Recently, Syria, a country that previously was a major grain exporter in the Middle East, has been dealing with a drought that has lasted over three years. This lack of rainfall has exacerbated continuing issues of water mismanagement and shrinking river flow due to upstream damming. This extreme limitation on water has caused crops to fail in a country where agriculture plays a major role in the economy. The water situation is causing farmers to abandon their land at such a rate that the crop output has shrunk to the point that Syria must import grain to feed their population.
Drought and misuse of water forcing farmers off their lands
Agricultural products make up about one fifth of Syria’s GDP (The Media Line Staff 2009). These agricultural products “include wheat, olive oil, cattle, and fruit and vegetables” (Puder 2007).
Between 200,000 and 250,000 farmers have deserted their land (Oweis 2009). Much of this agricultural land is located in the northern and southwestern areas of the country (USDA 2009).
In the Hasakah region of Syria, the wheat production was expected to be 1.9 million tons, however, now it is predicted to be only 892,000 tons (Oweis 2009; The Media Line Staff 2009).
Currently Syria has been experiencing a serious drought over the past 3 years. It is considered to be “the worst drought in decades” (Oweis 2009).
The Syrian government has been subsidizing agriculture, specifically wheat (The Media Line Staff 2009). Since the 1960’s the government has been pushing to make grain export a major part of Syria’s economy. In doing so, they ignored the agricultural management problem of trying to cultivate semiarid lands (Puder 2007).Similarly, to grow crops on this landscape, the government overlooked the illegal digging of wells and other forms of water mismanagement (Puder, 2007; Oweis 2009).
The rainy season has been shifting over the years, causing farmers to lose crops due to lack of water when the plants are young (The Media Line Staff 2009).
Turkey has been damming rivers upstream of Syria, limiting the water available for agriculture. Much of the remaining water is full of salt and pollution, unfit for growing crops (Oweis 2009).
Farmers are forced to leave their way of life and ultimately live in poverty and “shantytowns” (Oweis 2009).
In order to feed its population, grain must be imported. With an annual population increase of about 500,000, food availability will become a more serious problem in the years to come (Puder 2007).
Shifting agricultural practices, such as planting times to coincide with the recent change in weather patterns may aid in crop production (The Media Line Staff 2009).
Using more efficient irrigation technology may help preserve the limited water supply and increase agricultural yields (The Media Line Staff 2009).
Ultimately a new agricultural strategy needs to be formulated by the government to prevent the issues of water availability and agricultural abandonment from getting worse (Oweis 2009).
Even with a current increase in rainfall, the agricultural yields are not expected to rebound from the drought and mismanagement conditions (USDA 2009).
The Media Line Staff (2009) Syrian Drought Causes Farmer Exodus. All Headline News 22 October 22 2009. http://www.allheadlinenews.com/articles/701679528 (last accessed 22 October 2009).
Puder, J. (2007) Syria, Israel and Water. Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. Http://www.kurdnas.com/en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1420&Itemid=71 (last accessed 22 October 2009).
Oweis, K.Y. (2009). Water Crisis Uproots Syrian Farmers. Ed. M. Goldin Thomson Reuters 27 July 2009. http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRES56Q1T820090727?sp... (last accessed 22 October 2009).
United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service. 2009. Syria: Wheat Production Outlook Improved in 2009/10. Commodity Intelligence Report. Http://www.pecad.fas.usda.gov/highlights/2009/05/Syria/ (Lasted Accessed 16 November 2009).