As Syria faces third year of drought, farmers are adapting their methods to keep food on the table

20 December 2023

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In Syria, low levels of rainfall since 2021 and a sharp decline in water flowing into the country’s rivers have led to a severe and ongoing drought. For Syria’s farmers – who make up around a quarter of the country’s population – not only does this mean less water for personal consumption, it also means less water with which to run their farms and cover their basic living costs.

The Syria Resilience Initiative, led by CARE, Mercy Corps and IRC in partnership with a number of national organisations, works with farmers in Syria to develop new methods to adapt to these changes in climate and strengthen their resilience for the future. As part of this, farmers have implemented new irrigation methods to ensure their yields – and livelihoods – are protected against the impacts of declining water supply.

Supporting farmers to balance work and motherhood

Hiba

"(The project) helped me save time and money on irrigation and focus more on my children and family. I was also able to buy more solar panels and operate another pump to increase my cultivated area and production. I am very happy with the results." - Hiba

For Hiba*, a farmer and mother of two, the new farming methods have been a game-changer. Along with other members of her village, Hiba and her family have a new solar energy system to run their pumps and a sprinkler network system to irrigate their land.

Before participating in the project, Hiba relied on a diesel engine to power the pumps in the well which watered their crops. Diesel engines need to be monitored and maintained to keep them running and, in this case, ensure they are producing enough energy to run the pumps. This meant Hiba had to watch the engines throughout the entire growing season, which made it difficult to balance her work and family life as she had to stay close to the well and the noisy, diesel-powered engines.

Despite the long hours each day, by the end of each season Hiba and her husband made barely enough money to cover their basic needs and expenses.

The solar powered energy system delivered through the SRI means Hiba no longer needs to use diesel engines, or to watch them constantly, as the pumps are operated automatically. Because the sprinkler system covers much larger areas, she also isn’t required to manually change the direction of the water. Now, as well as having more time for her family, she’s also seen an increase in production from the high-quality seeds provided through the SRI.

Using new technologies to increase yields and income

For Ahmad*, the support has also led to big changes in his farming practices. Married with seven children, Ahmad’s only source of income is from agriculture and livestock.

Ahmad

“I used to plant wheat and I worked at a sheep market. Drought, global warming, and the low market value of livestock caused a decrease in my income. Now, this support has reduced my expenses by 20% and my income is expected to increase by 30%.” - Ahmad

Ahmad used to rely on a generator and traditional methods to irrigate his field, which took him eight days and needed to be done five times over a growing season. The new sprinklers delivered through the SRI have reduced Ahmad’s irrigation time to three days, and the solar energy used to power the irrigation system saves around 50% compared to the diesel-powered water pump.

Not only has the new irrigation system reduced Ahmad’s overhead costs, he has also been able to increase the area he cultivates and increase his yields. Because of this, he expects a 30% increase in income in the next season and is planning to diversify his income sources by growing vegetables and corn for animal feed.

For Hiba, Ahmad, and the millions of farmers in Syria, adapting farming practices will be critical to ensuring they are able to withstand the changing climate they live and work in. In a country already contending with poverty, conflict and displacement – all of which are exacerbated by the climate crisis - any opportunities to increase the farming community’s resilience should not be missed. New technologies like those delivered through the Syria Resilience Initiative will play a critical role in this in years to come.

*Names have been changed

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