War-ravaged Syria’s wheat production ‘lowest in 50 years’

07 January 20223 min reading

Syria's wheat production reached its lowest level in 50 years due to a combination of drought, increasing costs, and worsening economic conditions, a UN report said.

A UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)  annual report on food production in Syria showed a decline across the board in 2021. The FAO said that "immediate action is required to support the agricultural sector" for its next season.

Despite the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) dubbing 2021 "wheat year", production declined by 63 percent with a yield of 1.05 million tonnes, compared to 2.8 million in 2020. This is just a quarter of Syria's pre-war wheat production and far below the amount needed to satisfy domestic demand for cereal products like bread. Before the war, Syria produced around 3.5 million tons of wheat on average, enough to satisfy local demand and usually permit substantial exports, thanks in part to irrigation from the Euphrates River that waters its vast eastern desert.

The decline in agriculture production comes as Syria suffers from famine-like conditions in parts of the country with over 12.4 million people "food insecure" and around 90 percent of the population living in poverty. Besides rising prices, the country suffers from severe food shortages and government-run stores meant to provide subsidised goods are often empty.

The cost of the average food basket is about 174,000 Syrian pounds ($54), while the country’s monthly minimum wage is just 71,515 pounds ($22). This year, the production of cereals such as wheat and barley - staple foodstuffs for impoverished Syrians - particularly suffered. 

Syria's agricultural sector has suffered a range of factors hitting farmers, chief among them, drought. This summer saw a punishing drought across the eastern Mediterranean, with rivers and dams drying up in the scorching summer heat. Not only was this year's rainfall lower than the historical average, but the timing of rainfall was also "unusual" - a continual trend as climate change takes effect in Syria. Local farmers said that the rainy season was starting later and ending earlier. Rivers - most notably the Euphrates - slowed to a trickle as Syria's upstream neighbours used their dams liberally.

Temperatures have also become irregular in Syria, with higher than average temperatures during the day and lower-than-average at night. As a result, just over half of the wheat planted in Syria was harvested, compared to last year, where virtually all of the planted wheat was harvested. Barley, another staple cereal crop, stood at just 10 percent of 2020’s harvest levels.

With the year's dreary harvest, Syria is left with a wheat deficit of almost two million tons. In the past, Damascus has attempted to stem this ever-widening deficit with wheat imports - mainly from Russia. Russia has reportedly exported a million tons of wheat to Syria in 2021, an increase from last year when Moscow halted some exports over Covid-driven supply chain concerns.

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