The north-eastern part of Syria witnesses a conflict called “wheat battle” and this battle is not less important than the ongoing war between the conflicting parties in the region.
The government of the Syrian regime moved in the city of Al-Hasakah to buy the 2017 season wheat from the farmers, simultaneously with the self-management’s moves to replenish its stockpile of strategic material, in addition to free-market traders who offer financial incentives to farmers so as to encourage them to sell their wheat crops.
Al-Hasaka is a Strategic Reservoir for the Syrian Regime
Al-Hasaka Governorate is considered as the reservoir of strategic material for Syria since it contributed by about 36% of wheat production in this country, according to the map of agricultural investment in the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Agriculture in 2007.
Due to the importance of the governorate in supplying the Syrian regime’s storage towers with wheat, Abdullah al-Gharbi, the minister of commerce and consumer protection in the regime’s government, led last week a government delegation to the city to ensure that the wheat crop is marketed and purchased by farmers.
The regime’s government allocated 80 billion Syrian Pounds to purchase wheat from farmers throughout the country and to provide 13 million canvas bags. It also increased the price of soft and hard wheat from 125 Syrian Pounds to 140 Syrian Pounds and increased the price of barley to 110 Syrian Pounds.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform in the regime’s government predicted that the wheat production in Al-Hasakah for the current season will exceed 600 thousand tons, compared to one million and 471 thousand tons in 2007, in an estimated area of 396500 hectares, compared to 663086 hectares in 2007.
According to the official news agency SANA, on 23 May, the director of Qamishli grain branch, Obeida Al-Ali, expected to receive a quantity of wheat ranging from 300 to 350 thousand tons at the livestock center and Jarmuz storage towers in the city of Qamishli.
Al-Ali promised that the date of paying the grain bills would not exceed two days after the crop’s delivery in an attempt to encourage farmers to market their entire crop of wheat.
The Self-administration Competes to Buy Wheat
The self-administration, which was declared in the areas that are controlled by the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” entered the line of competition to buy wheat from farmers for the first season, according to Zuzan Hasan, the Director-General of Agriculture in Al-Jazira province’s Economic Commission. Hasan confirmed to Enab Baladi that it is “the first year we buy wheat and the crop will be stored in several warehouses in the regions of Dayrik, Qamishli and Al-Darbasiyah.”
Hasan explained that the Economic Commission has determined that they will buy 200 thousand tons of wheat from farmers, which will make the regions of Al-Jazira province achieve self-sufficiency in wheat.
The officer pointed out that the price of buying one kilogram of wheat from farmers is being discussed and has not been determined yet, in light of providing grants to farmers such as diesel for irrigation and harvesting, in addition to fertilizer and seed.
A Tempting Offer from Free Market Traders
In addition to the Syrian regime and self-administration, there are also traders who work in the free market and seek to buy wheat in order to trade it either by exporting it to Iraqi Kurdistan or reselling it to the regime.
Shady Hussein, one of the wheat traders, said to Enab Baladi that in recent years traders have been buying large quantities of wheat from farmers and storing them in warehouses in the outskirts of the city in order to export them to Iraq. However, because of the presence of barriers within the city, they are no longer able to reach some villages and this caused low purchase quantities.
He added that “traders were exporting wheat to Iraqi Kurdistan last year, after buying it from the farmer because of the large price difference. The price of one kilogram of wheat in Iraq is sold in hard currency (the dollar), and it reaches about 350 or 400 Syrian Pounds.
However, according to Shady Hussein, wheat exportation to Iraq has become difficult this season because of the presence of authorities in the city which cannot be bypassed and which prevents the exportation. Exportation has become difficult also due to the region’s need for wheat after the decrease of cultivated areas because of the farmers’ tendency to grow aromatic crops as a result of the wheat’s high costs.
Hussein confirmed that, besides exporting wheat to Iraq, traders sold it also last year to the Syrian regime without the knowledge of the self-administration.
Concerning the temptations offered to the farmers, Hussein pointed out that the only incentive is to pay cash for the price of wheat, because when the farmer sells his crop to the regime his crop bill is delayed by one month or two, which pushes him to sell the crop to the merchant, even at a lower price.
We Sell to those who Pay More
From his side, the farmer Fayez Mohammed considered that wheat prices are not good but are rather less than the average price for this season, especially in light of the crop’s exposure to poor climatic conditions in some areas, due to late rains in the beginning of winter, what affected the wheat season.
Concerning buying and selling offers, Fayez Mohammed confirmed to Enab Baladi that he would sell his crop to the one who would pay a higher price of the three parties. He indicated that there is an atmosphere of free selling in the region and pointed to the absence of threats from the buying parties.
The continuing war and the climate changes turned Syria from a country having a strategic self-sufficiency in wheat to an importer. After Syria’s wheat harvest reached 3.4 million tons in 2011 production fell to 1.7 million tons last year, according to the regime’s government.
While the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that the crop would be around 1.3 million tons only, with a decrease of 55 percent, what forced the Syrian regime to look for wheat alternatives. As a result, it signed contracts with Russia, the world’s top exporter of wheat, to buy thousands of tons.