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Country Briefs

  Syrian Arab Republic

Reference Date: 15-November-2016


  1. Below average 2016 cereal harvest as combination of inconsistent precipitation and ongoing conflict

  2. Food security situation severely impacted by prolonged conflict, especially for most vulnerable groups

  3. About 9.4 million people require continued food assistance

  4. Provision of assistance to agricultural sector, including crops and livestock, essential to protect livelihoods and prevent further deterioration of the sector

Timely rain improves soil moisture for early planting of 2017 cereal winter crops

Land preparation and early sowing of the winter wheat and barley crops, for harvest from May 2017, is currently underway. Moderate but timely precipitation in early November 2016 improved soil moisture across the country.

However, the ongoing conflict and lack of inputs (such as improved seeds, fertilizers and fuel), damage to agricultural machinery, irrigation systems and storage facilities, together with disruptions in electricity supplies, continue to seriously hamper agricultural production prospects.

Below-average cereal harvest in 2016

The harvesting of the 2015/16 winter wheat and barley crops finished in early July. While weather conditions remained relatively favourable for land preparation and planting, precipitation for the rest of the season was inconsistent across the country. The main growing area of the Hasakeh Governorate in the east of the country, received above average levels of rain. Large patches of crop land in Aleppo, Idleb and Homs governorates were affected by drought.

The area planted with cereals in the 2015/16 cropping season has been the smallest on record: an estimated 900 000 hectares were planted with wheat and 665 000 hectares with barley. For comparison in 2011, before the start of the conflict, over 1.5 million hectares were cultivated with wheat and 1.3 million hectares with barley.

A joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) was conducted in June 2016. The Mission estimated the 2016 wheat harvest at about 1.5 million tonnes, some 37 percent lower than the relatively favourable harvest of 2015 and approximately 55 percent lower than the pre‑conflict average (2007‑2011). Being predominantly rainfed and more resilient than wheat, barley production was estimated at 877 000 tonnes, almost 10 percent lower than the record crop of the last year, but about onequarter higher than the pre-conflict average (2007-2011).

The livestock sector, once important in the Syrian Arab Republic’s domestic economy and in its external trade, has suffered very substantially since 2011 with reductions in terms of herd and flock numbers of over 30 percent for cattle and over 40 percent for sheep and goats. By contrast, the poultry sector, the main and most affordable source of protein of animal origin, has shrunk by 60 percent mostly due to unavailability of poultry feed at affordable costs. Pasture availability and access have been affected by the lack of precipitation and widespread insecurity. Livestock feed has become increasingly expensive, particularly in the areas with high concentration of internally displaced persons who moved with their herds.

Producers, transporters and traders are facing increasing transaction costs and security risks that, combined with transportation bottlenecks, led to a build‑up of cereals and increased wastage of fruits and vegetables in production areas, while urban centres often remain undersupplied.

Over the last 12 months, prices of agricultural and livestock products increased. However, the upward pressure of tight supplies was partly offset by the low purchasing power which depressed demand. Consequently, prices of final products increased at slower rates compared to prices of productive inputs which soared due to the economic sanctions, market disruptions and the declining value of the Syrian Pound. As a result, farmers have incurred heavy losses.

Imports in 2016/17 stable compared to previous year but remain below pre‑conflict average

The Syrian Arab Republic normally relies heavily on food imports, amounting to almost half of the total domestic utilization. Overall, at 2.9 million tonnes, the cereal import requirement is expected to decrease slightly in the current 2016/17 marketing year (July/June) compared to the previous year. Of this, the wheat import requirement is tentatively forecast at about 1.7 million tonnes. The forecasted cereal import requirement (wheat and barley) is significantly below the pre‑conflict level of 3.4 million tonnes (2004‑2012 average).

Economic prospects deteriorating

The GDP in 2015 contracted by 5.3 percent and an additional contraction by 3.3 percent is forecast in 2016. Inflation in 2015 surged to about 38 percent reflecting general shortages and cuts in fuel and some food subsidies. The unemployment rate is estimated at about 50 percent (although precise statistics are missing), up from about 10 percent at the beginning of the conflict. The Syrian Pound continued to depreciate in 2016: between January and mid-August, moving from SYP 395 to SYP 530 per USD.

Localized shortages and the weakening currency are likely to put additional upward pressure on inflation resulting in a further deterioration of purchasing power and food security conditions of poor households.

After a sustained increasing trend which started in early 2015, prices of wheat flour declined in several key markets by 12-15 percent in June 2016 due to newly-harvested crops or food assistance airdrops in some besieged areas that increased supplies and also a temporary stabilization of the exchange rate and general inflation. However, wheat prices in June 2016 were still between 40 and 50 percent higher than 12 months earlier. Prices of cattle, sheep, goats and chicken approximately doubled between 2015 and 2016 in the markets located in both Government-controlled and rebel-controlled areas.

About 9.4 million people in need of food assistance

As of June 2016, about 9.4 million Syrians were estimated to be in need of food assistance, up 8 percent from September 2015. The rate of the increase is most notable in Quneitra, Dara’a, Damascus, Idleb and Aleppo governorates, which have experienced new displacement and worsening food access conditions. As of August 2016, food insecurity conditions were especially acute for an estimated 592 000 people living in 18 besieged and hard-to-reach areas, where food supplies are extremely limited and the population largely relies on food assistance.

As of September 2016, almost 4.8 million refugees are registered in the region covering Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In addition, a large share of the population lives abroad without seeking refugee registration.