Unrest, bad weather lift Syrian grain import needs

Disruption wreaked on Syrian agriculture by poor weather and civil unrest have left the country facing a 1m-tonne rise in cereal imports for 2011-12, besides provoking worries over the next harvest too.

Syria's grain imports, mainly of barley, corn and wheat, may top 4.0m tonnes this season, a rise of nearly 30%, following "low production" in 2011, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said.

"Late and erratic rains led to poor crop establishment, especially in major rain-fed crop producing areas… in the north and north east," the FAO said.

Output last year was further hurt by civil strife which "prevented farmers to access their farmland during the harvest".

Crisis hits home

The organisation's import estimate is considerably higher than that of the US Department of Agriculture, which foresees Syrian purchases of the three main grains rising 21%.

Syria's 2011-12 crop production and (year-on-year change)

Wheat: 3.25m tonnes, (-9.7%)

Barley: 800,000 tonnes, (-11.1%)

Corn: 180,000 tonnes, (-0.6%)

Total output (includes others): 4.238m tonnes, (-9.6%)

Source: UN FAO

And prospects for any relaxation in Syria's need for cereal buy-ins have been hurt by the crisis stemming from bloody clashes between authorities and anti-government protesters.

"The outlook for the 2012 winter cereal crops… is uncertain given possible disruptions in overall agricultural activities and limited availability and access to inputs such as fertilizer and seeds," the FAO said, adding that livestock farmers were being affected too.

"In addition, the unrest is affecting pastoralists by restricting mobility of herds, with negative effects on access to water and pasture, and reducing the access veterinary drugs and other supplies."

Trade question

However, the organisation also unveiled bars to food imports to Syria, where some 1.4m people, out of a population of about 23m, have been rendered "food insecure" by the crisis.

"Economic and trading sanctions together with the strong depreciation of the local currency are expected to negatively affect the country's commercial import capacity, including food commodities," the FAO said.

"Sharp" rises in food prices were behind a jump in inflation in the second half of last year.

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