Syrian food production at all-time low

A man makes bread in the rebel-held besieged Aleppo, Syria (Reuters)
A man makes bread in the rebel-held besieged Aleppo, Syria (Reuters)

Food production has dropped to an all-time low in Syria where millions of hungry civilians are struggling through their sixth winter in a war zone, UN agencies are warning.

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 on Tuesday.

Wheat output - vital for making flat loaves of bread which are 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 report.

The area planted for cereals in the 2015-16 cropping season is the "smallest ever", they added.

Field visits showed higher than average production of barley, which some farmers switched to as the rain-fed crop is more resistant than wheat.

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

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

Before the war, Syria was an exporter of livestock.

"Now herds and flocks have shrunk significantly, 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 seven million people in Syria are classified as "food insecure", meaning they are not always sure where their next meal is coming from, she said, and 80 percent of the households struggle with a lack of food or lack of money to buy food.

Reuters