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Picking figs poses life-and-death challenge to farmers of Syria’s rebel-held Idlib

Fig fruits in the Jabal al-Zawiya area in Idlib countryside - 21 August 2020 ((Iqtisad)

Fig fruits in the Jabal al-Zawiya area in Idlib countryside - 21 August (Iqtisad)

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Enab Baladi – Idlib

The flying of reconnaissance aircraft, the sounds of artillery shells, and the threat posed by landmines and other unexploded ordnance, which are known as hidden killers, did not prevent farmers in the southern countryside of Idlib from harvesting their ripe fig fruits. 

Within only the first week of August 2020, eight people were killed and injured while trying to harvest the figs in their villages, which they were forced to leave as a result of bombings and military operations after poverty pushed them to adventures despite risks.

Tanks do not benefit figs

Safwan al-Ibrahim went to his field, which is located in the seam zone, ignoring the Syrian regime’s bombing attacks. However, he found his fig crops in a bad situation, according to what he described to Enab Baladi after the military operations stopped him from taking care of his lands and trees.  

The villages of Jabal al-Zawiya and the southern countryside of Idlib are best known for growing figs fruit, which represents the primary source of income for the population,  as well as for producing expensive dried figs, which have incredible healing properties.

Agricultural engineer Mustafa Khanous, in his speech to Enab Baladi, the southern countryside of Idlib, accounts for an estimated annual production of about five thousand tons of figs, on which 70 percent of the households live, but the losses this year have reached one thousand and 500 tons so far.

The price of a ton of dried figs ranges from 2,500 to 3,000 USD, and one tree (after reaching the age of 15) produces 80 kilograms of figs, which turn into 20 kilograms of dried figs.

 Khanous said that figs grow exceptionally well in all the villages of Jabal al-Zawiya and Kafr Nabl. Besides, figs require little care, unlike other fruits, irrigation, spraying, and prunings. 

Al-Ibrahim pointed out that the poor harvest of figs was not necessarily regarded as “bad,” as traders increased their demand for figs, making his adventure a worthwhile challenge.

On the other hand, farmer Muhib Othman indicated that military operations and battles adversely affect the productivity of fig crops by quantity and quality and the traders’ turnout was “weak.” Besides, prices were not standardized, but people’s pursuit of livelihoods is the reason why people risk their lives for. 

Crushed by Syrian regime’s tanks… Is fig crop growing in northern Idlib?

“The land is priceless,” as the farmer Baha al-Suwaid described the value of his land that he lost in Kafr Nabl before he was forcibly displaced to northern Idlib. 

People of Kafr Nabl had to run for their lives after the Syrian regime’s military advance, during 2019; the Syrian regime’s tanks rolled over al-Suwaid’s trees and showered them with shells. Therefore, al-Suwaid does not think that his land survived the destruction. 

The displacement to northern Idlib did not provide fig farmers with a solution to start all over again because fig trees do not grow anywhere, according to agricultural engineer Khanous. Figs thrive in warm regions and need the warmth of hot in summer and dry climates in winter to survive. They are planted in not waterlogged soil, and their trees need four or five years to produce their crops.

Khanous said that the different types of figs offer several potential health benefits, especially the dried ones, as their seeds strengthen the heart muscle, and treat health conditions related to the respiratory system and treat digestive disorders.

Since the beginning of 2019, the Syrian regime forces and Russia have re-captured 60 percent of the agricultural lands that were under the control of the opposition factions. In other words, the opposition has lost nearly 2,300 square kilometers of agricultural land, while only 1,500 square kilometers remained under its control, including the lands of Jabal al-Zawiya that suffer from bombings and repeated violations of the Moscow Agreement, signed on 5 March, which stipulates a ceasefire in Idlib. 

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