Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.23 January 2013, Damascus/Rome - Twenty-two months of conflict have left Syria's agricultural sector in tatters with cereal, fruit and vegetable production dropping for some by half and massive destruction of irrigation and other infrastructure, a UN mission has found.
The mission, from 18 to 22 January, was coordinated with both the government and the opposition and visited several affected areas in Damascus as well as in the governorates of Homs and Dara'a. The mission team was composed of emergency directors from seven UN humanitarian agencies and led by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
"The mission was struck by the plight of the Syrian people whose capacity to cope is dramatically eroded by 22 months of crisis," said Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, who participated in the mission.
"Destruction of infrastructure in all sectors is massive and it is clear that the longer the conflict will last, the longer it will take to rehabilitate it," he said.
Of the 10 million Syrians who live in rural areas - about 46 percent of the population - 80 percent derive their livelihoods from agriculture.
The mission found:
- Wheat and barley production dropped to less than 2 million tonnes last year from 4 to 4.5 million tonnes in normal years.
- Vegetable, fruit and olive production declined significantly in both Homs and Dara'a Governorates, including a 60 percent drop in vegetable production in Homs and a 40 percent drop in olive oil production in Dara'a.
- Only 45 percent of the farmers were able to fully harvest their cereal crops while 14 percent reported they could not harvest due to insecurity and lack of fuel.
- There is a lack of access to agricultural inputs including quality seeds and fertilizers.
- There is a lack of irrigation due to damage to main irrigation canals especially in Homs and lack of fuel for irrigation pumps.
- Movement of livestock to grazing areas has not been possible and their survival is compromised by the lack of animal feed and veterinary drugs, the importation of which is hampered by sanctions.
- The production of poultry, a traditional source of cheap animal protein has also been severely hit with major farms destroyed in Homs, Hama and Idleb.
"It is clear from discussions with NGOs and technical officers of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, that security conditions permitting, agriculture has a huge role to play in helping people to stay on their land and generate income to cope with their most urgent needs," said Burgeon. "They however need urgent agricultural support in terms of seeds, fertilizers, animal feed, veterinary drugs, poultry and rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure."
Collection, analysis and dissemination of food security information are a key component of FAO's future work.
FAO is committed to significantly increase its support to the Syrian people and requires donor support in the context of the food component of the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP), which remains critically underfunded.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will chair a high-level International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait City on 30 January.