Syrian farmers face challenges preparing for new season after poor harvest in 2020/21 – Syrian Arab Republic
Although the agricultural sector has fared better than other sectors in Syria over the past decade, farmers have suffered from the impact of conflict and macroeconomic challenges. On top of that, in 2021, farmers faced adverse weather conditions in the country’s main grain producing areas.
FAO carried out an independent mission to assess the 2021 cereal harvest and the overall situation of the agricultural sector in Syria. Methodologically established crop cutting and statistical sampling methods that had been used in previous years’ assessments could not be used this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Therefore, grain production estimates were determined through interviews with key informants involved in a systematic program in which consensus was developed. Key informants included larger farmers in key production areas; members of farmers’ cooperatives; the General Union of Peasants; harvesting equipment operators; and experienced staff from agricultural departments, as well as FAO field staff. This method, although generally reliable, may have introduced systematic biases. These methods should be further investigated and refined for future use in the event of unforeseen circumstances that prevent the application of established crop assessment methods. Early higher government estimates also suffered from problems with data collection in areas beyond government control.
Socio-economic context: Although much of the country is now secure and pockets of active fighting remain contained, economic conditions in Syria are not considered favorable. Already weakened by ten years of conflict, the economy has suffered further setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from the economic crisis in Lebanon, a long lifeline for the Syrian economy. High inflation rates, weakening currency and shortages of basic commodities, including fuel, prevail. The impact of the sanctions has generally worsened the situation of millions of Syrians, directly or indirectly. According to the World Food Program, more than 12.4 million people (60 percent of the population) were food insecure in 2020, 5.4 million more than in 2019. This situation continued to exist again. worsened in 2021.
Crop production: Insufficient and poorly distributed rainfall in the 2020/21 crop year, as well as several heat waves, high cost of inputs, limited availability of irrigation water and high cost of fuel for pumping, resulted in a contraction of the harvestable cereal area. The estimated area of ââharvested wheat (787,000 ha) was slightly more than half of that harvested in 2019. The estimated area of ââharvested barley (352,000 ha) was down 75 percent from last year, as large tracts of land were not considered worthy of the harvesting effort. Wheat production in 2021 is estimated at around 1.05 million tonnes, compared to 2.8 million in 2020, and only a quarter of the pre-crisis average of 4.1 million tonnes (over the period 2002- 2011). At 268,000 tonnes, rainfed barley production was only about 10 percent of the bumper harvest of 2019 and 2020.
Main agricultural constraints for crop production: Farmers continue to raise concerns about high production and transport costs as well as the lack of quality inputs. The fleet of agricultural machinery is aging, without significant investment. Some progress has been made in rehabilitating irrigation works, although illegal and uncontrolled drilling of groundwater in recent years has likely lowered the water table. A significant proportion of previously irrigated land remains unsanitary due to lack of equipment, maintenance or fuel. High rates of wastage have been reported in fruit and vegetable production, limited by low purchasing power of consumers, inability to export and a shortage of processing plants.
Livestock: Nationally, the overall herd appears to have stabilized after an initial sharp decline at the start of the conflict. However, current high feed prices and lack of access to pasture have likely resulted in significant destocking. Prices for live animals have already fallen compared to last year, as farmers sold part of their herd to buy feed and other inputs for the rest. The prices of dairy products and eggs have increased to cover the high costs of feed and fuel, but the rate of increase of dairy products and eggs is lower than the increases in production costs. Although no major outbreaks of animal disease have been reported (although Lumpy Skin Disease in cattle has been a problem before), the nutritional status of the animals is low, making them generally susceptible to disease.
Future trends: Farmers lack cash and access to credit, while input prices rise. The prices of subsidized inputs, such as fuel and fertilizers, have increased. Seeds will likely be difficult to find due to the drastically reduced harvest in 2020, and seed quality is expected to be poor, with low germination rates. However, farmers who do not have viable alternatives for economic subsistence continue to work their land, even though in many cases they use less intensive production methods and lower amounts of inputs.
In response to the challenges facing farmers in the 2020/21 season, immediate action is needed to support the agricultural sector and prevent further erosion of productive assets. Although past crop assessment missions have advocated for a transition from emergency aid and basic livelihoods to the recovery and reconstruction of the agricultural sector, this year, emergency aid is essential. as the coming season carries the likelihood of below normal rainfall in the fall of 2021 and a shortage of widely available quality seeds. The objective of emergency aid is to alleviate shortages and improve access to inputs, ensure an adequate supply of diesel at official prices for farms and avoid destocking of animals in due to the high costs of animal feed.
Detailed findings and additional recommendations will be presented in an upcoming report assessing 2020/21 agricultural production in the Syrian Arab Republic.