Syrian children wait for the distribution of free food in the Ain Issa camp for internally displaced people (IDP), 19 July 2017. Morukc Umnaber/DPA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Syrian bread is declining in quality, and this means trouble for the ministry of consumer protection. In an unusual move, Al Watan took a direct shot at the ministry, suggesting that while the price of 140 SYP per kilo of grain was promised via seizure of goods and the banning of farmers from being able to contest the verdict, the price point at which grain producers are remunerated could be as low as 3.3 SYP per kilo.
While reducing the price of food for citizens, such a low price-point will likely force many farmers out of business. Grain, however, should not be viewed solely as a source of bread in any economy or the agricultural sector around it. Though not immediately evident, the implications for related industries have become a subject of debate in government sanctioned media.
Such is the case of coastal poultry farmers; in a recent interview, farmers from Lattakia highlighted the price of animal feed as a primary cause of difficulties that the industry is experiencing.
Other important issues include the lack of cooling facilities, the cost of running said facilities, and pumping the water that is essential to the process of raising chickens and maintaining their health.
Moreover, via state decree the price of eggs, a key product of the agricultural industry, was lowered dramatically. This act forced producers to question their recovery of investment and the profitability of their already threatened enterprises.
Lattakia producers had already invested in securing fertilized eggs to increase future production with 60,000 eggs being bought. These are costs that the industry will need help recovering from, on top of normal operational costs to help it survive economically. This prospect is an uncertain one, even though the industry provides one of the cheapest sources of protein for the Syrian diet.
Though eggs have long since disappeared from the rations of regular army forces, recent testimonials suggest that even elite government forces such as the Republican Guard and its affiliates in Jobar appear deprived of this cheap and vital source of protein, with soldiers complaining of rations composed of potatoes and stale bread.
The uncertainty is due to the fact that sub-industries, which form Syria's agricultural sector, have previously been crippled by severe difficulties and declined to a point of near or total collapse.
A recent example is the peanut industry, which due to high water requirements and reduced pump-based irrigation to offset the drought, suffered significantly by 2015 losing more than 85 percent of its production.
A revival of the industry is unlikely as even water rich areas such as Northern Hama are facing issues when it comes to irrigation in 2017-2018 due to the draining of the local irrigation dams and water infrastructure to reduce the pace of fighting earlier in the year.
Even through programs have been announced to build wells in the province, the value of said programs is under 100,000 USD per well and insufficient to address the irrigation difficulties, meaning other areas would suffer similar troubles.
From the same source we can also gauge what sort of state compensation peanut farmers could have received in 2015 and 2016 in nearby Tartous governorate, between five and ten percent of the estimate by the governorate costs of production.
Beekeepers also had similarly low financial aid packages approved from the local branch of the fund for disaster relief, with 257 beekeepers being compensated for a combined sum of 21,2 million SYP, or the equivalent of around 42,000 USD.
Even if there's a desire to compensate and reimburse farming communities at a local level, funds are often unavailable. If the poultry industry is to follow the decline of peanut producers it would be massively detrimental as it provides a staple domestic food source unlike the supplementary and export-oriented peanut industry.
Opinion pages in the coastal areas that chart local corruption and public sentiment have also expressed similar views. While in short this supports the opinion that while there will be a brief reprieve for people purchasing eggs, the producers will bear the burden for this.
Additionally, given that companies have expressed concerns regarding refrigeration and storage due to electricity rationing, attempts to distribute much needed produce will be impaired. Confounding distribution, further rationing of fuel for private use will likely hamper the ability of individuals in isolated areas to obtain or distribute eggs.
Despite these omens the poultry sector has yet to reach a state of unrecoverable freefall. While momentary decline in price offers a short-term reprieve for Syria’s struggling citizens, it is unlikely to last. With state paid compensations likely to be low, the future of a staple food source in Syria grows increasingly uncertain.