Kurds and regime battle for wheat - GulfToday

Kurds and regime battle for wheat

Battle-Wheat

People battle a blaze in an agricultural field in Al Qahtaniyah, Hasakeh province. Agence France-Presse

Gazing over his wheat field in northeastern Syria, farmer Adel Othman expects a bumper crop this year, but two rival authorities squabbling over his harvest have dashed his enthusiasm.

After successive droughts and eight years of civil war, both the local Kurdish authorities and the Damascus regime are desperate to buy up his region’s produce to feed their people and maintain the peace.

In a country where millions depend on bread as a staple food to survive, both want the wheat grown in the country’s northeastern breadbasket region of Hasakeh.

Farmers in the Kurdish-held region like Othman have been caught up in the middle, with only two potential buyers, neither offering a satisfactory price.

Our “livelihood should not be transformed into a political bargaining chip,” said the 55-year-old, his sky-blue shirt streaked in places with dry earth.

The regime is offering a better price, but the Kurds have said no wheat can leave the region under their control.

“We’ll sell our crop to the highest bidder,” Othman said in Kurdish by his field in the area of Amuda.

“In the end, a farmer needs to make a profit,” he said, his short black hair slightly unruly above a thick moustache.

Farmers are especially eager to sell their crop to make up for poor harvests in previous years, but also to save them from fires − some claimed by the Daesh group − that have ravaged fields in the region.

Long marginalised, Syria’s Kurds have largely stayed out of the eight-year civil war, instead setting up their own institutions in areas under their control.

But they did lead the US-backed fight against Daesh in Syria, and are now hoping that will give them leverage in retaining a degree of autonomy in the northeast.

“The Kurds do not want to let wheat out because the production is barely enough to feed the local population,” Syria expert Fabrice Balanche said.

“If the wheat went off to Damascus because of the higher price, it would cause a food crisis,” he added.

According to the World Food Programme, 6.5 million people in Syria are “food insecure”, or do not know where their next meal is coming from.

Agencies