.

FAO's agricultural assistance programme in Afghanistan includes support to irrigation and water resources management, animal health, livestock production, seed production, plant protection, agricultural input distribution, institutional capacity building, food security information, nutrition and agrometeorology.

According to FAO, this assistance is designed to strengthen the overall agriculture production in Afghanistan and promote food security in the longer-term.

WFP is procuring 10,000 tonnes of wheat inside Afghanistan for its current operation. Although the agency has sufficient food stocks available to respond to the most immediate needs, shortfalls are expected to occur as early as November 2004, if the additional food requirements are not resourced immediately.

The agricultural response in the Government Drought Appeal calls for at least 300 tonnes of wheat seed and 600 tonnes of fertilizers valued at $580 000 for spring planting. This requirement is in addition to the inputs that FAO is already providing for the 2004 Autumn planting season through the distribution of 2 200 tonnes of locally produced and adapted quality declared wheat seed and 3 600 tonnes of good quality fertilizers.

FAO's distributions will benefit over 47 000 vulnerable farmers, including Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and returnees. According to the joint FAO/WFP report, other sectors threatened by the drought, such as irrigation, plant protection and animal health, are also in need of expanded assistance.


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