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Free chickens for Syria's struggling farmers

A Syrian man harvests wheat using a sickle in a field near the town of Hamouria in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus (AFP Photo/Sameer Al-Doumy)

Damascus (AFP) - The Syrian government will distribute free chickens and feed to farmers to support rural areas ravaged by years of conflict, an agriculture ministry official told AFP on Tuesday.

A cabinet statement said 1 billion Syrian pounds ($2.3 million) has been allocated to the initiative, which aims to provide 15 egg-laying chickens and 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of feed to each family.

The objective is to "promote poultry farming and financially empower rural families", it said.

Beneficiaries include farm-owners in conflict-hit parts of the country, said Mohammad Muhyideen, head of the government's agricultural office in Eastern Ghouta near the capital.

He said both the chicken and the feed will be locally sourced.

The plan is part of a wider effort by the agriculture ministry to empower farmers and help them rehabilitate their plots, he said.

Damascus will also assist farmers by supplying them with seeds, medicine and vaccines for their livestock, as well as new irrigation networks, he added.

Before the start of the war, the agricultural sector in Syria made up 19 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, the second largest contributor to GDP after government services, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

It also employed more than 25 per cent of the economically active population of rural areas, it said.

Livestock production played a vital role within the sector, generating approximately $450 million per year in exports, according to the FAO.

But the number of agricultural workers in Syria has been halved since the start of the conflict in 2011, according to a 2019 report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research.

Farmland, crops and agricultural infrastructure, were severely damaged nationwide as a result of the conflict, causing total output to plummet, it said.

After successive Russia-backed victories against rebels and jihadists since 2015, President Bashar al-Assad's regime today controls some 60 percent of the country.

But Syrians in these areas are struggling to get by in an economy ravaged by war.

According to the World Food Programme, 6.5 million people in Syria are "food insecure", or do not know where their next meal is coming from.

This year Syria is anticipating an ample crop yield after abundant rain, following a wheat harvest last year that was the worst since 1989.