Due to its importance to food security, providing job opportunities for the rural population, and its crucial contribution to the agricultural sector, wheat is a primary strategic crop in Syria. Between 2000-2011, the annual production was approximately 3.85 million tons with an average local consumption of 2.5 million tons, which allowed an export surplus of 1.35 million tons. This contributed to an increasing proportion of wheat in Syria’s exports. Soft wheat accounted for 47% of the 2011 total, with rain-fed just 16%.1 Statistics indicate that production fell sharply to 1.2 million tons in 2018, or less than half of domestic demand. This decline is attributed to several factors, including lack of support for wheat cultivation, lack of rainfall, destruction of irrigation infrastructure and water pumps, difficulties in providing fertilizers, seeds, and agricultural tools, and a drop in agricultural labor due to security conditions, migration, asylum, and displacement.2
The provinces of Al-Hasakah and Al-Raqqa are considered the most important wheat growing areas in Syria. Their production in 2011 was about 1.76 million tons or about 45% of Syria’s total. In 2018, it dropped to about 0.5 million tons 42% of the total, which fell by 71%.3 In 2020, production in these two governorates rose as the rainy season improved to about 1.1 million tons, with wheat production in the total Syrian areas rising to 2.7 million tons.4
This study analyses the wheat production process in Hassakeh and Raqqa, taking into account the radical changes that have occurred in the agricultural sector in this region during the crisis. The analysis is based on an understanding of all the activities and actors involved in the wheat production value chain, including the production inputs, the production process, as well as sales and distribution processes. Based on the results, the research seeks to develop proposals to stabilize the production process in terms of quantity and quality. It also suggests avenues for making the price of wheat commensurate with consumer purchasing power and is profitable for farmers.
The first section of the study provides an overview of the literature on the value chain, the methodology, and the analytical framework for research. The second section focuses on the inputs to the process of wheat production, including agricultural land, seeds, manure, pesticides and agricultural medicines, fuel, and water. The third section analyses the production process in terms of operators, technical and technical support provided, and agricultural tools and equipment. The fourth section examines the process of selling and distributing wheat, which requires an understanding of the actors, pricing policies, prices and facilities provided to farmers, the final destination of wheat, and the profitability of the farmer and buyer. The latter section proposes some recommendations based on the results of the analysis of previous sections and the viewpoint of the experts interviewed for this research.
The results of this study of all activities across the wheat value chain indicate various constraints that negatively affect the efficiency and sustainability of production. Key informants have directly pointed to many of these constraints, including high prices of fertilizer and seed, a lack of technical support and agricultural stewardship committees, lack of financial loans for farmers to support the production process, slow maintenance of water systems the need for locally-based fertilizer production plants, a lack of large silos as a result of war damage. Also mentioned is the migration of professional expertise and agricultural workers, a weak presence of international organizations supporting wheat production in the region, a lack of monitoring and follow-up on the implementation of decisions in support of farmers, and delays in the payment of farmers’ dues after the delivery of the crop.
In determining the price of wheat, the Economic and Agriculture Committee in the Autonomous Administration relies on studies and proposals submitted by the autonomous and civil administrations and the economic and agriculture committees in different regions. However, many farmers consider the pricing process to be not based on clear scientific grounds and influenced by the views and individual interests of the participants. These farmers believe that the administration should be more transparent in determining a unified price for wheat and rely more on technicians and experts in this field. Within the framework of the actors in the governance of wheat cultivation, the Autonomous Administration relies on the private sector extensively to secure the inputs of this cultivation, but this is not accompanied by effective control or intervention mechanisms that control prices in the market. International organizations do not provide any effective support to the Autonomous Administration in the process of wheat production because most of these organizations deal only with official governments or licensed non-government organizations (NGOs). This impediment to direct cooperation can be overcome by supporting and facilitating the establishment of active civil NGOs interested in the agricultural issue in Northeast Syria and strengthening cooperation between these institutions and international organizations, thus opening channels of indirect cooperation between the Autonomous Administration and international organizations.
The reliance of a large part of the population on wheat cultivation for income, its contribution to food security, and its strategic importance renders it crucial to overcome bottlenecks in the value chain that this research paper has outlined.
The policy and practical measures that can be adopted by local authorities can be summarized as follows:
- Developing and reforming the tax system on the sale of agricultural land so as to achieve greater justice for farmers working on land owned by others such as “taking possession”. For example, an agreement could be obtained between farmers and landowners to impose a specific and calculated tax on the share of owners on wheat used to provide technical and financial support to wheat farmers who do not have what can be considered a competitive advantage in the means of production such as large agricultural lands with high productivity.
- Cooperate with international bodies and international research centers to improve the production of seeds to cover the needs of farmers. Seeds should be provided at subsidized prices, especially benefitting small farmers. In parallel, the administration could cooperate with the private sector to sell them a portion of the improved seeds and agree with them to sell the farmers with a low and determined margin of profit which would control the randomness of the current market and help stabilize prices.
- Work to reduce the burden of the prices of fertilizers and agricultural medicines. This can be achieved through cooperation between non-governmental organizations in the region and international institutions to provide appropriate training to the administration and civil society cadres. Given adequate capacity-building, the administration can help farmers know the quantity and quality of fertilizers and medicines needed to increase productivity and determine what is to be imported from abroad, thus better estimating the total cost. Cooperation with the private sector can take place in importing the required items, which should be accompanied by tightened price controls on the local market. In the long run, resources must be allocated to produce fertilizer locally, thereby reducing production costs and dependence on imports.
- The subsidized price of fuel to farmers should be adjusted to reach a sustainable (higher) price that covers the needs of farmers. This also contributes to reducing the price of fuel on the black market as a result of low demand. In terms of water, the administration should play a greater role in ensuring the continuity of water pumps work among farmers. It should also reactivate pump repair tablets, cooperate with international bodies to repair water networks, and develop modern irrigation systems, which will increase the productivity of the land.
- Facilitate cooperation between local NGOs and international institutions to provide technical training courses for agricultural workers and those involved in agricultural work. In addition, agreements have been concluded with the private sector to secure agricultural equipment and lease it to farmers at an acceptable profit margin with effective control of labor and agricultural equipment costs to be committed at specific prices.
- With regard to the sale and marketing of wheat, administration agencies, in cooperation with local and international expertise, can effectively reduce the cost of transporting wheat to delivery centers and provide more facilities in this area, especially for small farmers. They should also seek to regulate the process of delivering the crop, thus reducing the waiting period by enhancing the administrative and human resources available. This should take place in addition to easing procedures and removing obstacles that prevent the direct delivery of financial benefits to farmers.
The above proposals require a transparent institutional environment and the rule of law, effective monitoring and monitoring tools, and the participation of all actors in the planning and implementation process, including the private sector, farmers, and agricultural associations. The appropriate institutional environment encourages international actors to provide the necessary technical and financial support. International research centers are also encouraged to provide the necessary assistance to increase the productivity of wheat lands and thus their yield to all actors, especially farmers. Secondary data and information from key persons indicate that the average production of a watery hectare in the studied area is about three tons of wheat. In a number of wheat-producing countries, the average is about 4.5 tons. Increasing production by 50% to align with the international average can increase profits and support the strategic wheat stock in the region, with the surplus being exported in hard currency through cooperation with the local private sector.