Food still unaffordable for millions
KABUL, 12 March 2009 (IRIN) - Wheat flour, rice and
cooking oil prices have dropped by over 15 percent in
the past three months but adequate food is still
unaffordable for millions of Afghans living on less
than US$1 a day, according to officials.
The average price of a 50kg bag of wheat flour was
1,100 Afghanis (about US$21) on 10 March in Kabul,
down from $36 in December 2008. A 24.5kg sack of rice
has gone down to $25 from $37, and the cost of a 16kg
canister of ghee is now $20 instead of $31.
“Prices have fallen considerably compared to six
months ago,” Abdul Matin, a shopkeeper in Kabul’s main
food market, told IRIN, citing food aid deliveries by
aid agencies and the government, and imports from
abroad as the main reasons for the fall in prices.
Food prices, particularly for wheat flour, rose by
up to 150 percent in 2008 because of drought, which
left a domestic cereal production shortfall of about
35 percent. Export restrictions by Pakistan and other
wheat exporting countries exacerbated the problem.
Throughout 2008 spiralling food prices proved
disastrous for millions of Afghans who were pushed
into high-risk food insecurity.
In a bid to provide a temporary safety net for
about five million most vulnerable Afghans, UN
agencies and the government launched a joint emergency
appeal in April 2008 for over $404 million to procure
and distribute 230,000 tonnes of food aid and provide
other life-saving assistance.
About 70 percent of the requested funds had been
received from donors by February and food aid had
reached some of the targeted population, the Ministry
of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) said
[seen an IRIN report on winter wheat aid].
The government says it responded promptly to the
price hikes in early 2008 by launching two joint
emergency appeals, earmarked $100 million to procure
wheat from regional markets, and waived taxes on food
“Food items are adequately available in the country
thanks to a number of measures taken by the government
and also owing to donations from countries like India,
China and Russia,” Saddudin Safi, head of MAIL’s food
security department, told IRIN.
India has pledged 250,000 tonnes of wheat aid and
Russia has reported the delivery of 18,000 tonnes of
wheat flour to the country.
“We hope the importation of wheat from India will
further decrease prices,” said Safi, adding that
negotiations were still under way on how to get the
wheat through Pakistan.
The Indian government has reportedly decided to
lift its ban on wheat exports in May 2009, a move
expected to exert further downward pressure on food
Much will also depend on Afghanistan’s domestic
agricultural production in 2009. After an impressive
harvest in 2007, there was a shortfall of over two
million tonnes of cereals in 2008 largely because of
drought, according to MAIL.
No respite for the poorest
About 42 percent of the country’s estimated 27
million people live on less than $1 a day, according
to the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
A marginal reduction in food prices is good news
for many but it will not ensure access to adequate
food for about eight million Afghans, say experts.
Households who live just above the poverty line
could benefit most from falling food prices. Spending
less on food will also help middle class families to
save money for other essential needs such as
healthcare and the education of their children.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a
project the Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and
information service, but may not necessarily reflect
the views of the United Nations or its agencies.