Farmers planted an estimated 900,000 hectares of wheat in the last year, compared to 1.5 million hectares planted before the crisis.
ROME, ITALY — Food production in Syria has hit a record low as widespread insecurity and unfavorable weather conditions in parts of the country continued to hamper access to land, farming supplies and markets, making it more difficult for farmers to maintain their livelihoods and feed the war-torn country, according to aCrop and Food Security Assessment Mission(CFSAM) conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP).

The report shows that after five years of conflict many farmers have lost the ability to cope. Rising prices and scarcity of essential inputs such as fertilizers and seeds mean they will have no other option than to abandon food production if they do not receive immediate support. This likely will have grave consequences not only for the food security of farming households but also on food availability in the country, and may ultimately lead to further displacements, according to the FAO.

The area planted to cereals in the 2015-16 cropping season is the smallest ever, according to the report, based on field visits and surveys across the country.

Farmers planted an estimated 900,000 hectares of wheat in the last year, compared to 1.5 million hectares planted before the crisis. Production, meanwhile, shows an even more drastic decline, from an average 3.4 million tonnes of wheat harvested before the war to 1.5 million tonnes this year — a decrease of 55%, the report said.

Because the ongoing crisis and associated sanctions have disrupted trade and markets, access to quality seeds, fertilizers, machinery and fuel needed to operate pumps and tractors is limited. Those inputs that are available on local markets are frequently overpriced and of dubious quality, the report said.

Poor rainfall and the destruction of valuable irrigation infrastructure has made matters worse for growers trying to continue to produce food under adverse circumstances, according to the report. In some instances, this has led farmers to switch from cultivating valuable and nutritious crops to hardier but less nutritious ones.

At the same time, the assessment showed vast differences among the governorates in terms of access to land and agricultural inputs — a sign of possible opportunities to intensify support to producers in areas that are relatively accessible.

“Today, we see almost 80% of households across Syria struggling with a lack of food or money to buy food — and the situation is only going to become worse if we fail to support farmers so they can maintain their lands and livelihoods,— said Abdessalam Ould Ahmed, FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for the Near East and North Africa. “Agriculture was the main source of livelihood for rural households before the crisis, and it is still producing to a certain extent, but it is stretched to the maximum and farmers have largely exhausted their capacity to cope.”

According to the report, general shortages and cuts in fuel and some food subsidies have added to rising inflation and depreciation of the Syrian pound — from 395 to 530 per U.S. dollar — further limiting Syrians’ ability to afford essential imports.

Over the last 12 months, prices of agricultural and livestock products increased. Due to economic sanctions, market disruptions and the declining value of the Syrian pound, prices of farming inputs have risen more sharply than final products. As a result, farmers are incurring heavy losses.

Transportation bottlenecks and fragmented markets prevail, as producers, transporters and traders are facing high costs and security risks. This has resulted in surplus supply in the northeast while the west largely relies on imports, according to the FAO. Urgent support also is needed to connect in-need communities with surpluses in other parts of the country, including by purchasing local stocks for food assistance deliveries.

Increased supply, thanks to newly harvested crops and airdrops of food assistance into the besieged city of Deir Ezzor, brought down the price of wheat flour by 12% to 15% in several key markets in June 2016.  But wheat prices were nevertheless between 40% and 50% higher in June when compared to the same period last year.

Because the conflict has greatly reduced the government’s capacity to procure and distribute high-quality seeds at subsidized prices, many farmers are being forced to deplete their seed stocks, borrow from relatives and neighbors, or purchase expensive seed from the market.

For crop farmers across Syria, however, few options remain but to try to continue working their fields or alternatively abandon their only source of income for an uncertain future among the millions seeking safety in increasingly overburdened host communities elsewhere, the report said.

“The food security situation of millions of people inside Syria continues to deteriorate with more than seven million people classified as food insecure across the country having exhausted their life savings and no longer able to put food on the table for their families,” said Muhannad Hadi, WFP regional director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and East Europe. “WFP and FAO are working together to invest in more livelihood projects in agriculture as the most effective way to address food insecurity in the long term.”