Poultry production in Syria should be supported by the distribution of chicks, and veterinary services should be provided with livestock vaccines and drugs. These are among the recommendations made by Muhammad Dost, Swithun Goodbody and Mamadou Niang of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Arif Husain and Jean-Martin Bauer of the World Food Programme (WFP) in a new report entitled Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to the Syrian Arab Republic

Now in its fifth year of civil crisis, around half of the total land area of the country is controlled by non-state armed groups, according to the report. Many Syrians have fled to neighboring countries and those who remain face many challenges and uncertainties, exacerbated by the difficulties in transporting goods within the country. Around half the population is estimated to be facing food insecurity.

One bright spot in the report is that favorable weather conditions have increased the wheat crop this year although output remain below the pre-crisis levels. With a requirement of 4.85 million tons, the shortfall in wheat production is around 800,000 tons.

Barley is grown mainly for animal feed and this year’s output of 968,000 tons is the best for a decade.

Livestock and poultry numbers in decline

Poultry numbers have severly declined, now just half of the levels 5 years ago at an estimated 13.1 million. At that time, poultry was the main source of animal protein for the Syrian population, the sector employed, directly and indirectly, more than 1 million workers and there were significant exports of meat, eggs and day-old chicks. Overwhelmingly run by the private-sector, many of the poultry units have been destroyed or abandoned, particularly in the regions of Dara’a and Aleppo.

According to FAOstat, chicken meat production fell from a peak of 189,000 tons in 2010 to 142,000 tons in 2013, the most recent year for which figures have been published. At that time, hen egg output that year was 123,000 tons - less than in 2000 and compared to its recent highest level of 172,000 tons in 2011. 

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Once important for Syria’s domestic economy and trade, the livestock sector has suffered substantially since 2011, according to the report. Cattle numbers are down 30 percent and there are 40 percent fewer sheep and goats.

Concerns over feed and veterinary supplies

The report highlights that feed ingredients - barley, maize, soy and wheat – have become so expensive that they are now holding back livestock production, according to farmers.

With the rainy season now over, cattle and sheep farmers are now facing the dry season until February.

Animal health is also under threat, the report says, as the result of a much-weakened veterinary sector, shortages of vaccines and drugs and the challenges of providing a reliable cold chain during transport. Local production of vaccines has been halted and stocks are said to be almost exhausted.

There have been no reports of notifiable diseases in the Syrian Arab Republic although some regions have had outbreaks of lumpy skin disease, foot-and-mouth disease and pasteurellosis. The report warns that the danger of the spread of diseases is increased by a strong and unregulated trade of animals and products across Syria’s borders to more lucrative neighboring markets. Chronic respiratory disease was rampant at one poultry farm visited during the research for the FAO report.