Water: “Syria Should abandon its Policy of Food Self-Sufficiency,” Elhadj and Al-Khouli

Drought has forced farmers to use untreated sewage to irrigate a field.

Syria Comment’s Elie Elhadj supports the view of Yasin al-Khouli recently published in Syria Steps. Both analysts explain why Syria should push tourism and and abandon the time honored policy of promoting agricultural self-sufficiency. For too long, Syria has viewed food as a strategic product. For reasons of national defense and pride, Syria has poured money into food self-sufficiency. Elie explains why this policy is too expensive, drains precious water supplies, and is bad for both the economy and defense. He writes

جميع المشاريع السياحية بسورية لا تَشغل واحد بالألف من الأراضي الزراعية المتوفرة بها والتي تبلغ مساحتها ما لا يقل عن عشرة ملايين هكتار

I wholeheartedly agree with Yaseen Khouli.

His courage is admirable. It runs in the face of the official sanctioned discourse on a delicate slogan like food self-sufficiency in an arid/semi arid Syria.

A small correction, though, regarding the surface of arable land in Syria. In 2008, the arable surface was 6 million hectares.

لذلك من المستغرب يقول خولي في دراسته التصريح الصادر من وزارة الزراعة بأن عام 2025 سنستورد كل المنتجات الزراعية وأننا ملزمون بالحفاظ على كامل الرقعة الزراعية

I find the statement by the Ministry of Agriculture surprising. How could Syria “import all its agricultural products in 2005″ and be obligated at the same time to “maintain the entire agricultural surface”?

I do hope that Syria stops investing in irrigation and land reclamation and invest instead in industrial and, yes, I agree with Mr. Khouli regarding investment in tourism, to generate the forex to purchase foodstuffs from rain soaked countries with lakes and rivers and protect the water quality and volume of Syria’s aquifers. As I said previously, Syria has sufficient water resources to feed a maximum of some 15 million people, not more.

وأشارت الدراسة إلى اعتراض البعض على تطوير السياحة بأن البلد تفتقر للمياه الكافية لاستقبال ملايين السواح معتبرةً وهذا الإدعاء مغالطة كبيرة لأن الزراعة تستهلك نحو ستة وثمانون بالمئة من المياه المستخدمة بسورية

Mr. Khouli is correct. 86% of all water used in Syria, as well as other countries, is used in agriculture. A person needs one m3 per annum for drinking, 100 m3 for household use, but 1,000 m3 for food. Said differently, roughly nine-tenth of our water needs is to meet our eating requirements.

ويعتبر ما نصدره من الإنتاج الزراعي وخاصةً القطن الخام تصديراً للمياه بأبخس الأسعار حيث يحتاج إنتاج كيلو غرام من القطن لنحو متر مكعب من المياه بالسقاية التقليدية

Agricultural products are virtual water. Mr. Khouli is correct in saying that exporting cotton, all agricultural produce for that matter, is synonymous with exporting water. A small correction, however, regarding cotton’s use of water to grow. One kg. of cotton in Syria uses five m3 of water to grow, not one m3.

Under temperate climate conditions, a kg of wheat uses 1,000 kgs of water to grow, a kg of beef; 16,000 kgs of water, an apple; 70 kg, a cup of coffee; 140 kg, a slice of bread; 40 kg, a glass of beer (for the infidels only); 75 kg….

لذلك يكفينا ضمان الأمن الغذائي بالزراعة ولا ضرورة لإنفاق عشرات المليارات لدعم فائض زراعي من جميع الأنواع

Syria produces no surplus foodstuffs. Syria imports quietly about a third of its foodstuffs needs today. Syria’s groundwater plus rainwater can provide food for 15 million people, not 22 million.

I share Mr. Khouli’s judgment that the Ministry of Agriculture brought disaster to the country. The responsibility should also be shared with the Ministry Irrigation, which I have been advocating should be abolished.

Mr. Khouli is a valuable asset. Syria’s politicians would do well to listen to him.

Yasin al-Khouli

باحث سوري يتهم وزارة الزراعة بتخريب اقتصاد البلد….
خولي: يجب إطلاق المشاريع السياحية في الأراضي الزراعية
26/10/2010

دمشق- سيرياستيبس:

رأى المهندس ياسين الخولي صاحب المكتب السوري الاستشاري للاستثمارات أن المسؤولين في وزارة الزراعة (وبنية حسنة) يقومون بعملية مدمرة لاقتصاد البلد وللسياحة السورية التي بعد تأخر طويل عن مثيلاتها المتوسطية أخذت بالانطلاق بنجاح وظهرت تباشيرها الواعدة وذلك بدعوى الغيرة والمحافظة على الأراضي الزراعية التي لم يجد حُماتها من سبيل لتحقيق غايتهم سوى القيام بحملة تجميد المشاريع الاستثمارية السياحية إضافة للصناعية فأوقفت مئات طلبات ترخيص سياحي وصناعي مع أن البلد تفتقر بشدة لهذه المشاريع فقد أصبحت الفنادق القائمة عاجزة عن استيعاب السواح لدرجة أن أصحاب مكاتب السياحة طلبوا من وزير السياحة في معرض السياحة ببرلين التخفيف من حملة الدعاية للسياحة السورية لعدم توفر أماكن مبيت كافية بالفنادق السورية لاستقبال السواح وأصبحت أسعارها من أعلى الأسعار بالعالم. كما أننا بأشد الحاجة لتشغيل اليد العاملة الكبيرة العاطلة عن العمل. والسياحة تعتبر أكبر مشغل لليد العاملة بأجور مجزية كما أن أكثرها مردوداً للأراضي التي تشغلها إذ أن الاستثمار بالزراعة لهكتار واحد من معظم الأراضي الزراعية السورية مع شح الأمطار لا يحتاج استثماره لأكثر من فلاح واحد بمردود ضعيف لا يكفي لإعالة عائلته بشكل لائق مما يدفعه في كثير من الأحيان للتخلي عن زراعته والهجرة للمدينة للانضمام إلى صفوف العاطلين عن العمل بها بينما يؤمن إشغال هكتار من الأرض بمشاريع سياحية مئات الوظائف بأجور مجزية إضافة لكون تصدير إنتاج الهكتار الزراعي ضعيف جداً بينما استثماره سياحياً يجلب القطع الأجنبي عشرات أضعاف إنتاجه الزراعي….

Comments (57)


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51. Alex said:

Ghat, Majhool,

The idea is not dead. Hopefully it is doable. working on a variation of it.

Majedkhaldoon,

I agree with Norman. Saudi Arabia hosting the Iraqis after the Kingdom stayed away from any responsibility in helping the Iraqis in the psst few years, does not make sense.

The Saudis like sponsoring these events/announcements … just like few years ago when the Saudis announced hosting a Hamas / PLO reconciliation talks while everything was already agreed upon in Damascus the week before.

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October 30th, 2010, 11:59 pm

 

52. Alex said:

Long but worth watching … Tea Party candidates,

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October 31st, 2010, 12:01 am

 

53. OFF THE WALL said:

Majhool and Alex
The Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), which attempts to mirror UNESCO is currently brainstorming regarding the initiation of a project similar in principal to the one you are proposing. The project aims to re-connect Arab expats with Arab countries in need of technical assistance through series of workshops, training courses, and specialized lectures. The idea has some merit in the sense that it will attempt to avoids political sensitivities by sending a Suadi expert to Syria, a Syrian Expert to Algeria, and an Algerian expert to Lebanon. At this stage, water and natural resource management seem to bu very high on the priority list. This is important since most of the expat experts can be viewed as politically neutral in countries other than theirs and they can be considered none-threatening.

Ghat
Since you brought up Arizona’s Desert. Arizona suffered major decline in ground water aquifers over a century. I have photos that show land subsidence on the order of 10 to 15 meters due to excessive ground water pumping (near eloy). In 1948, the state enacted a concept of critical groundwater zones, but that did not work since it was a toothless law and did not impose restriction on pumping within the zone. In the late 1970s and early 1980, when negotiations with the US department of the interior started regarding the Central Arizona Project (bringing Colorado River water to the state), the then secretary of the Interior of the US Cecil Andrus informed Arizona that without enacting a real ground water protection, the state will not receive a drop of the Colorado water. It took the diplomatic skills, and much political capital of the state’s Governor (one of the few sane governors the state ever knew), Bruce Babbit, and days of 18 hours negotiation for the state to finally come up with its landmark legislation, later known as the Ground Water Protection Act. The act designates 4 Active Management Areas within the state including Phoenix and Tucson where no new irrigation projects can be established, and where developers must demonstrate that they have acquired water rights sufficient to provide water for the said development. Hardest hit by the new law was Agriculture, since no new irrigation projects could be initiated and existing farmers were restricted to an amount not exceeding the largest acreage they farmed during the five years proceeding the law. All ground water wells were to be monitored and farmers were given options to retire their grandfathered water rights by selling the land to water districts, who would then acquire the water rights associated with the land. Furthermore, pumping amount from each aquifer was restricted to what was then called safe yield (being revised now).

Cities, however, reacted differently. Phoenix, with access the waters from the Salt River Project, continued to act as an oasis in the desert with green lawns. Tucson, on the other hand, became much more cognizant of its water limitation, hence the start of a new art (gravel yards) resulting in some of the most beautiful landscaping designs I have seen where low water consumption trees, mixed with cacti and layers of native shrubs now adorn countless back and front yard, and where strict conservation measures have been enacted including using only recycled water to water golf courses (which bring much of the city’s income) and resorts.

The reason I bring this story is to highlight and approach that must be used if Euphrates water is ever to be sent to Damascus or elsewhere. Strict controls of illegal ground water wells must be enacted and enforced. Similarly, legal wells, must be reviewed and restricted. But the real problem is not only the (Barada-Awaj) basin, as much as it is in the Khabour-Tigris basin where our of the total 4.566 Billion Cubic Meters demand, Agricultural demand is 4.3 Billions, with negative balance in the basin reaching 1.78 billion cubic meters (based on average values) the entirety of which comes from groundwater wells. These numbers were crying of impending disaster for years now since they were already known to the Ministry of Irrigation (these are the ministry’s estimates), and they have indicated dangerous reliance on ground water that resulted in the aquifer, the last resort in drought years, being unavailable when the drought hit. Syria now faces a catastrophe of nearly 1 million internal refugees, notwithstanding destruction of whole communities because of mismanagement, greed, and absent oversight (we all know how and why).

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October 31st, 2010, 1:44 am

 

54. Norman said:

OTW,

Tell me gain why Syria should not use deep wells that can be pumped and used for irrigation , if we can use oil why can’t we use water to make something only needs hard work from farmers with little capital,

My brother the civil Engineer who graduated from Damascus university told that the problem in Damascus does not comes from lack of water but from leakage from old pipes ,that are very old ,of about 30% , they tried to have new system but cost was prohibited , a canal or better probably a pipe line like in oil that transfer water from the Euphrates to Damascus and in the future to the Tiberius lake if peace materialize and with the help of Turkey by increasing the flow of water with stations along the way to irrigate the land on both sides of the pipe , doing that will increase Agriculture in Syria and supply water to Damascus ,

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October 31st, 2010, 8:55 am

 

55. Ghat Al Bird said:

OFF THE WALL made some good suggestions under # 53.

The only personal advice I would add is that the ex-patriate “consultant/expert” must approach both the individual and the project/isssue as a doctor approaches a patient. And that is before jumping into recommendations determine exactly from the farmers, [ in the case of water irrigation] as well as the agri ministrry person responsible individuall what does he/she think the major problems are.

In short do not dictate from a distance. If I was knowledgeable about Syria as you all are I would volunteer.

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October 31st, 2010, 10:45 am

 

56. 5 dancing shlomos said:

from angry arab, 11/1:

Disney Suq

A source who does not want to be identified sent me this: “Your recent post (“damascus”) reminded me of what one of my colleagues shared with me while we were researching Syria in 2008-9. His project dealt with urban history and he got to know a lot of the folks at GTZ, the German technical assistance organization that, as I understand it, is facilitating most of the “renewal” projects in the old city. Apparently he came across some plans that weren’t meant to be made public or seen by anyone other than the higher-ups at GTZ and the Ministry of Cultural which essentially indicated that approval had been granted for more than SIXTY new hotels/guesthouses in the Old City and in excess of ONE HUNDRED more restaurants, totals ON TOP of the existing development that has been going on over the last five years of so. Basically, this means that the Old City is being turned into an orientalist Disney Land for all the new tourists you’re seeing while in Syria. Much of this development is/will occur in the old homes owned by (the remaining) Jewish and some Christian families or people without the right kind of wasta to keep the pressure off them to sell. Please omit my name if you chose to reference this on you blog.”

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November 1st, 2010, 1:19 pm

 

57. douglas martin said:

Josh, I have used an Israeli designed drip system in my landscaping and gardening for twenty years–long lasting stuff under the Texas sun. I learned about Turkish systems from a Israeli hydrologist on sabbatical at the University of Texas who knew about Israeli selling or sharing their drip expertise during the “warm” times of diplomacy.

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November 1st, 2010, 2:18 pm

 

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