FAO supporting the seed sector in the Syrian Arab Republic

By Mike Robson,FAO Representative in Syria

Preparation of wheat seed for planting - FAO/Sheam Kaheel


Agriculture could be the engine of recovery in the Syrian Arab Republic. However, for productive and resilient agriculture, farmers must be able to access good quality seed of well-adapted and preferred varieties of the major strategic crops.

Before the crisis, the General Organization for Seed Multiplication (GOSM) was responsible for the production of approxamently 300,000 tons of certified seed production for strategic crops (wheat, barley, major pulses). However, the losses of facilities and human capacities due to the conflict reduced its seed production well below pre-crisis levels. For the 2020 planting season, GOSM distributed around 75,000 tons of wheat seed to farmers which are only 25 percent of the amount that GOSM used to distribute before the crisis. Restoring capacity goes beyond seed production; in fact, it includes research and seed supply, and associated services such as credit and marketing. With a challenging economic situation, the level of seed production may not return to the previous levels for all crops, and other strategies for producing and supplying quality seed may need to be considered, to complement GOSM’s work.

Left, up: Farmers in Hama Governorate getting ready to plant their wheat seed - FAO/Sheam Kaheel Right, down: A pioneer farmer checking his seed within FAO's seed multiplication intervention - FAO/Mazen Haffar

The shortage of wheat seed in the country forced small farmers to rely either to purchase seed of unknown provenance in the market, or to use grain saved from their harvest. Both coping strategies certainly impact significantly the production, and consequently the food security in the country, which is already in a vulnerable situation.

FAO, taking into consideration the criticality of seed’s shortage in the food chain, has been contributing to the re-establishment of nutritious food security in the civil unrest affected areas of Syria.

FAO conducted a Seed Security Assessment (SSA) which highlighted the challenges by the seed sector particularly focusing on smallholder farmers. The main recommendations are:
• Refine approaches to emergency seed assistance.
• Enhance the supply of quality seed.
• Improve farmers’ access to seed.
• Leverage local markets.
• Enhance farmers’ access to new crops and varieties.

FAO is actively contributing to respond to all five recommendations.

Farmers and FAO experts discussing the quality seed produced under FAO seed multiplication intervention - FAO/Mazen Haffar

From 2013, FAO – as part of the humanitarian programme - distributed 31,000 tons of wheat seed to approximately 155,000 households. The seed distribution covered 10 governorates namely Aleppo, Al-Hasakeh, Ar-Raqqa, As-Sweida, Dar'a, Deir-ez-Zor, Hama, Homs, Idleb, and Rural Damascus.

Since 2018, FAO with its implementing partners (i.e. ICARDA), started a community-based seed production for income generation to complement the seed available in the country by GOSM. In addition, FAO developed a programme for the multiplication of early generations (Pre-basic and Basic classes) of seed of the main varieties of wheat, barley, chickpea and lentil. In total, around 18 tons of pre-basic seeds and around 114 tons of basic seeds were distributed to pioneer farmers for multiplication, together with other agricultural inputs integrated by specialized training, the needed supervision and follow up (the yearly need of Pre-basic seed in the country is 10 – 15 tons while for Basic seed is 230 – 260 tons). Then, the produced seed was injected into the system, resulting in an increase of available good quality seed for vulnerable farmers.
Support the establishment of Seed Producer Groups (SPGs).

FAO, in collaboration with its partners, supports progressive farmers to be organized informal groups for seed production. Organizing select farmers for seed production and marketing could improve access and availability of quality seed, particularly for regions and for crops/varieties that GOSM is not currently able to cover. Decentralized, farmer-led seed production has been successfully promoted in Syria to complement the formal-sector seed production, improving farmers’ access to quality seeds. Two Seed Producer Groups (SPGs) have been organized and registered in Homs and Aleppo Governorates – and a third group is under establishment in Deir Ez-Zor - under the umbrella of FAO’s Smallholder Support programme, in coordination with ICARDA and GOSM. As of today, 24 farmers are active seed producers in the country generating several tens of tons of high-quality seed which is inspected and certified by the national seed authority and injected into the system.

Recently, the Minister of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) requested FAO’s support to review the seed system’s policies, capacities, and constraints. A team has been established, including FAO’s experts based in Head Quarters in Rome, to review seed policies and practices. The study will: (i) place recommendations for production and quality assurance of wheat seed (also other crops); (ii) place recommendations for reforms to policy and procedures; (iii) identify priority steps for strengthening access to quality seeds for crops (and farmers) that are less well-addressed by the formal system. The study will be concluded shortly.

To conclude, for FAO, the seed sector is one of the top priorities and objectives of its programme; to assist vulnerable farmers having access to high-quality seeds will contribute to reduce food insecurity, improve livelihood and fight poverty.

2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 12. Responsible consumption and production