A Syrian woman living in a makeshift camp inside a farm near the Oncupinar border crossing holds her baby
Rome (AFP) - A farming crisis in war-torn Syria has reduced food production to a record low and raised fears people in the conflict-hit country will be forced to flee famine, the UN's food agency said on Tuesday.
"Widespread insecurity and unfavourable weather conditions" in parts of the country continue to "hamper access to land, farming supplies and markets", the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a report.
It warned of "grave consequences not only for the food security of farming households but also on food availability" in the country, which "may ultimately lead to further displacements".
Ongoing fighting is making it difficult for many farmers to access grazing land and water sources, while the price of animal feed has sky-rocketed, forcing "many herding families... to sell or slaughter their sheep, goats and poultry", added the FAO, which produced the report with the UN's World Food Programme (WFP).
Rising prices and scarcity of fertilisers and seeds is also hurting crop farmers, who "will have no other option than to abandon food production if they do not receive immediate support".
Wheat production has plummeted 55 percent, from an average 3.4 million metric tons before the war to 1.5 million metric tons this year, and a water crisis has led some farmers to switch to hardier but less nutritious crops.
- Unable to cope -
"Many farmers have lost the ability to cope," it said, adding that almost 80 percent of households across Syria were already struggling to access or buy food and the situation was likely to worsen.
"The food security situation of millions of people inside Syria continues to deteriorate with more than seven million people classified as food insecure across the country... no longer able to put food on the table for their families," said Muhannad Hadi, WFP regional director for the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia and East Europe.
Syria, once an exporter in livestock, has seen its herds and flocks shrink significantly since the beginning of the crisis.
"Today, there are 30 percent fewer cattle, 40 percent fewer sheep and goats, and a staggering 60 percent less poultry," FAO said.
And while some livestock farmers fleeing violence are able to bring their cows or sheep with them, crop farmers have no such option.
Some 9.4 million people across Syria are in need of assistance -- up 716,000 on September 2015 -- particularly in Quneitra, Dara'a, Damascus, Idlib, and Aleppo, the FAO said.
Problems with transportation, high costs and security risks for producers and traders has resulted in surplus supply in the northeast of the country while the west largely relies on imports.
FAO said newly harvested crops and airdrops of food assistance into the besieged city of Deir Ezzor brought down the price of wheat flour by 12 to 15 percent in several key markets in June 2016.
But wheat prices were nevertheless between 40 and 50 percent higher in June when compared to the same period last year.