By Rania Zanoun
Damascus, Dec 8 (efe-epa).- Syria’s agriculture minister Mohamed Hassan Qatana has called on the country’s citizens to plant wheat – even at home – in a bid to alleviate a severe bread shortage in the war-torn nation.
“We are under a blockade and the cultivation of every piece of land will help achieve food security for each family, thus relieving the country of the burden of imports,” Qatana told Efe during an interview at his office in the ministry headquarters in Damascus.
Every morning, Syrians line up in long queues in government-held areas for their share of subsidized bread; a basic good that the government has stopped distributing amid a wheat shortage.
But the minister denied that Syria has been facing “a crisis”, calling it instead “a problem”.
Syria is “a wheat-producing country and has food security,” he insisted.
But he did admit that “the cultivated land suffered great problems due to declining water resources, which caused the decrease in wheat production to 2.2 million tons annual of wheat compared to what was produced before the war, an average of 3.2 million tons”.
In a report published in October, the World Food Program’s office in Syria expressed its concern over the wheat availability in the country next year “which may lead to an increase in the price of subsidized bread from public bakeries.”
“Syria is currently a wheat deficit country. It does not produce enough wheat annually to meet its own needs,” the report read. “In 2019, wheat production was 2.2 million tons, below the estimated total utilization requirement of 4.5 million tons (of which 3.5 million tons is for food use)”.
“In 2020, it is estimated that wheat production in Syria will be around 2.8 million tons,” the report ran. If each Syrian grows wheat “on a small piece of land, even in their homes” it can become “an opportunity for success” since there are “spaces where it can be cultivated, but some are out of control of the government,” the minister said.
The minister sparked controversy on his Facebook account on 25 October, when he said that the solution to “the indefinite economic pressure” that Syria struggles with is food self-sufficiency and that wheat should be planted even in the private gardens of people’s homes.
In the interview, the minister revealed that the country had had “1,800,000 hectares cultivated before the war, which fell to 1,100,000 hectares after the war, and in 2019 it has recovered up to 1,200,000”.
The government currently controls most of the country, except for northwestern areas, where armed militant groups operate, and northeastern the country, where the self-proclaimed Kurdish-Syrian administration is located, and which the Damascus government does not recognize.
The minister avoided referring to the administration, which controls a large part of the country’s arable land.
According to the World Food Program, “only around 0.8 million tons produced in GoS (government’s) controlled areas.”
After the war broke out in 2011, the Kurds proclaimed their administration in north and northwestern Syria, fertile areas from the provinces of al-Raqa and al-Hasaka to the Deir al-Zur province.
Al-Hasaka accounts for 40 percent of the wheat cultivation, followed by the al-Reqa and the government-held provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Homs, according to the World Food Program.
Syria has been struggling with one of its worst economic crises since 2011 that has been worsened by the situation in the neighboring Lebanon as well as the sanctions imposed by the European Union and the US’ Caesar Act.
The US legislation has an impact on Syria’s imports of wheat because it “prevents international companies from collaborating with Syria over fears of being deprived of trade in other markets”.
The WFP pointed out to the fall in the Syrian currency’s exchange rate on the black market, which prompted a spike in the prices of the basic goods to its highest levels since the war began. EFE-EPA