Farmers of northeast Syria fear another dry year

This report by Solnar Muhammad was published by North Press Agency on 18 November, 2021

Ramadan Hassan, a farmer in the countryside of Derik, in the far northeast Syria, is wandering around his land near his home, checking the soil, which seems dry and not ready for planting, in light of the late rains this year.

Most of the region’s farmers have not cultivated rainfed lands so far for fear of losing the costs of sowing, planting, plowing wages, and the fuel needed for that.

Derik’s lands are considered the most fertile in the region, and the percentage of rain there is better than the southern countryside of Jazira region.

Hassan owns about 13 hectares of land in the village of Robarya in the countryside of Derik, which he plowed three times this year due to the hardness of the soil after the drought of last year, and plowing one hectare each time cost him about 20,000 SYP.

“In fact, we are afraid of planting crops, I will not plant if it does not rain, and the soil is dry,” he said.

Cultivation of wheat, barley and lentils, which is common in the region, requires soft plowing and soil disintegration to ensure the distribution of seeds, while drought causes hardening of the land, which produces clods of earth during plowing. 

The Agriculture and Livestock Committee in Derik expects to cultivate an area ranging between 350,000 and 400,000 dunums [decares] of irrigated and rainfed agricultural lands in the area.

However, the cultivated area has so far not exceeded 200 hectares, as they are irrigated lands, while the cultivation of rainfed lands has remained on small areas, according to the committee.

Regarding the possibility of irrigating the lands in light of the late rains, Hassan mentioned that the lands in the village are within the “land reform” and there are no wells in them, while few of them depend on the water of a nearby spring that may irrigate about 50 hectares.

“Land reform” is a form of agrarian reform involving the changing of laws, regulations, or customs regarding land ownership. It may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution, generally of agricultural land.

Another dry year

Farmers in northeastern Syria are afraid of a repeat of the drought scenario that they suffered from last year, which damaged their agricultural crops and caused them losses.

The Jazira region in northeast Syria, which is known as the Syrian Food Basket, witnessed a decline in the production of strategic and important crops such as wheat, barley and lentils during the last season, due to the lack of rain and the interruption of Khabur River and other local rivers.

The Derik Agriculture Committee supports farmers with good quality seeds at a subsidized price, as the committee purchased first-class seeds at a price of 1,200 SYP [about 25p] per kilogram and prepared them for distribution to farmers at the same price after sifting and sterilizing them.

The co-chair of the committee, Jiwan Abdo, said the cost of processing one kilogram of seed amounted to 1,450 SYP.

But farmers in Derik said some of them had not received the seed and fuel needed to start planting.

On their readiness for another dry season, Abdo indicates that they do not have a wheat reserve and that they will depend on organizations and aid they may obtain from abroad.

Faced with this reality, farmers are accepting to license agricultural wells to irrigate lands, as the Agriculture Committee has granted more than 25 licenses to dig new wells this season.

Insufficient seeds

In different times during 2021, officials of the agriculture and economic fields of areas in northeast Syria announced that the production of the last season will not meet the region’s needs of bread, seeds and fodder.

In a previous statement, the co-chair of the Economy and Agriculture Board of AANES, Salman Barudo, expected that the production of wheat would meet about two-thirds of the needs of Syria’s northeast and that the administration is ready to import wheat to meet the needs of the region.

On November 11, US Agency for International Development (USAID) decided to send about 3,000 tons of wheat seeds to Syria’s northeast.

USAID posted yesterday on Facebook “As critical seed distribution to farmers continues, USAID would like to thank our partners in the Kurdish Region of Iraq for their assistance in sourcing, testing, and facilitating cross-border delivery, so this timely assistance can reach Syrian farmers.”

Although the Economy Board welcomed USAID, it said the quantity provided “does not fill the shortage in the quantity of seeds.”

Abdulkarim Muhammad, an agricultural contractor, planted about 130 hectares that depend on irrigation with the wheat crop, while he did not cultivate about 125 hectares of rainfed.

He said they have to plow three times because of the hardness of the soil.

It is likely that the percentage of cultivation of rainfed lands in Derik did not exceed 5%.