* U.N. FAO/WFP see Syria 2015 wheat crop at 2.445 mln tonnes
* Wheat harvested area smallest since 1960s
* War hampering agricultural output despite ample rain
By Maha El Dahan
ABU DHABI, July 23 (Reuters) - Conflict-torn Syria’s wheat production has been estimated at 2.445 million tonnes in 2015 by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), leaving a deficit of 800,000 tonnes.
A report jointly released by the two United Nations agencies on Thursday said that despite ample rain boosting production compared with the poor harvest of 2014, it was still 40 percent lower than pre-conflict levels.
Last year the government said wheat production stood at 1.865 million tonnes - the lowest for 25 years, according to the FAO.
The FAO/WFP estimate is around 600,000 tonnes lower than government expectations.
Government and agricultural officials had told Reuters in May they forecast Syria’s wheat production at around 3 million tonnes in 2015 due to the best rainfall in a decade.
“Although Syria’s current harvest is better than expected due to good rains, the country’s agriculture sector remains decimated by the conflict,” Dominique Burgeon, director of FAO’s Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, said in the report.
Agricultural production is hampered by shortages of fuel, farm labour and agricultural inputs as well as damage to irrigation systems and farming equipment, according to the report.
“Urgent donor support is needed to ensure farmers can meet the upcoming cereal planting season, beginning in October,” he said.
The estimated harvested wheat area is the smallest since the 1960s as a result of the war, the report said.
Syria hoped to cut its wheat import bill as a result of its improved wheat crop but officials and experts say the main challenge is how much the government can entice farmers to sell to the state, combined with the ability to safely move the crop to collection centres in government-held areas.
A Syrian minister told Reuters on Feb. 22 the country did not expect to import wheat this year because Syrian grain supplies would be boosted by heavy rain and wider control of farmland, but two state import tenders have been issued since then.
Syria’s General Foreign Trade Organisation said in June it was seeking 150,000 tonnes of wheat among other food items.
Traders have also said the state grain agency, the General Organisation for Cereal Processing and Trade, reached an initial agreement for 150,000 tonnes of wheat for a tender it had announced for that quantity. (Reporting By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Veronica Brown and Dale Hudson)