Syrian Farmers are Crippled by War

Photo: UNICEF/Amer Al Shami(3BL Media/Justmeans) – The violence in Syria began in March 2011, and since then, the country has been crippled by a brutal civil war. The United Nations estimates more than 250,000 people have died. Whole swaths of farmland are off limits, crops are no long harvestable, and those farmers lucky enough to successfully harvest often find themselves turned away at security checkpoints before they can get their produce to market in city and town centers. 

Prior to the conflict, Syria was considered to be one of top global producers of tomatoes, sitting 19th place, after Tunisia, producing up to 1,163,300 tons in 2008, keeping the livelihoods of thousands of farmers across the country. But all that has changed. For those still living here, food is scarce and people are being forced to adjust to a world where nothing can be taken for granted.  

Farmers have adopted special means of keeping food on the table, but even as landholders come up with novel solutions to get by, the impact on Syrian farming has been crippling. Radical jihadists now control much of northeast Syria, where the vast majority of the country’s cereals are produced. Farmers can’t access their lands and have left their property; their machinery is gone and they have no access to seeds. While, shepherds who once grazed sheep flocks along roadsides, now fear being shot at by the soldiers and militias manning the hundreds of checkpoints. Farmers delivering food in trucks to the capital, Damascus, and other urban areas, are regularly stopped from entering cities when a security threat is expected. As a result, the food is lost and the farmers don’t get paid. 

Food prices have escalated, up to 300 percent in the case of tomatoes and bananas, and have affected farmers and consumers alike. Meat, too is expensive and the livestock production has been decimated. Poultry production has halved while beef and sheep production levels have fallen by a quarter and a third respectively. Olive oil produced in Syria’s northwest is being sold across the border in Turkey, forcing Syrians to pay inflated prices for whatever remains. While families in the southern city of Deraa, plant vegetables in their gardens, as it’s often too dangerous to leave home to go to the local market.

Agriculture here once employed half the country’s population. It will remain a main driver of the Syrian economy, as those who remain to work on the land are the backbone of Syria’s food supply. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation said earlier this year “Syria needs to produce as much food as possible itself, as aid alone cannot feed the country”. The world needs to remember that no peace is sustainable without food security. It is not about having enough to eat now, but knowing food can be sustainably produced for the future. It’s for this reason that we must not forget the Syrian farmers.

Photo CreditThe UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation