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Syrian war's heavy toll on harvests, livestock

Conflict has major impact on crops and livestock herds, as farmers reduce planting amid violence and sell off stock to neighbouring countries.

A Free Syrian Army fighter throws a homemade bomb towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al Assad as fellow fighters watch in Deir Al Zor
A Free Syrian Army fighter throws a homemade bomb towards forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar Al Assad as fellow fighters watch in Deir Al Zor

Syria's wheat harvest may be 14 per cent smaller than a year earlier as farmers reduced planting amid violence in the country and high production costs, the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

Wheat production in Syria may drop to 2.4 million metric tonnes, compared with 2.8 million tonnes a year earlier, the Rome-based agency said in an online report dated July 12. The harvest will be "significantly lower" than the average production, which exceeded 4 million tonnes annually in the 10 years before the 2010-11 season, it said. Total grain production, including wheat, barley, corn and other cereals, may be 3.48 million tonnes, 8 per cent less than a year earlier.

"Less area was planted to cereals due to high costs of production, reduced input availability including labour, prevailing violence, related damage to farm equipment, and abandoned land," the FAO said.

"Power cuts, damage to power stations, canals and pumps; and high diesel costs contributed to a decline of the area under irrigated cereal production."

Livestock herds are also declining, with poultry production expected to drop 50 per cent from 2011 levels, while sheep output shrinks 35 per cent and cattle production falls 25 per cent, the FAO said. Some Syrian farmers are selling livestock to neighbouring countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq because of higher prices, while there are also shortages of vaccines for animals, it said.

"With the virtual loss of veterinary services within Syria, livestock diseases are being transmitted to neighbouring countries, thereby posing a potentially serious regional animal-health problem," the FAO said.

Syria's grain-import requirement may climb 5 per cent from the previous year, with wheat purchases needing to total about 1.47 million tonnes in 2013-14, the FAO said. Average monthly prices for wheat flour have more than doubled in some areas since 2011 because of conflict in the country, and prices for rice, vegetables and sugar have also surged. Almost 4 million people are facing food insecurity, according to the report.