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Conflict and Fragility. fragile and conflict affected states; Poverty; Agriculture; Rural Development

The latest poverty numbers for Afghanistan: a call to action, not a reason for despair

Shubham Chaudhuri's picture

The just-released Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey (ALCS) paints a stark picture of the reality facing Afghanistan today. More than half the Afghan population lives below the national poverty line, indicating a sharp deterioration in welfare since 2011-12.[1]  The release of these new ALCS figures is timely and important. These figures are the first estimates of the welfare of the Afghan people since the transition of security responsibilities from international troops to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2014.

While stark, the findings are not a surprise

Given what Afghanistan has gone through in the last five years, the significant increase in poverty over this period is not unexpected. The high poverty rates represent the combined effect of stagnating economic growth, increasing demographic pressures, and a deteriorating security situation in the context of an already impoverished economy and society where human capital and livelihoods have been eroded by decades of conflict and instability.

The withdrawal of international troops starting in 2012, and the associated decline in aid, both security and civilian, led to a sharp decline in domestic demand and much lower levels of economic activity. The deterioration in security since 2012, which drove down consumer and investor confidence, magnified this economic shock. Not surprisingly, Afghanistan’s average annual rate of economic growth fell from 9.4 percent in the period 2003-2012 to only 2.1 percent between 2013 and 2016. With the population continuing to grow more than 3 percent a year, per capita GDP has steadily declined since 2012, and in 2016 stood $100 below its 2012 level. Even during Afghanistan’s years of high economic growth, poverty rates failed to drop, as growth was not pro-poor. In recent years, as population growth outstripped economic growth, an increase in poverty was inevitable.

Horticulture offers hope for growth and jobs in rural Afghanistan

World Bank Afghanistan's picture
Until the late 1960s, Afghanistan was a major exporter of horticulture products, particularly dried fruits. Photo Credit: World Bank

Afghanistan is struggling with unemployment and poor economic performance because of drastic reductions in foreign aid and continued social instability. While efforts have been made to improve the private sector, including several sectors like mining and manufacturing, the gains have been modest as Afghanistan remains beset by conflict and instability.
 
Yet investments in agriculture, particularly horticulture, have produced tangible returns as unique weather conditions are favorable to growing produce that are in-demand in local and regional markets. 

An example can be found in Mullah Durani, a farmer from Mohammad Ali Kas village in Qarghaee district in eastern Laghman Province, who converted his field to growing grapes for fruit consumption in 2015 that is paying off in creating jobs and boosting income. “My land has generated eight times higher returns, while I can use the local workforce on my own farm instead of sending them to cities to work for others,” says Mullah Durani. “I have also been able to create seasonal jobs for a number of villagers during harvesting.”
 
The key to his success, he says, was choosing the right variety of grapes instead of grains. “My recently established vineyard produces grapes at a time when there are almost no domestic fruits in the market and in return, I get higher market prices,” he points out. “This year I sold about $4,000 worth of grapes from 2,000 square meters of land.”
 
By converting his field to growing grapes, Mullah Durani received investment support and technical assistance from the Afghanistan Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock under its National Horticulture and Livestock Project (NHLP). The project is funded by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) and helps farmers in selected districts adopt better production practices.