Ismael al-Shoban, 45, a farmer from the village of Kasrat Afnan in the southern countryside of Raqqa in northern Syria, had no choice but to cultivate only 4.5 hectares of his total 6-hectare farmland.
The farmer says that the lack of irrigation water in his area, which is a result of the decreasing level of the Euphrates River, has prompted him this year to abandon the idea of cultivating all of his land, fearing that his crops will die due to water insufficiency.
Farmers in the southern countryside of Raqqa complain about the severe impact of the low level of the Euphrates on their farmlands, pushing them to search for other alternatives.
During the past two years, the level of the Euphrates has fell to unprecedented records, after the amount of water flowing from Turkey towards Syria has decreased to below 200 cubic meters per second, which is less than half the amount agreed upon between the Syrian and Turkish governments in 1987.
The 1987 agreement stipulates Turkey’s permanent commitment to pumping 500 cubic meters of water per second from the Euphrates River toward Syria.
This left the farmers with no choice but to irrigate their lands using diesel generators and wells, whose saline water damages the soil.
Irrigation using this type of water increases the rate of salinity in the soil. It is also more expensive as farmers have to purchase diesel, which increases cultivation costs for them.
Al-Shoban believes that the region’s reliance on agriculture as a main source of income puts it at great social and economic risks due to the decline in agricultural production.
Ahmed al-Khalil, head of the irrigation department in the southern countryside of Raqqa, said that field checks in the area showed a decrease in the cultivated areas irrigated by the Euphrates River by more than 60%.
These lands depend primarily on the water of the Euphrates River and the wells close to the riverbed.
Al-Khalil warned of drought and the impacts it would have on agriculture, in case the Euphrates keeps drying up.
The total irrigated areas in the countryside of Raqqa amounted to about 100.000 hectares, most of which are irrigated by the waters of the Euphrates River and the Balikh tributary, according to the Agriculture and Irrigation Committee of the Raqqa Civil Council, which is affiliated with Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES).
The AANES was first formed in 2014 in the Kurdish-majority regions of Afrin, Kobani and Jazira in northern Syria following the withdrawal of the government forces. Later, it was expanded to Manbij, Tabqa, Raqqa, Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor after the SDF defeated ISIS militarily there.
In the village of Kasrat al-Zaher in the southern countryside of Raqqa, Mahmoud al-Diyab, 67, owns 8 hectares, but he planted only half of it due to the lack of water.
He, too, resorts to irrigating his crops using diesel generators, but this “incurs us a lot of trouble and costs.”
Al-Diyab noted that due to the lack of irrigation water, the financial output hardly compensates for the fanatical costs and physical effort.
During the past two years, the agriculture production has been negatively affected by the lack of irrigation water and using the wells’ saline water.
The farmer mentioned that each 0.1 hectare of wheat was producing 600 to 700 kg. Now, however, the production has dwindled to less than 300 kg.