[Source: FAO, full PDF document: (LINK). Extract, edited.]
S P E C I A L R E P O R T - FAO/WFP CROP AND FOOD SECURITY ASSESSMENT MISSION TO THE SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC, 5 July 2013
FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS, ROME / WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME, ROME
This report has been prepared by Swithun Goodbody (FAO), Francesco del Re (FAO) Issa Sanogo (WFP) and Byron Ponce Segura (WFP) under the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and other sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required.
Shukri Ahmed(1), Muhannad Hadi(2)
(1) Senior Economist, EST-GIEWS, Trade and Markets Division, FAO, Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-mail: email@example.com ; (2) Regional Emergency Coordinator, Syria and Neighbouring Countries, Regional Emergency Coordinator's office, Fax 00962-6-515-4099, E-mail: Muhannad.Hadi@wfp.org
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- Seasonal rainfall in 2012/13 was better than in any of the previous five years, especially in the northern cereal-producing governorates.
- Relatively less area was planted to cereals, compared to the last ten years. Contributing factors include high costs of production, reduced input availability including labour, prevailing violence, related damage to farm equipment, and abandoned land. The area under irrigated cereal production also declined significantly owing to power cuts, and damage to power stations, canals, and pumps; and high diesel costs.
- The supply chain of wheat is severely affected. Road transport is becoming increasingly expensive and is often unsafe, and less than one-third of the Government's wheat collection centres are operational. Most flour mills and bakeries are either no longer operating, or are operating at low capacity. Only 1 in 4 yeast factories is operational.
- Pre- and post-harvest grain losses are higher than average this year, due mostly to damage to harvesting equipment and storage structures.
- Accordingly, the 2013 wheat production is estimated at 2.4 million tonnes, significantly lower than the average for the ten years prior to 2010/11 that exceeded 4 million tonnes (a 40 percent decline) and 15 percent below the poor 2011/12 crop. The barley crop, which is predominantly rainfed, is expected to be close to one million tonnes, above the average annual production of 773 000 tonnes for the ten years prior to 2010/11.
- The wheat import requirement in 2013/14 (July/June) is estimated at about 1.47 million tonnes of which 1 million tonnes are anticipated to be imported commercially, leaving an import requirement of 470 000 tonnes.
- The livestock sector has been seriously depleted by the ongoing conflict. Poultry production is estimated to be down by more than 50 percent compared with 2011, and sheep and cattle numbers are down approximately 35 percent and 25 percent respectively.
- The Government's veterinary service is significantly eroded. Vaccines are in short supply and sanctions prohibit imports. Most private companies that were producing prophylactics have gone out of business because of damage to their premises and because of the difficulty importing.
- Due to higher prices; more Syrian livestock are being sold in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. With the virtual loss of veterinary services within Syria, livestock diseases are being transmitted to neighbouring countries, thereby posing a potentially serious regional animal-health problem.
- An exodus has occurred from Syria; 1.6 million Syrians have become registered refugees in neighbouring countries as of the end of May 2013. In addition, it is suspected that many have departed as unrecorded voluntary emigrants.
- Over 4 million people have moved from their original residence to other locations in the country, leaving behind or losing their assets and income sources.
- Livelihoods, income earning, and purchasing power have suffered huge losses. The official 2013 unemployment rate is 18 percent; more than twice the 7-year average (2003-2010) of 8 percent.
- Inflation is rampant, and Syria’s currency has experienced major devaluation. In 2012, year-on-year inflation rose by 50 percent from 2011. The 2013 inflation rate is expected to rise above 30 percent. The official value of the Syrian pound has declined sharply by over 115 percent since 2011.
- Commodity costs have risen significantly. The real price of wheat flour has almost doubled from 2011, while that of livestock has fallen. Amongst non-food items, diesel has had the sharpest escalation in cost, with a 200 percent jump in January 2013, after cuts in Government subsidies.
- Food markets are seriously disrupted. In addition to higher prices; food access is compromised due to lower quantities of food in the markets. Main impediments to trade include insecurity, transport constraints, credit for suppliers, and foreign currency shortages.
- The quality of the Syrian diet and micro-nutrient intake is likely reduced. Many households are cutting back substantially on the consumption of fruits, meat, dairy products and eggs.
- Approximately 4 million people are facing food insecurity. Most vulnerable groups include the internally displaced, small scale farmers, and herders; casual labourers, petty traders, the urban poor, children, pregnant and lactating mothers, the elderly, the disabled and the chronically sick.
- In order to assist the most affected people in need of food assistance, an estimated 378 000 tons of cereals will be required from mid-2013 to mid-2014.
- The damage to infrastructure, plant and machinery inflicted by the deteriorating security situation will have an effect beyond the current season and longer term measures need to be put in place to rebuild food systems.
Following a request to FAO from the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) on 27 March 2013, a joint FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Mission (CFSAM) visited the Syrian Arab Republic between 18 May and 8 June 2013. In Damascus, the Mission had meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), The Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR), and the Ministry of Water Resources. Meetings were also held with the General Establishment for Cereal Trade and Processing, a department within the Ministry of Economy and Trade; the FAO national consultant on livestock; the National Agricultural Policy Center (NAPC); UNDP; OCHA; the resident FAO office; and the resident WFP office.
From 27 May to 1 June the Mission undertook a short field trip to Homs, Tartous and Al Hasakeh Governorates. In each governorate, meetings were held with MAAR’s Agricultural Directorate. The Mission met small farmers, horticultural producers and traders in Homs and Tartous and visited some production units, while in Al Hasakeh a group of 15 cereal farmers and livestock owners came to Qamishly to meet the Mission and discuss the current crop and livestock situation in the governorate. The field trip was limited not only by the small number of locations visited but also by the fact that those locations were exclusively within Government-held areas; no opposition-held areas were visited.
In addition to Government information, other sources of information used by the Mission in its assessment allowing a degree of triangulation included:
- Vegetation-related satellite imagery (NDVI and ASIS);
- a set of questionnaires distributed through, and completed by, MAAR officers in 13 of the country’s 14 governorates (Dara’a was omitted as the current crisis prevented the movement of MAAR officials from that governorate);
- meetings with MAAR officers from 13 of the country’s 14 governorates while they were in Damascus for a training course (again, Dara’a was omitted);
- records and reports from MAAR and the Central Bureau of Statistics;
- recent reports from UN and other agencies;
- discussions with independent NGOs and Internally Displaced People (IDPs).
Compared with recent years, rainfall during the 2012/13 cropping season was favourable, especially in the northern cereal-producing governorates, and rainfed cereals benefited accordingly. The Badia (the steppe of south-eastern Syria) also benefited, providing better grazing for livestock.
However, crop and livestock production, food availability and access to food have all taken an increasingly heavy toll over the last year as a result of the various ramifications of the ongoing events within Syria. The threat of violence has caused large numbers, including farmers, to leave the country and even larger numbers to move from their homes to safer areas within the country. Many of the means of production, processing and storage of crops have been either damaged or destroyed, such as tractors, harvesters, pumps, irrigation canals, cotton ginneries, and grain silos. Internationally imposed financial and other sanctions have exacerbated the situation, leading to shortages of agricultural inputs, crop-protection materials, diesel, and spare parts for machinery. The livestock sector has been especially badly affected by the current situation and by the internationally imposed sanctions. There is now, in many parts of the country, a virtual absence of routine drugs, vaccines and the veterinarians to administer them, as well as ongoing protracted shortages of concentrate feed. In addition, the Syrian pound has experienced significant devaluation over the past six months making it more difficult for producers to purchase the necessary production-related materials that are still available.
The overall results include a reduction in the area of cropped land and an anticipated further reduction in the area of land harvested; crop yields that are lower than they might otherwise have been in a year of satisfactory rainfall; difficulties in transporting and marketing agricultural produce; a highly significant depletion of the livestock sector; possible regional implications for outbreaks of livestock diseases in neighbouring countries because of cross-border sale of un-inoculated animals; loss of livelihood for a very significant section of the population; and an accelerating exodus from agricultural production.
The Government has attempted to ease the situation for both the producer and the consumer by offering a financial premium to wheat producers and by continuing to subsidize the price of bread. The premium for producers has, however, already been more than overtaken by the other escalating costs of production and marketing and by the fall in the value of the Syrian pound, while the amount of bread that can be made available at a subsidized price is far below what is required to satisfy demand. The other Government support mechanisms for producers such as subsidised fertilizer and livestock concentrates are now rare and irregular. Nevertheless, the Government has managed to secure some substantial imports of wheat in spite of the prevailing international sanctions.
If the present conflict continues, the food security prospects for 2014 could be worse than they are now. With so many adverse factors now stacked against the crop and livestock sectors, and assuming that the present crisis remains unresolved, domestic production over the next twelve months will be severely compromised. The Mission estimates that wheat production this year will be approximately 2.4 million tonnes. This is 15 percent lower than last year’s estimated production of 2.84 million tonnes, and significantly below the average of more than 4 million tonnes achieved prior to the crisis.
Officially registered stocks of wheat amounted to approximately 2.9 million tonnes at the beginning of 2013. It was not possible for the Mission to assess the amount held domestically and by merchants, but it is assumed that it is relatively small in view of the fact that many grain-storage structures have been either seriously damaged or destroyed since 2011.
The Mission thanks the many agencies that provided invaluable information during its time in Syria, in particular the various directorates of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) at both central and governorate level. With regard to logistical support, the Mission thanks the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), and the country offices of FAO and WFP.
2. BACKGROUND AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONTEXT
The ongoing crisis in Syria has had a very significant effect on the country’s population. Under normal circumstances and using the average pre-crisis growth rate, the population would be expected, by the end of 2013, to number about 22 million. However, with a large exodus of voluntary and involuntary refugees, mainly to neighbouring countries, it is estimated that the population will, in fact, be about 20 million. In addition, the crisis has caused extensive movement of about 6 million people within the country, with the result that population density in some urban and peri-urban areas has increased dramatically while in other areas populations are severely depleted.
The Syrian economy grew at a moderate average rate of about 4.5 percent a year from 2001 to 2010. The per capita GDP grew at a lower rate of 2 percent a year due to an increased annual population growth rate (2.45 percent) over the same period.
Economic growth was driven mainly by the transport, communications, manufacturing, finance, real-estate, and construction sectors. The agriculture sector, which was frequently hit by droughts, contributed relatively little to the country’s real economic growth.
The pre-crisis decade (2001-2010) was characterized by a relatively stable economic situation with low levels of inflation, public debt and fiscal deficit, and healthy trade and current-account balances. In 2010, fiscal deficit was estimated at less than 5 percent of GDP; inflation was below 5 percent; the external current-account balance was slightly in deficit; public debt was estimated at about 23 percent of GDP; and international reserves amounted to almost USD 20 billion.
The decade-long benefits of the economic growth on the population were mixed. The unemployment rate remained stable at about 8 percent between 2003 and 2010, but this masked a high female unemployment rate which was reported as 22 percent in 2010. About 18.2 percent of the population was estimated to have fallen below the food-poverty line in 2009, with an increasing inequality in rural areas where the farming population was adversely affected by poor climatic conditions and consecutive years of severe drought. Idleb, Rural Damascus, Homs, Dara’a, Al Sweida and Hama governorates were considered to have the highest proportions of households living below the food poverty line.
The ongoing situation which started in 2011 has reversed most of the benefits of the decade-long economic growth. Real GDP growth is estimated to have contracted by 3.4 percent in 2011 and dropped sharply by almost 19 percent in 2012. The contribution of the industrial sector to the economic contraction is estimated at 36 percent. This is followed by an estimated 21 percent contraction of gross agriculture production in 2012, reducing further the share of agriculture in the economy. Estimates show that agriculture contributed to less than 17 percent of GDP in 2011, down from 20.4 percent in 2007. Continued contraction of the agriculture sector has a negative knock-on effect on rural incomes (and thus private consumption). This, combined with soaring inflation and rapid depreciation of the Syrian pound (SYP), has a severe negative impact on the living conditions of the population. Available official data indicate that year-on-year inflation surged by about 50 percent in 2012 (see Figure 1), owing, in particular, to higher costs of foodstuffs and fuel, with cereal price inflation reaching over 60 percent. Average consumer price inflation is officially forecast at 32 percent in 2013. In the 26 months since the onset of the crisis in March 2011, the official value of the SYP has fallen by more than 115 percent; on the informal market the devaluation has been even greater.