December 21, 2021
In the discussions on the future of agriculture and livestock, the focus is very much on strategic crops such as wheat, and the setting of clear short-, medium-, and long-term targets at low costs. In order to achieve this, a strategic framework governing agricultural policy needs to be developed that supports agricultural solutions and sustainable agricultural systems, such as portfolio farming, the rehabilitation of infrastructure of production systems in agricultural sectors, both plant and animal, and the promotion of agricultural processes that adapt to climate change as well as the strengthening of agricultural research centers.
On the basis of the preparatory discussions, TEVIN offers a set of proposals for reforming the agricultural sector, both plant and animal, as well as an outline of the possibility of rethinking agricultural management in northern and eastern Syria. In addition to the representatives of the Autonomous Administration in the agricultural sector, agricultural experts, participants from civil society organizations, farmers, and peasants or their representatives attended the discussions.
Due to the availability of large areas of wheat and barley fields, and livestock are raised on a large scale in northern and eastern Syria, which is known as the "food basket" of the country. Agribusiness and livestock both contribute significantly to the food security and economic development of northern and eastern Syria. However, both sectors currently face many challenges that significantly affect productivity and exacerbate the issue of food security, decline in job opportunities, and economic development for the region. As a result, poverty rates are high for the population in the area.
Climate change and severe drought have negatively affected crop productivity and therefore farmers' income. They are also linked to a lack of agricultural inputs (quantity and quality), poor planning, deteriorating agricultural infrastructure in some areas, and security and political challenges, such as the use of waters as a weapon of war by Turkey against northern and eastern Syria. While the Autonomous Administration tried to provide support for the agricultural sector, the limited resources prevented them from meeting these challenges. Due to all these factors, the local production of wheat and other crops declined significantly. During the past season, wheat production was estimated at only 16 % of the average production before 2011.
By carefully planning interventions, actors that can contribute to agricultural development view these challenges as opportunities for development.
Aridity and climate change.
Drought and climate change have affected northern and eastern Syria in three ways: first, a dramatic decline in the rate of rainfall, second, shifts in the seasons of rainfall, and third, severe heat waves that occur after these factors, which affected the production of crops, especially those in their grain-forming stages.
Watering and irrigation are challenging requirements for both wheat and livestock. As an example, 70% of agricultural land in the Al-Hasakah Governorate relies on rainwater, making crop and pasture lands vulnerable to climate change. During the winter of 2017, rainfall in northeastern Syria decreased by up to 40% compared with previous rates and by about 50% in 2021. Crops and pastures are therefore below average in terms of productivity.
Several reasons and factors have contributed to this decline, in addition to the climate changes:
Irrigation and livestock production are becoming more dependent on groundwater.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report titled Water Scarcity and Humanitarian Action: Key Emerging Trends and Challenges, agricultural activities are responsible for more than 85% of water extracted from aquifers. According to researchers, Syria will reach absolute water scarcity (a threshold of 500 m3/capita/year) by 2050 due to its population growth rate.
The destruction of large irrigation networks on the Euphrates during the war against the "Islamic State" resulted in a water shortage in northern and eastern Syria. Rehabilitation of these networks is slow and expensive and will require considerable assistance from NGOs, international organizations, and humanitarian agencies.
Turkey's use of water as a weapon of war by reducing the flow of the Euphrates River and appropriating groundwater in the border areas, thus reducing the amount of water available for agriculture in northern and eastern Syria and making it more difficult for Syrians to find new sources of water.
The inputs and requirements of agriculture.
Due to the challenges described above, determining the agricultural requirements during the process of agricultural development is much simpler than providing the needs, and these requirements are as follows:
Fuel: the shortage in times of need, the quality of diesel which is reflected in the prices, and seed (quantity and quality) especially for wheat, where the amount of wheat available to farmers is low due to the previous season's failure, and lack of sufficient quantities for farmers to meet the full needs, which is 5 Tons per farmer (enough for 25 hectares).
To acquire pure and improved varieties of high-yielding seeds for farmers.
Fertilizers: not readily available in the quantities and types required at the time of need, along with their unreasonable prices in relation to the market price of wheat sold by the farmers.
Pesticides: Lack of regulations and controls on the import, sale, and circulation of pesticides lead to the importation of low-quality pesticides from unaccredited sources, which cause harm to the environment and health standards.
Veterinary medicines: the same concerns apply to them, in addition to the fact that livestock and poultry are not provided with the basic vaccinations necessary to survive.
Fodder: Due to the failure of the previous agricultural season, especially barley, in which Al-Hasakah governorate did not produce more than 4% of its production of barley in 2020, and due to the lack of strategic stocks for this important fodder component, livestock farmers were forced to sell part of their livestock to meet the need for the rest of their herd of fodder, resulting in a significant decrease in the price of livestock in the local market. This resulted in exporting part of the livestock to other countries.
The Autonomous Administration's role, between possibilities and pressing requirements.
An Autonomous Administration unit assists the agricultural sector in these areas as part of its structure. As well as managing many agricultural institutions, it establishes and performs many tasks, including:
Regarding wheat, the Autonomous Administration stores the grain outdoors as well as in mills, bakeries, and grain centers. The grain center it operates provides limited services.
In addition, a limited number of subsidized seeds and fertilizers are provided, along with technical advice. Wheat is bought by the Grain Center from farmers at a fixed price and according to specific quality standards. After a short period of time, the farmer receives payment for the grain purchased.
Additionally, Autonomous Administration manages the flour-to-bread system, which the Syrian government previously managed. Considering the failure of the wheat harvest in the previous season and the lack of strategic stockpiles to cover this aspect, as well as the need to secure seeds for the coming season, this has become one of the biggest challenges facing a loaf of bread. About 80% of the bread needs of the local market are covered by the Autonomous Administration, while the remaining 20% are covered by the private sector.
Additionally, the Autonomous Administration provides operational materials such as fuel to the agricultural sector, which has become scarce and is a heavy burden on farmers, especially following the sharp increase in fuel prices in the last few months.
In spite of the above, and due to a severe drought, limited financial capacity, and competing priorities, the Autonomous Administration's agricultural services are insufficient and cannot replace the government's support system that prevailed due to several factors, including:
Lack of specialized technical cadres and scientific expertise in its departments due to immigration and a high cost of living that does not cover the needs of its researchers.
A failure to activate agriculture research centers and make them more effective in the development of the region, as well as an absence of accurate statistics.
Weak agricultural policies and bureaucratic procedures that delay the provision of inputs and supplies to farmers, causing a crisis in some cases, such as securing diesel on time (for tractors and pumps), as well as complaints by farmers about the distribution of inputs among the various regions under administration control.
As a result of the lack of a clear strategy regarding the strategic stockpile (where wheat types are exported and wheat and flour are imported) and the failure to take the necessary measures to preserve the wheat, 300,000 tons of wheat were lost following the Turkish invasion of Serikanie. In addition, there is a lack of fair distribution of agricultural inputs, which has been aggravated using fictitious licenses, the absence of agricultural quarantine, and the random entry of seed varieties without supervision.
There are no laws or regulations governing the import of agricultural pesticides.
The absence of a long-term strategic plan to meet the needs of agriculture in light of climate change.
A short-term and inexpensive solution is improving agricultural transactions: 70% of the increase in crop production is related to the quality of agricultural transactions, including planting dates, fertilizer and seed rates, planting depth, soil analyses, and agriculture cycles.
Additionally, the experts recommended that the use of modern methods that are compatible with climatic changes begin by changing the traditional approach to agriculture, for example, using high rates of seed and fertilizer, refraining from excessive water use, and adopting different varieties and alternative crops such as potatoes, as well as developing a comprehensive agricultural plan based on the status of geographical distribution. Especially in poor areas with light soil, the climate is ideal for growing fruit trees like pistachios.
With the use of modern, inexpensive, and proven technologies within the region's environment that are effective, such as conservation agriculture, they can reduce costs, reduce the number of tillages, and reduce the amount of seeds used per unit area.
Developing an agricultural plan that involves the farmer with the rest of the stakeholders and the local community since the farmer is the main concern, encouraging local groups and organizations, and promoting local participation and ensuring farmers are informed about strategies to preserve native seeds (self-sufficiency).
Assisting the Autonomous Administration with experts and strategists involved in the development of sustainable solutions. Therefore, it is crucial to take steps to develop human resources, particularly young people, and those with experience, so they can contribute more effectively to the process of development.
Setting up laws regulating the import, sale, distribution and use of pesticides, veterinary medicines, chemical and organic fertilizers, as well as opening channels with governments and relevant international organizations, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Natural resources are being overexploited in northern and eastern Syria, resulting in insufficient sustainable use, thereby adversely impacting food security and income generation. Experts have been advised to take these risks into account when developing food security interventions.