War, high prices, and corruption networks ruin Syria’s livestock
Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa
Livestock breeders in Syria pass through difficult conditions that have pushed many of them to consider leaving the profession whether there are alternatives or not.
Many have become compelled to sell their livestock, provided that there are buyers, or slaughter them to eliminate expenditure burdens driven by the depreciation of the Syrian pound or the frequent rise in the prices of fodder globally.
The Syrian regime’s government periodically resorts to reducing the allocations of fodder it provides at a “subsidized” price to breeders while ignoring at the same time their need for additional quantities of heating materials needed to keep the herd alive during winter.
All the challenges have contributed to double prices for livestock and bird prices as well as its products such as eggs, chicken, meat, milk, and cheese which casts new burdens on consumers that they simply cannot bear.
The costs of importing fodder materials to Syria pushed the regime’s government to raise the fodder prices locally or manage its subsidy by reducing allocations prior to the start of the Russian war on Ukraine.
Following the start of the invasion, the global rise in fodder prices widened the gap between production costs and earnings from trade in herds, as the price of a bag of fodder (50 kilograms) went from 70,000 Syrian pounds (18 US dollars) to about 110,000 Syrian pounds (30 US dollars).
Suleiman, 38, told Enab Baladi that he owns three cows in the western countryside of Daraa governorate amid a disparity between the selling price of milk they produce and the price of the fodder used to feed the cows.
As a result of the high costs of fodder, Suleiman was forced to reduce the feeding of the cows, which was reflected in their milk production.
An assistant veterinarian residing in Daraa told Enab Baladi that fodder plays a key role in improving milk productivity in terms of both quality and quantity.
Fodder contains protein and supplies the necessary energy and minerals to livestock. “In normal conditions,” he adds, “one kilogram of fodder should produce two kilograms of milk.”
The costs of rearing are not limited to fodder. Cows actually need essential herbs, such as alfalfa and summer corn, which help reduce dependence on fodder.
Alfalfa is planted in the winter, while corn and millet are planted during summer. Growing them represents an additional charge to production costs, with most breeders renting land dedicated to growing such seeds, in addition to the costs of fertilizers and watering.
Breeders store hay (dried wheat straw) and serve it to cows with fodder. During the wheat harvest, breeders buy quantities that are sufficient to feed the cows for an entire year at a price of up to 500 Syrian pounds per kilo.
Recession, traders exploit the crisis
On 26 February, the Director of Livestock Production in the Ministry of Agriculture in the Syrian regime’s government, Osama Hammoud, announced that Syria had lost about 40 to 50 percent of its livestock herds due to the global rise in fodder prices, in addition to the economic sanctions that had been imposed on the regime.
Hammoud had also reported a major problem threatening livestock restoration efforts, which is breeders’ inability to continue the process of animal husbandry, which led them to sell a large part of their herds to secure the needs of the remaining part.
Enab Baladi has observed that multiple difficulties of raising livestock and birds have also been reflected in the sales and purchases movement, resulting in lower prices in light of high supply and low demand.
Youssef, 30, who raises 50 sheep and three cows in the Daraa countryside, told Enab Baladi that the sale of herds “almost stopped” despite the price drop, stressing that the reason for this was the unwillingness to bear the costs of rearing.
The price of a cow is approximately 2 million Syrian pounds (510 US pounds), up from about 5 million pounds (1250 US pounds) in early 2021. The price of a hen is approximately 25,000 Syrian pounds (6 US dollars), and the price of a sheep, which varies by weight, costs 300,000 Syrian pounds (75 US dollars) on average.
Wael Bakri, head of the Veterinarians Syndicate branch in As-Suwayda governorate, confirmed that the rise in fodder prices had enabled traders and brokers to grab livestock breeders by the throat while explaining that the breeders’ inability to secure fodder in the quantities required for their livestock herds has prompted them to resort to selling part of it in the livestock market. This has also made them at the mercy of the fodder traders who imposed prices that he described as “lethal.”
Speaking to the pro-regime al-Watan local newspaper on 10 March, Bakri said that during a “bazaar” in the livestock market at the time, traders paid no more than 125,000 Syrian pounds per sheep (32 US dollars).
Hikmat Haddad, a member of the Poultry Breeders Committee, announced on 23 March that the number of poultry breeders in regime-controlled areas had fallen to only 20 percent of the percentage registered since 2011.
Local milieu destabilized by war
The hardships of livestock breeders over the past years are still annoying amid the absence of a concrete governmental move to lessen the negative effects, which also affected basic foodstuffs prices.
Economist at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Mohammed al-Abdullah, said that the issue of the deterioration of livestock in areas controlled by the Syrian regime is “complex” with multiple causes.
In an interview with Enab Baladi, al-Abdullah explained that one of the main reasons for the decline of livestock to below 50 percent is the domestic environment that is unsuitable for this sector in a country that has been in conflict since 2011.
This has had a negative impact on the stability essential to the growth of this sector and the preservation of livestock of all kinds.
Al-Abdullah pointed out that several factors constituted a major challenge to the regime’s government in terms of its ability to continue supporting the livestock sector and limit its losses when it is in itself experiencing a worsening economic crisis that prompted it to reschedule and rationalize subsidies for large segments of beneficiaries in various sectors.
The regime’s government can no longer sustain the same subsidy previously provided to the livestock sector, despite its importance to the national economy and the local market, al-Abdullah said.
These factors are represented in a significant decline in grazing areas, the loss of large numbers of cattle as a result of outbreaks of disease, the high price of veterinary medicines, the higher cost of livestock farming compared to profits derived from it, and the reduced purchasing power of the consumer.
In addition, fodder prices have increased, and fodder is now impossible to secure for many breeders, as well as the widespread smuggling of livestock to neighboring regions and countries for profit, the researcher concluded.
Corruption affects livestock
The deterioration of livestock can be attributed, on the other hand, to the “pervasive” economic corruption in government institutions affiliated with the regime, local economists say.
Al-Abdullah believes that the corrupt networks of beneficiaries are based in institutions related to the livestock sector, primarily the General Organization of Fodder, banks, Chambers of Agriculture, and the General Union of Peasants, among other relevant bodies.
The role of these networks was evident through the control of fodder prices and its distribution within the Organization of Fodder, as the prices of “rationed fodder” were close to the prices set by traders.
Al-Abdullah also indicated that the networking between fodder traders and said networks is no longer a secret, given that they currently seek to import and monopolize fodder and impose their prices on the local market, with a view to generating a profit of billions of Syrian pounds in the absence of supply controls.
The regime’s government no longer has the desire or the ability to continue to support the livestock sector while attempting to justify the withdrawal of support with several pretexts that have become known to all, the expert revealed.
Prior to 2011, Syria’s livestock accounted for about 40 percent of total agricultural production and secured employment for about 20 percent of the rural workforce.
On average, about 35 percent of rural households considered livestock to be the main source of food and income.
If the causes that led to the deterioration of the livestock sector are not eliminated, the sector is destined for further deterioration.
This will have many negative effects on a wide range of skilled breeders, as they would lose their primary source of income, in addition to a steady rise in the prices of animal products and the inability of a large proportion of consumers to purchase them.
Al-Abdullah, the economic expert, says the regime’s government is likely to resort to imports to cover the need of the local market with lower-priced products, as opposed to a lower quality than that of the local product, thus enabling networks of “beneficiaries” to accumulate profits through importing these substances.
Enab Baladi’s correspondent in Daraa Halim Muhammad contributed to this report.
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