Daraa: Water shortage forces farmers to log pomegranate trees; sell it as firewood
Daraa – Halim Muhammad
Some farmers in the southern governorate of Daraa, who were unable to irrigate their crops, started cutting and uprooting pomegranate trees and replacing them with olive trees, as they are considered more thirst-tolerant compared to pomegranates, with the approaching end of the pomegranate harvest.
This bitter step was caused by the scarcity of irrigation water, the dryness of most of the springs in Daraa, the decline in the level of the wells, in addition to the financial cost of watering the crops due to the high cost of fuel, oils, and the expensive spare parts for the engines of the irrigation wells, farmers say.
Water scarcity is gateway to logging
Maher, 30, was unable to fully water his pomegranate trees, in the western countryside of Daraa, after the well he relied on to water his field dried up, and many springs and wells have recently dried up in the towns of al-Fawar, al-Muzayrib, and Zayzoun.
Maher told Enab Baladi that he had granted the pomegranate field, after harvesting the crop, to a firewood merchant who was responsible for cutting, chopping, and selling it, as the price of each ton of pomegranate firewood is one million SYP (about 200 USD), and it is fast-flammable and suitable for fireplaces.
The farmer expressed his sadness at cutting down the trees, as it is his only source of livelihood, and it extends over an area of 14 dunums (12,600 m2), but the lack of irrigation water prompted him to take this decision.
After the pomegranates, Maher decided to plant his field with olive trees, as they are more adapted to thirst and do not need irrigation more than twice during the summer.
Pomegranate trees require watering more than ten times during the season, and the delay in the irrigation date necessarily means a negative impact on the quality of the fruits on the one hand and the age of the trees on the other hand.
And if the prices of firewood are appropriate from the point of view of the sellers, then the consumers of the material do not seem to welcome those prices.
Ni’ma, 30, from Daraa countryside, says that merchants control the price of firewood and that the price of one ton of pomegranate firewood is one million Syrian pounds, and a ton of olive firewood is 1.200,000 SYP.
The woman explained to Enab Baladi that she collects soft branches of pomegranate trees and stores them for the winter due to her inability to buy firewood for heating.
The high price of fuel in Syria, and the difficulty of obtaining it, is prompting people to search for alternative options and innovative solutions to deal with the winter season, and firewood is part of these alternatives.
The price of a liter of diesel in the local black market has reached six thousand and 500 Syrian pounds, while the price of a liter of subsidized diesel is 500 SYP.
Last winter, the regime government allocated 200 liters of diesel to each family in four batches, but the distribution rate for the second batch did not exceed 30%.
Private irrigation is costly
With the drought situation continuing in the coming years, other areas of pomegranate fields will come out of farmers’ accounts, says Jaber, 45, who owns two fields of pomegranates. He uprooted some of their trees and cut them to use as firewood, keeping the other part.
“The cost of irrigation water per hour from some wells can reach 20,000 Syrian pounds,” Jaber added, referring to the high cost of irrigation, which does not cover the expenses.
(1 USD = 3000 SYP due to the state central bank, but the pound is trading around 5,200 to the dollar in the black market)
The high cost of pomegranates is also linked to the high cost of fertilizers, agricultural medicines, and labor wages, the farmer adds.
Jaber sells his pomegranate production to merchants who store it in refrigerator trucks and cooling units, but this season he was forced to sell the production to the al-Hal market (the main agricultural products market) at a low price as a big quantity of the pomegranate harvest were cracked due to the lack of water.
The price of one kilogram of pomegranates in the local market ranges between 2,400 SYP for the excellent French variety and 1,700 pounds for the lower-quality varieties.
Pomegranates that were thirsty and whose fruits did not ripen well are sold to the local market at 900 SYP per kilogram, while cracked pomegranates for juice are sold at 200 SYP per kilogram.
A Daraa-based agricultural engineer, Enab Baladi withheld his name for security reasons, said the lack of irrigation water leads to the weakening of trees and the cracking of fruits.
The thirst of the crop causes weakening in the fruit, which makes it unsuitable for storage in refrigerators.
Daraa’s Agriculture Directorate estimated the current season’s production of pomegranates at about 15,250 tons, and the area cultivated with pomegranates is 1,21 hectares, including 445,000 trees in the production stage, according to the state-run news agency (SANA).
Wael al-Ahmad, head of the plant production department in Daraa Agriculture Directorate, told SANA on 20 July that the tree’s production ranges between 30 and 40 kilograms.
Fears of desertification
Several springs in the countryside of Daraa witnessed a decline in water that reached the stage of drought in the lakes of Muzayrib, Zayzoun, and the wells of Oyoun al-Abd, west of Daraa, as well as a decline in the water level of the wells of al-Sakhina, al-Safouqiyyah, and al-Ashari.
This comes after the surplus from these springs was used for irrigation water, while it no longer met the population’s need for drinking water.
In addition to the springs, drought affected some surface wells, which caused the rapid drying of springs and lakes.
Farmers usually rely on surplus water from springs, but its decline prompted them to resort to water from wells, many of which dried up since last summer, in addition to the decline in the level of some others, in the towns of Tal Shihab, Zayzoun and al-Ajami.
In July 2020, Mounir al-Awda, Daraa water resources director, attributed the drying up of Lake Muzayrib to the presence of more than 100 wells around the lake’s water basin, SANA reported.
Al-Awda estimated the number of violating wells in Daraa governorate at about 4000, which contributed to the drying up of 13 springs in the governorate.
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