Intermittent rainfall threatens rain-fed crops in Homs, solutions are expensive
Enab Baladi – Orwah al-Mundhir
Although rainfall is close to the annual average, the risk of drought still threatens rain-fed crops in Homs governorate. Fears prompted the government of the Syrian regime, last week, to release irrigation water from Qattina Lake in an attempt to save the wheat crop in the central region.
The decrease in the groundwater level to less than 100 meters made it difficult for farmers to extract water to irrigate their fields amid the high prices of diesel used to run the engines and the high costs of installing solar panels.
The government of the regime has reduced the amount of support directed to farmers, despite the concerns, by raising the prices of fertilizers and subsidizing the areas of wheat cultivated through agricultural associations with only one liter of fuel oil per month.
Despite the abundance of rainfall and its closeness to the average for the current year, the rainy periods were not sufficiently suitable for rainfed crops due to the spacing between the precipitation period and the next.
The agricultural engineer, Muhammad, from the town of Talbiseh, told Enab Baladi that the rainfall rate varies according to each region, and despite the good rainfall this year and its closeness to the average, the rainfall came in two batches only.
The first was in January, and the second was in February, then the rains stopped for 25 days, with the sun shining and the occurrence of air currents, which helped to dry the earth’s surface quickly.
Muhammad, who preferred not to reveal his full name for security reasons, added that the crops have already been affected, and some fields have begun to turn yellow, especially those whose farmers depend on organic fertilizers that require double irrigation times.
The Directorate of Agriculture in Homs decided to release water from Qattina Dam in an attempt to save what can be saved from the wheat season, one month earlier than usual, with the aim of irrigating the wheat crop in the northern countryside of Homs and ensuring that it is not damaged.
Abu Mahmoud, a farmer from the al-Rastan countryside, who asked not to be named for special reasons, told Enab Baladi that the release of irrigation water is a good thing, as the crops are at risk after the rain is delayed, but the time allotted for irrigating a dunum is only ten minutes, which is not sufficient to irrigate this area.
Farmers also suffer from the high cost of extracting water from wells with power outages amid the high price of diesel on the black market, which makes them unable to extract groundwater, whose level has fallen below 100 meters.
Adnan al-Qasim, a farmer from the countryside of al-Rastan, told Enab Baladi that the problem with irrigation water lies in providing energy to extract it from wells. The high price of diesel fuel and the permanent power outages have made most farmers lose the ability to extract water.
On March 13, Ahmed Ibrahim, head of the General Federation of Peasants, said that if Syria did not witness rains, the situation of the rainfed wheat crop would be in “imminent danger,” while the total areas cultivated with wheat (irrigated and rainfed) in Syria are estimated at about one million hectares.
The support allocated to farmers fades from year to year, and the role of the regime government is limited to subsidizing crops that it has a monopoly on marketing, such as wheat while neglecting to provide any support and facilities to farmers of other crops.
Fayez al-Kizawi, 47, a farmer from the al-Houla Plain, told Enab Baladi that the government does not support farmers but is trying to secure wheat farmers’ fuel requirements, at the cost price not at the subsidized price, as well as with regard to fertilizers.
The quantity of diesel fuel distributed to farmers is very small, as it amounts to one liter per dunum per month, and one bag of urea fertilizer per five dunums, at a price close to its price in the free market.
Agriculture costs have also increased by no less than 30% compared to 2022 because the majority of farmers did not obtain subsidized fertilizer from the Ministry of Agriculture, which forced them to buy it at high prices in the market, according to the statement of the head of the Peasants Union, Ahmed Ibrahim.
Half of the farmers did not receive the first batch of fertilizer, estimated at 25% of the total allotments, and none of them received the second batch, estimated at 50% of the total, which prompted them to buy it on credit from the local market, at a high price and interest, Ibrahim concluded.
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