As Syrian winter nears, farming crisis threatens further starvation

World Today

a young boy herding sheepHerding livestock in war torn Syria

According to a joint report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), most farmers in Syria have “lost the ability to cope” with rising prices and scarcity of materials needed to produce food for the war-torn country.

“Food production in Syria has hit a record low due to fighting and insecurity, but also bad weather conditions,” World Food Programme spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told a news briefing.

At present, the UN estimates over 9.4 million people across Syria are in need of some sort of food assistance. Of those, four million are in remote or hard to reach locations, and 400,000 are trapped in besieged cities – such as Aleppo.

The United Nations humanitarian envoy for Syria states the threat of mass hunger could be “a real killer” for the quarter of a million people trapped in Aleppo as the country begins its fifth winter at war with itself.

Factors attributing to the continued drop include “lack of availability for quality seeds, fertilizers, machinery and fuel,” as well as “poor rainfall and the destruction of irrigation infrastructure” because of the civil conflict.

Syrian man with broken tractor

A man walks past a damaged truck after airstrikes on the outskirts of the town of Atareb in Aleppo province, Syria, on August 4, 2016. Due to the ongoing crisis and associated sanctions, access to quality seeds, fertilizers, machinery and fuel is limited. (PHOTO: FAO)

Production of wheat has shown the most drastic decline, dropping from an average of 3.4 million metric tons yielded before the conflict, to about 1.5 million metric tons recorded in 2016. A reduction of approximately 55 percent.

Producers of livestock have also felt the effects of the crisis. According to the report, “there are 30 per cent fewer cattle, 40 per cent fewer sheep and goats, and a staggering 60 per cent less poultry – traditionally the most affordable source of animal protein in the country.”

Fighting and land insecurity have limited access to grazing areas and water supplies essential for moving herds. In addition, aforementioned declines in grain production has made animal feed unaffordable – and essential animal medicines, such as antibiotics, are near depletion.

Mass inflation has also reduced Syrian farmers’ ability to import needed goods and transportation blockages have created an inability to get existing food where it is needed most within the country.

In collaboration with other international aid agencies, The World Food Programme attempts to distribute rations to more than 4 million people in Syria each month.