Tuesday, 28 Jan 2020

Rains boost Syria harvests but people still struggle: UN

Damascus, Sep 5 : Favourable rains in war-torn Syria's agricultural areas have led to better harvests this year, but many more Syrians are struggling to make ends meet due to higher food prices, the United Nations warned on Thursday.

"After nine years of crisis, the people of Syria, including those returning to their villages, continue to face great challenges," said Corinne Fleischer, the UN World Food Programme's country director in Syria.

"Many struggle to feed and educate their children," Fleischer said, adding that WFP is committed to delivering aid to help them to survive and to rebuild their lives in future.

Wheat production is estimated at 2.2 million metric tonnes in 2019, compared to last year's 29-year low of 1.2 million tonnes, but is still far below the pre-crisis average of 4.1 million tonnes (2002-2011), said a new report produced jointly by WFP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission.

Estimated production of barley, at 2 million metric tonnes, is over five times the 2018 crop and more than 150 percent higher than the average production before the almost nine-year-old Syrian conflict, the report said.

But food prices have been gradually increasing over the past 12 to 14 months, mainly as a result of increased domestic fuel prices and a continuous depreciation of the Syrian Pound on the informal exchange market, the WFP said.

Food scarcity has increased due to ongoing local hostilities, more people being forced to leave their homes for longer periods, increased numbers of recent returnees, and communities that have been weakened by the devastating war, the UN report said.

Around 6.5 million people in Syria are estimated to be going hungry and to be in need of food and livelihoods support, while another 2.5 million people are at risk of food scarcity and need help to boost their livelihoods and resilience.

Although some areas of Syria received more than double their yearly rainfall average in 2018-19, farmers face many difficulties, the report warned. Problems include shortages of agricultural inputs, reduced access to urban markets caused by high fuel prices, local insecurity and a lack of refrigerator trucks. Another issue is field fires including ones believed to have been started maliciously, which destroyed some 85,000 hectares of crops according to the Syrian government.

"Despite the good rains, farmers in rural areas are still facing many challenges including a lack of access to seeds and fertilizers, high transport costs, the presence of unexploded ordnance in some of their fields, and limited marketing opportunities," said FAO Representative in Syria, Mike Robson.

"Unless there is increased support for agricultural livelihoods, particularly those of Syria's most vulnerable families, the reliance on food assistance will remain," he said.

Besides increased fuel and commodity prices, a lack of job opportunities has crimped households' purchasing power, causing more families to adopt "negative coping strategies" such as consuming less preferred and less expensive food, cutting the number of daily meals or withdrawing children from school in order to work, the report underlined.

For examples, returnees in Aleppo, Homs and Deir-ez-Zor governorates reported that in most households, adults went without eggs and dairy products so that their children could eat the micronutrient-rich foods instead.

On a more positive note, concerns that last year's poor harvest would result in seed shortages were eased by access to a small supply from the national General Organization for Seed Multiplication (GOSM), as well as purchasing on the market, borrowing seeds and using some saved seeds from last year, said the report.

Under a joint FAO-WFP project, 14,450 of the poorest farmers in Hasakeh, Raqqa, Deir-ez-Zor, Aleppo and Hama governorates were supplied with wheat seed, enabling them to cultivate, the report noted.

WFP provides food assistance to more than 4 million food-insecure people every month across all 14 governorates in Syria, including conflict-affected areas like the north-west. It is also issuing electronic food vouchers to local traders and small-scale producers seeking to boost their livelihoods as well as to pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, to give them choice and varied diets, said the agency.

So far this year, FAO has reached 31,000 farming families (186,000 people) across Syria.

(IANS | 5 months ago)