Food Insecurity in Syria about to get Severe

Jul 18, 2012 05:01 AM EDT | By Sriranjini

Syria's agricultural sector is on the verge of collapse and its food crisis is only going to get worse.

Syria is in the midst of a revolution. The regime officials are under the impression that Syria has plenty of food to feed itself, and the ability to keep doing so.

But, that is turning out to be quite the opposite of the real situation.

Syrian farmers have been unable to plant anything in their fields, thanks to crippling fuel and fertilizer shortages. Both of these amenities are supposed to be provided by the central government officials, but so far, they have failed to do so.

Large areas of land, which are usually cultivated for wheat, fruits and vegetables, have been left fallow this season. This is due to the inability of farmers to get to their land, which is being blocked by checkpoints. Moreover, tanks are parked over agricultural fields, which means that farmers cannot go to work, even if they want to.

Though the full repercussions have not been felt yet, traders are anticipating a severe fall in the most basic food that Syrians eat, and a sharp incline in the prices of most vegetables, cereals and fruits.

Protests and armed rebellion have brought the major agricultural districts of Deraa, Idelb- famous for its olives, Ghoota and rural Damascus, almost to a standstill. A local business says that 85 percent of all agricultural activities have come to a stop.

"We'll harvest whatever comes off the trees naturally but nothing else, we've not been working the land, and there will be no wheat, no cotton or anything else," says Abu Yazin, owner of a smallholding on which he grows fruit trees and some crops.

This month the United Nations warned that 1.4 million Syrians had been affected by "food insecurity" since March, and estimated that Damascus would have to import about four million tonnes of cereals this year to meet domestic needs.

Though there has been sufficient rain, there has been no fuel or fertilizer or good seeds for the farmers to plant. Many farmers are of the belief that disaster can still be averted, if the central government allocates them fertilizers and fuel on time.

Fuel is a much required part of farming. The irrigation pumps and transportation used to carry seeds and fertilizers need fuel. But, most of the fuel is sent to the tanks, and not to tractors.

Publicly, the government continues to insist that all will be well with production, helped by strong winter rains that have ended years of drought.

Privately, however, officials monitoring the agricultural sector are alarmed; pointing out that the uprising has been strongest in the farming heartlands.

"Neglect and arrogance by the regime in Damascus towards the provinces is one of the reasons why we are seeing this uprising in the first place," said a Syrian economist. "This revolution has been powered by the dispossessed majority who live outside of Damascus and Aleppo, and conditions in the provinces are only getting worse."

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