Syria needs up to 200,000 T of wheat per month to meet shortfall: minister

BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) - Syria needs to import between 180,000 tonnes and 200,000 tonnes of wheat a month, the economy minister was cited as saying on Sunday, blaming a shortfall on “militias” preventing farmers from selling their wheat to the state.

Mohamed Samer al-Khalil was quoted in al-Watan newspaper as saying the imports would cost about $400 million but did not clarify a timeframe for spending that figure.

Syria’s economy is collapsing under the weight of a complex, multi-sided conflict now in its 10th year, as well as a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon.

Syrian authorities blame Western sanctions for widespread hardship among ordinary residents, where the currency collapse has led to soaring prices and people struggling to afford food and basic supplies.

Khalil is part of a new government Syrian President Bashar al Assad appointed in August led by former minister Hussein Arnous. He dismissed the previous cabinet to defuse anger over deepening economic hardship and a rare outbreak of anti-Assad protests in government held areas.

Before the conflict, Syria used to produce 4 million tonnes of wheat in a good year and was able to export 1.5 million tonnes. This year it has produced between 2.1 million and 2.4 million tonnes of wheat this year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates.

Demand across the country is about 4 million tonnes, leaving a shortfall to fill through imports.

The government has historically lured farmers to sell it their crop by paying a higher price than its rivals, even as most of the wheat remains in areas outside its control.

Earlier this year the Kurdish-led authority, which controls the majority of Syria’s wheat-growing areas, upped its local purchasing price and pegged it to a dollar value, raising questions over how much the government would ultimately be able to procure.

It said it was aiming to stockpile 18 months’ worth of supply and only open sales to government territories in the case of a surplus.

Reporting by Maha El Dahan and Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by David Goodman and Raissa Kasolowsky