Cumin: A profitable crop in Syria

An agricultural plow plowing a field in Ras al-Ain in the northeast of al-Hasakah province - January 5, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

An agricultural plow plowing a field in Ras al-Ain in the northeast of al-Hasakah province - January 5, 2024 (Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – Maria al-Shaaban

This year, cumin cultivation in Syria, across different control areas, has gained noticeable popularity among farmers, as an attempt to adapt to the agricultural and economic challenges that farmers faced in various seasons, specifically the past season.

Some farmers have turned to cumin cultivation as a substitute for other, financially unviable crops in comparison to their cultivation and care costs, while others have preferred it due to the profits the crop yielded in the last season’s harvest.

Repeating successful experiences

With the increased demand for seeds, their prices have risen in the city of Idlib, northwest Syria, according to farmer Omar Abdo, from the town of Sarmin in eastern rural Idlib.

Seed prices spike as the planting season approaches, with the approximate price for one kilogram of cumin seeds this year across Syria reaching about 5 to 7 US dollars, noting that prices and currencies vary depending on the control areas.

Abu Youssef, a farmer from northern rural Hama, told Enab Baladi that buying one kilogram of cumin seeds cost him about 100,000 Syrian pounds (about 7 US dollars).

The farmer mentioned that the cumin seed harvest season in the summer of 2023 was abundant and rich due to the favorable climate that the region experienced that year.

Abu Youssef had planted 100 dunams of agricultural land with cumin seeds last year and harvested approximately 17 tons of its grains, hoping to reap around 12 tons this year.

The average yield of cumin per dunam ranges between 50 to 100 kilograms, with the quantity and quality of production depending on the soil type and climate suitability. Cumin plants grow as rainfed in red soil and require irrigation in light to medium yellow soil. This type of plant favors relatively stable rates of rainfall, which is one of the reasons farmers and agricultural land lessees in the Hama governorate are keen on planting cumin, hoping the crop will be as rich as last year, according to farmer Abu Youssef.

The reasons that led farmers in Amuda, in the countryside of al-Hasakah, to plant cumin are similar to those of other farmers. Despite the environmental challenges the region faces, from recurrent drought years and the shortage of fuel allocations for irrigation, plowing, and harvesting equipment, the cumin agriculture sector there has seen a demand attributed by the farmer Shirvan Sahdo to the quality of the last year’s cumin season, which motivated many farmers to invest in this crop again or for the first time.

According to the farmer, what worries the farmers most about planting cumin is the rainfall amount, as they count on the continuation of rain in a balanced manner, without floods or drought, to make this year’s season as successful as the previous one.

Hoping to offset losses

The reasons behind farmers’ move to cumin cultivation revolve around the climatic and economic conditions of the region. Given the low prices of traditional crops in Idlib, northwest Syria, such as wheat, aromatic plants seem to be a good option for farmers to improve their economic situation and mend losses.

City farmers have turned to cumin cultivation at the expense of wheat due to its lower selling prices compared to the higher prices of cumin, according to agricultural engineer Mohammed Sheikh Diab, as previously reported by Enab Baladi in an economic report. The Ministry of Agriculture of the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) set the purchase price of wheat from farmers for 2023 at 320 dollars per ton, whereas it was 450 dollars in 2022.

Farmers turned to less costly and more productive crops, including aromatic crops like cumin, coriander, and black seed, to avoid financial losses and the market stagnation they experienced last year.

Moving to northeastern Syria, specifically to the city of Ras al-Ain, northwest of al-Hasakah, cumin cultivation is popular this season due to the high selling price of the product, moderate costs, reliance on manual labor, and the region’s fertile and suitable soil for this type of agriculture, according to agricultural engineer Majed al-Salim, as reported by Enab Baladi.

The selling price per ton of cumin reached about 4000 US dollars, while the price per ton of wheat in Ras al-Ain does not exceed 200 dollars, and the price per ton of cotton is 550 dollars. This made the farmers prefer planting cumin due to its relatively low cultivation costs compared to the costs of other crops, and to compensate for the losses they faced in the previous season.

A relatively profitable trade

Farmers depend on free selling for marketing their cumin crops, dealing with local traders who, in turn, work on exporting the crops to importing countries. The governments do not offer bids to purchase cumin grains as is the case for other crops like wheat, according to farmers from various regions of Syria interviewed by Enab Baladi.

The price per ton of the cumin crop in northern Raqqa last season reached 5000 US dollars, as mentioned by farmer Abu Ali to Enab Baladi.

In Idlib and its countryside, the selling price per ton increased from 4200 to 6800 dollars.

While the price per ton of cumin in Hama and its surroundings last year was around 2300 US dollars.

Product prices vary depending on the geographical area, quality of the crop, and based on the offers made by traders and farmers.

Land and climate conditions

In Syria, the cumin planting season, a winter plant, starts between mid-November and mid-January, and planting can extend until the beginning of February depending on the weather conditions of the area.

Choosing suitable agricultural land for cumin cultivation depends on the land’s agricultural history. If the land was only planted with cumin in previous years, it is considered suitable for the crop, according to farmer Abu Youssef from northern rural Hama.

However, if the land was used to grow another plant besides cumin, the farmer must wait between 7 to 10 years to plant cumin seeds again on that land.

The distribution of cumin seed quantity on agricultural land varies based on its fertility and history, as strong fertile red soil can accommodate about 5 kilograms of seed, while less fertile land can take up to 3.5 kg of seed.

Soil is usually fertilized when the seeds are spread on the land. Some farmers rely on fertilizing the soil before planting, some after or during planting, and this is based on various factors, including climate and soil type.

Cumin is harvested between July 10 and the beginning of June, depending on the biological maturity of the seeds.

What does Syria export?

The total value of Syria’s exports in 2021 amounted to one billion US dollars, according to data from the OEC Observatory, which specializes in analyzing international trade and the global economy.

Pure olive oil topped Syria’s exports, with spices and seeds coming in fourth. However, there are no specific statistics available for Syria’s cumin exports within the sites monitoring international trade.

 

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