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Limited Exports: Syrian crops “choked” in the domestic market

A farmer harvesting olives in Idlib Governorate – November 2018

A farmer harvesting olives in Idlib Governorate – November 2018

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The agricultural sector in Syria was stumbling lately amid the several crises it had witnessed, including the expansion of the conflict along Syria, the poor harvest because of weather conditions and the lack of distribution channels when harvest is good, depending on the crops and the demand.

Despite the stability of the production in some areas, which have not been directly subject to conflict, the retail market for the distribution of products has been narrowed, causing the decrease of goods and damage to farmers.

The Syrian regions are divided into three areas according to the distribution of control among the parties to the Syrian conflict. These areas are mainly held by the Syrian regime and the opposition in the governorate of Idlib, in addition to northern and western Aleppo countryside and northern Hama. The last zone is controlled by the “self-management” and its loyal military branch, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Though the three areas have commercial exchanges, these are determined by the amount of production of these areas and the security restrictions imposed by these areas against the backdrop of political and military developments.

Government of the regime responsible for marketing

The Syrian citrus market is encountering a problem regarding the distribution of goods at the domestic level despite the fact that the Syrian government has signed several agreements in order to find foreign markets for the Syrian product in Crimea, Russia and Iran.

The government of the regime has adopted mechanisms for the distribution of the local product, such as selling citrus to other areas, including Idlib, and facilitating the entry of sold goods. However, Idlib does not directly depend on imports of the Syrian regime because it relies mainly on Turkish goods, which cover part of its needs.

In regime-held areas, the government is responsible for promoting for its crop through the Syrian Trading Establishment, which started marketing campaigns for the citrus harvest of the Syrian coast and the apple harvest of Sweida governorate in the local markets of Damascus and Rif-Dimashq, the public newspaper Tishreen quoted the General Director of the Establishment, Imad Mohamed, on 7 February.

The Establishment launched its marketing campaign in the governorate of Damascus, which provided between 100 to 150 tons of different types of citrus and apples during the season, according to Imad Mohamed.

The marketing process will go on until the end of the season, and will be carried out throughout the neighborhoods and popular quarters using the cars of the institution, which range between 20 to 25 different cars and trucks.

The governorate of Latakia has established a center abroad for exporting citrus to Russia through the ports of Crimea, and the establishment of the center was announced by Andrey Nazarov, co-chair of the Organizing Committee of the IV Yalta International Economic Forum and the All-Russian Public Organization, according a report by the Russian news agency Sputnik on 3 July, 2018.

The Directorate of Agricultural Economics seeks to solve the crisis of citrus recession in the Syrian markets by “raising the consumer awareness about the importance of consumption of fresh citrus and quitting the consumption of imported, ready-made and condensed juice.”

“If every citizen would consume an orange per day, then we won’t be facing any marketing problem,” said Mohannad al-Asfar, director of agricultural economics, during an interview with the local newspaper al-Watan on 23 December, 2018.

The crisis of citrus distribution comes at a time when the citrus harvest has declined from one million to about 800,000 tons, according to official statistics released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Wheat, from self-sufficiency to importation

Syrian wheat is considered as the main problem of the agricultural sector with the disruption of internal routes and the weakness of marketing from the areas of “self-management” to areas held by the Syrian regime. Last September, Syria bought about 200,000 tons of Russian wheat within the context of a global deal and is willing to import about 1.5 Million tons of wheat, mostly from Russia, to meet the shortage of supply, after it managed to achieve self-sufficiency in wheat before.

However, because of the division of areas of influence, most of the Syrian wheat production is concentrated in the east and north-east of Syria, where the “Syrian Democratic Forces” is establishing control and exporting part of it to the Kurdistan region of Iraq through the border crossing of Semalka.

The decline in wheat production resulted in transforming Syria from a self-sustaining country to an importer of wheat. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a report last October stating that Syria’s 2018 wheat production was only 1.2 million tons, nearly two-thirds of the 2017 production, after producing about two million and 200,000 tons per year.

Production varies from year to year depending on weather, rainfall and seed factors.

Idlid: Facilities to support local product and stimulate agriculture

Olive plantation is concentrated in the areas of Idlib, northwestern Syria, the northern Aleppo countryside in Afrin and the surrounding areas, as well as in the countryside of Damascus, the Syrian coast and Homs.

Idlib is under the control of the Syrian opposition and produces between 450,000 and 500,000 tons, equivalent to more than half of the total domestic production of olive, which is about 871,000 tons, according to the 2017 FAO statistics.

Olive cultivation is like citrus. Despite the unprecedented population density in northern Syria as a result of the war conditions (approximately 4 million citizens, according to the Response Coordinators team’s assessment), it cannot bear the burden of managing hundreds of thousands of tons of olives and its products, which is a loss for the farmer in the first place.

In the management of the product, the region depends on domestic consumption and the import of small quantities to keep the surplus without marketing to sell it, which caused the decline in the price of olives and its derivatives, bringing the olive oil can to the price of 14,000-16,000 Syrian pounds, a price lower than the previous price.

In order to encourage exportation, Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey announced the exemption of agricultural exports of the north of Syria from customs duties, the Director of the Information Office at the crossing, Mazen Aloush, told Enab Baladi.

According to Aloush, the most prominent products currently exported are pistachios and olive oil. In earlier periods, beans, cumin, black beans, and stone were exported but not included in the current decision.

The head of the media office in the crossing explained that the olive oil is exported through the port of Mersin in Turkey to the Gulf countries either to the port of Jeddah or Jebel Ali in the UAE, in addition to the exportation of stone material to some Gulf countries and Europe.

Poor management causes loss to the farmer first

The Deputy Minister of Economy in the Interim Government, Abdul Hakim al-Masri, said in an interview with Enab Baladi that the division of spheres of influence in Syria negatively and mainly affects the farmer. Each region is characterized by a specific product, such as Idlib, which is famous for olive cultivation. However, trade exchange between these areas is limited, which leads to the decrease in the prices of olive and its derivatives in areas and its increase in other regions.

The security harassment between these areas also plays a role in the limited trade exchange. According to al-Masri, the Syrian regime facilitates the transfer of crops produced in abundance in areas under its control, such as citrus and apples, without imposing fees on them when they are transferred to the opposition areas to encourage their sale, unlike the products produced in the liberated areas which are charged with fees.

Al-Masri said that poor marketing leads to a significant drop in price, so it does not cover part of the costs; therefore farmers may stop farming, which negatively affects the quantities produced later.

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