Rains Partially Relieve Syrian Farmers; Hostilities Remain

ROME, Italy

Favorable rains in Syria’s agricultural areas, coupled with improved overall security, have reportedly boosted harvests compared to last year, but higher food prices are putting more strain on many Syrians.

A report issued 5 Sptember by the United Nations Food and Agricultural (UNFAO) Progam and the World Food Program (WFP), describes some areas receiving more than double their yearly rainfall average in 2018-19. For example, Tartous, a high-rainfall governorate with a yearly average of about 900 mm of rain, recorded 2,200 mm over the season. Plentiful rains saw increased fruit and vegetable production, the report states, but some of the produce was lost to spoilage because high fuel prices, localized insecurity and a lack of refrigerator trucks hampered access to urban markets.

Around 6.5 million people in Syria are estimated to be food insecure and in need of food and livelihoods support. An additional 2.5 million people are at risk of food insecurity and need livelihoods support to strengthen their resilience.

Field fires, not unusual during harvesting, were more frequent and intense in 2019, with the Government estimating that about 85 000 hectares of crops were burnt. The report states that, while accidental fires are common, there is evidence to suggest that some fires were started maliciously, particularly in areas with active conflict.

Wheat production is estimated at 2.2 million metric tonnes, compared to last year’s 29-year low of 1.2 million tonnes, but is still far below the pre-crisis average of 4.1 million tonnes (2002-2011), according to the latest Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) report, produced jointly by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The estimated production of barley, at 2 million metric tonnes, is more than five times that of 2018 and more than 150 percent higher than the average production levels achieved prior to the crisis.

However, food prices have been gradually increasing over the past 12 to 14 months largely as a result of increased domestic fuel prices and a continuous depreciation of the Syrian Pound on the informal exchange market.

Food security remains a serious challenge due to continued localized hostilities, new and protracted displacements, increased numbers of recent returnees and the sustained erosion of communities’ resilience after almost nine years of conflict.

“Despite the good rains, farmers in rural areas are still facing many challenges including a lack of access to seeds and fertilizers, high transport costs, the presence of unexploded ordnance in some of their fields, and limited marketing opportunities,” said FAO Representative in Syria, Mike Robson. “Unless there is increased support for agricultural livelihoods, particularly those of Syria’s most vulnerable families, the reliance on food assistance will remain,” he said.

“After nine years of crisis, the people of Syria, including those returning to their villages, continue to face great challenges,” said Corinne Fleischer, Country Director of WFP in Syria.

Between June and July 2019, the joint FAO/WFP mission team visited 10 of the country’s 14 governorates, but was not able to reach Raqqa and Idleb governorates due to insecurity. Based on interviews, surveys, field visits, national data and satellite information, the report provides estimates on crop production for 2019 and assesses the country’s overall food security situation.

Concerns that last year’s poor harvest would result in seed shortages were eased by access to a small supply from the national General Organization for Seed Multiplication (GOSM), as well as purchasing on the market, borrowing seeds and using some saved seeds from last year. In a joint FAO/WFP project, 14 450 of the poorest farmers in Hasakeh, Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor, Aleppo and Hama governorates were supplied with wheat seed, enabling them to cultivate.

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