Last week, Afghanistan’s northern provinces were hit by an outbreak of the Moroccan Locust, one of the world’s most destructive pests, known to cause untold damage to a host of crops and plants. Whilst the intensity of this outbreak is currently unclear, if a full-scale locust swarm develops, this could result in the destruction of up to 1.2 million metric tonnes of wheat - a quarter of Afghanistan’s total annual harvest. 

After years of severe drought crippling agricultural production, this latest development is another devastating blow to Afghanistan’s food security, and to the livelihoods of the country’s rural population, 80% of whom rely on the agricultural industry to earn an income and feed their families. 

“Harvest forecasts this year are the best we have seen for the last three years,” the FAO’s Afghanistan representative Richard Trenchard noted, “but this outbreak threatens to destroy all these recent gains and dramatically worsen the food insecurity situation later this year and into next year.”

With the potential to exacerbate Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis, in which need has risen year on year due to the compounding pressures of economic collapse, a rise in food and fuel prices, and increasing incidences of natural disasters such as droughts and floods, coordinated international support is crucial to prevent the outbreak from decimating Afghanistan’s crop harvest. The UN warned earlier this year that, in 2023, Afghanistan faces its biggest risk of famine in 25 years, with over 28 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and half of all children under five currently experiencing malnutrition. With some international organisations forced to scale back humanitarian reach due to insufficient funding, it has never been more crucial to ensure Afghan men, women and children avoid catastrophic levels of hunger and malnutrition. 

Deputy Director at Afghanaid and Afghanistan Resilience Consortium Manager Guru Naik Charan highlighted the significant impact this latest blow could have on vulnerable rural communities: 

“Just as it appeared Afghan farmers may finally have some respite, they must now face a potentially devastating locust outbreak. Without national capacity to effectively curb the outbreak, this may result in farmers losing huge amounts of crops, compounding the challenges they already face in feeding their families. Our provincial teams are monitoring the current situation to ensure we can provide support to rural communities when necessary.”

- Guru Naik Charan, Afghanistan Resilience Consortium Manager

Our teams continue to deliver emergency assistance to vulnerable rural families across Afghanistan, including those that may be affected by a potential swarm. We have supported thousands of families at risk of hunger and malnutrition with cash assistance since the beginning of the year, with this flexible assistance helping them to meet their families’ specific needs and stay fed and healthy.

This latest setback also highlights the urgent need to work alongside rural, agriculture-dependent families to diversify the routes through which they are able to earn an income. With scientific studies confirming the link between a rise in temperatures and a higher incidence rate of damaging locust swarms, this outbreak also reinforces the destructive impact climate change is having on lives, livelihoods and food security across Afghanistan, and will continue to have for years to come. 

Building resilient rural livelihoods

By ensuring families are not solely reliant on agriculture to sustain their livelihoods, we can build the resilience of rural communities in times of crises, and strengthen their ability to withstand challenges such as locust outbreaks. From embroidery and tailoring courses to training on how to repair motorbikes and carpentry skills, we’ve been engaging rural communities in a whole host of vocational training courses for decades to give men and women the tools they require to establish new businesses, and earn money in new ways. In the last three months alone, we have supported more than 21,000 households with income-generating, resilient livelihood initiatives.

Alongside this, an integrated approach to transform Afghanistan’s agricultural industry can help lessen the destructive impact of pests such as locusts. Through distributing improved seeds that are more resistant to drought and pests, as well as providing farmers with the training and tools they need to eliminate pests, adopt more sustainable farming technique and better care for their crops, we are working to mitigate the impacts of pest outbreaks and natural disasters, supporting farming communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Last year, one project in Daykundi saw over 4,000 farmers take part in technical training in pest control and updated agricultural techniques, benefitting 168 communities. 

All of Afghanaid’s rural livelihood projects adopt a dynamic approach to agricultural intervention, as part of a wider strategy to improve access to better seeds, build agricultural capacity across provinces and stabilise the industry, whilst also spearheading innovative Eco-DRR interventions to help rural communities prepare for and adapt to the effects of climate change. Read more about the crucial advancements needed in Afghanistan’s wheat industry, and the importance of a reliable agricultural sector in securing a brighter future for Afghanistan in 'Sowing the wheat seeds of Afghanistan's future', an article co-authored by Afghanaid’s own Managing Director Charles Davy and Trustee Orzala A. Nemat. 

How can you help?

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