A little bit about Syria

Syria is one of those countries I forget about sometimes. I can’t always remember where it is on a map, and talk about the civil war had me thinking “Wasn’t that last year?”.  Ah, the joys of living in a safe and somewhat isolated nation. But somewhere (not sure where) in my readings on recent R&D I came across this quote:

As an example of the threats to the conservation of crops, Ms Haga noted that researchers at the Syria-based International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) have had to duplicate copies of their seed collection and send it out of Aleppo for safekeeping, including to the Svalbard Vault. ICARDA holds some 40,000 samples of wheat and its wild relatives, along with other collections of key dryland crops and forages important to Australia.

With last week’s announcement that Sweden was extending permanent residency to all of its Syrian refugees because the situation had deteriorated to the point they were unlikely to be able to safely return home any time soon, I thought I should read some more. And look up ICARDA.The best article I’ve found for people like me who really aren’t keeping track of global affairs is this one by the Washington Post – 9 questions about Syria you were too embarrassed to ask. While it’s for an American audience, it sums the situation up well enough to give the picture. Also of interest was this map. Which reminded me of something I noted a very long time ago. If you look carefully at the map, you’ll notice that much of Syria is kinda blank or one-coloured, with a strong yellow line marking what I presume is the Euphrates River. Where it changes though is the area of the Levant. There you have many different enclaves of language, religion, sect and race covering three or more countries. That little strip of land by the sea is a patchwork because it’s been claimed and re-claimed by so many different cultures over such a long time – largely because it has water. Reliable water, from rivers and springs. But not infinite amounts. So the politics there is always going to be murkier than most of us can really comprehend. It’s also my first pick of places on Earth where a major war could start over the need for water, though right now the Syrian civil war mainly seems to be about the usual human issues of power.

I’m not going to write more about the Levant though. It’s really the rest of Syria that interests me – and, that interests ICARDA, the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas. That big blank area with not so many people in it, because it has to rely on rainfall for farming. It’s drylands, just like large swathes of the Australian continent. Funnily enough, people are less keen to fight over that. But it, and areas like it in 40 nearby countries partnering in ICARDA’s work, provide a lot of food for populations that are not generally all that affluent.

Here’s a quote from their website:

Three decades of collaborative research have shown that long term food security and productivity growth in dry areas can only be achieved by looking beyond specific crops and production methods to focus on improving the performance of whole agro-ecosystems. This systems approach includes research on integrated crop-livestock-rangeland systems, more efficient use of soil and water resources, and the introduction of new crops and crop varieties into traditional farming systems to improve yield and yield stability, nutrition, incomes and livelihoods. ‘Ecosystem-based farming’ has the potential to reduce crop water needs by 30 percent and energy costs of production by up to 60 percent.

So what they’re doing is really quite interesting and important. I hope the Centre survives what looks like it will be a long drawn out war with a long drawn out recovery afterwards.

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