Supporting Farmers in Syria Is Essential for a Sustainable Future
On Saturday 6 February, Jose Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, took a moment to remind the world that after the gains made by the Syria Donors Conference in London last week–which included $11 billion in donations to support Syria and Syrian refugees–we must not forget Syria’s farmers.
Agriculture, which once employed half the country’s population, will continue to be a main driver of the Syrian economy as those who remain to till the land are the backbone of Syria’s food supply today.
Without their work, not only will Syria’s food security crisis go from bad to worse in the short run, but serious damage will be done to the country’s longer-term resilience and potential to regain its stature as a self-sufficient middle-income country able to export wheat.
Currently, soaring food prices – exemplified by the threefold jump in wheat flour, the local staple in some markets – are crushing the budgets of households already pummelled by military operations that destroy homes, wound citizens and upset the chain of activities that make food production possible.
As things stand, Syria has lost half of its herds, and while FAO has managed to treat some nine million animals, the risk that unvaccinated surviving livestock trigger the spread of diseases beyond the borders is real. Wheat production, estimated at 2.4 million tonnes in the latest marketing season, is 40 percent lower than the pre-crisis average even though weather and cropping conditions have been favorable.
With $200, a Syrian farmer – and keep in mind that rural women now make up 63 percent of the agricultural workforce – can produce two tonnes of wheat, providing valuable income and a year’s worth of food for a family of six. On top of that, she or he becomes a protagonist of the effort to overcome the crisis.
By contrast, the cost of importing one tonne of wheat is vastly higher, and we know that disabling livelihoods leads to dependency and drives the quest for a better life elsewhere, as 50 Syrian families have been doing every hour of every day for the past five years.
Agriculture is also a key channel creating economic opportunities and jobs, a high priority of the renewed UN appeal for Syria. UN-led efforts have done much to mitigate the short-term suffering of a large share of target aid recipients. We must now further expand their scope to bolstering the sustainability of Syria’s food producers.
Failing to support Syria’s farmers now, Graziano da Silva reminds us, will give them no choice but to abandon their land and ultimately migrate to other countries. No peace is sustainable without food security, which in turn is not only about having enough to eat today but knowing you will sustainably produce it tomorrow.
That is why agriculture cannot be an afterthought for governments gathered at last week’s Syria Donors Conference in London, called by the governments of Germany, Norway, Kuwait and the United Kingdom along with the United Nations. Donors must think like farmers: One must sow in order to reap.