FAO GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE
WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME

SPECIAL REPORT : FAO/WFP CROP AND FOOD SUPPLY ASSESSMENT MISSION TO THE SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC

23 August 1999

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Mission Highlights

  • As with other countries in the region, worst drought since 1959 devastates agricultural and livestock production.

  • Rainfall in key agricultural areas between 25 and 67 percent below normal.

  • 1998/99 wheat production estimated at 2.74 million, 33 percent down on 1998, while barley output fell to 380 000 tonnes, 61 percent below last year.

  • No wheat imports envisaged but over a million tonnes of barley imports will be necessary to meet minimal feed requirements.

  • Nomadic herders particularly hard hit as incomes fall sharply and vulnerability to food shortages increases dramatically.

  • 329 000 people most at risk, urgently need 23 700 tonnes of emergency food assistance to cover basic food needs for six months.

  • International assistance is also needed to support Government efforts to replenish the National Fodder Fund.

 

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1. OVERVIEW

As part of a wider regional weather phenomenon which has affected a number of countries in the Near East, the worst drought in four decades has seriously affected crop and livestock production in Syria. This, in turn, has had serious repercussions on the food security of a large segment of the population as incomes have fallen sharply. Although the Government has made extensive efforts to reduce the effects of the drought, especially on herders by providing extra resources, feed rations, water and veterinary supplies, the scale and severity of the problem is such that these measures have not been sufficient. Consequently, humanitarian concerns have, and are, emerging that require urgent international assistance.

In response to a Government request in mid June, an FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited the country from 20 July to 2 August to assess the impact of the drought and review agricultural and food supply prospects for the next year. The Mission's findings are based on discussions with Government Ministries and Departments, UN and bilateral agencies based in the country, and on extensive field visits to a number of affected areas and populations. These include the Badia rangelands and the provinces of Dair Ez Zor, Al Hassake, Al Raqqua, Aleppo, Hama and Homs.

The Mission found that rainfall, the principal source of water for food production and essential for maintaining irrigation reserves, was between 25 and 67 percent below normal in various agro-climatic zones last season (October - March). Consequently, rainfed agriculture, particularly in zones III and IV, and vegetation in the Badia grazing lands were severely affected. As a result, barley production, which is almost entirely rainfed, is estimated at 380 000 tonnes this year, around 72 percent below the previous five-year average and 61 percent lower than last year. As 40 percent of wheat is irrigated, the impact of the drought was less severe, but still significant. Production fell to 2.74 million tonnes, 33 percent lower than last year's bumper crop and around 28 percent below average.

In the Badia region, 33 millimetres (mm) of rain were received during the season compared to 200 mm normally. The shortfall had a devastating effect on range vegetation which is crucial in the annual feed cycle of sheep, providing up to 140 days of grazing or a biomass equivalent to around a million tonnes of barley. The availability of feed from grain and crop residues also fell sharply due to the drop in agricultural production, especially in rainfed areas. The drastic fall in feed has led to widespread under-nutrition in the sheep population, resulting in a significant increase in mortality of both adult and offspring, which in turn has reduced household incomes significantly. As a consequence, a large number of the Badia population are seriously vulnerable to food shortages.

From a national perspective, additional wheat imports are not envisaged in the 1999/2000 marketing year. Domestic consumption and utilisation requirements estimated at 3.8 million tonnes can be met from current production and existing stocks. In the case of barley, however, significant imports will be needed to compensate for the loss of feed and forage. Allowing for minimal stocks held by the Government and traders, the barley import requirement for the 1999/2000 marketing year (July/June) is estimated at around 1.18 million tonnes to cover the shortfall in requirements for sheep and other utilisation needs. This amount is the minimum required just to maintain the sheep and goat population physiologically over the next year, and is based on the assumption that feeds from bran, straw and cotton hulls would be available from other sources.

In view of economic slowdown, largely due to declining world oil prices in recent years, and the significant increase in extra-budgetary expenditures that have had to be incurred already this year to counter the effects of drought, it is estimated that the Government will be able to import only 200 000 tonnes1, leaving an uncovered deficit of 980 000 tonnes. This year, private sector imports of barley have been authorized as part of an emergency measure; however, the quantity imported so far has been low as there is little incentive for traders given the poor state of the sheep industry, which faces reduced effective demand as a result of the fall in the purchasing power of herders. Therefore, only limited quantities are anticipated to be imported commercially.

The 1998/99 drought has serious implications for food security over the next year, especially for nomadic herders in the Badia region (zone V). The herders have suffered a dramatic fall in incomes, are rapidly liquidating assets and have limited coping strategies, such as alternative employment opportunities. The Mission estimates that approximately 47 000 nomadic households (329 000 people) are the most vulnerable to food shortages and need urgent food assistance. It is recommended that 23 700 tonnes of wheat flour be provided as emergency food assistance for six months. The emergency assistance needs to be mobilised urgently to sustain the most affected households through the difficult months ahead and to reduce the risk of further deterioration in living standards.

There is also a need for international assistance to support Government efforts to replenish the National Fodder Fund which is almost depleted. The assistance can be in the form of budgetary support or bilateral programmes and concessional imports of barley or other types of feed.

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2. THE ECONOMY 2/

2/ Source: The Economist Intelligence Unit annual and quarterly reports

Historically, agriculture has provided the main impetus to economic activity in the country. However in more recent years, oil, gas and manufacturing have gained significantly in importance. Nevertheless, the agriculture sector continues to dominate economic activity, providing the largest share (around 26 percent) to GDP, and employment. The sector also employs the largest share of the female work force.

Cotton is an important export commodity, which was the principal export earner before oil. Presently, however, cotton accounts for only 6 percent of total export earnings. Other revenue crops include sugarbeet and tobacco. Most of the country's 5.5 million hectares cultivated is for the production of wheat and barley. Of the total cultivated area, around 25 percent is irrigated and the rest rainfed. The dominance of rainfed agriculture and limited irrigation capacity to counter dry years, inevitably mean that production is highly vulnerable to climatic variations, as in 1998/99. Although Government intervention in the cotton and cereal markets remains strong, various measures have been introduced this year due to the drought, to encourage greater private sector involvement, including relaxation of import duties and authorization to import barley and soft wheat.

Syria has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, averaging some 3.3 percent per year, which is putting increasing pressure on scarce resources, especially in agriculture which is highly dependent on rainfall and limited irrigation water. Moreover, the ratio of dependants to those employed is very high as a large proportion of the population are young. Official estimates put the mid year population in 1998 at some 17 million, with most concentrated between the main urban centres of Damascus, the capital, Aleppo to the north and in coastal areas. However, it is estimated that around half the population are rural. There is also considerable rural/urban migration and a large number of nationals work abroad, mainly in the gulf states. Remittances from such workers have been important for economic growth, but have been declining in recent years as the numbers employed have fallen since the gulf war in 1990. Approximately 30 percent of the labour force, of around 4.3 million people, are engaged in agriculture.

Growth in the early part of the 1990s was rapid, averaging around 7 percent per year (1990-1996), which led to sustained improvement in per caput income levels. To a large extent, economic performance came from rapidly rising oil revenues at a time of increasing world prices. During this time, the country also benefited from financial assistance from other gulf countries. Conditions in more recent years, however, have been less conducive, resulting in slower rates of growth. Since 1997, the rate of economic growth has been slowing and prospects of recovery are less assured due to debts and falling oil reserves.

Syria is a low income food deficit country and faces deepening economic recession. It is estimated that the collapse in world oil prices last year reduced the value of oil exports by around 35 percent, whilst overall earnings in 1998 were some 30 percent lower than 1997. Moreover, the effect of falling oil prices has been exacerbated by gradual decline in aggregate production. This will have serious adverse effects on a number of sectors and services currently provided either free or at subsidised rates. Principal among these are free education and health and subsidized medicines and basic food items like bread and sugar. The difficulties of providing such services, in the wake of falling revenues, are greatly accentuated by the rapidly growing population which adds an estimated 500 000 people a year to the total population and 140 000 to those seeking employment. Economic problems this year will be seriously aggravated by the drought and the consequent fall in agricultural production.

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3. THE AGRICULTURE SECTOR

3.1 Land Use

There are approximately 6 million hectares of land that are potentially cultivable of which around 5.5 million hectares are actually utilised. In 1998, cultivation was around 4.9 million hectares of which approximately 3.7 million hectares (76 percent) were rainfed and 1.2 million hectares (24 percent) irrigated. Normally, irrigation is only used to supplement rainfall, but this year, due to the drought, irrigation supplies were the main source of water.

Equally important are 8.3 million hectares of rangeland and pasture in the Badia region, where most of the country's nomadic herders and the sheep population are located. The drought this year devastated Badia vegetation which is extremely important in the feed cycle of sheep.

The country is divided into five distinct agroclimatic zones based on the level of annual precipitation received. These are:

3.2 Rainfall and Temperature

It is estimated that rainfall contributes almost 70 percent of the available water in the country. It is also extremely important in replenishing ground water aquifers, rivers and springs which are the main sources of crop irrigation. In normal years, rainfall is concentrated in winter months, with most falling in the four months from December to March. The period from October to March constitutes the main agricultural season, during which most food crops are cultivated. The summer months from May/June to September are dry and hot particularly in eastern parts.

Cropping systems and production are highly influenced by the intensity and distribution of rainfall in any given year. In rainfed areas the main crops are cereals and pulses. Areas with comparatively high precipitation are cropped with wheat and legumes while barley and wheat are grown in areas with less favourable rainfall. In zones III and IV, which are low rainfall areas, only barley is cultivated.

The 1998/99 agricultural season was seriously affected by drought, with the level of rainfall received the lowest in four decades. In addition to a delay of more than a month in the onset of rains, the season also stopped early in most areas. The areas worst affected were in east/north east and the south. In contrast, coastal areas fared much better, with rainfall exceeding the annual norm. Overall, the relative decline in rainfall during the 1998/99 season compared to the average from 1989 to 1998, ranged from 25 percent lower in zone I, to 50 percent and 67 percent respectively in zones IV and V (Fig 1). However, even in zone I which appears to be relatively less affected by the decline in rainfall, there were large differences in distribution between areas, which meant that the effect on production was more pronounced than indicated by the level of decline.

Temperatures were about average for most of the season, but were between 1-2°C above average in March. In the north-eastern region temperatures during May and June were 3-4 degrees above average during various periods, which partially affected wheat yields in irrigated areas. In general, however, although abnormal temperatures affected productivity in parts, the damage overall was not significant.


1998/99 Rainfal compared to the Average
Source: Department of Meteorology

 

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4. 1998/99 CEREAL PRODUCTION.

4.1 The Impact of Drought

The 1998/99 drought devastated rainfed agriculture, particularly in zones III and IV, and vegetation in the Badia rangelands. Of the total rainfed cultivation of around 3.7 million hectares some 3 million hectares were under cereals and legumes (including 933 000 hectares of wheat, 1.4 million hectares of barley, 147 000 hectares of lentil and 48 000 hectares of chickpeas). The remaining areas were under an assortment of summer and winter fodder crops.

4.2 Wheat

Wheat is mainly grown under irrigation or in areas of relatively high rainfall in zones I, II and III. Although the drought seriously reduced productivity and overall output this year, the crop was relatively less affected than barley, as around 40 percent is irrigated. Nevertheless, even under irrigation, yields declined as the level of irrigation, which is normally used to supplement rainfall, was insufficient to compensate for the reduction in the availability of water. Government estimates indicate that average wheat yields in rainfed areas ranged between 15 and 46 percent of the long term average (Table1).

Table 1. 1999 Rainfed wheat yields compared to the long term average.

Yield (kg/ha)
Zone I
Zone II
Zone III
Five year average
2 021
1 093
606
1998/99 season average
938
398
92
1998/99 yield as a percentage (%) of long term average.
46
36
15

Source: Department of Agricultural Statistics

The effects of the drought varied considerably between regions with those in the south and north-east most seriously affected. Average zone I yields in Dera and Hassake, for example, which were worst affected, were 400 and 199 kg/ha respectively compared to 2007 kg/ha in Aleppo and 953 kg/ha in the midland region. Specifically for rainfed wheat, the average yield in zone I in Dera was around a quarter of the long term average of 1500 kg/ha, whilst in zones II and III there was virtually no production.

As a result of the drought, rainfed wheat production is estimated at around 588 000 tonnes, some 64 percent below last year and 38 percent of the long term average of 1.52 million tonnes. In addition, irrigated wheat production is anticipated to decline by around 13 percent from 2.48 million tonnes in 1998 to 2.15 million tonnes this year. Total 1999 wheat production, therefore, is estimated at 2.74 million tonnes, 33 percent lower than last year's bumper crop and around 28 percent below average (Figure 2).

Wheat production 1990-1999
Source: Department of Agricultural Statistics

4.3 Barley

Barley production is almost entirely rainfed, principally in low rainfall areas located in zones II, III and IV. In the 1998/99 season, around 1.4 million hectares were planted to barley. Yields fell sharply, ranging from zero to approximately 600 kg/ha (Table 2).

Table 2. 1999 Barley yields compared to the long term average.

Yield Kg/ha
Zone II
Zone III
Zone IV
Five year average
788
373
329
1998/99 season average
585
117
-
1998/99 yield as a percentage (%) of long term average.
74
31
0

Source: Department of Agricultural Statistics

Again the effects of the drought varied, with productivity most seriously affected in the southern and north eastern regions and less so in the midland and northern regions. In Dera, for example, no barley was grown in zone I, whilst the crop failed in zones II, III, IV.

Total 1999 barley production is estimated at 380 000 tonnes, some 72 percent lower than the five year average and 61 percent lower than last year. As Figure 3 below indicates, barley production in Syria expanded during the period 1990-1996, mainly reflecting the Government's drive for self-sufficiency through increasing production targets. In 1997, however, below-normal rainfall resulted in a sharp decline, after which some recovery was registered in 1998. Rising barley production turned the country from a net importer prior to 1993 to a net exporter from 1993 to 1996. The country slipped back to being a net importer in 1997 and 1998. The sharp decline in production this year has widened the domestic supply gap, leading to an increase in import requirements.

Barley Production imports & exports

Source: FAO

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5. LIVESTOCK

Livestock is an important sector, providing employment to approximately 20 percent of the workforce and is the main source of income and livelihood for Bedouin herders. The total number of animals is estimated at around 15 million sheep, 1.2 million goats, approximately 900 000 head of cattle and a sizeable poultry population, which is also an important income earner. Cattle and poultry are largely fed on domestically produced maize and barley and imported grains and concentrates. Imported soya bean and fish and meat meal are also utilised by the poultry sector. In normal years the country is self-sufficient in meat.

5.1 Range land

The area of range land is estimated at 8.3 million hectares, located in zone V, which receives 200 mm or less of rainfall per annum. In normal years, vegetation from this area provides approximately 140 days of grazing or around 1.7 million tonnes of biomass or 990 000 tonnes of barley equivalent. This contributes 60 percent of the annual feed needs in the region.

5.2 The feed cycle

In general, from around October to January/February, sheep are fed on a feed ration procured at subsidised prices from the Fodder Establishment through the National Fodder (revolving) Fund. At this time, some feed may also be procured from the free market. At the end of the rainy season, from March to May sheep are grazed on range vegetation. In May/June, herds are moved to irrigated and rainfed agricultural areas (zones I to IV), to graze on residues of barley, wheat, sugar beet, cotton, maize and vegetable. They are also grazed on range lands in the coastal mountains. The estimated ratio of range to sheep is less than one hectare, providing around 165 kg of dry biomass.

5.3 The impact of drought

The drought has had several effects on the feeding regime: (i) low rainfall in the Badia has curtailed replenishment of range vegetation, sharply reducing feed availability, (ii) rainfed barley production has declined sharply, and (iii) availability of crop residues has also declined significantly as a result of the fall in crop production.

The Mission estimates that, as a result, the availability of herbage from range vegetation in 1998/99 was almost nil, compared to 165 kg of dry herbage/ha (94 kg of barley equivalent), in normal years. In addition, it is estimated that drought in rainfed areas reduced the availability of stover from an average of around 4.8 tonnes/ha in normal years to about 1.7 tonnes/ha this year, a decline of around 64 percent.

The shortage of range forage and other feeds particularly last December/January when a large proportion of ewes are normally in advanced pregnancy or lambing, sharply increased the rate of animal mortality, particularly of new born lambs, and led to greater susceptibility of animals to various diseases. Consequently, the 1998/99 mortality rate of mature females is estimated at approximately 10 percent of the herd, compared to 3 percent in normal years. The comparable mortality rate for lambs was 25 percent compared to 4 percent normally. Disease and shortage of feed have resulted in a sharp fall in sheep prices, from around 4 000 SP a year ago to around 600-800 SP at the time of the Mission in July this year.

The sharp decline in income from sales of sheep and sheep products has left a large proportion of nomadic herders facing financial ruin. Table 3 shows the sharp reduction in household income from sales this year compared to normal years. The Mission estimates that a nomadic household with 100 sheep has moved from a net return of around 157 000 SP (US $ 3 400) in normal years to a negative return amounting to 112 000 SP (US$2 400) this year.

Table 3: Returns from sheep rearing 1998/99
compared to normal years
( Syrian Pounds SP)1

   
Sales
Expenditure
Net Income
Lambs
Milk
Wool
Culled sheep4
Expenditure Mainly feed
Income SP
Normal year
110 4002
60 000
4 500
15 750
33 600
157 050
1998/99
28 6003
16 400
4 220
31 500
192 650
(-111 930)

1 100 head 65 mature females and 35 replacement sheep
2 46 animals @ 30kg/head x 80 SP/kg
3 22 lambs @ 20kg/head x 65 SP /kg
4 Due to feed shortages the number of culled sheep in 1998/99 increased

The precarious financial position of large numbers of herders is a matter of deep concern as most are already in an extremely difficult situation where the health and size of flocks are decreasing rapidly and the level of debt is increasing sharply due to additional feed expenses. Most herders have virtually no income to cover food and feed expenses, whilst assets are being liquidated to cover debts. Moreover, despite tremendous Government efforts to assist herders through the provision of extra feed rations, credit, deferment of loans, supply of animal drugs and acaricides, vaccinations and water, the situation remains extremely serious and is likely to deteriorate over the next few months.

Even under an optimistic scenario where normal rainfall patterns resume this year, it will take most herders several seasons to recover from the effects of drought. Indeed, some may never be in a position to resume herding and repay loans. A reoccurrence of drought this year would be catastrophic for the nomadic population.

5.4 Government measures in response to the drought

In view of the severity of the drought the Government, through the Agriculture Council, has this year implemented a number of emergency measures, including:

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6. FOOD AND FEED SUPPLY SITUATION

The 1998/99 drought has had a devastating effect on livestock and vulnerable segments of the population, particularly nomadic herders and farmers in marginal rainfed agricultural areas. Although not all areas were equally affected (the coast, for example, fared better than north-eastern and southern regions), precipitation was sharply reduced. Moreover, rainfall was poorly distributed, too little at the time of planting and better at times when it contributed little to crop development.

The cereal supply/demand balance (wheat and barley) for the 1999 - 2000 marketing year (July/June), is estimated on the following estimates and assumptions:

The balance sheet and an estimate of import requirements for wheat and barley is indicated in Table 4.

Table 4. Syria: Cereal Balance Sheet 1999-2000
(July/June) 000 tonnes.

 
Wheat1
Barley
Total Availability
3 792
480
Production
2 740
380
Stock draw-down
1 052
100
Total Utilization
3 792
1 655
Food Use
3 256
 
Feed Use2
 
1 4783
Other uses including seed and waste
536
177
Import Requirement
-
1 175
Anticipated Government imports4
-
200
Uncovered shortfall5
-
975

1 Hard wheat produced in Syria, not including relatively small quantities of imported soft wheat.
2 Small quantities of wheat and barely may also be used for feed and food respectively, but have not been included.
3 16.2 million sheep and goats @ 250 grams/day for 365 days.
Although this amount is planned, discussion with the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that these levels of imports are unlikely due to financial constraints.
Private traders have been authorized this year to import barley; however, the quantity anticipated is small due to the extremely low effective demand of herders.
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7. EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE

7.1 Food Assistance

The Syrian steppe or Badia, covering about 55 percent of the land area spread over 9 of the country's 14 provinces and devoted exclusively to grazing, has been severely affected by the drought. Its nomadic population of 900 000 consists mainly of herders and semi-settled farmers. About half of the nomads in the Badia rely exclusively on sheep rearing for their livelihood. In general, as public and private investment activities have traditionally focused on more populated areas and higher potential agricultural zones, economic development in the Badia has been slow. The estimated GNP per capita is US$400 or 60 percent below the national average. In spite of Government efforts since the mid nineties to focus on the development of the Badia, education and health services to the nomadic population are still poor. In spite of legal obligations for children to attend primary school, illiteracy is widespread equally among men and women, school drop out rate is high and less than half of primary school age children attend class. While no disaggregated health indicators specifically for the Badia are available, the poor preventive and medical health coverage suggest that the overall health status of the nomadic population is low and below national average.

Average family size ranges between 7 and 12 members, which is considered normal or low compared to the situation of nomadic families in other Arab countries where tribal extended family systems prevail. Women headed households in the Badia represent about 3 to 5 percent of families and in most cases are integrated within an extended family system. Women in the nomadic society of the Syrian Badia play a fundamental role in the management of family affairs and related household chores and are fully engaged in most herding and farming activities. They also have main responsibilities for rearing animals, milking and hand feeding the flock and for processing milk products.

Overall, it is estimated that about 95 000 households including semi-settled nomads in remote provinces bordering the Badia have been directly affected by the drought in various degrees of severity. These include herders owning about 500 sheep and semi-settled farmers with less than 5 hectares of rainfed land. In normal years, such households produce an annual income of around 150 000- 200 000 SP (US$3 300-US$4 300), which allows them to meet food and investment needs. For herders, meat and dairy products are the main source of income, whilst for semi settled farmers barley production is also important. A relatively small proportion of income is derived from non-agricultural activities, remittances, casual labour and trading.

As a result of the drought, however, the combination of high animal mortality rates, sharply reduced income from sheep and sheep products coupled with high fodder prices has drastically reduced household incomes. Failure to meet minimum feed requirements, moreover, has resulted in distress sales of animals, the main asset, which has further depressed prices. As the situation becomes more difficult, an increasing number of herders are losing entire flocks and migrating to urban areas in search of employment. However, such opportunities are very limited in an economy hard hit by recession. As this is the beginning of a period which is likely to become increasingly difficult and as access to feed declines, it is expected that the numbers of households vulnerable to food insecurity will increase sharply in the coming months.

Problems facing women are particularly acute in the Badia. Their ability to contribute to mobilising resources to feed their families is extremely limited. The precariousness of nomadic life and the absence of social security safety nets and adequate health services aggravate their conditions and increase their vulnerability and that of their children. Undoubtedly, the majority of malnourished children are from marginal nomadic families of the Badia hardest hit by the drought. As income declines, many families are changing their food consumption patterns and reducing their caloric intake.

The situation is most serious for poorer groups of the Badia population, namely the small scale herders who rely exclusively on sheep rearing and who own less than 100 sheep (including about 50 breeding stock). They are nomads who live in remote steppe areas throughout the year and move between pastures. Their net income in normal years would range between 75 000 and 100 000 SP (1US$ = 46 Syrian Pounds), covering subsistence household needs, including food. Under current drought circumstances, the coping strategies of these herders are being stretched to the limits. Most have sold a large part of their herd at highly depressed market prices and resorted to borrowing. It is estimated that by June this year, the herders had sold over 65 percent of their herds and accumulated debts equivalent to three times their income in normal years. Nevertheless, during this period this enabled them to meet basic necessities in terms of inputs (fodder, feed, veterinary services) for the remaining livestock and to cover household food requirements.

The coming months will be critical for this group of small herders and by the next grazing period (March-April), they would have depleted their assets and would not be able to rebuild their flock in subsequent rainy seasons, let alone repay their loans. The turning point would be when herders are compelled to sell all their herd in order to procure basic food commodities for their families. A large number of these nomadic households are likely to reach that stage of desperation in the next two months.

Against substantial increases in expenditures resulting from the drought, the herder's income from livestock and related products (milk and wool) is anticipated to decline significantly. As a consequence, household food consumption patterns are likely to alter appreciably, reducing or eliminating essential protein-rich food, such as meat and dairy products from the family diet. As conditions continue to deteriorate under drought impact, herders will need to sell sheep in exchange for food commodities at unfavourable terms of trade. Although wheat flour and bread are sold at subsidised prices and are available in markets, consumers, including herders, have to pay in cash. The Mission estimates that, for the price of one sheep, a herder would get no more than 75 kg of wheat flour, compared to 400 kg in normal years.

The estimation of herders in need of food assistance takes into account the following considerations: a) nuclear families with an average of seven members; b) households in remote localities in the Badia; c) a weak and limited production base; and d) no assets other than livestock. Emergency food assistance will help targeted households to maintain a minimum diet and, to the extent possible, prevent a further depletion of assets until the next harvest.

Based on the above, the Mission estimates that approximately 47 000 nomadic families, or 329 000 persons, are the most vulnerable and food insecure and are in need of emergency food assistance. Assuming that the next cereal harvest, including barley, will be satisfactory and that nomadic households have not yet exhausted all their assets and will have natural pastures, it is estimated that emergency food assistance will be needed for a period of six months.

The 329 000 affected persons would require a total of 23 700 tonnes of wheat flour based on an individual ration of 400 grams for six months. Wheat flour, the main staple, constitutes a substantial share of the beneficiary food expenditure and has to be paid for in cash. Moreover, considering the emergency nature of the operation, the provision of one commodity would ensure prompt deliveries and cost effective logistics particularly in remote areas.

The emergency food aid needs to be mobilised urgently to sustain affected households through the difficult upcoming months. The assistance should be co-ordinated by the National Food Aid Committee (NFAC) at the State Planning Commission (SPC). The NFAC, mandated to co-ordinate all food aid related activities in the country, would facilitate food delivery activities of all concerned agencies and institutions (ports, customs, transportation, warehousing, the implementing partners, etc.). As only wheat flour is recommended for distribution, it is proposed that the government take delivery at the port and release required quantities directly to provinces. The Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) will be in charge of direct distribution. The Directorates of the Ministry in affected provinces will compile beneficiary lists according to set selection criteria, take delivery of the wheat flour in the concerned provinces, and ensure prompt and timely distributions to targeted beneficiaries. Reporting and monitoring tools should be incorporated to reflect all stages of the emergency food delivery process. Food aid will be delivered to the ports of Lattakia or Tartous and all internal transportation, handling and storage costs would be the responsibility of the Government.

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8. Programme Support for the National Fodder Fund

Although food assistance to targeted herders will be critical in the coming months, there is no doubt that in the absence of adequate feed assistance a considerably larger number of nomadic households will become vulnerable to food shortages over the next year.

Sheep are the principal asset of the Bedouin in the Badia, constituting the main source of livelihood. In addition, as the 1998/99 drought was the worst in four decades, herders were unprepared for it, with virtually no coping strategies to counter its devastating effects. As a result, most families are rapidly losing livestock either through disease, starvation or distress sales to service loans and meet basic needs.

Sheep have already been severely weakened by feed shortages over the last 8 to 10 months, with a large number of deaths and reduced production. In addition, as a result of the fall in overall agricultural production, there has been a sharp reduction in the availability of fodder crops and crop residues that are an essential part of the feed cycle. Even assuming favourable rainfall during the next rainy season from October, large volumes of supplementary feed will be needed just to maintain herds in reasonable physical condition.

The most convenient form of supplementary feed would be barley, which is less expensive and can be transported more easily than most other forms of feed. The cereal balance for 1999/2000 (Table 4) shows that approximately 1.18 million tonnes of barley will need to be imported over the next year as part of a ration of 1 kg/animal of feed, comprising crop residues, fodder and herbage.

Although the Government has authorised private sector imports of barley to meet the shortfall in feed, there is little incentive for traders to import such large volumes, as most nomadic herders have no purchasing power to procure grain from the open market. This, therefore, requires that feed be made available on loan and through credit. However, given the economic recession and the volume of extra budgetary-expenditure the Government has already had to incur in supporting sheep farmers, its financial capacity to import additional quantities of barley over the next year and to provide it on credit, is highly constrained. To safeguard the livelihood and food security of herders, therefore, there is justification for international support to the country in the provision of feed. This can be in the form of budgetary support for the National Fodder Fund3, or through bilateral programme assistance and concessional imports.

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9. Medium Term Measures

Notwithstanding the seriousness of the drought, an important lesson to be learned is the necessity of developing strategies to mitigate future drought occurrences. An incredibly large volume of research recommendations already exists, from the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), which is based in Syria, and by the National Directorate for Agricultural Research. The Government, in collaboration with ICARDA and FAO, could promote the adoption of the recommendations. Priority areas may include:

The Government also expressed interest in developing an early warning capability with assistance from FAO.

 

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required.

Abdur Rashid
Chief, GIEWS, FAO, Rome
Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495
E-mail:GIEWS1@FAO.ORG

Khaled Adly
Regional Director, OMN, WFP, Cairo, Egypt
Fax: 00202-3500-716
E-Mail: Khaled.Adly @WFP.ORG

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1 Discussions with the Ministry of Agriculture indicated that this will be difficult due to financial constraints.

2 For feed, the analysis is based on the requirements of the sheep and goat population. Although there are additional import requirements for maize and concentrate for poultry and cattle, these will be met through the private sector as in normal years.

3 The National Fodder fund is operated by the Fodder Establishment providing supplementary feed to cooperatives on credit, through a revolving fund.