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Jordan’s agricultural exports key victim of Syria crisis

By Raed Omari - Aug 27,2015 - Last updated at Aug 27,2015

Jordanian agricultural exports sector is a major victim of the Syrian crisis, recording huge losses since the war started in Syria, sector leaders and officials say (Photo by Osama Aqarbeh)

AMMAN — The Syrian crisis has had its deep negative impact on Jordan in many aspects as the country struggles with the seemingly non-stop refugee influx. 

A major victim of the five-year-old crisis is the agricultural exports sector, which has seen “catastrophic” developments as a result of the bloody war in the northern neighbour, a key importer and a corridor to other markets. 

Analysts and agriculture sector representatives argued that the economic losses Jordan has been incurring since the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011 "equal if not surpass", those brought on by the refugee crisis.

"Jordan's agricultural losses as a result of the war in Syria are rarely highlighted by the government or in the press," political analyst Adnan Abu Odeh said, adding, "the stress is always placed on the refugee crisis and its impact on Jordan."

For Abu Odeh, a former Royal Court chief: "The Syrian war has deprived Jordan of its distinctive quality as a vegetables producer during winter."

Before the Syrian crisis, Jordan used to export large amounts of fruits and vegetables to Syria, Turkey and Eastern Europe, using the same land route.

Abu Odeh also explained that, with agriculture being a major pillar of the Kingdom’s economy and with the Syrian refugees’ unprecedented pressure on the country’s infrastructure and limited resources, Jordan can be said to be “victim No.1 of the Syrian war”.

Agriculture Ministry Spokesperson Nimer Haddadin said that the government has had to open new markets for the Jordanian fruits and vegetables after the closure of borders with Syria.

“Nowadays, Jordanian fruits and vegetables are sold to more than 50 countries. In 2013 and 2014, Jordan exported around 800,000 and 900,000 tonnes of agricultural produce respectively.”

Haddadin added that the volume of exports to the Gulf States and Lebanon is “relatively high but still less than as it was to Syria and Eastern Europe”.

“The land exports to Iraq through Kuwait and then to Turkey are expensive and subject to everyday security developments,” he said, adding: “In June and July, Jordan exported around 500,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables to Europe through the Iraq-Turkey route.”

The official also said that Jordanian trucks, up to February 2015, had used to travel to Syria and then to Turkey but had to stop due to the security escalation in the war-torn northern neigbour. 

In April this year, Jordan closed its border with Syria for security reasons. Passenger and cargo traffic was halted as a result of the escalating violence in the Syrian town of Nasib, just across the border station, some 80km north of Amman.

“To find an alternative for the Syria-Turkey land route, an attempt is in the making now to send Jordanian fruits and vegetables to Russia via sea and from there to Eastern Europe. But it will be costly,” the official said.

Zuhair Jweihan, president of the Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruits and Vegetables, told The Jordan Times over the phone Thursday that exports through Syria have completely stopped.

“Before the war, Jordan used to export more than 250,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables every year to Syria and Europe. After the war started, the largest amount of agricultural produce never exceeded around 60,000 tonnes,” the sector leader said.

“We worked hard on building contractual relationships with Romanian and Hungarian traders to sell them Jordanian products at good prices. All of this has gone after the war.”

He said that farmers in the Jordan Valley are “perplexed, uncertain and confused”, unable to decide which product to grow, “all because of the uncertainty over Syria”.

Asked whether the exports to the Gulf countries could make up for the losses incurred after the closure of the Syria-Turkey route, he said: “Yes, but only in summer.”

“The problem is where to export the fruits and vegetables which we produce during winter. Jordan’s annual production of fruits and vegetables stands at around 2.5 million tonnes, 75 per cent of which is produced in winter and half of that is destined for exporting.”

 

“Syria used to be Jordan’s commercial and agricultural ‘lung’. The large-scale suffering of the Jordanian farmers and traders equals that caused by the Syrian refugee burden.”

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