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FAO: Agriculture support more important than human aid in Syria

Post a commentBy RJ Whitehead , 05-Apr-2017

© iStock
© iStock

Syrian agricultural production “can and should be kick-started” after the huge damage it has endured during years of fighting.

Doing so would dramatically reduce the need for humanitarian aid and migration, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, which has just released a report on the state of agriculture in the country.

The body believes the conflict has so far caused more than US$16bn in lost crop and livestock production, as well as the destruction of farming assets. 

Having interviewed more than 3,500 households across the country and some 380 community groups, it reported that agriculture is providing a lifeline for the millions of Syrians affected by the fighting.

José Graziano da Silva, the FAO’s director-general, said a focus on rebuilding farming infrastructure was more important than efforts to deliver aid.

"Ramping up investment in the recovery of the agriculture sector could dramatically reduce the need for humanitarian aid. It could also have a significant impact on stemming the flow of migrants," he said. 

Almost all the communities the FAO surveyed said even the most basic agricultural support, such as seeds, fertilisers and fuel to power irrigation pumps, would help reduce the number of people abandoning rural areas to find opportunities elsewhere. it would also encourage the return of migrants and internally displaced people. 

About 60% of households also reported that a lack of fertilisers had become a critical production constraint for perennial crops such as wheat, barley, legumes and pulses. 

A lack of fuel, outbreaks of pests and diseases, and destruction of irrigation systems and water points for livestock were also listed as important constraints. 

Since 2011, household livestock ownership has plummeted, down by 57% for cattle, and around 50% each for sheep, goats and poultry. 

The proportion of household funds spent on food has soared as incomes have decreased and food prices have increased dramatically. 

Before the crisis, about 25% of households would spend over half their annual income on food, though this had risen to more than half last year for the vast majority of households. Less than 50% of the rural population in 2011 still lived in rural areas in 2016.

Compared to the US$16bn bill for farming destruction, the FAO estimates it will initially cost US$10.7bn-US$17.1bn to rebuild Syrian agriculture over a three-year period, based on three scenarios—full peace, partial peace and continued war. 

It has also outlined response plans under each of these scenarios, including addressing underlying issues such as sustainable water use for irrigation. 

Yet despite the potential of agriculture to address mounting food availability and access constraints, the FAO warns that too little has been spent on protecting agriculture livelihoods over the last six years to support the recovery of the sector. 

If productive farming areas continue to be neglected, it said, more people will be forced to leave rural areas and Syria will be in danger of emerging from the conflict as a country with its commercial food production and agricultural base on the verge of collapse.

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