Syria food security and livelihoods assessment

The Regional Food Security Analysis Network (RFSAN) has released a summary and full report of a food security and livelihoods assessment, which was carried out between December 2015 and February 2016. Funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the assessment was conducted by the Whole of Syria Food Security Cluster in South Turkey, in collaboration with RFSAN and the Research Management Team (RM Team).

The food security and livelihoods assessment was commissioned to understand the implications of the Syria crisis on food security, agriculture and livelihoods at the household level in Syria, supporting a larger effort to enhance the efficiency in humanitarian and early-recovery interventions in the country. The assessment is one of the first of its kind, providing a critical baseline of information on food security, livelihoods and agriculture at the household level in different parts of the country.  

Livelihoods

The results indicate that livelihoods have experienced severe strain as a result of the conflict. More than half of households reported that their main sources of income are different than before the crisis and 80% reported a severe decline in income in the year prior to the assessment.

Salaried employment, work in skilled trades, and government jobs have largely disappeared in many areas of the country, forcing households to take low-skill and/or high-risk jobs. There has been a dramatic growth in remittances and in jobs such as processing fuel and collecting firewood. Many Syrians have had to take jobs that are less stable than the ones they held previously and have had to resort to taking on debt and relying on coping strategies in order to make ends meet.

Many households have come to also depend on agricultural wage labor, despite the fact that farmers are increasingly unable to pay for assistance to plant or harvest. Accordingly, most households interviewed did not have sufficient income to meet their needs, with strains being felt acutely during the winter months.

Food Security

Livelihoods pressures have had a significant effect on household food security. The vast majority of the households interviewed accessed food from markets, and their diminished purchasing power has forced them to cut back on the quality and quantity of the food they consume.

While a majority of households were found to be food secure at the time they were interviewed, many were at risk of food insecurity, based on the types of foods they reported consuming as well as a widespread use of coping mechanisms.

Overall, households reported low levels of hunger but depended on foods that were high in energy and low in nutrients. While most reported access to markets that stocked most essential food commodities, isolated shortages and reports that many food items are often difficult to obtain may make obtaining food a challenge for households even when they have the means to afford it. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of households reported that they were in need of humanitarian food assistance.

 

Agriculture

A majority of households interviewed for this assessment lived in rural areas and were engaged in agriculture as a source of income generation or food production. Households engaged in crop or livestock production typically reported higher indicators associated with livelihoods and food security. However, they also reported scaling back their engagement in agriculture over the past two years and approximately 15% had stopped altogether.

Difficulties obtaining or affording inputs such as seed, fertilizers, animal feed and veterinary supplies were the main reasons for households to stop or scale back their production, but at the same time, changes in value chains make it increasingly unprofitable for households to remain engaged in agriculture.

In an effort to continue farming, households have changed the ways they use land, abandoned traditional agricultural practices, and shifted to planting more profitable non-food crops. Many households reported liquidating their herds and flocks and selling trees for firewood.

The assessment utilized a mixed-methods approach that drew from multiple primary data collection methods such as focus group discussions, household interviews and key informant interviews, which were complemented by secondary data.

A total of 1,995 household surveys were conducted in 150 randomly selected communities across eight geographic clusters throughout Syria. Clusters were identified on the basis of geographic proximity of communities to one another and shared socio-economic and livelihoods characteristics.

The effects of the conflict in Syria have fallen severely on its agricultural sector, a major contributor to the country’s economic productivity. Before the crisis, the agricultural sector contributed 18% to gross domestic product and provided employment and livelihoods opportunities to 37% of the country’s pre-crisis population. A decrease in national production has had significant effects on economic access to basic food supplies. Decreased crop yield, high fuel prices, and other challenges such as road closures, checkpoints, market disruptions, and generalized insecurity have caused food prices to rise sharply.  With less to be harvested, the agricultural sector is failing to provide income and livelihood opportunities.

An estimated 8.7 million people are in need of food assistance in Syria. The acute effects of prolonged conflict on food security and livelihoods are being felt on both the national and household level throughout the country. The effects of these strains fall heavily on individual households and price hikes as well as stagnant or decreasing wages have left over three in four Syrians living in poverty, unable to afford sufficient basic food items.

The Regional Food Security Analysis Network (RFSAN), a partnership between iMMAP and FAO, works in close collaboration with various humanitarian and development actors in the sector of food security in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria with cross-border activities in Turkey. One of the many tasks of the program is to understand the implications of climate change and the Syria crisis on food security. Its main strength lies in providing technical support in identifi­ed priority areas of food security information and early warning systems.

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