Food prices set to climb as production of wheat and other staple crops is cut.
By Codi Kozacek
Circle of Blue
Wheat production in Syria this year will be 52 percent below the annual average between 2001 and 2011 due to a drought and the ongoing civil war, according to a food security outlook published Thursday by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The poor harvest is expected to increase the need for food imports and push up food prices.
Areas of northwestern Syria have received 55 to 85 percent less rainfall than normal since October, and a drought warning has been declared in at least five regions by the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR). The drought is compounding problems created by the 3-year civil war, which has made it difficult for farmers to source supplies, damaged farm equipment and irrigation schemes, and created shortages of fuel that power the irrigation pumps.
The FAO predicts that wheat harvests this year will produce 1.97 million metric tons, while the Syrian government has said it expects wheat production to reach 2.95 million metric tons. Both estimates are a decline from last year and are significantly lower than harvests before the war. Land area planted with crops has also declined, with about 15 percent fewer hectares planted than the average between 2007 and 2011.
Diminishing supplies of domestic wheat and other staple crops, like barley, are expected to increase imports, which already account for a large portion of Syria’s cereal supplies. Between July 2013 and February, the country imported 1.3 million metric tons of cereal grains. Meanwhile, inflation rates for cereal and food prices reached 166 percent last August and were 108 percent by November, the report said.
“The pressure continues to mount on displaced families and other vulnerable farmers, threatening long-term consequences for their food security, health and economic survival,” Eriko Hibi, the FAO Representative in Syria, said in a press release.
There were 6.5 million people displaced within Syria as of December 2013, and nearly 2.7 million Syrian refugees were registered in neighboring countries as of this month, meaning nearly half the country’s population is displaced. . A report released this month by the Switzerland-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center showed that a record number of people—33 million—are displaced worldwide, with 43 percent of new displacements in 2013 occurring in Syria. The FAO has asked for $US 43.6 million in 2014 to help families in Syria provide their own food. Only 3.8 percent of the aid required for the agricultural sector has been raised so far, according to the report.
“FAO and its partners have been able to support families in the agriculture sector to protect their livelihoods,” Hibi said in the release. “This can provide desperately needed food and income, but we need to work with farmers, the government and all stakeholders to do much more, and to act even more quickly.”