Subsidy lists linked to nepotism; Daraa farmers complain of fuel shortages

An electric generator used by farmers to pump water for irrigation (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

An electric generator used by farmers to pump water for irrigation (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

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Daraa – Halim Muhammad

Mohammad al-Zoubi did not receive his allocations of diesel fuel to support the agricultural sector during the current summer season, despite his deep need for it.

Despite that, he planted more than 50 dunums of various vegetables for the winter season, al-Zoubi, 65, told Enab Baladi.

The distribution of Daraa Agriculture Directorate was limited to two liters of subsidized diesel for one dunum (about 900 m2) of wheat, according to a number of farmers in Daraa whom Enab Baladi met.

The failure to distribute subsidized fuel to farmers increased the cost of production, and they resorted to buying fuels from the free market or installing solar energy systems to secure their energy needs.

No justice, favoritism

Jamal, 50, of Tafas town in the western countryside of Daraa, told Enab Baladi that the reasons for the lack of support are due to a network of officials who embezzle farmers’ allocations, and this is what a large segment of the governorate’s farmers believe in.

At a time when farmers from Daraa received a few liters of fuel, another part of them was completely deprived of the allocations, which prompted them to adopt alternative plans that raised the cost of production, which consequently affected the rise in prices in the market.

The distribution of fuel allocations by the agriculture directorate is not enough for a quarter of the farmers’ needs, Jamal added.

Meanwhile, the Farmers’ Association in Daraa did not conduct a “sensory examination” (a field tour to ascertain the farmer’s need for fuel by inspecting his agricultural crops). Instead, the association only made lists of people who did not grow crops.

The Daraa Agriculture Directorate supervises the agricultural plan in the governorate based on the statistics and estimates of the extension units, while the agricultural associations are entrusted with the task of preparing lists of people entitled to receive allocations and conducting field tours to inspect the actual need for fuel.

Therefore, the distribution of fuel in the governorate was based on lists of people chosen by the Directorate of Agriculture in advance, without relying on prior knowledge of the needs of the region and its farmers.

Some wheat farmers were unable to water their crops because they were unable to buy diesel at the free market price, according to Jamal.

He added that he received only 25 liters of fuel this year, although he planted a variety of wheat and beans, in addition to the olive and pomegranate trees he owned, which made watering the crop expensive for him.

Jamal is one of the farmers who considered that the distribution of fuels is unfair and is not commensurate with the need and the cultivated areas. He said that the beneficiaries of the distribution are people who do not have agricultural projects at all.

Mohammad al-Zoubi, another farmer from the western countryside of Daraa, told Enab Baladi that most of the beneficiaries of the allocations are not actually farmers, as the corruption of the heads of municipalities and associations has turned the registration of lists into an arbitrary issue, and there is no tangible oversight of their work by the agriculture directorate or the provincial council.

He pointed out that he had previously reviewed, more than once, those responsible for distribution in his area, without obtaining a convincing answer, except that the quantities of fuel allocated to farmers are few.

Al-Zoubi, who owns a field of olive and pomegranate trees and an area planted with mulukhiyah and eggplant, told Enab Baladi that he did not receive any subsidized fuel allocations at all, considering that transparency in fuel delivery has become “non-existent” and there is no institutional or societal oversight over it.

A pomegranate orchard in the western countryside of Daraa - 17 August 2022 (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

A pomegranate orchard in the western countryside of Daraa – 17 August 2022 (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

The controlling party

Farmers do not pin their hopes on the governorate’s directorate of agriculture, as there are no desirable solutions “under the routines of the ruling (Baath) party,” which controls state departments and even agricultural associations.

The distribution of fuels and estimates of the cultivated areas are linked to the network of employees of state departments from the agriculture directorate to the governorate council, municipal councils, associations, and agricultural units, and each of them has acquaintances or relatives who consider them to be the actual beneficiaries, even if they are not farmers.

Bassam al-Hashish, director of Daraa Agriculture, told the local al-Watan newspaper in April that the directorate delivered 3.5 million liters of subsidized diesel to farmers during the winter season at the price of 500 SYP per liter at the average of 3 liters per dunum.

Free market

Farmer Jamal said if the subsidized diesel were distributed in a “fair way,” although it may not meet the farmer’s needs, it would lessen the burden of buying fuel from the free market while the price of free-priced fuel reached 8,000 SYP (1.63 USD) per liter.

Ahmed al-Mustafa, who owns 30 dunums of pomegranate trees, needs about 50 liters of diesel, as a minimum, to irrigate them on a daily basis, he told Enab Baladi.

With his dependence today on the free (black) market to secure fuel, about a quarter of the profits from his agricultural crop will go to the price of fuel, and therefore his loss is “certain.”

Solar energy

Some farmers have resorted to installing solar energy systems as an alternative to government fuels, but their high cost has made them unavailable to a large segment of farmers.

According to al-Zoubi, the installation of solar panels cost him about 100 million SYP, while they only work 8 hours a day, and the system does not work on cloudy days, which drives him to use electricity generators to ensure the irrigation of the entire crops of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and corn.

Wael al-Ahmad, the head of the Plant Production Department in the Daraa Agriculture Directorate, told the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) that the areas planted with summer vegetables exceeded the seasonal plan set by the directorate by 730 hectares.

Last season’s plan amounted to 1,287 hectares, and farmers planted 2,664 hectares, exceeding government expectations with more than doubled summer vegetables, al-Ahmad concluded.

Solar panels in a farm in the western countryside of Daraa - 19 September 2021 (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

Solar panels in a farm in the western countryside of Daraa – 19 September 2021 (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

Solar panels inside a farm in Daraa governorate (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

Solar panels inside a farm in Daraa governorate (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

 

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