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Erratic weather and prolonged conflict take toll on Syria’s agricultural output

Staff Writer |
Extreme weather conditions during Syria's seventh year of conflict has caused domestic cereal production to decline sharply, two UN agencies announced.

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Wheat production this year fell to a 29-year low of 1.2 million tons, about two-thirds of 2017 levels. This was due to an extended period of dry weather early in the cropping season followed by heavy out-of-season rains, according to the latest Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM), conducted jointly by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The conflict in Syria has also damaged vast farming areas, displaced thousands of Syrian farmers and triggered a sharp increase in the cost of agricultural inputs.

While more displaced people are returning to their homes and the number of people in hard-to-reach locations has dropped by two-thirds, the report estimates that 5.5 million Syrians remain food insecure and require some form of food assistance, a decline of around 20 percent from the year before. In addition, some 500,000 to 800,000 people in the northern governorate of Idleb may be food-insecure.

Adverse weather conditions led to only 38 percent of the wheat crop in rain-fed areas being harvested this year. Farmers have reported it as the worst agricultural season in living memory in Al-Hasakeh, the northeastern region that typically provides almost half of the country's wheat.

Barley, a more drought-tolerant crop, fared better but production still fell to its lowest level since 2008. According to the report - which is based on interviews and surveys as well as satellite and government data - farmers complained of sporadic water availability, the high cost of fuel to run irrigation pumps and a shortage of tillage equipment.

As the Government regains control of territory and pumping stations, work to restore water treatment plants and irrigation canals has begun. However, the work may take years to complete.

The conflict in Syria has taken a heavy toll on the agricultural sector, as evidenced in limited access to seeds, something which will pose a "major problem" in the year ahead, the FAO-WFP report says. For planting, many farmers rely on grain saved from their own limited harvests. Given this year's poor cereal harvest, seed quality for re-planting later this month will likely be low, with an expected knock-on effect next year.

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