Syrian wheat field on fire in Ma\'arat Masrein, north of Idlib
Damascus – George Al Shami
The Syrian wheat harvest could be as low as 1.5 million tons, less than half the pre-conflict average and well below forecasts from the UN Food and Agriculture
Civil war in Syria has led to the worst level of wheat harvest since 1984, decreasing the government\'s share as President Bashar al-Assad\'s men battled with rebels in control of farming areas.
According to estimates collated by Reuters from more than a dozen grain officials and local traders, despite good rains this year, a scarcity of seed and fertiliser combined with labour shortages and damage to irrigation systems and storage facilities from the relentless conflict have led to the worst crop since 1984, when the country was hit by major drought.
Several said the harvest was likely to be as low as 1.5 million tons, with a minority saying it might reach closer to 2.0 million - still significantly lower than the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation\'s (FAO) initial forecast of 2.4 million tons, made shortly before the June-July harvest.
Until recently the government had stuck to more optimistic forecasts, with Syrian Agriculture Minister Ahmad Qadiri saying in May he expected output to reach 3.6 million tons.
But the low yield is not the only problem for authorities who are also struggling to buy grain from some of Syria\'s richest farmland - much of it now held by rebels - stretching from the northern border with Turkey to Iraq in the south-east.
According to Reuters, officials in the state run General Establishment for Cereal Processing and Trade (HABOOB) said that they received only 950,000 tons of grain.
Reuters quoted a grain official in Damascus as saying that the drop in local production since last year has forced Syria to step up grain imports with at least one million tons of mainly soft wheat purchased from global markets in 2012.