FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to the Syrian Arab Republic, 5 September 2019

FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to the Syrian Arab Republic, 5 September 2019
Sep 2019
  • Security: Although pockets of active conflict are still prevalent, much of the country is now more secure than it has been for several years, and significant numbers of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have begun to return to their homes and farms. The Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform estimates that around 800 000 IDPs, mostly farmers, returned to their areas of origin in 2018. Further return estimates by UN-OCHA place IDP returns at an additional 130 000 people in the first half of 2019.
  • Crop production: Ample and well distributed rainfall in the 2018/19 agricultural season, coupled with improved security, resulted in a significant expansion of the area under cereals. The harvested wheat area (1.26 million hectares) was almost double that of 2018, but it is still 25 percent below the pre-crisis harvested wheat area (2002-2011 average). The harvested barley area (1.34 million hectares) increased by 73 percent from last year and is on par with the pre-crisis average. The yield of wheat, at 1.73 tonnes/hectare, was unexceptional as high temperatures in May had an adverse effect on grain filling, but the yield of barley, at 1.5 tonnes/hectare, was the highest for at least the last ten years. Wheat production is estimated at 2.2 million tonnes, up from 1.2 million in 2018, but still below the pre-crisis level of 4.1 million tonnes (2002-2011). At 2 million tonnes, up from 0.4 million tonnes in 2018, barley production exceeds pre-crisis levels.
  • Fires in standing cereal crops are not unusual near harvest time in the country, but this year, with high temperatures and strong winds, they were much more frequent and more intense. The Government estimates that 85 000 hectares of crops were burnt this year. Many of the fires may have been started accidentally, but there is evidence to suggest that some were started maliciously.
  • Main agricultural constraints for crop production: Farmers continue raising concerns about high production costs, high transportation costs and lack of quality inputs. Government initiatives have led to an increase in the availability of farm machinery, but overall availability remains insufficient. Some progress has been made on the rehabilitation of irrigation structures, although illegal drilling over the past years is likely to lower the underground water table in a year of average rains. High rates of wastage were reported in fruit and vegetable production, constrained by low consumer purchasing power, the inability to export and a shortage of processing factories.
  • Livestock: Nationally, overall livestock numbers stabilized despite a slight reduction in sheep and cattle in 2018/19, as compared to the previous year. While the prevalence of common epizootic diseases remained relatively stable, the incidence of lumpy-skin disease increased in some locations in 2018/19, possibly due to high temperatures and high humidity which favoured the proliferation of the insect vectors. Artificial insemination, although widespread, has often low success rates, possibly due to poor timing and lack of breeder awareness of oestrus. Feed prices remained high, but pasture conditions improved. Prices of animals and meat generally showed an upward trend compared to 2017/18, while milk prices eased.
  • Beekeeping, which used to be a prolific traditional industry in the country, has suffered similar problems as other sectors during the crisis. Efforts are being made by the Government and international organizations to restore the sector to increase pollination as well as provide livelihood options. However, concerns prevail about mortality resulting from the misuse of pesticides and lack of marketing channels for honey and bee products to guarantee viable livelihoods.
  • Humanitarian access: The number of people residing in hard-to-reach locations continued to decline in 2018 and 2019. By October 2018 (latest date for which information is available), 1.2 million people were estimated to be residing in hard-to-reach areas, down from 4.1 million people in January 2017. Since April 2018, there are no longer besieged areas in the Syrian Arab Republic. Previously besieged and hard-to-reach areas represent locations that have suffered a high human and economic cost, as they were exposed to heavy fighting and widespread destruction.
  • Displacement: Even though decreasing from around 6.2 million in 2018, IDP numbers in the Syrian Arab Republic remain staggering. The Inter-Agency Population Task Force estimated that in May 2019, 29 percent of Syrians (5.9 million people) were currently internally displaced. While returns have started taking place across central, eastern and southern parts of the country, new displacements, estimated at around 518 000 since May 2019 due to ongoing conflict, were being reported in northwest Syrian Arab Republic (Hama, Idleb and Aleppo). Displacement due to conflict continues to be one of the main drivers of food insecurity, as IDPs tend to lose most of their livelihoods and productive assets by moving.
  • Markets and trade: Access to markets has greatly improved across the Syrian Arab Republic since the height of the conflict (2014-2016), as key east-west and north-south supply routes have become accessible and active. While internal trade is picking up, export markets remain limited/inaccessible for much of Syrian produce. Due to the increasing cost of transportation in 2018/19, worsening consumer purchasing power and a better-than-average agricultural season, many traders are not able to sell their produce. This was particularly pronounced for typical fruit and vegetable surplus producing areas such as Lattakia and Tartous governorates, where traders reported high levels of food waste and possibly closing their food trade businesses.
  • Price trends: Food prices have drastically increased in the Syrian Arab Republic as a result of the conflict. The main causes of the price increase have been the limited access to land and inputs, reduced local production, damage and looting of production assets and processing plants as well as the devaluation of the national currency. While prices had initially decreased since their peak in December 2016, they have been gradually increasing again over the past 12 to 14 months largely as a result of higher fuel prices and a continuous depreciation of the Syrian Pound on the informal exchange market (the SYP has depreciated by 34 percent against the US Dollar since June 2018).
  • Food consumption and coping: Despite an initial improving trend, households adopting negative coping mechanisms to meet food shortages has slightly increased compared to the first semester of 2018 (+15 percent), without exceeding, however, the negative coping levels recorded in 2016. Households’ limited purchasing power is also reflected in the nature of food coping strategies, with more than 50 percent of the households reported to rely on less preferred and less expensive food, 46 percent reduced the number of meals and 38 percent restricted the consumption of adults to prioritize children’s food habits. Consuming less preferred and less expensive food is by far the most widely adopted food comping mechanism across the Syrian Arab Republic.
  • Food security trends and assistance needs: The overall situation with respect to food security has improved compared to last year in almost all the assessed areas. The most vulnerable governorates of the country remain those where localized military operations are still ongoing, such as Aleppo, Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor. The governorate with the highest proportion of households with poor food consumption is Raqqa. Vulnerability to food insecurity in the Syrian Arab Republic remains at worrying levels across both urban and rural areas.