Bumper Crop Expected in Syria Amid Ongoing Civil War

Local sources say production may reach 125,000 tons, a significant increase from the previous year. However, the future of olive growing in the country remains uncertain.

Syrian school girls in refugee camp (Getty Images)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Nov. 18, 2022 15:13 UTC
Syrian school girls in refugee camp (Getty Images)

The olive har­vest is under­way in sev­eral regions of Syria, and local grow­ers are hope­ful of a strong yield by the end of the sea­son.

According to local sources cited by the state news agency Sana, approx­i­mately 125,000 tons of olive oils should be expected in the 2022/23 crop year, a 20-per­cent increase com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year.

In the last few years, local olive oil pro­duc­tion has slightly exceeded 100,000 tons, with the notable excep­tion of the 2018/19 crop year, when the coun­try pro­duced 154,000 tons of olive oil, accord­ing to the International Olive Council. In the 2021/22 crop year, Syria pro­duced 105,500 tons of olive oil.

See Also:2022 Harvest Updates

However, the country’s ongo­ing civil war, which started in 2011 and has since resulted in 610,000 peo­ple killed, includ­ing 307,000 civil­ians and up to 13 mil­lion inter­nally dis­placed peo­ple and refugees, has taken a pro­found toll on olive grow­ing.

Along with wheat and cot­ton, olives are one of the country’s main crops. Prior to the start of the civil war, pro­duc­tion and exports of these three crops accounted for 9 per­cent of the country’s annual GDP.

In the five years lead­ing up to the esca­la­tion of the con­flict in 2013, Syria pro­duced an aver­age of 176,600 tons of olive oil each year. Data from agri­cul­tural researchers in Hungary and Turkey indi­cate that from 2012 to 2016, Syria lost $795 mil­lion worth of value from the olive sec­tor.

Some of these losses resulted from Turkey’s inva­sion of north­west­ern Syria, where the for­mer estab­lished a buffer zone to house some of the mil­lions of refugees pour­ing over its bor­der and keep other rival fac­tions in the civil war at arm’s length.

During this time, Turkey was accused of steal­ing 35,000 tons of olive oil from Syria to export. Turkish offi­cials dis­puted the claim, argu­ing that the olive oil from occu­pied Syrian ter­ri­tory was obtained legit­i­mately.

Currently, most Syrian olive oil exports are des­tined for other coun­tries in the Middle East and the Caucusus. According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), most Syrian olive oil exports are shipped to the United Arab Emirates, fol­lowed by Turkey, Kuwait and Armenia.

IOC fig­ures show that Syrian olive oil exports in the last few years sat between 15,000 to 20,000 tons.

Olive trees grow in many parts of Syria, but the most fruit­ful cul­ti­va­tion hap­pens in the north­west­ern por­tions of the coun­try, in the hilly land between the Aleppo and Idlib regions and along the moun­tains on the Mediterranean coast­line, from the Turkish bor­der to Damascus. These parts of the coun­try tra­di­tion­ally receive a larger amount of rain­fall dur­ing the win­ter sea­son.

According to the Satoyama Initiative of the United Nations, olive tree cul­ti­va­tion in Syria began around the year 2400 BCE. Many species of wild olive vari­eties thrive in the coun­try and are highly val­ued for their genetic diver­sity.

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