With poor rains, fuel shortages and high fertilizer prices, farmers in northeastern Syria are facing a bad year as a disappointing wheat crop is poised to deal another blow to food supplies in a country reeling from climate change and war.
Farmer Muhammad Hussain said he has sown only a fifth of his usual crop this season due to difficulties compounded by rising global fertilizer prices as a side effect of the war in Ukraine.
Hussain, 46, said, “We are suffering from shortage of expensive fertilizer diesel fuel.” He complained about his condition as a harvester drove through a wheat field behind him in a village near the town of Qamishli in northeastern Syria.
Northeast Syria is vital to the country’s grain production, but the Kurdish-led authorities who control the region do not expect this year’s crop to meet their region’s needs, let alone supply the rest of the country.
It darkens the picture of Syrian wheat production, which has fallen since the outbreak of war in 2011, raising concerns about food security in a country that the United Nations says needs have reached unprecedented levels.
Omran Reda, the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Syria, told Reuters that early signs point to another poor agricultural season after the 2021 crop failure.
Reda said the harvest was affected by delayed rains, prolonged drought and early interruption of rains that had disastrous consequences, as was the case with the last season’s crop.
Crops have also been affected by climate changes, including snowfall and extreme temperature increases.
“Food costs have risen dramatically, production and distribution have declined, and indicators for the next season’s harvest are worrying. We are very concerned about the overall food security situation,” Reda said.
From blessing to burden
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Syria’s grain production has fallen from an annual average of 4.1 million tons before the crisis, enough to meet domestic demand, to 1.05 million tons in 2021.
Production in 2020 is around 2.8 million tonnes.
While wheat imports from the Syrian government’s ally Russia have filled some of the gap, factors including the collapse of the Syrian pound have left food insecurity severe across the fractured country at its highest point since the start of the war.
The World Food Program says 12.4 million Syrians, or nearly 70 percent of the country’s population, are food insecure.
379,000 tons of wheat have been harvested in the region so far, said Nabila Mohamed, head of the Kurdish-led Agricultural Community Development Authority in the northeast.
The expected volume is 450,000 tonnes, which is less than the 600,000 tonnes Nabila Muhammad said is needed to meet the region’s needs, meaning there will be no surplus to supply areas controlled by the Syrian government.
He explained that last year it rained less and this year it rained but not at the right time for planting. He added that farmers were also affected by the increase in the price of imported fertilizers caused by the Ukrainian war.
A small portion was harvested from areas dependent on rain-fed agriculture, while the crop mostly depended on irrigated land. He pointed out that this year’s harvest in the Northeast was better than last year as more licenses were issued for drilling wells.
Farmers in areas dependent on rain-fed agriculture in Syria have lost most of their crops for the second year in a row, FAO said.
Muhammad Ahmed, 65, described the drought as a huge loss for him and his land as a burden instead of an asset.
He said that the land was causing him loss for two consecutive years, adding that shepherds were allowed to graze their cattle there.
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