Homs Countryside: Wheat Harvest Eaten Into Transport Costs and Gratuity
Farmers in the northern Homs countryside managed to harvest the wheat crop after a stumble of about one month due to a shortage of harvesters in the area, for they have been mainly deployed to Eastern Syria ( Jazirah Region) where the “ massive” wheat season is, given that the cost of harvesting one dunum of wheat and barley is about 7500 Syrian Pounds.
Marketing the harvest is one of the biggest challenges faced by farmers, for after the “reconciliation” agreement, the General Organization for Seed Multiplication (GOSMF) and the food security project supported by the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) of the Syrian Opposition Coalition have stopped their activities, knowing that the Syrian Opposition Coalition used to buy corps during the control of the opposition factions.
When Assad forces took control over Homs, the government-owned enterprises of the Syrian regime monopolized the crop trading. As a result of which, the farmers had to wait for days in the line to deliver their crops to grain silos. The long wait, for its part, coerced the farmers into renting cars for transferring the grain to silos at Homs’ entrance, trapping them by the car owners’ mood and the unreasonable amount of money they demand.
Transportation Costs on the Rise
The owners of cars and agricultural trailers raised transportation fees, exceeding the mark of 35 thousand Pounds, and imposed ten thousand Syrian Pounds on farmers for every day they wait in line to deliver their crops to the silos. Speaking to Enab Baladi, Mohammed Abu Khalil, a farmer from al- Makramiye village said “despite the abundant crop this year, the costs of harvesting and transporting the crops eats into profits. Transporting the crop to grain silos has become hard to bear a burden; the car fare has increased to 30,000 Pounds, and the wage of agricultural trailers might reach 25 thousand Syrian Pounds, not to mention the over 10,000 Pounds paid for waiting in line at the silos per day.”
Louay, a car owner in Homs, who asked not to be fully named, pointed out that the rise in transport cost is related to high fuel prices on the black market: 1 litre is sold for 400 Syrian Pounds, stating that “overloading cars with crop increases the fuel consumption and car depreciation, in addition to waiting in the line of the delivery center that is too long. It is absurd to park my car to wait in line for free.”
Bribes at Doors of Silos
Waiting lines and hours do not affect only the wages but also open the door to bribery and other forms of patronage. The officers, the militants and “the favored persons’” delivery is prioritized over the farmers’, who have to wait or pay bribes to the silos’ employees for speeding up the delivery of their crops. Every day on the waiting line stands for additional transportation costs.
Abu Mohammed, a farmer from Al-Hawla plain, told Enab Baladi that he had to pay 7 thousand Syrian Pounds for delivering his crop on the same day, adding that “there is nor room for a delay because every waiting day means extra transport costs.”
Abu Mohammed added that he paid a bribe of two thousand Syrian Pounds for using digital grain scales, a supposedly free service. Additionally, he had to give a gratuity of 15 thousand Pounds to the Purchase Committee since his crop was classified as “elite cultivar,” indicating that the crop delivery costs more than 30 thousand Pounds and the refrain from paying which surrenders farmers to long waits.
The high cost of transportation and bribery led to the emergence of a new group, known as “delivery merchants” who buy wheat, 156 Pounds for a kilo, load it from the farmer’s land, transfer and deliver it to silos.
An enormous number of farmers had to deal with “delivery merchants” for not being able to afford the transport costs. Khaled Abu Aziz, a farmer from Talbise town, told Enab Baladi, that he had sold his crop to one of the delivery merchants, stating: “I barely managed to pay for the harvest, and I had to sell my crop for 154 Pounds to a merchant.”
The area cultivated with the wheat crop is 35.672 thousand hectares and the area planted with barley is about 43 thousand hectares. The Department of Agriculture estimated that wheat production in Homs province during the current season is about 52 thousand tons, according to SANA, on May 9, 2019.