Fighting in Syria has caused huge damage and losses to agricultural production, but the sector can and should be kick-started now, dramatically reducing the need for humanitarian aid and migration, according to a new FAO report published today ahead of an international conference on Syria’s future in Brussels.
In addition to the severe human suffering, the conflict has caused more than $16 billion of lost crop and livestock production and destroyed farming assets.
The report, Counting the Cost: Agriculture in Syria after six years of crisis, presents the first comprehensive nationwide assessment of the damage of the war on the agriculture sector. The assessment included surveys of more than 3 500 households across Syria, interviews with more than 380 community groups and analysis of primary and secondary agricultural data.
“The survey shows that in the midst of conflict, agriculture provides a lifeline for the millions of Syrians, including internally displaced people, still living in rural areas,” said José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General.
“Ramping up investment in the recovery of the agriculture sector could dramatically reduce the need for humanitarian aid. It could also have a significant impact on stemming the flow of migrants,” he added.
Farming support impacts migration flows
Around 95 percent of communities surveyed felt that if they were assisted with even basic agricultural support such as seeds, fertilizers and fuel to power irrigation pumps, it would reduce the number of people abandoning rural areas to find opportunities elsewhere, and also encourage the return of migrants and internally displaced people.
Other main findings are:
Over 75 percent of households in rural areas still grow food for their own consumption, even if at a very reduced scale.
About 60 percent of households reported that a lack of fertilizers was a critical production constraint for crops such as wheat, barley, legumes and pulses. A lack of fuel, outbreaks of pests and diseases, and destruction of irrigation systems and water points for livestock were also listed as important constraints.
Since 2011, household livestock ownership has plummeted, down by 57 percent for cattle, 52 percent for sheep, 48 percent for goats and 47 percent for poultry.
The proportion of income spent on food has soared as incomes and household food production have decreased, while food prices have increased dramatically. Before the crisis about 25 percent of households would spend over half their annual income on food; by the time of the survey in September 2016, 90 percent of households were spending more than half of their annual income on food.
Less than half of the 2011 rural population still lived in rural areas in 2016.
Crop production and livestock suffer huge losses
Of the $16 billion total bill, the cost of damage to assets – such as tractors, machinery, commercial farms, veterinary clinics, animal sheds, greenhouses, irrigation systems and processing facilities – is estimated at over $3 billion, though this number is likely to rise significantly when the full extent of damages in the main conflict areas can be better assessed.
About $6.3 billion of the total is made up of damage and loss in crop production. In the livestock sector, damage and loss was calculated at around $5.5 billion, and in the fisheries sector the estimate is almost $80 million.
Rebooting food production
The initial cost of rebuilding the agriculture sector over a three-year period is estimated at between $10.7 and $17.1 billion in total, depending on whether there is no change in the conflict, a partial return to peace or a full return to peace. The report outlines a response plan under each of these possible scenarios, including addressing underlying issues such as sustainable water use for irrigation.
Rural households are very clear about what they require to resume or boost their agricultural production. Basic supplies such as fertilizer, seeds and veterinary medicine for livestock are urgently needed. After those needs have been met, emphasis should shift to credit, processing and marketing support, and repairing critical assets such as irrigation infrastructure.
Despite the potential of agriculture to address mounting food availability and access constraints, very little has been invested to save and protect agriculture-based livelihoods during the six-year conflict and support recovery of the sector. The report states that if productive farming areas continue to be neglected, more people will be forced to leave rural areas and Syria will be in danger of emerging from the conflict as a country with its commercial food production and agricultural base on the verge of collapse.
The assessment took place in August and September 2016. The focus groups and surveyed households were drawn from every district in the country and included men and women.
Since 2011, FAO has supported the livelihoods and food and nutrition security of more than 2.4 million Syrians in rural and peri-urban areas of Aleppo, Al-Hassakeh, Dara’a, Deir-ez-Zor, Hama, Homs, Idleb, Rural Damascus, Sweida and Quinetra.