Afghanistan: Govt stockpiling wheat ahead of expected drought


Kabul : Up to 500,000 tons of wheat will be stockpiled in different parts of Afghanistan in anticipation of a mid-level drought later this year, with the aim of assisting vulnerable communities, stabilizing food prices and preventing shortages, officials told IRIN.

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“We plan to store 500,000 tons of wheat – sufficient for 10 percent of the population for one year – in our strategic reserves,” said Majeed Qarar, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL).

About 75,000 tons of wheat (surplus from 2010 domestic production procured by the government) is already in “strategic stockpiles” and 250,000 tons will be imported from India in line with a deal signed in 2010, he said. Afghanistan may have to look elsewhere, however, as India, which has its own food security concerns, could soon impose another wheat export ban.

The Afghanistan National Disasters Management Authority (ANDMA) said it was discussing drought mitigation plans with government and non-government bodies and UN agencies.

“We need to act pre-emptively and must be prepared to meet the humanitarian consequences of the drought,” Mohammad Daim Kakar, director of ANDMA, told IRIN, adding that a humanitarian appeal would be discussed with aid agencies next week.

A joint emergency appeal was launched by the Afghan government and UN agencies in response to the 2008 food price and drought crises. Millions of vulnerable people were assisted.

Afghanistan has had little or no snow or rain this winter, which bodes ill for the country’s agriculture, the Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) has warned.

Agriculture is the main income and livelihood source for over 60 percent of the population.

“Though major food shortages will be avoided if regional trade flows function normally, increased food insecurity and above-average food assistance needs are likely, especially during late 2011 and early 2012,” FEWS NET said in a Jan 20 food security alert.

Below normal precipitation is forecast only in the northern parts of the country from February to April, according to the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

Traditionally, Afghan farmers use rain and glacier-melt runoff during the autumn to prepare land for winter wheat cultivation.

Over 60 percent of domestic cereals are produced in irrigated fields which are dependent on snow melt, springs and other local water sources. About 35 percent of the wheat, meanwhile, comes from rain-fed fields which need adequate rainfall from February onwards, MAIL said. Production is not focused on one particular region but dispersed across the country.

MAIL’s Majeed Qarar sounded a note of caution: “We don’t want to sound the alarm bell on drought prematurely because this could panic rain-fed farmers.”

Only 22 percent of the population have access to improved drinking water and a drought would create water shortages and exacerbate water and sanitation problems in the country, ANDMA warned.

Any deficit in cereals will be more evident in the country’s south and southeast where conflict-related humanitarian needs are already paramount, said Qarar. “In the north and northeast, we hope, cereal production will be good.”

In the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, which normally get 180-200mm of rain in January-February, no rainfall had been reported by 26 January, provincial agriculture officials said.

“Everyone anticipates more fighting here [Kandahar] in 2011,” said Sardar Mohammad Niazman, head of the Afghan Red Crescent office in Kandahar. “Drought and conflict will worsen the humanitarian situation significantly.”

Aid agencies such as the UN World Food Programme plan to distribute food aid to 7.8 million people in 2011, according to a Consolidated Appeals Process launched by the UN and NGOs in December 2010.