Rural Development in Syria - Aga Khan Development Network
Aga Khan Development Network

Rural Development in Syria

Since 2003, the Rural Development Programme in Syria has worked with agriculturally reliant communities in Salamieh District on the persistent issue of water shortages. Improved water productivity and efficiency through modernised irrigation technology, combined with agricultural diversification and improved techniques, are at the foundation of the AKF’s success in Salamieh District.

Rural development in SyriaActivities include the improvement of irrigation systems, especially through drip and sprinkler systems that use 50 percent less water, and the introduction of new crops and techniques.In Salamieh, Syria, limited water resources combined with overpumping and poor management has led to a persistent problem of water shortage. To address these chronic issues, the Aga Khan Foundation’s (AKF) rural development programme has worked with farmers, local governments, and communities to develop more water-efficient methods of agricultural production.

Since 2003, AKF has worked with agriculturally reliant communities in Salamieh District to tackle a persistent problem of water shortage and irregular rainfall patterns. Irrigated farmland has decreased from 40,000 hectares in 1960 to an estimated 9,000 hectares in 2007.  Of the approximate 5,000 groundwater wells identified in 2003, almost 3,500 were dry. Recognising the link between poverty and natural resource endowments, AKF is striving to improve livelihoods by using existing resources more efficiently without placing undue pressure on the natural environment.

Within its focus on water management at the farm level, AKF facilitates access to new and improved irrigation technology, bridges the gap between national research centres and small farmers in the delivery of drought tolerant barley and wheat seed, demonstrates the importance and benefit of water harvesting techniques, and is initiating research on optimal cropping patterns that maximise production (and revenue) per unit of water utilised. An overarching aim in this regard is to promote land use systems that have desirable ecological underpinnings and which enhance the availability of choices for production and opportunities to augment livelihoods.

To date, AKF has assisted nearly 2,000 farmers in installing drip irrigation systems in Salamieh. This has helped to speed up an existing government initiative for increasing uptake of modernised irrigation throughout the republic, and it is estimated that approximately 90 percent of the land used for summer vegetables and fruit trees in Salamieh District is now cultivated with modernised irrigation. By 2012, AKF is striving to additionally cover 50 percent of the land under winter cereals with modernised irrigation systems.

The Aga Khan Foundation Rural Support ProgrammeThe Aga Khan Foundation Rural Support Programme
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In tandem with efforts to modernise the irrigation systems in Salamieh, AKF supports the adoption of these new technologies and improved agricultural practices, by providing affordable and easily accessible loans (group/individual) and on-farm technical support. From 2003 to 2009, more than 100 group and some individual loans were disbursed to finance the purchase of modernised irrigation infrastructure. These loans were provided in partnership with First Microfinance Institution (FMFI), an agency of AKDN, with 98 percent of all loans being repaid in the first season.

At the same time, farmers with limited access to sufficient irrigation water have identified alternative livelihoods that are not based upon the production of barley and wheat.  Olive orchards, which require less water than cereal and vegetable crops, and poultry production, are two areas in which farmers have begun to concentrate. For olives, AKF has facilitated the creation of the first private olive growers association in Syria. It provides technical support to the cooperative and is attempting to identify potential markets for the high-quality extra virgin olive oil produced by its members. In the case of poultry, AKF is focused on promoting best practices in biosecurity measures, disease surveillance systems and extension services in order to reduce high mortality within the sector. It also operates a private fee-for-service veterinarian diagnostic laboratory, the first of its kind in Syria, and the first to be licensed with the national animal health directorate.

Despite a reduction in irrigated land area, and increased activity in olive tree planting and poultry production, livestock assets (primarily sheep) still play an important role in securing livelihoods in Salamieh District. New and improved feeding rations and weaning techniques are being introduced and complement a long-term strategy on the part of the government to introduce new breeds and breed stock for sheep within Hama Governorate. 

Agricultural incomes from cropping, olive production, poultry and livestock will continue to provide security and livelihoods for a majority of the families within Salamieh district. However, given continuing bouts of drought, AKF is also concentrating upon interventions to enhance off farm incomes, choices and opportunities.  Enhancing quality of lives and livelihoods in this water short fragile environment requires interventions that foster improved civic participation, greater economic opportunities, and an enhanced social environment that provides a sense of pride in community and identity. Fostering the ability of communities and local institutions to provide necessary, effective and sustainable services that respond to local needs is implicit in all of AKF’s interventions.