Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Rural poverty in Syria

In Syria, around 9 million people live in rural areas. Agriculture is the main activity in these areas, employing 55% of the labour force. The sector accounted for more than a quarter of GDP and total employment in 2004.

According to the UN "Syria possesses impressive agricultural potential and a reasonably good level of food security". However, productivity in the sector is low and unemployment among adult males is 20%. The illiteracy rate is still a shocking 28% of rural adults. Many factors are to blame for the stagnation of agriculture, chief among them is the small and fragmented nature of land holdings.

The following is an excerpt from an interesting report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on rural poverty is Syria:

Why are they poor?
The main causes of rural poverty in Syria include:

• the small and fragmented nature of landholdings
• water shortages and drying up of groundwater wells, coupled with persistent droughts
• lack of access to credit and markets
• lack of appropriate technology

Other causes of poverty include:

• illiteracy, which affects about 28 percent of rural adults
• the large number of landless people, whose capabilities are limited
• the high rate of rural population growth
• the large proportion of young people and the growing number of new entrants to the job market
• limited employment opportunities and the lack of development of on-farm and off-farm enterprises to create new jobs, because of the lack of a suitable microfinance system responding to the needs of rural poor people.

The government is now trying to address these problems with the help of various UN agencies. Its strategy to reduce poverty in Syria is articulated in the Tenth Five-Year Plan 2006-2010.

According to an IFAD paper, the plan’s principal strategic objectives are to:
  • raise the educational level of poor households and combat illiteracy
  • improve social services in the poorest regions
  • develop social safety nets
  • develop financial policies that target poor people and improve income distribution
  • ensure poor people’s access to financial resources through microfinance
  • empower local communities and civil society to take a greater role in the development process

The government’s plan emphasizes the need to create employment opportunities, particularly for poor people and for unemployed young people. It encourages private initiative, promotes development of small and medium size enterprises, develops training and capacity building and rehabilitation, and creates technological (and other) incubators.

Since the IFAD report was produced, the unemployment situation in rural areas has deteriorated further as many agricultural workers have had to return to Syria from Lebanon. Also, the arrival of more than one million Iraqi refugees has exerted enormous pressure on food prices as demand has outstripped supply while supply has remained constrained by low productivity and other factors.

Will the government now press on with these reform plans or is it too busy celebrating hollow election victories this year? Will it publish progress reports for all to see? Who will hold it accountable if it does not deliver on these plans? Surely not the independent and ever vigilant People's Assembly!

1 comment:

Philip I said...

They are still dancing in the streets in Syria!