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Country Briefs

  Syrian Arab Republic

Reference Date: 05-May-2016


  1. Ongoing conflict seriously weakens agricultural productive capacity, despite overall favourable weather conditions

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

  3. Millions of people, both internally‑displaced and refugees in neighbouring countries, require continued humanitarian assistance

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

Mixed crop prospects

Planting of the 2016 winter wheat and barley crops for harvest from mid‑May 2016 finished in mid‑January. Weather conditions remained relatively favourable for land preparation and planting. Data provided by the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform indicate that some 1.03 million hectares (of which 430 000 were irrigated and 600 000 rainfed) were planted by wheat, while 1.13 million hectares (over 95 percent rainfed) were planted by barley. For comparison in 2011, over 1.5 million hectares were cultivated with wheat and 1.3 million hectares with barley.

Precipitation during and following the planting season has been inconsistent across the country. The main growing area of Hassakeh in the east of the country received above average levels of rain and the remotely‑sensed NDVI data is suggesting satisfactory crop development. Almost half of the 2016 wheat planted area is in Hassakeh.

Current prospects are less good in Aleppo, Idlib and Homs where the cumulative precipitation is well below average and the NDVI slightly below average. The temperatures have been higher than average, diminishing water moisture. In those provinces, the Agricultural Stress Index is showing that large patches of crop land are currently affected by drought.

In addition, 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, continued to seriously hamper agricultural production.

Below-average cereal harvest in 2015 despite favourable weather conditions

The harvesting of the 2015 winter wheat and barley crops finished in early July. A joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) was conducted in May 2015. The Mission estimated the 2015 wheat harvest at 2.445 million tonnes, some 30 percent higher than the very poor harvest of 2014, but approximately 40 percent lower than the pre‑conflict average (2002‑2011). Being predominantly rainfed, barley production, at 968 000 tonnes, was the highest since 2006 despite the fact that it came from the smallest area during that period.

The livestock sector, once important in the Syrian Arab Republic’s domestic economy and in its external trade, has suffered substantially since 2011 with reductions in terms of herd and flock numbers of 30 percent for cattle and 40 percent for sheep and goats, while the poultry stock, the main and most affordable source of protein of animal origin, has shrunk by 50 percent. The veterinary service is running out of vaccines and routine drugs.

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

Imports in 2015/16 increasing 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 3.2 million tonnes, the cereal import requirement is expected to increase slightly in the current 2015/16 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).

Price increases of subsidized items resulted in higher inflation

Inflation surged in the first eight months of 2015 (last available information), to over 35 percent, reflecting major cuts in price subsidies for fuel and foodstuffs. In January 2015, the Government introduced price increases for subsidized items. On average, prices of bread increased by 40 percent, with a package of slightly over 1 kg selling for SYP 35 (USD 0.16), as of late March 2015 (latest information available). Prices of butane gas increased from SYP 1 100 to SYP 1 500 per litre, while the price of 1 litre of diesel for transportation purposes increased from SYP 85 to SYP 125 and for domestic household use from SYP 85 to SYP 140.

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.

Reports also indicate that in an effort to reduce the cost of the bread subsidy programme, the Government changed the extraction rate of flour used in bread, introducing more bran. In an effort to mitigate the impact of the higher food prices, a new monthly allowance of SYP 4 000 (USD 18) was introduced for all recipients of state salaries and retirees.

Overall, unemployment stood at 57 percent as of the fourth quarter of 2014, compared to 10 percent in 2011 and up from 49 percent in the first quarter of 2014. Casual labour markets are reeling in conflict‑affected zones.

Overall, households spend 55 percent of their income on food compared to 45‑47 percent in 2011 and even less previously. People allocate more than two‑thirds of their income to food in Dara’a, Sweida, Aleppo and Hama, where households are prioritizing food purchases over other basic needs.

About 13.5 million people in need of urgent assistance, out of which 8.7 million in need of food security related assistance

In the Syrian Arab Republic, approximately 13.5 million people continue to be in need of urgent humanitarian assistance within the country, including more than 6.5 million people who are internally displaced. Over 1.2 million people have been displaced so far this year, many for the second or third time. Around 4.5 million people reside in areas categorized as hard to reach. Out of the 13.5 million in need of assistance, some 8.7 million are in need of food security assistance.

As of early April 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. An average of 6 million people are reached monthly with food assistance (in kind and Cash/Voucher) and 880 000 people are reached with agriculture/livelihood support. Still, one of three people are unable to meet their basic food needs, with an estimated 8.7 million people in need of a range of food security related assistance.

The financial requirement of the food and agriculture sector is estimated at USD 1.2 billion (same as in 2015) to assist 7.5 million people with food‑related assistance and 4.3 million people with livelihoods‑related assistance. The main proposed livelihoods activities are cereal and legume seeds, vegetable and poultry production, vaccination and treatment of animals.