Bumper wheat harvest to reduce food insecurity?

An expected bumper wheat harvest should reduce widespread food insecurity and bring down food prices in Afghanistan, according to officials.

Over eight million people across the country are believed to be food insecure and in need of food assistance.

“We are optimistic this year’s grain production will reduce food insecurity considerably,” Saaduddin Safi, a food security expert in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL), told IRIN.

“The signs are encouraging,” said Susannah Nicol, public information officer of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Kabul, adding that food availability and accessibility would still depend on the final harvest and market prices.

Largely owing to good rainfall, Afghanistan is expected to produce over six million tons of cereals, including over 4.5 million tons of wheat, by the end of August, MAIL and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have said.

“We think a person consumes 150-180 kilos of grain such as wheat, rice, maize and barley annually, and from that we understand the estimated over 26 million population of the country will need over six million tons,” said Safi.

Half of the country’s 34 provinces are expected to produce 25,000-50,000 tons more than their needs, but 17 other provinces, mostly in the east, central and southern areas, will face wheat deficits of 25,000-50,000 tons, according to MAIL.

Photo: MAIL
Seventeen provinces in Afghanistan will produce a surplus of 25,000-50,000 tonnes of wheat in 2009

Buying locally

In addition to about 215,000 tons of wheat imports from India, Russia and China in 2009, the Afghan government will buy at least 100,000 tons from local farmers, Safi said.

“We will stock up our strategic reserves and also try to remedy deficits in some provinces with the surplus from other provinces,” Safi said.

WFP said it also planned to purchase 7,000 tons of wheat from small-scale and vulnerable farmers through a programme called “Purchase for Progress”.

“If the harvest does indeed match or exceed expectations, then WFP will aim to procure more food locally, provided it meets international WFP quality standards,” Nicol said, adding that some 224,000 tons of wheat/wheat flour would also be imported.

Despite a relative slump in food prices in Afghanistan over the past few months, the price of wheat is still over 50 percent higher than it was in 2007 when prices were considered to be “normal”, WFP said.

“Obviously the hope is that some of the most vulnerable people to whom WFP is providing food assistance will no longer need that assistance,” said Susannah Nicol, adding that WFP would still plan for over 8.5 million beneficiaries in 2009.