A comprehensive new report from the UN agencies paints a grim picture of the country’s food production and supply infrastructure, as the civil war, now in its fifth year, continues to take its toll. Food prices have been extremely volatile since last year, with the price of bread from public bakeries up 87%, and private bakeries up 66%.
The report’s authors used a typical basket of food products to measure overall food price changes: “Over the past year, food prices seem to have risen the most in places exposed to active conflict. Indeed, prices tripled in besieged Deir Ezzor city, while also spiking in Hama (88%) and Homs (71%). People living in areas of [Syria] not directly affected by the crisis have also faced large price increases, including Sweida (96%), Tartous (55%) and Lattakia (45%); disrupted supply lines and a large number of incoming [internally-displaced people] may have led to price hikes in these areas. By contrast, the price of the food basket receded in Rural Damascus and remained stable in Damascus over the past year.”
Better harvests, worse markets
Syria’s cereal farmers had better news, with improved wheat and barley harvests thanks to good rains this year – although the report notes wheat production will be 40% lower than its pre-conflict levels. Despite this year’s good yields, harvests in general are falling, and internal markets and distribution systems for food are now weak or non-existent.
“Prior to the crisis, the Syrian Arab Republic had more than 140 grain-collection centres that would purchase grain from farmers. By the end of 2014 only 31 of these remained under Government control, the others having been either destroyed, damaged or appropriated by opposition forces. According to [the General Establishment for Cereal Trade and Processing], the Government had a grain-storage capacity of 7 million tonnes in 2010, but this has now been reduced to between 3 and 3.5 million tonnes,” said the report.
Even with improved wheat harvests, it is now more expensive to transport wheat internally than to import it – the report quotes a cost of US$360 to move a tonne of wheat from Hassakeh to Damascus, compared to just US$300 to import a tonne of Black Sea wheat. Given this, along with the higher wheat price available in Turkey, and new efforts by opposition forces to procure wheat, many farmers sell their harvests outside of the Syrian government’s systems.
Livestock and produce hit
The report sees similar problems for livestock: “Since the closure of the border point between Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic, exports have slowed on that corridor. Exports to Lebanon are below those of last year, owing to insecurity. Meanwhile, an increase in unregulated livestock exports to Turkey and to northern Iraq is noted. The very high cost of transportation continues to limit east-to-west livestock transportation; as a result, a glut of livestock is reported in rural areas of Deir Ezzor Governorate.”
Traders at a wholesale market in Tartous estimated wastage of fruit and vegetables had doubled because of the difficulty in transporting produce due to checkpoints, with transportation costs double the pre-conflict rates. The report also noted only 10% of the country’s cold stores now remain operational.
Overall, the report outlines a very challenging situation for Syria’s residents: “Spiralling prices, and very limited income earning opportunities continue to constrain the food security of many households. [The UN Development Programme] estimates that four out of five Syrians now live below the poverty line, while nearly two-thirds live in extreme poverty and are unable to cover basic needs, including food.”
The full report is available here (PDF).