Food Security and Livelihood

In Syria it is estimated that 9.8 million people are in need of food, agriculture or livelihood assistance. Even before the crisis, people lived below the food-poverty line, especially in the rural areas. Since the onset of the crisis, the situation has been deteriorating, with a 50 percent decline in cereal production and livestock causing not only hunger but also harming the livelihood of farmers.

Food insecurity has especially affected the internally displaced population. One displaced women told Bihar: “The situation was very difficult after we fled. We did not have the most basic items, such as food and water.” Another woman explained how the lack of food had negatively impacted her ability to produce breastmilk, putting both the woman and her baby in danger. Bihar has conducted many projects in Food Security and Livelihood to assist the people who are struggling with limited food as well as preventative projects to strengthen community resilience.

Background to agricultural decline

The agricultural production rates of key commodities has fallen drastically since the start of the conflict in 2011. Production of wheat and poultry dropped 40 and 50 percent respectively, making it insufficient for national demand. The good rainfall in 2014 – 2015 aided agricultural production somewhat. However, rainfall is not the only important factor for successful agriculture. Four other factors should be taken into account when examining the decreased food production.

One challenge is the limited access to supplies necessary for agricultural production. Fuel for machinery and transportation is rare and expensive, and spare parts for machinery can be difficult to procure. Import constraints on vaccines for livestock, risks not only the lives of the animals but also human health.

Secondly, infrastructure, including water, electricity and transportation is often malfunctioning. Irrigation systems are crucial in Syria as the country is often hit by drought. The decreased availability of water and maintenance of water systems puts constraints on irrigation leading to decreased production. As the roads are destroyed or blocked, transport to and from farms is obstructed, making both production and trading difficult.

Economic hardship is an issue cutting across society, and one that is aggravated by above mentioned factors. The rise of inflation has made everything more expensive, with food prices rising drastically. Buying inputs for agriculture such as animal feed and fertilizers is no longer possible for small-scale farmers with modest incomes, as prices constantly increase. High production costs have therefore forced people to abandon their land as they can no longer afford to farm. Salaries have also decreased since the start of the crisis and farmers who cannot make ends meet lose their livelihood as they stop their productive labour.

The last reason for production decline is the insecurity brought by conflict. The threat of displacement and attacks discourages investment in land and livestock. The insecurity obstructs trade of food items within the cities, forcing people to purchase food outside of, or in the outskirts, of the city. Insecurity, together with limited access to supplies as well as economic and infrastructural challenges need to be considered when developing sustainability and resilience projects in Syria.

Consequences of food insecurity in Syria

Hunger is the greatest risk to health. Since the outbreak of the conflict, people’s food intake has decreased. By the end of 2014, 6.8 million people were highly food insecure in Syria.

Families have taken drastic measures to secure food, including selling property, withdrawing children from school and borrowing money. With the inability to feed the whole family, children have been forced into labour to support the family or marry early. These solutions to handle food shortages will have serious consequences in the future, as the assets and education necessary for development are decreasing with the lack of food.

People have been eating fewer meals, smaller portions and less nutritious food since the start of the conflict. This has led to low food consumption rates in Syria. The problem is not limited to food quantity but also variety. Food consumption rates are especially poor among IDP children.

Children growing up malnutritioned have high risks of physical and mental underdevelopment. Moreover, malnutrition is life threatening. It undermines the immune system and exposes the body to risk of disease. A secure food supply is vital for people’s health status as well as for the long term implications on society.