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News Syria: Drought blamed for food scarcity

Two years of drought has left many farmers and herders without an income and has severely limited cereal production in Syria, pushing up local food prices and putting pressure on basic food supplies, according to UN and Syrian government officials.

In 2008, Syria had to import wheat for the first time after a shortage caused by a second year of drought, which the Syrian government says has affected about a million people so far. Emergency wheat stocks have been depleted though adequate supplies remain.

“There is still enough food in Syria to go round,” Abdullah, Public Information Officer for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Syria, said. “But we are worried about the provision of basic materials. It is a dangerous indicator for Syria that last year we had to import wheat.”

Syria usually keeps three years’ worth of wheat stocks, Abdullah said, but in 2008 it agreed to sell supplies to countries struggling with a lack of food, including Egypt and Tunisia. 

Syria is usually self-sufficient in providing food for its 21.6 million population. UN agencies warn that the country could become more food insecure if rainfall over the next two months remains as low as it has been at the start of 2009.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculates that wheat production in non-irrigated areas of Syria dropped by 82 percent compared with the previous season, while the barley harvest in non-irrigated areas failed entirely. Overall wheat and barley yields dropped by 47 and 67 percent respectively compared to the previous year, said the FAO.

Because of a high level of subsistence farming in Syria, many families have lost not just their income, but their means of feeding themselves. “Many farmers’ crops failed entirely,” Abdulla Tahir Bin Yehia, FAO representative in Syria, said. “It hits them very hard. No crop means no income. And on top of that they need to buy food and seeds which are at higher prices because of the crop failure.”

A drought appeal was launched by UN agencies in Syria in September 2008. A US$1.8 million emergency operation by the FAO identified 9,630 farmers to receive 300kg of wheat seeds or 150kg of barley seeds – enough for each farmer to plant a two-hectare crop. These were distributed in December and January.

It also helped stall migration. “Many farmers came back to the villages when they heard they were eligible for seeds,” Bin Yehia of FAO said. “It is imperative to future food security that they do not give up farming.”

The joint FAO-WFP response continues until May 2009. But if rainfall continues to be low, a new appeal will be launched. 

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News type Inbrief
File link
Source of information IRIN News
Keyword(s) drought, food scarcity
Relation countries/fol749974/country598874
Geographical coverage Syria,
News date 22/02/2009
Working language(s) ENGLISH