Syria conserves mainstays of its agricultural economy
Syria is conserving local and indigenous wild varieties of fruit and nut trees, as well as field and forage crops in arid areas, to preserve the genetic diversity of plant species that are mainstays of its agricultural economy. Varieties include as almond, apple, olive, pear and apricot trees.
According to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), conservation is important in ensuring the livelihoods of farm communities, promoting agricultural productivity and safeguarding global biological diversity and environmental sustainability.
The project, launched four years ago, is part of a regional program with funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) that UNDP is implementing in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform. The GEF provided nearly two million dollars for the initiative in Syria and the government $585,000 in kind.
A growing population and expanding rural and urban communities have led to fragmentation and loss of farmland, and farmers are turning to new crop varieties that produce higher yields. There is also overgrazing in some areas by livestock, mainly sheep and goats, decimating forage plants.
Conserving local and wild varieties is vital because loss of indigenous varieties can lead to severe problems of food security and vulnerability to famine if the non-traditional varieties relied on prove vulnerable to disease, pests or unusual climate conditions. Indigenous varieties are resistant to local diseases and adapted to a range of local climate conditions.
"This project focuses on protecting the environment and promoting effective use of natural resources to ensure agricultural sustainability for coming generations," said UNDP Resident Representative Taoufik Ben Amara.
"The Government, in partnership with UNDP, is supporting the initiative, showing its commitment to implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity." The convention protects the variety of life on earth and the natural patterns it forms.
Through the project, government nurseries have propagated more than 300,000 wild fruit trees in Lattakia, in the north-west, and 200,000 more trees in other areas. The Department of Forestry now includes 10 to 15 percent of these species in plans for planting new forests and in reforestation.
In Sweida, a hilly area south of Damascus, the project is rehabilitating 70 hectares of rangeland overgrazed by sheep and goats, demonstrating water harvesting techniques and regulating access to an additional 1,000 hectares of rangeland to limit overgrazing. In each area, gene banks for local and indigenous wild varieties have been set up, along with sites for testing them.
With help from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the initiative drafted national guidelines on access to and exchange of plant genetic resources and draft legislation has been presented to the Parliament. — (menareport.com)
© 2003 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)