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  International Fund for Agricultural Development






A farmer employs traditional ploughing methods, foregoing more modern methods of cultivation.
IFAD Photo by Sahar NimehSyria - Southern Regional Agricultural Development Project - Phase II

Name of Project
Southern Regional Agricultural Development Project II

Location of Project
4 provinces Dara’a, Sweida, Quneitra and Rural Damascus, in Southern Syria

Responsible Organization
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
Cofinanced by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD)
and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)


Syria is a middle-income country characterised by high unemployment and inflation running at about 20-30 percent in 1999. Agriculture constitutes an important sector in the Syrian economy, employing 25 percent of the labour force in 1999; at the same time, only 30 percent of Syria’s total area is cultivated. A major concern of the government’s agricultural policy is the presence of rocks derived from volcanic lava flows that limit cultivation, particularly in the south of the country.

In 1982, the Southern Regional Agricultural Development Project was designed to increase rainfed agricultural production in two southern provinces, Dara’a and Sweida. In 1992, a second phase followed, extended to all four southern Provinces of Syria (Dara’a, Sweida, Quneitra and Rural Damascus). All soils in the project are inherently fertile -- hence little fertilizer is needed -- and rainfall is the major determinant of agricultural production in the project area. Therefore, the need to increase rainfed agricultural production by de-rocking these areas was soon evident.

The aim of the project is to assist small farmers and rural women, both as families and communities, to develop their farms and adopt improved and sustainable farming methods to increase their production, incomes and well being.

Approximately 17,600 farm families living in 150 small villages should benefit from the project. Three criteria were used for prioritizing the areas for de-rocking: villages where the ownership of the land is mostly by poorest farmers in the four provinces; a high density of rocks that would justify the operations; and a rainfall zone where intensive agriculture would be feasible.

The first component was land development, with the de-rocking of 32,000ha. An agricultural programme that would enhance agricultural development was included, with the aim of establishing demand-driven agricultural extension activities. In addition, training programmes that support rural women in acquiring new skills and talent to generate income have been promoted. Finally, a small-scale livestock programme has been introduced, with the aim to reinforce existing livestock activities.

Results achieved

  • De-rocking has been implemented in more than 34,000ha of land, thus allowing the cultivation of apple and olive trees, and crops such as wheat and barley.

  • In May 1999, 16, 463 farmers have had their land cleared under the project, which has enabled them to increase both their income and food consumption and has reduced migration from rural to urban areas.

  • Land development has been undertaken successfully and will provide benefits to participating farmers on a permanent basis. The increase in fruit tree plantings has the potential of large benefits in the future. (Approximately 4,200ha were dedicated to tree crops and the remainder to field crops).

  • The project was successful in providing development opportunities for women. The training programmes for literacy and skills development have reached 17,000 beneficiaries. The women-in-development programme successfully supported skills improvement, overall empowerment, and the establishment of enterprises that generated income.

  • Livestock has proven to be an important and widespread method of generating income among the majority of borrowers. The loans provided were very profitable for the local farmers conducting such activities as dairy development, calf fattening, poultry and milking machines.

Lessons Learned

  • The identification of land areas for development should be done not only following technical considerations of area suitability, but also taking into account to the extent possible, the targeting of the poorest household and/or individual.

  • Participation of beneficiaries should be improved through a more comprehensive identification of their development needs and priorities, providing training and credit packages that are tailored to their needs.

  • It is necessary to facilitate access by the rural poor to small livestock activities such as fattening of lambs, raising of small ruminants, milk production, poultry etc. It has been shown that these activities improve household food security and generate income.

  • Programmes designed for upgrading local, low-producing breeds of livestock should always seek to involve research and extension at all available levels (local, regional or international).


The interviews were conducted in February 2000 by the BBC World Service Radio.

Human Stories

  • In the words of Nasser Abuzeid, a farmer, the results have been remarkable. ''My income has increased by 40 to 50%. After reclaiming the land, I planted new trees. Before, I used to cultivate on small plots, but now I’m investing in all my lands. In this way, the land has tripled and production has doubled.''

  • Radwan Al Sawal, from the Kuneitra province, and a father of ten, was living in Damascus and working in a plastic factory. ''I left my land here for twenty years. It was rocky and barren, but when I heard about the de-rocking process, I applied to have my land reclaimed. I came back to cultivation and now the land is very good. I can breed livestock and grow crops, so I have several sources of income; even the weather is better than in the city. More than a hundred farmers have come back from working in Damascus to this village. I want my children to settle on the land in the future.''

  • Abderahman Abderahman narrates: ''I never moved from here, but I used to travel daily to Damascus, working for a construction company. Five years ago, I reclaimed my land. I used to earn 1 000 Syrian pounds per month. Now I earn 10,000. I am happy because I am working my own land. I’m breeding cows and I’m among my own people and relatives. As for the rocks, I use them as walls between my fields.''

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