FAO and DFID collaboration to recover the seed multiplication system in the Syrian Arab Republic
Wheat is a strategic crop for the Syrian Arab Republic. Prior to the current crisis, the country used to produce more than 4 million tonnes of wheat a year, making Syria self-sufficient in terms of production of its main staple, and a leading food exporter in the region. Unfortunately, eight years of crisis have weakened wheat production in Syria making 6.5 million vulnerable people food insecure and 2.5 million people at risk of food insecurity.
Farmers have faced a number of difficulties, which have reduced wheat production. Besides being unable to access their lands in conflict areas, and having very limited access to water due to damaged irrigation infrastructure (as well as experiencing a period of severe drought), the farmers were also unable to obtain certified quality seed from a trustworthy resource.
The General Organization for Seed Multiplication (GOSM) used to provide up to 300 thousand tonnes of certified wheat seed to farmers across the country. Today, the organization is capable of providing only around 35,000 tonnes of seed. This is enough to meet the planting demands for only 10 percent out of 1.8 million hectares of land planned for wheat cultivation. The remainder will come from farmers’ own saved seed, or from seeds from unknown sources in the local market.
This can have a serious impact on food security – poorer quality seed results in lower quality wheat, with a higher risk of diseases and less yield stability against climatic changes, as well as reduced quantities. In some cases, farmers have abandoned their lands altogether to seek other livelihood opportunities and the lack of seed is one of the factors cited.
In order to protect and secure availability of wheat, FAO supported by the Department of International Development (DFID), in collaboration with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), have taken the first steps towards increasing farmer access to quality early generation seed, by contracting a number of pioneer farmers in Aleppo governorate. The farmers have multiplied bread wheat, durum wheat, barley, chickpea and lentil varieties seeds.
“FAO’s intervention supports seed multiplication in Syria by distributing early generation material specifically for seed production,” said Mike Robson, FAO Representative in the Syrian Arab Republic. “FAO is working to restore seed multiplication in the country to ensure that more farmers can access quality seeds, and become more resilient, improving their food security and nutrition. This intervention supports the recovery of the agriculture sector, through the availability of quality seed on a sustainable basis,” added Mike Robson.
The pioneer farmers have received specific training and special supervision from experts on seed multiplication to generate good results out of this initial intervention. Specifically, the farmers have followed a reduced planting recommendation – with 65 Kg of seeds/hectare – in order to produce better, stronger and supplemental quantity of wheat seeds. Pioneer farmers were also supported to take steps to ensure that the crop was not affected by pest and diseases, and was not mixed with weed or extraneous varieties, in addition to timely use of irrigation for good quality production.
Majd Hamadeen is one of the contracted pioneer farmers from As-Sfeira in Aleppo governorate who accepted the challenge of planting wheat seed for seed multiplication purposes at 65 Kg/Ha instead of the more common practice, which involves planting around 350 Kg/Ha. “When I planted my land based on the new recommendations I received from the experts, I was criticized by many of my family members and my neighbours for using this methodology. We only plant wheat once a year and they believed what I did was a horrible mistake,” said Majd.
“However, the results were surprising; my three hectares land dedicated for this activity have produced an average of 12 tonnes of fine wheat seeds. My neighbours cannot believe that I produced this quantity of seed from 65 Kg/Hectare. Many came to see what I had produced, and they considered it as a kind of miracle,” Majd Added.
At harvest season (June 2019), the pioneer farmers were able to produce 35-40 tonnes of high quality cereal seeds, double their usual production rates. FAO will implement similar interventions in several governorates to assist more farmers to increase their income from seed production, and improve their living situation. Most importantly, this intervention will contribute in the recovery of the agriculture sector by replenishing the quantities of certified wheat seeds available over the next two to three years.