“Interim Government” abandons Ras al-Ain wheat

Wheat harvest in the border Ras al-Ain region, northwest of al-Hasakah city - August 14, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Hussein Shaabo)

Wheat harvest in the border Ras al-Ain region, northwest of al-Hasakah city - August 14, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Hussein Shaabo)

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Ras al-Ain – Hussein Shaabo

Farmers of the northeastern Ras al-Ain region complain about the accumulation of their wheat crop, saying the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), which is responsible for buying all crops in the opposition-held areas, has received only small quantities of it.

Non-receipt of wheat poses a real challenge to the strategic crop, and to farmers, given the absence of suitable places for storage and difficulties in preserving the quality of the crop, which could lead to its spoilage, farmers told Enab Baladi.

This situation prompted many farmers to sell the crop to merchants who buy it at low prices and send it to the areas controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), taking advantage of the farmer’s needs and the fact that the Interim Government did not receive the wheat.

“Interim Govt” has stopped receiving wheat

Mohammad Aziz, 50, a farmer from Ras al-Ain, said that the production of wheat on the 40 dunams he owns reached 95 tons this year, and he faced difficulties in selling the crop because the purchase price was low. (Dunam is about 900 m2)

Aziz added that setting the purchase price of a ton of pure, first-grade durum wheat by the Interim Government at $330 after it was $480 last year did not satisfy the farmers and was not commensurate with the costs.

Omar Hammoud, head of the agriculture office in the local council of Ras al-Ain, told Enab Baladi that the wheat season this year was abundant, with 75,000 tons in the lands of Ras al-Ain, and that the Interim government promised to receive 30,000 tons of it, but it only received 4,200 tons.

Hammoud added that the failure of the Interim Government to receive the wheat crop had a negative impact on farmers and enabled merchants to control wheat prices and reduce them significantly.

Enab Baladi contacted Hail Ahmed Khalif, the Interim Government’s Minister of Agriculture, to obtain clarifications about the reasons for not receiving the crop from the farmers, but it did not receive a response until the moment this report was published.

Merchants’ exploitation 

Aziz says his fellow farmers have become vulnerable to exploitation by merchants who buy the crop from them at very low prices and sell it to merchants within SDF-controlled areas.

Wheat enters the SDF-controlled areas loaded with trucks in irregular routes through the Tarwaziyeh crossing, controlled by the al-Hamza Division, and the al-Tuffaha crossing, controlled by the Ahrar al-Sharqiya faction, and the two crossings witness active traffic to pass the wheat crop. Both factions are key units in the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA).

Khaled Abdulwahab, 40, another farmer from Ras al-Ain, said that merchants pay $200 for a ton of durum wheat, and the Interim Government sets its price at $330, while they pay $175 for a soft ton, and the Interim Govt sets its price at $285.

Abdulwahhab considered that the farmers, at the present time, have become “hostages” in the hands of the merchants, blaming the Interim government for this, pointing out that it did not support the farmers at the time of planting and left their crops at production.

The head of the agriculture office, Hammoud, stressed the importance of having a responsible party that receives grain from farmers and is committed to paying prices that reflect production costs and the current economic reality, which enhances price balance and protects farmers’ rights from unfair trade, he said.

The local official pointed out the need to take serious measures to improve the current situation and to ensure that the entire crop is received at prices that support the efforts of farmers and contribute to the sustainability of the agricultural sector in the region.

The wheat crop is the most important crop cultivated by the farmers of the region, in addition to the barley crop, and it constitutes the main source of income for the residents of the region, who depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood.

The Ras al-Ain region faced many problems, including the imposition of origin duties before they were canceled as a result of the demands of the residents of the region and the digging of the trench that severed the agricultural lands, which negatively affected the production of this year’s season.

“Fees and Trench”

With the start of the harvest season since last May, farmers in Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain complained about the imposition of “royalties and taxes” by the SNA factions and local councils in the region on their agricultural crops, which were denied by the latter.

After repeating the complaint, the Liberation and Construction Movement, a key SNA unit, issued a statement on June 12 in which it stated that it had directed its forces to facilitate and assist farmers during the process of harvesting grains and to protect crop collection points, and set a contact number to receive complaints.

On April 13, the Interim Ministry of Defense issued a circular to establish a “prohibited” military zone at a depth of 300 meters in the cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain.

About a week after the decision, vehicles, and members of the Turkish forces began digging a trench adjacent to the Syrian-Turkish border in private lands owned by farmers, 300 meters away from the border.

The drilling process led to widespread protests by residents, rejecting the decision and denouncing the cutting off of areas of their land, which is their source of livelihood in an area where most of its residents depend on agriculture.

At the time, the head of the Civil Peace and Reconciliation Department in the Syrian Council of Tribes and Clans in Ras al-Ain, Sheikh Salem Salih al-Samir, told Enab Baladi that the complaints of the local people and farmers regarding the impact of digging the trench on the land had been answered.

After the Council communicated with the concerned authorities and the governor of the region, a meeting was held, and the decision was taken to reduce the permitted distance for digging trenches from 300 meters to 20 meters.

Promises were obtained from the concerned authorities to compensate the affected people in the event that parts of their land were taken away by providing annual compensation, according to al-Samir.

 

 

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