Syria - Agriculture
About 6.1 million hectares (15.1 million acres) are arable, but the area actually cultivated is about 5.5 million hectares (13.6 million acres), or 30% of the total area. Since only one-third of cultivated land is irrigated, agriculture depends on rainfall, which is uncertain, and in lean years Syria becomes a net importer of wheat and barley; this strains the whole economy and hampers development. The government has two approaches to this problem: to increase the use of fertilizers in low rainfall areas and to add substantially to irrigated cultivation. The irrigated area was expected to be doubled through the Euphrates Dam project, which was completed in 1978. Lake Assad, formed by the dam, was planned eventually to provide irrigation for some 640,000 hectares (1,581,000 acres). Costs of land reclamation, technical difficulties due to gypsum in the soil, and low water, in part caused by Turkish damming upstream, have slowed progress. Total irrigated area had reached an estimated 1,213,000 hectares (2,997,000 acres) in 1998. The government has allocated an increasing share of its investments to irrigation, but full development of irrigation schemes is expected to take at least another 20 years. However, given the current water management policies, Syria could face a serious water shortage much sooner.
Traditionally, much of Syria's agricultural land was held by landowners in tracts of more than 100 hectares (250 acres); sharecropping was customary. This picture was greatly altered by the government's agrarian reform program, begun in 1958. The law, as modified in 1963, fixed the maximum holding of irrigated land at 15–50 hectares (37–124 acres) per person and that of nonirrigated land at 80 hectares (198 acres) per person. All expropriated land available for cultivation has been allotted to farmers.
The principal cash crop is cotton, but cotton's share of total export value declined from 33% in 1974 to 3.3% by 2001. Other cash crops are cereals, vegetables, fruit, and tobacco. Since the government suspended convertibility of the Syrian pound, grain and other agricultural products have been smuggled to Lebanon in exchange for goods not available through the state importing agencies. Production (in thousands of tons) for major agricultural commodities in 1999 was: wheat, 2,691; barley, 424; corn, yellow, 125; tomatoes, 250; potatoes, 250; olives, 401; grapes, 452; apples, 273; oranges, 275; cotton lint, 305; sugar beets, 950; and tobacco, 20.