Between four ruling powers: Economic policies threaten cotton season in Syria

The prices of purchasing cotton are not commensurate with the costs of growing it in Ras al-Ain, northwest of al-Hasakah - September 28, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Hussein Shaabo)

The prices of purchasing cotton are not commensurate with the costs of growing it in Ras al-Ain, northwest of al-Hasakah - September 28, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Hussein Shaabo)

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Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

This year’s cotton crop is experiencing several problems in the various areas of control in Syria.

In regime-controlled areas, the government was unable to pay the value of cotton marketed by farmers to its institutions, with the quantities delivered reaching about 1,100 tons.

The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) set a price that did not satisfy the farmers, which was 11,000 Syrian pounds (About 0.8 US dollars) per kilogram, without announcing the purchase of the crop from the farmers, while allowing it to be exported outside those lands, which put the farmers in a state of searching for someone to buy their crop.  

In Idlib governorate, the Salvation Government, the administrative body of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), encouraged the cultivation of cotton, and supported farmers with interest-free loans, while the Syrian Interim Government, which controls parts of the Aleppo countryside, did not announce its desire to buy the crop.

Damascus government is helpless

The Syrian regime’s government was unable to pay the value of cotton marketed by farmers to its institutions in areas under its control, with quantities reaching about 1,100 tons, which will have an impact on future deliveries, according to a government official’s statement.

Mohammed Azouz, head of the Professional Union of Textile Workers, said in a statement to the local newspaper Al-Watan in mid-October that the government’s failure to pay the price of cotton so far has led to fears of farmers’ reluctance to market and, thus a decline in deliveries.

Azouz added that the delay resulted from raising the price of purchasing cotton from farmers from 4,000 to 10,000 pounds, thus increasing the value of the loan requested by the General Cotton Corporation from the Ministry of Finance to 562 billion Syrian pounds to purchase about 56,000 tons of the material.

The Ministry’s response to the loan request was rejected, and it asked the Cotton Corporation to reduce the value of the loan in proportion to the actual estimates of the deliveries, which forced the Corporation to adjust the value of the requested loan to match the quantities expected by the Ministry of Agriculture for production.

In early November, the government agreed to grant the General Cotton Ginning and Marketing Corporation a loan amounting to 182 billion Syrian pounds (a third of the value of the loan requested by the Corporation) to pay the value of the cotton expected to be received from farmers for the current season and to pay the fees for transporting it, which means that the Corporation will not receive the amount of loan it needs to cover the cost of purchasing the crop.

Autonomous Administration and Interim Gov do not buy

In northeastern Syria, the cotton crop this year is threatened by the inability to secure the quantities of water needed for irrigation, the scarcity of fuel, and the high prices of fertilizer, in addition to the Autonomous Administration setting a price that did not satisfy the farmers, which is 0.8 US dollars per kilo without announcing the purchase of the crop from farmers, while allowing it to be exported outside those lands.

While the Syrian Interim Government does not interfere in buying the cotton crop grown within the areas under its control, which exposes farmers to great losses, as a result of them being forced to reduce selling prices.

Abdul Hakim al-Masri, Minister of Economy in the Interim Government, told Enab Baladi that the government is only trying to facilitate the export of cotton without having the ability to purchase the crop.

Most of the cotton production in the region is exported to Turkey according to international prices, added al-Masri.

Idlib, Unprecedented encouragement

In Idlib, northern Syria, where the Salvation Government controls, cotton crop cultivation this year returned to its best conditions over the past years with unprecedented government support for the crop’s farmers, as it supported them with the so-called soft loan and set the purchase price of one ton of it at $700, and decided to buy the crop from them.

Tammam al-Hamoud, director general of the Agriculture Directorate, told Enab Baladi that the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation in the Salvation Government is keen to advance the agricultural situation, as it has sought since its establishment to care for farmers and provide agricultural services and the replanting of cotton is among the projects that are of interest to it.

Al-Hamoud estimated the area planted with the crop in the HTS-held areas to be 1,814 dunums, with production expected to reach about 500 tons.

While the quantity of cotton that will be received by the designated centers in regime-controlled areas is estimated at approximately 56,000 tons. These quantities include the production of all areas of control, according to a statement by the head of the Professional Union of Textile Workers, Mohammed Azouz.

Cotton picking in the northwestern Idlib region - October 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)

Cotton picking in the northwestern Idlib region – October 2023 (Enab Baladi/Anas al-Khouli)

Disregard for the crop

Cotton is a strategic crop in Syria after wheat, and amid doubts about Syrian data, a study published by the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture in 2006 indicates that Syria’s cotton production in 2004 amounted to more than one million tons.

While data from the International Production Assessment Division of the US Department of Agriculture indicate that al-Hasakah governorate produces 38% of the total cotton production in Syria, followed by Raqqa with 24%, then Aleppo with 16%.

Production declined during the war years, as it did not exceed 56,000 tons for the year 2023 in regime-controlled areas, said Azouz.

According to the estimates reviewed by political economy researcher Yahya al-Sayed Omar, the cotton sector was contributing to providing job opportunities for farmers and workers in ginning mills and textile mills. At the level of the cotton industry, this sector was attracting 20% of the industrial workforce in Syria.

Cotton sector is witnessing a sharp deterioration, as local production has declined to the point where it does not cover needs, which forced the regime’s government in 2021 to import cotton. This is the first time that Syria has imported cotton, and had it not been for the import, textile factories in Syria would have stopped, which could lead to the loss of tens of thousands of workers ‘ jobs, the researcher told Enab Baladi.

Al-Sayed Omar believes that in light of this reality and amid the great importance of cotton, the official authorities in the various areas of control do not seem sufficiently interested in this strategic crop.

The researcher explained the lack of desire of the AANES and the Interim Government to receive the cotton crop from the farmers by saying that these parties do not have sufficient textile factories to accommodate production, as the majority of textile factories in the city of Aleppo are under the control of the regime.

In addition, these parties cannot export produce if they buy it from farmers because they are not internationally recognized, which has led them to slow down in receiving the crop.

At the regime government level, it opened several centers to receive cotton and set its price at 10,000 pounds per kilo, which is a relatively acceptable price. However, the crisis facing farmers is in transporting it to the receiving centers, as the number of centers is small.

This requires farmers to transport their crops relatively long distances, as this forces them to pay high costs, especially in light of the scarcity of fuel and its high price on the black market.

Depending on all the data and circumstances, farmers’ returns declined so that the price became disproportionate to the cost.

The regime’s government’s slowness in paying the price of wheat to farmers due to its lack of liquidity and delays in payment has had a negative impact on farmers, in addition to the risks of a decline in the value of the Syrian pound, which means a decline in the actual value of the price of cotton, according to the researcher.

​​The US dollar is trading at 13,950 SYP according to the S-P Today website, which covers the trading rate of the Syrian pound to the dollar. At the start of the conflict in 2011, the dollar was trading at 47 pounds.

 

 

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