Wheat Flour Price Shocks and Household Food Security in Afghanistan
by Anna D'Souza
Economic Research Report No. (ERR-121) 35 pp, July 2011
What Is the Issue?
With a long history of political instability and conflict, as
well as weak infrastructure and mountainous terrain, Afghanistan is
particularly vulnerable to economic and natural shocks. During the
2007-08 period of high global food prices, the country experienced
rapid increases in the prices of staple foods and other commodities
due to a confluence of international and domestic factors. For
households that spend the majority of their budgets on food, the
high prices led to a severe erosion of purchasing power,
disproportionally affecting poor households. In this study, we
investigate how increases in wheat flour prices affect measures of
household well-being associated with food security in Afghanistan.
Identifying food-insecure populations and their coping mechanisms
can help national and local governments and aid agencies working in
Afghanistan in designing interventions and responding to local
needs during future periods of high food prices.
What Are the Study Findings?
- Afghan households coped with the sudden rise in food prices by
cutting back on overall food consumption and, to a lesser extent,
on calories consumed.
- Households were able to buffer the effects of the wheat flour
price shocks on calories consumed by changing the composition of
their diets, moving away from micronutrient-rich foods, such as
meat, fruits, and vegetables, toward grains.
- The decline in household food security was felt across both
rural and urban areas. Urban households made changes that led to
large declines in food consumption, but were able to maintain
calories by greatly reducing the diversity of their diets and
buying cheaper foods. Rural households made changes that led to
smaller declines in their food consumption and in the variety of
foods they consumed, but relatively larger declines in
- As the price of wheat flour increased, demand for wheat
products was relatively steady in rural areas, but rose in urban
The results of this study may be used to inform current policy
discussions on food security within
Afghanistan and, more generally, within the international
development community. The dearth of data and analysis available on
consumption patterns and nutrition in Afghanistan poses challenges
to political leaders, lawmakers, and humanitarian organizations
interested in creating programs and policies to alleviate poverty
and food insecurity. Such analysis is particularly crucial in areas
of ongoing conflict, which are susceptible to shocks but for which
high-quality quantitative data are rare.
How Was the Study Conducted?
We used a unique cross-sectional, nationally representative
survey collected by the Government of Afghanistan prior to and
during the 2007-08 period of high food and commodity price
inflation. The 2007-08 National Risk and Vulnerability Assessment
(NRVA) is a sample of over 20,000 households from all 34 provinces
of Afghanistan. It was the first nationally representative
household survey in Afghanistan conducted across a 13-month time
period and designed to account for seasonal variations in
The most important implication of the design is that the NRVA
provides a comprehensive and representative portrayal of
consumption patterns prior to and after the onset of the food price
shock, allowing us to calculate measures related to household food
security and providing substantial variation in prices for the
analysis. Using the household and price data, an ordinary least
squares model was used to estimate changes in household well-being
related to food security that result from increases in the price of
wheat flour, controlling for household and environmental