Wed 12 Aug 2020

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Homs’s farmers reeling from war face mounting problems: high costs and patronage networks

Potato crop in the northern countryside of Homs in August 2018 (SANA)

Potato crop in the northern countryside of Homs in August 2018 (SANA)

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Farmers in the northern countryside of Homs continue to face an obstacle course of challenges with the absence of government subsidies, and weak support provided by the Peasant Associations.

More than 40 percent of the population of the northern countryside of Homs depends on agriculture. The area, stretching west from the Hula Valley to the western outskirts of Salamiyah city in the east, is characterized by fertile soils that are suitable for growing crops.

Accusations of corruption and favoritism

The Peasant Associations and the General Union of Peasants are the official bodies empowered to grant farmers seeds and proper fertilizers to grow their crops. The farmers, who cannot secure their farm supplies through the Peasant Associations, are obliged to buy them from the free market at high prices.

Abu Bashir, a farmer from the town of Talbiseh, told Enab Baladi “the Peasant Association provides seeds and fertilizers to farmers based on their political stance regarding the Syrian revolution. The supporters of the Syrian regime are welcome in the association to meet their requirements while those opposing the regime during the opposition’s control of the region are unwelcome. The larger share of the region’s fertilizer allocations is sold on the free market.”

An agricultural pharmacist in the northern countryside of Homs, spoke on condition of anonymity, told Enab Baladi that the Peasant Associations are selling fertilizer allocations on the free market; a bag of organic fertilizer is sold on the free market at a price of 11,000 Syrian pounds (SYP- 11 USD) while the association should sell it to its farmers at a price of 8,000 SYP (8 USD). In addition, the association is selling a bag of Urea Nitrogen fertilizer at 17,000 SYP (17 USD) on the free market whereas it should sell it to the farmers at a price of 8,000 SYP (8 USD).

Furthermore, the association was to have sold potato seeds at 45,000 SYP (45 USD) to the farmers registered in the association, according to the pharmacist, but the seeds were sold on the free market for 60,000 SYP (60 USD).

The pharmacist believes that there is an agreement between the Peasant Association, security branches and police about selling the allocations of peasants where each gets its share of profits.

High production costs

Farmers of the northern countryside of Homs have seen a huge increase in the cost of agricultural inputs, just like any commodity in Syria. In fact, the recent run-up of their prices can be attributed to the depreciation in the Syrian pound against the US dollar, which will adversely affect the prices of agricultural products next year inevitably.

Agricultural costs have nearly doubled compared with last year, especially the cost of some crops which need seeds and imported fertilizers such as potato crops.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, a potato farmer from the city of al-Rastan in northern Homs referred to the high costs of agriculture inputs compared to last year.

In the past year, a bag of potato seeds was sold at about 45,000 SYP (45 USD) and this year it costs more than 60,000 SYP (60 USD).

With the significant increase in the cost of fertilizers and long power outages, farmers are likely to rely on “diesel” engines, which subsequently increase the cost of production. The price of a kilogram of potatoes was approximately 150 SYP (0.15 USD) in the last season.

However, the farmer predicts that the price of one kilogram of potatoes will amount to more than 550 SYP (0.55 USD). Moreover, the cost of per dunum was around 350,000 SYP (355 USD) in the last season. As for this season, it is expected to be more than 550,000 SYP (558 USD) at least.

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