Syria's Wheat Fields Are Being Decimated by the War

If you think things are bad now, just wait, because Syria is having its worst wheat harvest this year since the 1960s. And that means serious trouble.

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Nov 20 2015, 6:00pm

Photo via Flickr user gavinvaz

The Syrian civil war is the sort of interminable and gruesome conflict that epitomizes strife in the 21st century. Somewhere between 220,000 and 340,000 people are reported to have died, with nations picking sides in an increasingly nebulous war. An estimated 9 million Syrians have left their homes to escape the conflict.

But if you think things are bad now, just wait, because Syria is having its worst wheat harvest this year since the 1960s. And that means serious trouble.

Even before the start of the civil war in 2011, the nation's vast number of farmers had been coping with a lot. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's regime has long been accused of being rife with corruption. A combination of subsidy slashes on basic goods and a brutal drought lasting for years caused the destabilization of roughly 800,000 people, tens of thousands of whom were farmers.

Unfortunately, according to Abdessalam Ould Ahmed of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization,intensified fighting in the northern regions of Syria—which are responsible for the majority of the nation's wheat growth—will make it nearly impossible for the remaining farmers to access and maintain their wheat fields.

All this is happening despite a favorable weather outlook. But politics trumps weather in Syria. "Conditions are extremely difficult inside Syria today for agriculture production and there are many disincentives for farmers to keep farming on their fields, including security concerns, difficulties to store and sell their products," according to Ahmed. Fighting between the US backed-Kurds and ISIS has intensified in Syria's breadbasket provinces; wheat production is now 40 percent lower than it was before the conflict.

The conflict negatively impacts not just the growing of wheat, but also the storage, transportation, and marketing of all agricultural goods. Ahmed points out that, "The difficulty facing farmers in transporting their harvest across frontlines where each time they cross they have to pay a part of their product are all going to get worse."

Lately, Syria has become more dependent on food aid distributed by the World Food Programme and other agencies. The need for imports is also growing.

The result? More than half of Syria's population is now undernourished and food-insecure. And Syria was, until recently, a country that was self-sufficient as far as food went. Today, Syria is able to produce only half the food it consumes, Ahmed points out.

So things are going from horrible to more so in Syria. Expect the refugee crisis to worsen when Syria can no longer feed its own.