Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Armed Syrian Kurdish Women Stand Guard over Precious Wheatfields

A volunteer in the Kurdish Community Protection Forces guards wheat fields from fire or looting around the town of Tarbesbeyeh, also known as al-Qahtaniyah in Arabic, in northeastern Syria's Hasakeh Governorate near the Turkish border on May 30, 2024. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)
A volunteer in the Kurdish Community Protection Forces guards wheat fields from fire or looting around the town of Tarbesbeyeh, also known as al-Qahtaniyah in Arabic, in northeastern Syria's Hasakeh Governorate near the Turkish border on May 30, 2024. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)
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Armed Syrian Kurdish Women Stand Guard over Precious Wheatfields

A volunteer in the Kurdish Community Protection Forces guards wheat fields from fire or looting around the town of Tarbesbeyeh, also known as al-Qahtaniyah in Arabic, in northeastern Syria's Hasakeh Governorate near the Turkish border on May 30, 2024. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)
A volunteer in the Kurdish Community Protection Forces guards wheat fields from fire or looting around the town of Tarbesbeyeh, also known as al-Qahtaniyah in Arabic, in northeastern Syria's Hasakeh Governorate near the Turkish border on May 30, 2024. (Photo by Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP)

Holding a weapon in one hand and fixing her scarf with the other, Yasmine Youssef patrols one of northeast Syria's vast wheatfields, a vital source of income in the country's breadbasket.

The 42-year-old is among dozens of volunteers, some of them women, helping the semi-autonomous Kurdish-led region protect the fields near Qahtaniyah, from fires and arsonists.

"Our mission is to serve farmers and protect their crops," Youssef said, adding that the work lasts one or two months.

"If fires break out we are notified directly and we call the fire trucks," she told AFP.

This year the farmers in northeast Syria are expecting an exceptional harvest after heavy rain followed years of drought.

But residents also fear that yearly summer wildfires could destroy their precious crops.

"Agricultural production rebounded in 2023 amid improved weather conditions" after near-historical lows the year before, according to a recent World Bank report.

"Official statistics indicate a doubled wheat harvest for 2023, yielding two million metric tons," it said.

In June 2019, flames swept through wheatfields in the region, killing at least 10 people who were fighting the fires, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.

At first, "people didn't trust our efforts. They were saying, 'What are those women doing,'" Youssef said.

"Now everyone agrees on the need to unite to protect" the land, she said.

"The people depend entirely on this harvest ... If we lose it, our conditions will deteriorate."

Nearby, farmers toiled in the scorching heat, plowing the golden fields as Kurdish police also patrolled the area.

Northeast Syrian wheat is a strategic asset for the semi-autonomous administration, providing bread for people who live in the area.

Every year, the administration and the Syrian government, which accuses the Kurds of separatism, compete to buy the wheat harvest from farmers.

Residents and officials in the Kurdish-held region told AFP they believed the fires were often the result of arson.

ISIS extremists have previously burnt crops in areas under Kurdish control after the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces – the Kurds' de facto army in the area – dislodged the militants from the last scraps of Syrian territory they held in 2019.

"We will not let them do that," she said defiantly, patrolling beside other armed volunteers and wearing a military vest.

"I don't own a single acre of land, but I come here every day so farmers can harvest their crops" without having to worry about fires, she added.

There have already been limited outbreaks of fire in several locations this year, local authorities said.

The volunteers brave high summer temperatures and sometimes surprise attacks by ISIS militants, as well as Turkish strikes targeting the SDF.

Volunteer Renkin Hassan, 50, urged people not to discard cigarettes that could start fires accidentally, but also blamed unspecified parties for "burning the land intentionally."



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
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Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)

Golden fields of wheat no longer produce the bounty they once did in Morocco. A six-year drought has imperiled the country's entire agriculture sector, including farmers who grow cereals and grains used to feed humans and livestock.

The North African nation projects this year's harvest will be smaller than last year in both volume and acreage, putting farmers out of work and requiring more imports and government subsidies to prevent the price of staples like flour from rising for everyday consumers.

"In the past, we used to have a bounty — a lot of wheat. But during the last seven or eight years, the harvest has been very low because of the drought," said Al Housni Belhoussni, a small-scale farmer who has long tilled fields outside of the city of Kenitra.

Belhoussni's plight is familiar to grain farmers throughout the world confronting a hotter and drier future. Climate change is imperiling the food supply and shrinking the annual yields of cereals that dominate diets around the world — wheat, rice, maize and barley.

In North Africa, among the regions thought of as most vulnerable to climate change, delays to annual rains and inconsistent weather patterns have pushed the growing season later in the year and made planning difficult for farmers.

In Morocco, where cereals account for most of the farmed land and agriculture employs the majority of workers in rural regions, the drought is wreaking havoc and touching off major changes that will transform the makeup of the economy. It has forced some to leave their fields fallow. It has also made the areas they do elect to cultivate less productive, producing far fewer sacks of wheat to sell than they once did.

In response, the government has announced restrictions on water use in urban areas — including on public baths and car washes — and in rural ones, where water going to farms has been rationed.

"The late rains during the autumn season affected the agriculture campaign. This year, only the spring rains, especially during the month of March, managed to rescue the crops," said Abdelkrim Naaman, the chairman of Nalsya. The organization has advised farmers on seeding, irrigation and drought mitigation as less rain falls and less water flows through Morocco's rivers.

The Agriculture Ministry estimates that this year's wheat harvest will yield roughly 3.4 million tons (3.1 billion kilograms), far less than last year's 6.1 million tons (5.5 billion kilograms) — a yield that was still considered low. The amount of land seeded has dramatically shrunk as well, from 14,170 square miles (36,700 square kilometers) to 9,540 square miles (24,700 square kilometers).

Such a drop constitutes a crisis, said Driss Aissaoui, an analyst and former member of the Moroccan Ministry for Agriculture.

"When we say crisis, this means that you have to import more," he said. "We are in a country where drought has become a structural issue."

Leaning more on imports means the government will have to continue subsidizing prices to ensure households and livestock farmers can afford dietary staples for their families and flocks, said Rachid Benali, the chairman of the farming lobby COMADER.

The country imported nearly 2.5 million tons of common wheat between January and June. However, such a solution may have an expiration date, particularly because Morocco's primary source of wheat, France, is facing shrinking harvests as well.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization ranked Morocco as the world's sixth-largest wheat importer this year, between Türkiye and Bangladesh, which both have much bigger populations.

"Morocco has known droughts like this and in some cases known droughts that las longer than 10 years. But the problem, this time especially, is climate change," Benali said.