Syrian Security controls fertilizers distribution in Homs despite limited quantities

Phosphate fertilizers plant in the city of Homs, central Syria - 2 January 2019 (Homs Provincial Council)

Phosphate fertilizers plant in the city of Homs, central Syria - 2 January 2019 (Homs Provincial Council)

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Enab Baladi – Homs

At the Peasant Association gate in the northern city of al-Rastan in central Syria, a number of farmers gather as they eagerly await their allocations of the chemical fertilizers that they utilize in spraying their crops.

Abu Ahmed sits on the sidewalk opposite the Peasant Association building, the wrinkles on his face reveal the fact that he is well in his sixties, while his rough and overworked hands narrate the stories of exhausting agricultural labor.

He rolls a cigarette using Arabian tobacco while speaking to Enab Baladi. “I got here at 7 am to collect two bags of the Urea fertilizer, which are not even enough for a quarter of the area of ​​my farm. What good does one bag for every ten dunums do?”

Quantity does not cover needs

The Peasant Association allocates one single bag for every ten dunums at 79,000 Syrian pounds per bag, provided that the farmer is a member of the association.

The Peasant Association reports to the General Union of Peasants, an organization under the authority of the ruling Arab Socialist Baath Party, and it controls and oversees the distribution of fertilizers and fuels allocated by the government to farmers.

Saleh, 56, an agricultural engineer who owns an agricultural pharmacy in Homs, said, “the quantities handed by the Peasant Association are rather minuscule. In theory, one bag of superphosphate (the Urea) is only meant to cover a maximum of 3 dunums.

Meanwhile, the Peasant Association distributes one bag for every ten dunums. “That is precisely why we, the farmers, are forced to either resort to the black market in order to make up for the shortage or just stick to the quantities delivered,” according to Saleh, who refused to disclose his full name for security reasons.

The Peasant Associations’ mechanism of fertilizer and fuel distribution is greatly corrupted, seeing that the distribution of fertilizers is manipulated under the pretext of supporting strategic crops, thereby increasing the quantity delivered to certain farmers at the expense of others, and this is also due to directives and security considerations that the association is unable to bypass, Saleh said.

Abu Mousa, 61, a farmer from the Granada village north of Homs, told Enab Baladi that “the distribution of fertilizers is one of the major themes of corruption within the association.

“Some farmers obtain quantities of fertilizers that exceed their needs, while others barely receive their allocations; while the association claims to support wheat cultivation, but we are surprised to learn that those who receive large quantities do not even possess large areas for growing wheat,” he added.

The farmers who have close ties with the security services or have relatives of influential officers receive double the quantity of fertilizers under pressure from the security detachments, whose requests the association cannot refuse.

Free market but under security control

Russian companies have taken control of the phosphate fields, and fertilizer plant on the bank of Qattinah Lake in Homs after the People’s Assembly ratified, on 6 February 2019, the draft laws signed by the General Establishment of Chemical Industries and the Russian company “STG Engineering” to exploit the General Fertilizers Company’s plant in Homs.

Agricultural pharmacies are cleared to import fertilizers from the plant after obtaining the required approval from the four security branches; the Military Security department has a tight grip on the purchased quantities and makes weekly lists of buyers and quantities purchased from pharmacy owners.

Agricultural engineer Saleh, who owns an agricultural pharmacy, said that the prices set by the Russian company are permanently changing and that it raises the prices with the beginning of each season; three months ago, the factory price of a bag of Urea was at 80,000 Syrian pounds, whereas now it costs more than 140,000 Syrian pounds per bag. One bag of “triple superphosphate” now costs 80,000 Syrian pounds, while a bag of “Ammonium” currently costs 65,000 Syrian pounds.

Saleh has also cited that a Military Security patrol would usually come at the end of each month to collect a list of the names of those who bought each and every bag since fertilizers are employed in the manufacture of explosives.

Farmers are pushed to turn to the markets in order to buy fertilizers and to ensure good productivity of their crops, which increases the costs of agricultural production with each increase in fertilizer prices.

(1 US dollar is trading for 3900 Syrian pounds)

 

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