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Syria’s Rural Economy Adapts As Conflict Spreads

Syria’s Rural Economy Adapts As Conflict Spreads

Although much of the country’s industrial production has been hit, the rural economy has been less affected by the turmoil.

FOOD AID

Food production has been rising in Syria in recent years despite sharp fluctuations in harvests and bouts of drought. That has helped diversify the economy, and in the present conflict, staved off significant food shortages in the countryside so far, residents and Damascus-based economists said.

They contradict the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme (WFP) who estimated this month that about 1.5 million people in Syria need immediate food aid and one in three rural residents would need help.

Across the country, agricultural production, which officially accounts for 20 per cent of Syria’s gross domestic product, continues, despite a shortage of seasonal labourers who once flocked to work in the fields during the harvest period.

This has secured adequate supply of vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers, staples of the Syrian diet, as well as grains, even though the high cost of tractor fuel and a lack of fertiliser has reduced the amount of cultivable land.

In Idlib, the erosion of state authority has encouraged the illegal pumping of artesian wells from the Orantes River basin.

Many shops and grocers remain open in towns and villages across Idlib and in the countryside around Aleppo, but most of the confectionary, soft drinks and juices on their typically dusty shelves have long exceeded their expiry dates.

Many shop owners said they have not replenished their stocks for over a year.

“People are managing with the minimum. Don’t forget, some people are just barely surviving,” said grocer Farouq al-Masous from Hazanoh, a town known for its olive groves.

As the fighting in Syria shows no sign of abating, the populations of some rural towns in Idlib have surged, including Darat Azah and Al Dana, as they have been spared the wider destruction of towns such as Taftanaz and Atareb, where many houses have been pounded to rubble by tank fire.

Across rural Syria, a new breed of private trader has emerged, supplying foodstuffs to now isolated communities.

“The rural resident is not able to get his goods from the city so he is relying on new traders who are buying directly from farmers and selling in local villages,” said Saleh al-Shawaf, a former electrician. He now works as a vegetable trader, frequently dodging army checkpoints to go to Aleppo’s bigger markets to buy goods he can sell in the villages.

City dwellers have cut down their food consumption much more than rural residents, said Taher al-Guraibi a former housing contractor who has gone back to his family’s home town of Binish in the countryside after fleeing the Salaheddine area of Aleppo.

“You used to eat fruit daily, now it’s every two days. Consumption of goods has in general gone down … If you used to buy a kilo of meat every week now you buy half a kilo,” he said, referring to life in Aleppo.

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