Reviving Tomato Farming: Farmer’s livelihoods restored with the help of UNDP
(Tartous- Syria) -Syria is considered to be one of top producers of Tomatoes in the world. Sitting at the 19th place right after Tunisia and before Portugal, Syria was producing up to 1,163,300 tons in 2008 per year and up keeping livelihoods of thousands of farmers across the country.
The Tomato which is botanically classified as a fruit but considered a vegetable for culinary purposes is a Syrian staple item and consumed by Syrians in almost every meal. The hot Syrian summer sun enables the growth of this fruit/vegetable in many parts of the country mostly in the south and the coastal areas, and greenhouses maintain production off season. However, since the start of the crisis, and the rising effects of climate change such as heavy storms and drought, the production of tomatoes has been reversed by at least 25%.
- In collaboration with local partners, UNDP targeted 43 famers in both villages of Basateen and Al- Baida in which the polyethylene material was provided, in addition to a drip irrigation system, a bag of fertilizers and durable seeds for each affected farmer.
- after the intervention, up to 258 tons of Tomatoes are expected to be available at the local village markets by September of this year will hopefully reduce the prices for consumers.
Before the crisis, Al Baidaa and Al Bassateen villages in Banyas – Rural Tartous, used to have 5700 greenhouses with a yield of more than 135 tons of tomato per year.
“We used to find Tomatoes at abundance” said Rifaat who is a local resident of the Beida Village, which is located in the coastal governorate of Tartous. “Tomatoes were one of the most affordable food items and we usually bought them in large boxes like most Syrians”, confirmed Rifaat who couldn’t afford tomatoes at some point for his family of five.
Since the start of the crisis, the price of tomatoes raised ten times in which it was 5SYP and now it has increased to 50SYP mainly due to the disruption of farms, and the increasing transportation costs from other parts of the country. This disruption did not only affect the local producers who lost their livelihoods, but also consumers like Rifaat who now considers tomatoes to be somewhat of a delicacy in a country that was once exporting them.
In the villages of Al-Badia where Rifaat comes from and neighboring village of Al-Basateen , Tomato farming was undertaken by local farmers who constructed their own plastic houses using raw materials they purchased at retail prices. More than 3500 green houses were out of operation in the two targeted villages during the crisis, because of destruction or being abandoned by the farmers who flee the violence to safer areas, while the remaining were unable to invest due to the rising prices of the farming inputs including the seeds and fertilizers, also, the water scarcity requires less water consumption, which is not possible with the traditional irrigation systems.
Having this high number of greenhouses going out of operation, results in severe disruption to the livelihoods of the farmers, who rely solely on the revenues of the greenhouses, Also, the reduction in supply leaves the local consumers subject to higher tomato prices.
“I used to produce up to 6 tons per year” said Amal Kamoun who is a widow farmer lost her husband during the crisis, and supporting her 6 children , from Al- Basateen, and whose production of tomatoes was suddenly halted due to a heavy storm that took place in the winter of 2013 and destroyed his plastic green house. “I was not able to repair the greenhouse mainly because I cannot afford to buy the raw materials to build it” especially that I became responsible for my six children after losing my husband in the crisis, confirmed Amal K.
Many farmers across the country found it impossible to purchase the raw materials for the greenhouses at retail prices such as the Polyethylene plastic material that is used as a cover. This material was available at affordable prices when local factory producers were operating. However, due to the crisis, many of these factories were closed and the remaining ones were selling at elevated retail prices.
This has left farmers like Amal without the ability to regain back her production capacity. An average greenhouse used to cost farmers about 150,000 SYP and now 400,000 SYP.
In collaboration with local partners, UNDP targeted 43 famers in both villages of Basateen and Al- Baida in which the polyethylene material was provided, in addition to a drip irrigation system, a bag of fertilizers and durable seeds for each affected farmer.
“We wanted to ensure that each farmer was able to regain back his full production capacity especially since this was the major source of income” said Yaser Al Issa, who is the UNDP area manager located in Tartous. “We ensured that each set of materials were properly installed under the supervision of an agricultural engineer commissioned by UNDP who also guided the farmers in applying better farming regarding the suitable times for planting, and how to detect and defeat blight, in addition to the support in proper installation of the drip-irrigation system “ confirmed Yasser.
Each plastic house is about 600square meters and yields about 6 tons of Tomatoes. The new greenhouses are more resistant to stormy weather, and are message of hope for others whose greenhouses were destroyed by violence.
“When my greenhouse was destroyed by the violence, I was devastated” said Atef H. , a local resident of Al- Basateen who was forced to find other means of work. “But now, after UNDP helped me rebuild my greenhouse, I regained my hope, dignity and livelihood” confirmed Atef who is now eagerly awaiting his tomato yield which he planted in May.
In both villages, the disruption of Tomato yield raised prices for local consumers, since tomatoes had to be transported from other parts of Tartous. However, after the intervention, up to 258 tons of Tomatoes are expected to be available at the local village markets by September of this year will hopefully reduce the prices for consumers.
“ I can’t wait for September to see the product of my hard work” said Atefwho is now also considering to expand his yield for the next season from the profits of this season.