DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syria has more than six months’ worth of strategic wheat reserves, Internal Trade and Consumer Protection Minister Abdullah al-Gharbi said on Thursday.
While President Bashar al-Assad has scored vital military gains against rebels seeking to oust him in a six-year-old civil war he is under pressure to ensure supplies of strategic commodities such as wheat keep flowing to supporters in areas under his control to avoid the risk of unrest.
“We have a reserve of more than six months, I will not give the exact figure, we have a lot more than countries that have not lived through war like us,” Gharbi told Reuters on the sidelines of the Damascus International Fair.
The fair is taking place this week for the first time since the Syrian conflict began.
Gharbi did not say how much the strategic reserves totaled in terms of tonnes but said the government aimed to increase reserves to more than a year’s worth.
“Last year we had 17 days now we have more than six months,” he said.
The government needs about 1 to 1.5 million tonnes of wheat annually to feed areas under its control.
Gharbi said that Syria’s wheat supplies came from local crops and from abroad.
“We are importing from Russian companies in addition to our local production,” he said.
Although foodstuffs are not restricted, U.S. and European sanctions on banking and asset freezes have made it difficult for most trading houses to do business with Assad’s government.
State grain buyer Hoboob has been struggling to import wheat in recent years.
In October, Hoboob struck a deal to buy 1 million tonnes of wheat from a little known Russian firm to supply government-held areas and prevent bread shortages.
No wheat from that deal has arrived yet and traders have said the deal is in jeopardy and might never materialize.
In February, Hoboob agreed contracts to buy another 1 million tonnes of Russian wheat outside of the tender process from local firms.
Syria’s agriculture ministry has said local wheat production would be 2 million tonnes for the 2017 season but sources have told Reuters that the amount will be much lower than that.
The country’s wheat harvest nearly halved to 1.3 million tonnes in 2016, the lowest level in 27 years, as fighting and poor rainfall had a further impact on agriculture.
Reporting By Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Writing By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Susan Fenton