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THE DEVIL IN THE DETAIL

By Francesca de Châtel
Photo Carole al-Farah

Last spring, Abu Shawakh, a farmer from the Euphrates region of north-eastern Syria, made a bold decision to invest in a drip irrigation network and convert his farm to modern irrigation methods.
“I was the first in the region to try it out” the 47-year-old farmer, who irrigates his cotton and wheat crops with water from nearby Lake Tishreen, said. “I installed it because I was told it would save water and fuel.”
As he can’t prove ownership of his land, Abu Shawakh did not apply for a government loan or assistance to buy and install the new system. “I paid SYP 125,000 (USD 2,660) for the network, which I bought from a shop in town,” he said. “I installed it myself after the people in the shop explained the system to me.”
Most farmers Syria Today spoke with who have adopted modern irrigation techniques across the country said they had installed the system – either drip or sprinkler – independently because the government loan application procedure was lengthy and often unsuccessful.
Many small and medium land owners who farm land that has been in the family for generations do not have the documents to prove that the land is theirs, one of the key requirements to be eligible for a loan. Other farmers who do have the title deeds to their land said they had already put up their land as collateral on other loans.
In Abu Shawakh’s case, failure to seek advice from government or other irrigation experts had disastrous consequences. Drip irrigation networks use thin pipes and fine dispensers, which can easily get blocked when using silty water from lakes.
“I soon ran into problems because small stones, sand and algae started blocking the tubes of the network,” he explained. “I started changing the filters up to twice a day and even built a small system in the lake so that less dirt would enter the pipes as we pumped water uphill, but it didn’t make any difference.
“I harvested the cotton in October and decided to stop farming my land through drip irrigation. I hadn’t saved any money on diesel, nor saved any water.”
In February, Abu Shawakh sold his drip network for SYP 50,000 (USD 1,060). He has returned to flooding the land to irrigate his wheat crop, but, like most farmers in the region, can’t afford the fuel required to pump water up from the lake.
“I still have some subsidised diesel left, but then I will need to borrow money to finish this harvest,” he said. “After I harvest this crop, I will stop farming.”

 

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