Farmers of northern Homs suburbs torn between losing their corps to theft or paying royalties
It has been two years since the so-called settlement agreement has been enacted in the northern Homs countryside that saw the Syrian regime take back control. Most farmers, under this new reality, were able to return to their lands, hoping to go back to their normal lives. However, they were faced with an overwhelming wave of thefts that targeted the corps of northern Homs countryside, which added to their already-dire conditions amid a compounding price spike.
Enab Baladi got in touch with several local farmers to cover what has become a practically daily occurrence, which cost farmers their equipment and corps. Police patrols, on the other hand, that routinely sweep the area exacerbated the burdens imposed on farmers by demanding royalties with or without a cause.
Crops and equipment
Mohammad Suleiman, a local farmer, lives in al-Farhaniya village, has described the situation as ‘unbearable” with the “rampant thieves” who “took all the corps and equipment they could, including pumps.”
Suleiman added that hiding crops would be “inconceivable” due to the wideness of the agricultural lands, which would require “an army to guard.” Similarly, Suleiman notes, pulling pumps from wells every day to store it inside houses is also out of the question.
Another farmer (who requested anonymity for safety concerns) from the city of Talbisa, northern Homs countryside, told Enab Baladi he has lost over 45 water pumps to thefts, noting that each pump costs at least 400,000 S.P. (170 USD), as well as his crops of aniseed and black cumin. He, as such, incurred heavy losses.
Prompted by the compounded crop theft issue, the farmers’ association in the area opted to form a committee and refer this problem to the area’s police captain in an attempt to address it.
Speaking to Enab Baladi, a committee member (who requested anonymity for safety issues) noted that “agricultural labor takes a heavy toll on the body. Consequently, a farmer would be unable to stay up all night to protect those wide areas. This prompted the farmers’ association in the area to go to the official in charge of al-Rastan to find solutions. They requested that patrols are arranged to guard the local farms.”
The farmer revealed that the official they sought said that “it is impossible to cover the area with patrols due to the underwhelming manpower that can barely run three patrols.” He alternatively proposed to establish checkpoints in the area, an option that was strictly rejected by the farmers as this would entail additional royalties.
“The official moved to assign two patrols that cover the perimeter of the agricultural lands,” the member committee added. “However, the officers on those patrols started demanding money from farmers in the form of bribes, before they were encouraged enough to get into the farms and take the harvest for themselves. The farmers eventually asked for the patrols to be ceased.”
From wheat to black cumin… thieves are the ultimate winners
Agriculture is the singular backbone for parts of northern Homs countryside that stretch from the al-Houla plains in the west to the western outskirts of the Salamiya city in the east. The area is known for its highly futile soil that is well-suited for most irrigated crops.
Notably, the current farming season saw a shift from wheat cropping to aniseed and black cumin. With irrigation being halted in the northern Homs countryside, wheat cropping is relying now on rainfed practices instead of irrigation, meaning that it solely relies on monsoon rains.
For example, black cumin is farmed for export, in addition to its medicinal, which made it preferable to farmers over wheat, a crop that is subject to price regulation enforced by the Syrian regime.
On the other hand, one dunum of aniseed produces an average of 150 kg, with one-kilogram costing 4,000 S.P. (1.7 USD) according to an agricultural engineer (unnamed for safety concerns) in the city of Kafrlaha, al-Houla plains who spoke to Enab Baladi in a previous interview.
This shift has led to thieves targeting those crops instead, according to Suleiman, who told Enab Baladi that “he has never heard of an aniseed-stealing ring before this year.”
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