ROME, ITALY — An extended period of dry weather early in the crop season followed by heavy out-of-season rains have led to poor grain growing conditions in Syria, according to the latest Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM), conducted jointly by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

The associations noted that wheat production in Syria fell to 1.2 million tonnes in 2018, only about two-thirds of output during 2017 and the lowest total in 29 years. Only 38% of the wheat crop in rain-fed areas has been harvested in 2018, the groups said.

Meanwhile, barley, which is considered a more drought-tolerant crop than wheat, encountered challenges as well. The FAO and WFP said production of barley dipped to its lowest level since 2008. Barley farmers complained of sporadic water availability, the high cost of fuel to run irrigation pumps and a shortage of tiller equipment as factors affecting output, the agencies said.

In addition to erratic weather, the FAO and WFP said Syria has been adversely affected by conflict in the country, which has damaged farming areas and displaced thousands of farmers. As a result, the cost of agricultural inputs has been on the rise.

Approximately 5.5 million Syrians are considered “food insecure,” the associations said, which means they require some form of food assistance.

“We are encouraged by some improvements in food security levels this year,” said Corinne Fleischer, WFP country director and representative in Syria. “However, the conflict has drastically eroded livelihoods and triggered widespread unemployment. Continued humanitarian assistance at scale is essential to prevent the most vulnerable families from falling back and deeper into poverty and hunger. Meanwhile, WFP is working hand-in-hand with FAO to deliver programs that create employment and livelihood opportunities to empower Syrians as they begin to recover and rebuild their lives and country.”

Mike Robson, the FAO’s representative in Syria, noted that agricultural recovery is essential for Syria “now and in the future.”

“FAO has focused on keeping production from collapsing during the conflict and is engaged in a host of activities in the country to support irrigation, livestock vaccination, household nutrition and entrepreneurship among the displaced,” he said.