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Syria: Going Organic - United Nations in Syria
Last modified: 2010-06-03 00:34:06

As people world-wide are growing increasingly concerned about the quality of the food and the state of the environment, organic products are becoming ever more popular. The concept of organic agriculture is relatively new in Syria, however products farmed without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and preservatives, as well as genetic modifications or hormones are appealing to all members of the society.

The "Institutional Development of Organic Agriculture in Syria" project, financed by the Italian Government and implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in partnership with the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, represented by the General Commission for Agricultural Scientific Research (GCSAR) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, aims to prepare the grounds for the establishment of legal, institutional and scientific platforms for organic agriculture in Syria. The project will facilitate the realization of a platform for the sustainable development of organic farming in Syria through the elaboration of a proper institutional framework, which would allow researchers, producers, processors and traders to fully implement their potential.

Today, the legal framework, aiming to impose production standards that would be recognized by the EU and other Arab countries, is ready. Proposals for organic agriculture certification system are now being prepared, alongside with capacity building programmes for farmers and technical specialists. "Proper knowledge and qualifications in regards to organic agriculture is rare even amongst specialists," says Haya abou assaf, project staff member working for GCSAR ..... . Subsequently, the project helped in capacity building of many technicians in organic agriculture by training them in IAM Bari in Italy - a country famous for its long experience in the area of organic agriculture - 8 scholarships were devoted for post-graduators (Diploma and Master) .

Building awareness

Campaigns to raise awareness about organic agriculture among agronomists, farmers and other relevant segments of the society are being carried out nationwide, alongside lectures, workshops, and seminars on the organic concept.

"Farmers in Syria, for most of whom agriculture is the main source of income, are scared about the possible decrease in production if they convert to organic agriculture, this is why organic agriculture needs support" explains Haya .... Farmers in the Southern regions, however, notably Sweida, are most receptive to the idea. A significant percentage of the farmers in different Syrian regions attempt to preserve their ancestors' traditions, their agricultural practices are already close to organic. Subsequently, chemical pesticides or other artificial farming methods are not used, and the fields are irrigated with rain water. In order to qualify as an organic farm, these farmers would have to introduce crop rotation in their fields, which would prevent depletion of soil nutrients and improve soil structure and fertility.

One of the tasks that the "Institutional Development of Organic Agriculture in Syria" project has taken up is considering the possibility of the establishment of a non-profit organic farmers association. The association would unite organic farmers and give them a stronger voice in defending their interests and seeking government, NGOs and international organizations' support. A farmers association would simultaneously be able to attract more farmers to convert to organic agriculture, and subsequently lower the cost of production.

Studies carried out within the framework of the project by investigated the domestic market and revealed that organic eggs, dairy, fruits and vegetables have a lot of potential. Many interviewees were willing to pay 20 or even 40 percent more for guaranteed quality products. "People are starting to take into consideration the fact that treatment of diseases caused by low quality nutrition can be serious and costly" says a Syrian health expert. Studies show that even small amounts of certain chemicals can result in heart and skin disorders or even lead to cancer. Similar hazardous effects could be caused by genetically modified products, hormone, antibiotic and chemically enhanced feed use in animal production, all of which are prohibited in organic agriculture.

Benefits to the environment

Organic agriculture, however, is not only defined by the rejection of artificial fertilizers. Organic products are produced following strict environmentally friendly standards in every stage of production: from farming to processing and retailing. Organic alternatives to fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides are to be used. Moreover, the entire production process should abide with the strictest eco-friendly rules and regulations, set not only to cause minimal soil, air, and water pollution, but also aiming to restore environmental balance and create consumer confidence in organic products.

Today, water is a major issue of emergency in Syria. The North Eastern area is experiencing major drought problems as well as desertification, and concern about climate change is growing. Subsequently, it is becoming vital to reduce the pressure on natural resources, and adopt new ways of production.
Present agricultural circumstances are favorable to broad implementation of organic farms. Rain-fed agriculture, which is environmentally-friendly, in Syria is practiced in over 10 percent of the agricultural land, being in 60 percent of the total fruit tree plantations in Syria. 95-99 percent of barley areas are rain fed; more than 97 percent of lentil, chickpeas areas rain fed. Crop rotation could minimize soil erosion, which leads to desertification, a phenomenon that Syria is heavily suffering from.

Market possibilities

One of the main achievements of the FAO project "Institutional Development of Organic Agriculture in Syria" is the extensive market studies. Results showed that organic Syrian products could have most potential in the European, Arab and local markets.

As European organic markets are quite developed, some niches are already occupied, as for example Italian olive oil is already well marketed and familiar to British consumers. However, Syrian olive oil is of high quality and its production exceeds local needs. Therefore it has a lot of potential in the European market. Subsequently, an organized and informative marketing campaign would be needed in order to establish Syrian products in European, North American and Arab markets. It is essential to inform consumers about the quality and special characteristics of Syrian products, notably olive products, chickpeas, lentils and cotton.

Holistic approach

Organic agriculture key success depends on the involvement of various of sectors, it is not limited to agriculture only. Thus the organic project depended during its progress on the participation of other entities beside GCSAR.

It is worth mentioning that the legal framework was drafted through close cooperation with several institutions (private and public). Active participation in this important endeavor were the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (directorates plant production, animal production, and extension Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Economy and Trade, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment and several NGOs such as: General Union of Peasants, Chamber of Agriculture and Environment Society. In Addition to the legal committee, the project was guided by a Steering Committee composed more or less of the same institutions.

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Keywords: Syria, Organic, United Nations, Institutional Development of Organic Agriculture in Syria, project, market possibilities
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