Is there any relationship between labour demand in Afghanistan’s agricultural sector and Taliban activity? Co-variation between casualty data and temperature statistics suggest there might be a link.
There is a clear upward trend in NATO fatalities in this particular conflict, most notably 2009 saw a substantial increase in annual casualties, 520 were killed, a growth of 225 soldiers or 76.3% year-on-year. Another worrying statistic is that the casualties for 2010 has followed the last six years’ trend, from the first three months of data (January to March 2010) 140 soldiers have been killed, on an annualised basis this represents 568 casualties or an increase of 9.2% year-on-year. What one though should bear in mind is that these numbers only show one side of the story, as troop level data is unavailable one can only measure the absolute and not the relative trend.
By conducting a closer examination of the statistics one notices an intra-annual trend, a seasonality in the fatality time series. It shows that casualty rates are above the annual average from June to September, with a reduction in July. Within this ‘fighting season’ fatality rates have been on average 60% higher than the rest of the respective year, measured from 2005 to 2009. Late spring heralds a resurgence in Taliban activity, possibly an effect of the surplus labour capacity made available after sowing various agricultural crops except wheat, this would reconcile the reduction in activity from September/October onwards, coinciding with the harvest of spring sowed crops and the sowing of wheat. The reduction in casualties during the month of July coincides with the harvest of irrigated wheat, with rain fed wheat being harvested between May and August, these are the nation’s staple grain crops (2008/09 crop 4.25 million tons). During the winter, harsh climatic conditions most likely tempers insurgent activities and thus also lowers NATO casualty rates.
As there potentially might be a link between the activities in the Afghan agricultural sector and the recorded NATO casualties, efforts should be made in monitoring meteorological data such as precipitation and temperatures in the regions in order to predict insurgent activity levels. With most of Afghanistan’s farmers engaged in subsistence agriculture it is fair to suggest that their marginal productivity is higher in times of favourable weather conditions, raising their real income levels above those gained by Taliban employment. The opportunity cost of engaging in non-agricultural activities during such bumper crop seasons would be substantially increased. Put in another way, adverse weather conditions such as extreme temperatures or the absence of spring rains cause a reduction in wheat harvest levels and will reduce agricultural labour demand, thus also increase the labour input level available for insurgent activities. Conversely, bumper harvests should absorb labour capacity during key harvesting seasons, reducing both the labour inputs available for the Taliban and the potential insurgent’s motivations for engaging in military activities as his primary needs for food has been met.
USDA Crop Explorer – Afghanistan (Monitors Precipitation)