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Investing in agriculture vital for Syria’s future

Brussels conference for Syria told agriculture is a lifeline for millions of Syrians

Photo: ©FAO/Barkin Bulbul
A Syrian refugee taking part in horticulture training in Turkey. Under FAO’s regional resilience plan, FAO supports Syrian refugees in Turkey, as well as vulnerable members of host communities, to acquire agricultural skills and jobs.
25 April 2018, Rome - The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has urged countries attending an international pledging conference for Syria to invest in agriculture as an engine of stabilization and recovery.

"Despite significant setbacks, agriculture continues to sustain almost half of the food supply in Syria, serving as a lifeline for millions vulnerable Syrians. This is a powerful testimony of the resilience of the people of Syria and of the agriculture sector," FAO Deputy Director-General for Programmes Daniel Gustafson said in a statement. "Without additional assistance to the agriculture sector and to resilience programmes in rural areas, food insecurity will continue to rise as well as migration, and stability will remain elusive," he said.  

"We must address the root causes of the vulnerabilities that have contributed to exacerbating the crisis and their impacts. These include in particular the urban-rural gap in poverty and access to social services, escalating water scarcity and climate change which are drivers of massive rural unemployment and migration," Gustafson added. "While everyone recognizes the relevance of the resilience approach in responding to the Syria crisis and the imperative of bridging humanitarian and development interventions, we continue to face major funding shortfalls".

FAO is appealing for $120 million under the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for Syria and has received just one quarter of the total.

The European Union and the United Nations are co-chairing the pledging conference in Brussels (24-25 April) to mobilise humanitarian aid and to garner political support for the UN-led peace process.

Agriculture can be the engine of Syria's stabilization

Before the Syria conflict, agriculture accounted for a quarter of the country's Gross Domestic Product and was the main livelihood for almost half the population. Today, a third of the population inside Syria, or 6.5 million people, are facing acute hunger, and the conflict continues to drive the largest refugee crisis in the world.

Much of the conflict has been concentrated in Syria's main agriculture areas and the agricultural sector has been badly affected. FAO estimates total damage and losses to the sector in excess of $16 billion since the start of the conflict. Massive displacement, large-scale livestock loss, and widespread infrastructure damage have led to enormous declines in food production and record high food prices.

Despite this, many farmers are still farming - proving agriculture's resilience. Wheat production hit 2 million metric tons last year, the same in per capita terms as pre-crisis levels when Syria was regarded as a bread basket for the region. Many families are relying on their own food production including growing their own vegetables and raising livestock.

It therefore makes sense to ensure that food assistance be combined with farming and livestock support, to save livelihoods as well as lives.

FAO's work in Syria and refugee-hosting countries

FAO and its partners have delivered crucial support across the whole of Syria since the beginning of the conflict, protecting and restoring rural livelihoods in areas under the control of both the government and the opposition.

Last year alone, FAO's programmes helped farmers grow enough wheat to feed an additional 1.7 million people for a year. Through vaccination and treatment campaigns, FAO has also helped keep more than 11 million of the country's surviving livestock strong and healthy.

In 2018, FAO is supporting hungry families inside Syria to increase life-saving agricultural and livestock production. FAO is also protecting and building productive assets such as irrigation channels and restoring or creating income-generating opportunities.

In neighbouring countries, where many refugee households spend a significant proportion of their income on food, FAO is supporting sustainable food production and income and livelihood opportunities. In Jordan, where over 50 percent of Syrian refugees have poor or borderline food consumption, FAO is supporting micro-gardening and other types of food production, marketing of rural food products and employment opportunities. In Turkey, FAO is working with refugees and vulnerable members of host communities on small-scale agricultural production, income-generating activities and linking vocational training trainees with jobs.

This work cannot continue without the support of donors. So far, this work has been possible because of support from Belgium, the European Union, Germany, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the UN's Common Humanitarian Fund and Central Emergency Response Fund.    

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