In May 2013, the Syrian ministry of agriculture and agrarian reform (MAAR) estimated that less than 35% of pre-war poultry units were still operational and at least 50% of jobs in the sector had been lost. The poultry sector was 90% privately owned, and had employed over 1 million people in 2011, according to data from the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).
Indeed, an FAO and United Nations World Food Programme study, released in 2013, estimated that poultry production had dropped 50% compared to 2011, the year when widespread protests developed into an armed revolt against the government of Bashar al-Assad. However, over the past year, as the conflict has continued, the situation has become increasingly dire.
"The situation is only getting worse, as nothing has improved since the report was published. It was a conservative estimate of 50% back then, and has dropped further as fighting has continued," said Markos Tibbo, FAO livestock officer for the Near East and north Africa.
Poultry production was particularly concentrated in the area surrounding the western Syrian city of Homs. However, the area has seen heavy fighting, resulting in production being moved to government-controlled areas on the coast in Latakia and Tartous.
Syrian Arab language newspapers have reported that imports of frozen chicken have increased to offset the fall in production, primarily from Turkey as well as Iran, with imports from the latter amounting to SYP7.183 billion (US$47m) in the first six months of 2014. However, importing, distribution and storage have proved difficult due to the conflict, power shortages, and fluctuations in the Syrian pound.
In 2010, the FAO estimated that Syria’s livestock sector consisted of 15.5 million sheep, 2.01 million goats, 1.01 million cattle and 7,000 buffalo. The FAO now estimates the national sheep flock has dropped to under 11 million, and the national cattle herd by 40% to just over 600,000. "State sheep breeding research farms have been decimated, with almost all gone," said Tibbo.
Mutton exports have also plunged, with Syria having exported between two and three million sheep (of the Awassi breed) valued at US$450m to the Gulf countries per year, but since the conflict dropping to 100,000 head, according to FAO.
Further impacting the sector is low barley production, a key livestock concentrate, which has dropped 65% due to drought and poor rainfall, although this year’s better harvest is expected to ease the situation for the year ahead.
Nonetheless, imports of livestock feed have plunged as well, from 2.26 million tonnes (mt) in 2010, to 1.4mt in 2012, and has continued to fall, according to FAO. Wheat production is currently 2.4mt, or about 40% less than before the conflict started, and 18% lower than 2012/2013, according to the FAO.
There are growing concerns about diseases and the health of livestock as vaccines are no longer produced and existing stocks are running out. Vaccines had been produced at 54 private factories, but as of May 2013, FAO estimated 40% had been destroyed and the rest had shut down.
"If you look at the veterinary sector, before the crisis it was very good in terms of veterinary supplies and services, but since the crisis it has nearly collapsed, and the government is only able to serve a handful of areas it controls. Because of this, we are really seeing a serious animal health crisis in the neighbouring countries and the situation in Syria is expected to be worse," said Tibbo.
In Turkey, there have been confirmed cases of bovine tuberculosis, peste des petits ruminants, and rabies, and there are reports of lumpy-skin disease in Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank, all of which are suspected to have come from Syria.