Livestock production in Daraa province declined “50 percent” since start of conflict

By Abdul Rahman Al-Hourani and Avery Edelman

DARAA: Livestock production, an essential part of the Syrian economy, has declined by about 50 percent in this southern province of Syria due to security concerns, disease and the rising cost of feed, locals tell the Syrian Voice.

Prior to the start of the Syrian crisis, livestock production formed 40 percent of the country’s total agricultural production and 20 percent of rural employment, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Daraa province, which lies along the country’s southern border with Jordan, was known as one of the centers of that livestock production.

However, over the past six years, some opposition-held areas of Daraa have seen a decline in livestock production of “about 50 percent,” an agricultural official in the area told the Syrian Voice.

This decline comes as breeders are selling their livestock and looking toward other professions, claiming that the risks associated with conducting the work during conflict are just too high.

A cattle breeder in the Daraa countryside.

Security and cost cited among primary reasons for decline

The Syrian Voice spoke to two cattle breeders in Daraa, Abu Najm and Abo Mohammad, both of whom live in rebel-held areas of the province and have now left the field professionally.

Abo Mohammad said that the security situation in the province, which has been the site of ongoing clashes between opposition, government and Islamic State-affiliated forces, is the “primary reason for the decline in livestock breeding.”

He added that breeders fear they could lose everything instantly in an attack by government forces, which have been accused of using weapons to target agricultural lands in Daraa, including wheat fields, farms and livestock facilities.

Civil defense forces put out fires in Daraa’s wheat fields. Locals accuse Syrian regime forces of targeting agricultural lands. Photo courtesy of Souriatna Press.

Abo Najm also cited the security situation as a major concern, mentioning the presence of “continuous bombing and airstrikes, which don’t distinguish civilians and farms [from military targets].”

Beyond the security situation, Abo Mohammad says that, due to a “steep rise in the price of feed,” the income produced by dairy farming no longer covers farmers’ costs.

He told the Syrian Voice that, amid unstable economic conditions in the area, a kilo of feed in Daraa has risen to SP160-185 [$0.32-0.37], up from SP6-18 [$0.12-0.36] before the conflict began.

Although the equivalent cost in US dollars does not appear to differ drastically, Abo Mohammad says the price of milk, about SP200 per kilo [$0.40], is not high enough – relative to the price of feed – to cover production costs.

Abo Najm also mentioned that high costs have eliminated any profit he used to make from cattle breeding.

“The revenues don’t cover the costs, which include feed, hay, medicine and veterinary services,” he said.

Disease has “destroyed breeding in Daraa”

Qasem al-Barmawi, a veterinarian in the western Daraa countryside, also spoke with the Syrian Voice about the role medicine and vaccinations have played in the state of the livestock sector.

“Medicines are not widely available [in Daraa],” he said. “If they are, the price will be inflated ten times.”

He explained that the Jordanian government prohibited a cross-border project to provide preventative immunizations, contributing to the scarcity. The Syrian Voice could not independently confirm this claim.

Without the necessary vaccinations, “internal, external and blood parasites, in addition to metabolic and infectious diseases, have destroyed breeding in Daraa,” al-Barmawi said.

Ibrahim Bardan, president of the opposition-affiliated Daraa Council’s Agriculture Office, agreed that a lack of vaccinations has “caused widespread illness among the herds.”

In particular, Bardan told the Syrian Voice about an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among sheep in the Daraa countryside, which he called a “catastrophe.”

Foot-and-mouth disease, a highly contagious illness affecting sheep, goats and cattle, causes symptoms including fever, sores, diarrhea and death among infected animals.

The disease has already spread in other opposition-held territories, the Syrian Voice reported last year.

Quantity of livestock halved in some areas

Amid these challenges, Bardan, of the Daraa Local Council, said the livestock sector in the province has declined by “about 50 percent.”

The damage, he said, is reflected in the fact that some opposition-held areas of the province now have “less than half” the quantity of livestock that was present prior to the conflict.

Poultry flocks in particular have shrunk as much as 60 percent, he added.

Abo Najm is one of the breeders who have decided to sell their herds and flocks. He sold 35 head of cattle, bringing his long career in the sector to an end.

Indeed, the sale of animals was cited as the main reason for the decline in animal ownership across Syria in a recent study conducted by FAO, with 60 percent of households selecting it. Other reasons mentioned include theft, slaughtering for personal consumption, disease and conflict-related deaths.

Regardless of the challenges faced in the livestock sector, Bardan told the Syrian Voice that new efforts are being taken in Daraa to “improve the herd’s situation and stop the decline [in production].”

He said the province’s agriculture directorate has now opened seven statistics centers across the area, each with its own veterinarian delegated to gathering breeding statistics and preventing diseases.

A farm in Daraa province. Photo courtesy of Revolution Spot.

Agricultural sector faces $16 billion in damage

Losses associated with livestock production, which the FAO says amount to $5.5 billion nation-wide, make up less than half of the total financial cost to Syria’s agriculture sector that has been incurred over years of conflict. The FAO puts the total cost of damage and loss to the sector at $16 billion.

Further issues include damage to irrigation systems and other types of agricultural infrastructure; limited access to the fertilizers used to produce perennial crops and a lack of water resources.

Together, these issues have contributed to record food shortages across the country, where more than half of the population is unable to meet daily food needs.

Despite losses, the sale of livestock and agricultural production remain the two primary sources of income in rural areas of Syria and the agricultural sector still accounts for 26 percent of the country’s GDP, according to FAO, which calls the sector “remarkably resilient.”

Original Arabic article found here.


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