War, high prices and corruption networks are ruining Syrian livestock

Enab Baladi – Jana al-Issa

Livestock herders in Syria are going through difficult conditions that have caused many to consider leaving the profession, whether or not there are alternatives.

Many are forced to sell their livestock, provided there are buyers, or slaughter them to eliminate expense burdens brought about by the depreciation of the Syrian pound or the frequent rise in feed prices around the world.

The Syrian regime government periodically resorts to reducing fodder allowances which it provides at a “subsidized” price to herders while ignoring their need for additional quantities of heating materials needed to keep the herd alive through the winter. .

All the challenges have contributed to doubling the prices of livestock and birds as well as its products such as eggs, chicken, meat, milk and cheese, placing new burdens on consumers that they cannot afford all just can’t stand it.

“High” costs

The costs of importing fodder materials into Syria prompted the regime’s government to raise local fodder prices or manage its subsidies by cutting allocations before the start of the Russian war against Ukraine.

After the invasion began, rising global fodder prices widened the gap between production costs and income from herd trading, with the price of a bag of fodder (50 kilograms) rising from 70,000 pounds Syrian pounds (US$18) to around 110,000 Syrian pounds (US$30).

Suleiman, 38, said Enab Baladi that he owns three cows in the western countryside of Daraa Governorate amid a disparity between the selling price of the milk they produce and the price of fodder used to feed the cows.

Due to high feed costs, Suleiman was forced to cut back on the cows’ feed, which was reflected in their milk production.

A veterinary assistant residing in Daraa recounted Enab Baladi that fodder plays a key role in improving milk productivity in terms of quality and quantity.

Forage contains protein and provides the energy and minerals needed by livestock. “Under normal conditions,” he adds, “one kilogram of fodder should produce two kilograms of milk.”

Livestock costs are not limited to fodder. Cows actually need essential grasses, like alfalfa and summer corn, which help reduce dependence on forage.

Alfalfa is planted in winter, while corn and millet are planted in summer. Cultivating them represents an additional burden on production costs, with most breeders renting land dedicated to growing these seeds, in addition to fertilizer and watering costs.

Farmers store hay (dried wheat straw) and feed it to cows along with fodder. When the wheat is harvested, herders buy sufficient quantities to feed the cows for an entire year at a price of up to 500 Syrian pounds per kilo.

Recession, traders exploit the crisis

On February 26, the director of animal production at the Syrian regime government’s agriculture ministry, Osama Hammoud, announced that Syria had lost around 40-50% of its herds due to the global rise in fodder prices. , in addition to the economic sanctions imposed on the regime.

Hammoud had also pointed out a major problem threatening livestock restoration efforts, namely the inability of herders to continue the breeding process, which led them to sell a large part of their herds to meet the needs of the party. remaining.

Enab Baladi observed that the multiple difficulties in rearing livestock and birds were also reflected in the movement of sales and purchases, leading to lower prices given the high supply and low demand.

Youssef, 30, who raises 50 sheep and three cows in rural Daraa, says Enab Baladi that the sale of the herds “has almost stopped” despite the drop in prices, pointing out that the reason for this was the reluctance to bear the costs of breeding.

The price of a cow is around 2 million Syrian pounds (510 US pounds), compared to around 5 million pounds (1250 US pounds) at the start of 2021. The price of a hen is around 25,000 pounds pounds (US$6), and the price of a sheep, which varies by weight, costs an average of 300,000 Syrian pounds (US$75).

Wael Bakri, head of the branch of the Union of Veterinarians in the governorate of As-Suwayda, confirmed that the rise in fodder prices had enabled traders and brokers to take herders by the throat while explaining that the Herders’ inability to obtain fodder in the quantities needed for their cattle herds has prompted them to resort to selling some of it on the cattle market. It also left them at the mercy of fodder traders who imposed prices he called “deadly”.

Addressing the pro-regime al Watan Local newspaper on March 10, Bakri said that during a “bazaar” in the cattle market at the time, traders paid no more than 125,000 Syrian pounds per sheep (US$32).

Hikmat Haddad, a member of the Poultry Farmers Committee, announced on March 23 that the number of poultry farmers in regime-controlled areas had fallen to just 20% of the percentage recorded since 2011.

Local environment destabilized by the war

Pastoralists’ hardships in recent years are still troublesome in the absence of a concrete government measure to mitigate the negative effects, which have also affected staple food prices.

Omran Center for Strategic Studies economist Mohammed al-Abdullah said the issue of the deterioration of livestock in areas controlled by the Syrian regime is “complex” with multiple causes.

In an interview with Enab Baladial-Abdullah explained that one of the main reasons for the decline of livestock farming to less than 50% is the domestic environment which is not suitable for this sector in a country in conflict since 2011.

This had a negative impact on the stability essential to the growth of this sector and the preservation of livestock of all kinds.

Al-Abdullah pointed out that several factors pose a major challenge to the regime’s government in terms of its ability to continue to support the livestock sector and limit its losses as it itself experiences a worsening crisis. which prompted it to reschedule and rationalize subsidies for large segments of beneficiaries in various sectors.

The regime government can no longer maintain the same subsidy previously given to the livestock sector, despite its importance to the national economy and the local market, al-Abdullah said.

These factors are reflected in a significant decrease in grazing areas, the loss of large numbers of cattle due to epidemics, the high price of veterinary drugs, the higher cost of animal husbandry compared to the benefits are drawn and reducing consumer purchasing power.

In addition, fodder prices have increased and fodder is now unobtainable for many herders, as well as the widespread smuggling of cattle to neighboring regions and countries for profit, the researcher concluded.

Corruption affects livestock

The deterioration of livestock can be attributed, on the other hand, to “pervasive” economic corruption in government institutions affiliated with the regime, according to local economists.

Al-Abdullah believes that the corrupt networks of beneficiaries are based in institutions linked to the livestock sector, mainly the General Organization of Fodder, banks, chambers of agriculture and the General Union of Peasants, among other bodies competent.

The role of these networks is manifested through the control of fodder prices and their distribution within the Fodder Organization, the prices of “rationed fodder” being close to the prices set by traders.

Al-Abdullah also indicated that the networking between fodder traders and the said networks is no longer a secret, given that they are currently seeking to import and monopolize fodder and impose their prices on the local market, with a view to generating a profit for billions of Syrians. books in the absence of supply controls.

The regime government no longer has the will or the capacity to continue supporting the livestock sector while trying to justify the withdrawal of support with several pretexts that have become known to all, the expert revealed.

difficult end

Prior to 2011, Syrian livestock accounted for around 40% of total agricultural production and provided employment for around 20% of the rural labor force.

On average, about 35 percent of rural households considered livestock as the main source of food and income.

If the causes that led to the deterioration of the livestock sector are not eliminated, the sector is doomed to further deterioration.

This will have many negative effects on a wide range of skilled livestock keepers, as they would lose their main source of income, in addition to a steady increase in the prices of animal products and the inability of a large proportion of consumers to afford them. to buy.

Al-Abdullah, the economic expert, asserts that the regime government is likely to resort to imports to meet the needs of the local market with low-priced products, as opposed to lower quality than the local product, thus allowing networks of “beneficiaries” to accumulate profits through the importation of these substances.

Enab Baladi correspondent in Daraa Halim Muhammad contributed to this report.

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