Ongoing drought threats lands and lives of farmers in Syria’s Hasakah

TEL TAMR, Syria (North Press) – The 52-year-old Yasin al-Aziz, a farmer of the countryside of Hasakah, northeast Syria, does not know the fate of the wheat production of his land this year.

Farmers of the region all have the same fear because impacts will be disastrous if this season is as the former one in term of lack of rainfall, drying up of the river, and crops damage.

The Syrian Jazira region is facing hard challenges including the drought and its impacts on the food security since the shortage of flour and fodder has become evident in the “Syrian Food Basket”.

Al-Aziz got optimistic with the first rains this year last week, but rain level was limited to only 10 cm in Hasakah, according to the pro-state news agency SANA.  

The farmer, who has eight children, has 60 acres on the banks of the Khabur River, in the countryside of Tel Tamr, which he relies on its production for his livelihood alongside with breeding livestock.  

“If this condition lasts, it will be so bad,” he told North Press.

Expensive supplies   

In addition to the low rainfall, al-Aziz and other farmers of the region are complaining about the lack of and expensive seeds and fuel.  

“Due to the drought last year, the land did not produce and I did sow enough quantities due to the high prices,” he added.

“In the past, we used to sow 40 kilograms of seeds for each irrigated acres, but now we sow between 25/30 km,” he noted.  

Meanwhile, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) set the price of wheat seeds at 1,200 Syrian pounds (SYP, about $0.34) and began the distribution process early, while the price in markets reached 2,200 SYP (about $0,60). 

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.

In Mid-November, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced it will send three thousand tons of wheat seed to northeast Syria, with the aim of “helping Syrian farmers.”

On November 12, Barudo welcomed the USAID decision to send a quantity of wheat seeds for farmers to the region but it does not cover the shortage of seeds in the region.

Threat of desertification

Drying Khabur due to the Turkish cutoff of water for years threats the future of agriculture and livestock sectors.  

Due to the bad impacts of drought last year, “agriculture has come to a critical stage,” Marwan Muhammad, an agricultural engineer of Tel Tamr, said.  

“Moreover, the drying Khabur River makes agriculture and livestock worse,” Muhammad added.

In light of the low rainfall and increasing salinity levels in the surface layers of the soil, the region is threatened with desertification, the agriculture engineer warned. 

Confronting the problem needs to provide quantities of organic fertilizers, and this is difficult because production of the present factories does not cover needs of the agricultural areas, or to irrigate the lands to increase soil moisture and reduce the percentage of salt.

Muhammad believes that it is necessary to support the agriculture sector with required supplies and urge farmers to cultivate.

Fearing poverty

75% of residents of al-Oja village on the Khabur banks, south of Tel Tamr, rely on agricultural and livestock productions, the 45-year-old farmer Hussein Saleh of the village said. 

Farmers of the village are facing many difficulties including the risk of the drought of the Khabur, of which they used to water their crops, in addition to the difficulties in securing diesel to operate their generators and tractors for plowing and seeding.

“Majority of the farmers rely on wells, but in this case they need more diesel. We hope it will rain this year.”

He pointed out that due to the deteriorating livelihood conditions, he was forced to sell the seeds he saved of his last year crop.  

“Drought will spread extreme poverty among residents in a time when all are concerned about the fate of this year season,” he noted.

Reporting by Dilsoz Youssef