Food production in Syria hits all-time low - U.N. agencies

by Reuters
Tuesday, 15 November 2016 12:56 GMT

A woman carries a child as they return with others to the town of Hisha, after the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) took control of the area from Islamic State militants, in the northern Raqqa countryside, Syria November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Rodi Said

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(Corrects 4th para to say higher than average barley production, not record low)

* Millions of civilians facing sixth winter in a war zone

* Farmers abandoning land, wheat and barley output down

* Food shortages worrying in rebel-held east Aleppo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA, Nov 15 (Reuters) - Food production has dropped to an all-time low in Syria where civilians are struggling through their sixth winter in a war zone, U.N. agencies said on Tuesday.

Many farmers have had to abandon their land, unable to afford the soaring cost of seeds, fertilisers and tractor fuel, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme said.

Wheat output - vital for making flat loaves of bread, a staple of the Syrian diet - dropped from an average 3.4 million metric tonnes harvested before the war began in 2011 to 1.5 million this year, they said in a joint statement.

The area planted for cereals in the 2015-16 cropping season is the "smallest ever", they added, citing field visits and surveys that also showed higher than average production of barley.

"Food production in Syria has hit a record low due to fighting and insecurity but also weather conditions," World Food Programme spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told a news briefing in Geneva.

Food shortages are particularly worrying in east Aleppo, the rebel-held part of the city besieged by government forces where the U.N. says 250,000-275,000 civilians still live.

"The last food rations provided by the U.N. have been given out (in east Aleppo). It is very hard to say how people will be coping there. Of course it is a very different situation in the capital where food is available at the markets and people can buy things," Luescher said.

Reuters reported last month that Syria's state grain buying agency Hoboob struck a deal to purchase one million tonnes of wheat from political ally Russia, covering the needs of government-controlled areas for a year.

Before the war, Syria was an exporter of livestock. "Now herds and flocks have shrunk, there are 30 percent fewer cattle, 40 percent fewer sheep and goats and a staggering 60 percent less poultry which of course is the most affordable source of animal protein," Luescher said.

More than 7 million people in Syria are classified as "food insecure", meaning they are not always sure where their next meal is coming from, she added.

The World Food Programme is distributing rations to more than 4 million people in Syria each month. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Heavens)

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