Thousands of Tartus tobacco farmers lose their harvest following heavy storms

AMMAN: Ferocious rainstorms severely damaged tobacco crops in Syria’s coastal province of Tartus in recent weeks, local farmers and officials said, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of people.

Over the past three weeks, a series of storms bringing heavy rainfall and hail swept across government-held Tartus, local sources told Syria Direct, causing massive destruction to the tobacco fields in the province.

“Low-lying fields were completely flooded,” Haitham Sliman, the head of a local farmers union, told Syria Direct on Tuesday. “And the large hail damaged the leaves of the tobacco plants.”

A committee established by the Syrian government to assess the impact of the recent storm found that 90 percent of the province’s tobacco fields were damaged, state news agency SANA reported on Thursday.

A tobacco field in Banyas flooded by heavy rainfall on Saturday. Photo courtesy of the Arab Socialist Baath Party in Banyas.

Tobacco is a central export for Tartus, where the crop is mainly cultivated around the towns of Banyas and Qadmous. Tobacco is a seasonal plant, usually planted in January, and farmers usually depend on the income of the harvest for the rest of the year.

Sliman, the head of the Qadmous Farmers Union, estimated that some 10,000 of his town’s roughly 70,000 residents live off tobacco farming in a conversation with Syria Direct this week.

Abu Ali, a tobacco farmer in Banyas, said that while the Tartus farming sector has struggled with bad weather conditions the past few years, this year stood out.

“We didn’t expect this heavy rainfall, flooding and hail,” he told Syria Direct on Thursday. “The storms were so sudden and unexpected.”

The timing of the storms posed a particular threat to the tobacco plants, as they were just about to ripen and farmers prepared for the harvest, said the Banyas resident. Abu Ali estimates that 80 percent of his crops have been ruined as a result of this season’s harsh weather.

Tobacco plants damaged by hail in Tartus on Saturday. Photo Courtesy of Tartus Farmer’s Union.

“Sometimes the damaged plants can be used and dried, but their quality will be bad and people will only buy it at a very low price,” he said.

The General Organization for Tobacco (GOT), a governmental institution under the Ministry of Industry that oversees tobacco farming and trading in Syria, has promised to reimburse the farmers for the value of the seedlings as well as offering them new seeds to sow for free in order to repay their debts, SANA reported on Thursday.

However, farmers union head Sliman remains skeptical that the compensation provided by the government will cover the losses. He contends the compensation offered “doesn’t cover more than 10 percent of the value of our damaged crops.”

“We ask for the responsible bodies to compensate us commensurate to our losses,” said farmer Abu Ali. He asked that his full name not be reported because he fears repercussions for criticizing state authorities.

Media al-Kurdi

Media al-Kurdi is from the city of Qamishli in Al-Hasakah province. She relocated to Jordan in 2013 fleeing the war and the conditions in East Ghouta where she was residing. She studied English Literature and is trianing with Syria Direct because of her passion for journalism, and because she wanted to highlight voices overlooked inside of Syria.

Alice Al Maleh

Alice Al Maleh holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from University of Copenhagen. She has studied Arabic independently since 2013 and most recently with Sijal Institute in 2017-2018.