Syria is an Arabic-speaking country located in Western Asia, with a population of about 22 million. The capital of Syria is Damascus. On the western side of the country is the Mediterranean Sea coast. Syria, which has been classified by the World Bank as a lower middle income country, mainly depends on its oil and agriculture sectors for economy. The country is administratively divided into 14 governorates (provinces), which are divided into 61 districts. Each district is further sub-divided into sub-districts.
Syria’s topography comprises fertile plains, coastal mountains, plateaus and vast desert. The Euphrates is the most important river in the country. The climate of Syria is Mediterranean-- hot and dry with mild winters, albeit with some snowfall, and adequate rainfall.
Syria has both irrigated and rain-fed agriculture. In 2003, the agricultural sector constituted about 23 percent of the national GDP and employed about 30 percent of the country’s labor force. The primary agricultural products are wheat, barley, cotton, tobacco, lentils, chickpeas, olives, sugar beets, beef, mutton, eggs, poultry and milk. Cotton, which is cultivated on irrigated land, is the main commercial crop. The country has, over the years, gone through a series of land reforms. Most farmers have small holdings, but the private sector has also been involved in commercial farming on a limited number of large farms in certain areas. Organic farming is a recent phenomenon in Syria.
Key Statistics and Indicators
Agricultural land (sq km)
Agricultural land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares)
Arable land (% of land area)
Arable land (hectares per person)
|Fertilizer consumption (kg per hectare of arable land)||65.42||2009|
Agriculture, value added (% of GDP)
Food production index (2004-2006 = 100)
Food exports (% of merchandise exports)
Food imports (% of merchandise imports)
|GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)||2,610||2010|
Literacy rate, adult total (% of people ages 15 and above)
Literacy rate, youth female (% of females ages 15-24)
Literacy rate, youth male (% of males ages 15-24)
Ratio of young literate females to males (% ages 15-24)
Ratio of female to male secondary enrollment (%)
Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people)
Internet users (per 100 people)
Population density (people per sq. km of land area)
Rural population (% of total population)
Agricultural population (% of total population)*
Total economically active population
Total economically active population in agriculture*
Total economically active population in agriculture (in %
of total economically active population)
Female economically active population in agriculture (% of
total economically active population in agriculture)*
History of Extension and the Enabling Environment
Formal agricultural extension activities started in Syria in 1910 with the establishment of the first agricultural secondary school in Salamia, Hama Governorate. The school used its fields to educate the farmers. Among various duties of the school’s graduates, one was advising farmers on how to improve production levels and enhance agricultural production. In 1930, two agricultural schools were established in Buka, Lattakia Governorate and Al-Meselmia, Aleppo Governorate. In 1936, the High Agricultural Institute was established in Kharabo, Damascus Governorate, which after a few years became the Agricultural College and started churning out agricultural engineers (graduates).
In early 1940s, experimental farms were established at Deir Elhajar and Kharabo, near Damascus. Formal agricultural research was initiated at these farms for generating improved technologies. The Ministry of Agriculture was created in 1947, along with its Department of Agricultural Extension. The Ministry got most of its manpower from agricultural faculties of various universities (Damascus, Halab, Tishreen, Albaath and Deir Elzor). In 1971, agricultural extension was a part of the Agricultural Affairs Directorate, producing publications, cinema shows and extension demonstration plots.
In 1979, an independent Directorate of Agricultural Extension was created in the Ministry of Agriculture, which started establishing Agricultural Extension Units in the field for the purpose of providing technical advice to farmers. The same year, a project on agricultural extension was started by the Ministry. Between 1980 and 1999, as many as 869 Agricultural Extension Units were established throughout the country and 301 apartments were built for the extension staff that lived away from their homes.
In 2002, the organizational structure and duties of the Directorate were modernized to accommodate the latest developments in the country and establish new departments and units. Extension Support Units (ESUs) were set up by transferring 65 governorate extension staff (two or three from each governorate) to implement extension programs according to the location-specific needs. Under the new arrangements, agricultural research centers and extension centers collaborated to provide extension advice, technology transfer and training. A Technical Support Committee was formed in each governorate to provide scientific information and advice. The committee members comprised two representatives each from extension, specialized authorities, and farmers’ unions in the particular governorate, one representative from an agricultural research center, as well as technical staff. These committees were mandated to study agricultural extension programs and plans, meet their needs and do necessary follow up in the field. Other amenities provided in support of extension included: 9,898 motorcycles, 452 computers, and water supply to 687 ESUs, telephone lines to 650 ESUs, electricity supply to 1,001 ESUs, and 339 apartments built for extension workers.
Although Syria has received financial and technical assistance from a number of multi-lateral and bi-lateral donors, most of the assistance to agriculture including extension has come from the World Bank, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (FESD). The most important project financed by the World Bank was The National Agriculture Extension Project (NAEP-–started in 1985). The projects financed by IFAD include The Badia Rangelands Development Project (BRDP--1999-2010), The North-Eastern Region Rural Development Project (NERRDP--started in 2008), and The Integrated Livestock Development Project (ILDP), approved in 2010. An FAO project on strengthening of regional agricultural extension and training units was implemented from 1993 to 1995. More recently, between 2005 and 2013, FAO has implemented about 30 projects covering various aspects of agricultural and rural development in Syria, either as stand-alone projects or as part of regional projects. The FESD financed the Coastal/Midlands Agricultural Development Project (CMADP –completed in 2007).
A most unfortunate armed conflict that started in Syria in March 2011 is still going on at the time of writing this summary. Looking at the unabated enormous loss of human lives and livestock, and destruction of homes, infrastructure and institutions, there is no doubt that the country will need not only substantial time but also huge international assistance for rehabilitation of its agriculture sector.
Major Institutions Providing Extension/Advisory Services
Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform
The Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) is responsible for providing the public agricultural extension services at no cost to the farmers. The Ministry has a Directorate of Agriculture and Agricultural Reform, and the Department of Agricultural Extension, located within this directorate, has necessary mandate to develop and implement extension programs. The programs are grouped into following four categories and run by several organizational units.
- Rural Women Development Program
Responsible organizational units are Rural Women’s Program Planning Unit; Women’s Program Implementation Unit; Skills Development Unit; Communication Unit; and Research and Project Unit.
- Agricultural Awareness
Responsible organizational units are TV and Radio; Publications; Agricultural Museum; Agricultural Exhibition; and Agricultural Display.
- Rural Programs
Responsible organizational units are Program Preparation; Extension Activities; Knowledge Transfer; Natural Resources; and Extension Research.
- Extension Planning
Responsible organizational units are Extension Planning; Monitoring and Evaluation; Extension; Community Development; and Information.
The Ministry has Extension Support Units spread all across the country, which have direct contacts with the farmers, and also collaborate with relevant institutions such as agricultural research centers. According to a Syria country paper on agricultural extension presented in an FAO 2004 regional meeting on extension reforms, there were 1,043 Extension Support Units located in all governorates in the country in 2003. During the same year, the total staff of all these Extension Support Units comprised 2,020 male agronomists, 956 female agronomists, 1,979 agricultural monitors, 562 veterinarians, and 4,267 veterinary monitors. In addition, there were 1,247 full-time extension workers and 927 casual workers. Thus, the total number of the extension staff was 12,003. An innovative extension method successfully used by the Department of Agricultural Extension was the “agricultural extension theatres”.
General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research
The General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research (GCSAR), the primary agency responsible for agricultural research in Syria, was established in 2002 through the merger of nine individual directorates/bureaus of agricultural research that focused on separate technical areas. GCSAR is a semi-autonomous organization under the Ministry of Agriculture and Agronomic Reform. It comprises seven Research Administrations, two Technical Administrations, seven Research Departments, and 18 Research Centers located in various parts of the country.
One of the departments of GCSAR is the Department of Technology Transfer that was established in 2003. The mandate of this department is to transfer technologies along with their results and methods from the GCSAR, national research centers and from overseas institutions, to the farmers and agronomists. The Department has established one Technology Transfer Section in each of the seven Research Administrations, three Technology Transfer Sections in the Research Departments, and one Technology Transfer Section in each of the 18 Research Centers. The Department of Technology Transfer works in close collaboration with the Department of Agricultural Extension of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, and is actively involved in organizing field activities such as demonstrations, field days, field trials, preparation of technical bulletins, organization of seminars, media programs, etc.
Although the government has been encouraging the participation of private sector in development activities, there are no private companies in Syria that are involved in extension work in a significant way. There are, however, private commercial farms such as Hana Farms, Rihana Farms, and several poultry farms. Also, there are some private agricultural companies involved in a variety of agricultural related businesses. Names of a few companies and their business interests are as follows:
- The Syrian-Arab Company for Dairy Products (Dairy Damas): receives milk from 30 farmers’ cooperatives, and produces butter, ghee, cheese, and yogurt.
- Modern Company for Conserves and Agricultural Industries: buys produce from individual farmers and cooperatives; processes fruits and vegetables into products like tomato paste and fruit jams.
- Al Shark Company for Food Products: based in Aleppo; produces sterilized milk, yogurt, cheese, chocolate, biscuits and beer.
- Bakri Kaakeh Sons Co. (Dolls): produces flavored ice-cream and yogurt.
- Al Ariaf Dairy Company: a Syrian-Finnish joint venture; produces various dairy products like sterilized milk, fat, yogurt, and cheese.
- Fresh Mountain Juice Co. (Jabal Al Asser): processes grapes, apples, apricots, oranges and tomatoes.
- Sabouni Group: processes cereals; deals in castor seeds, flax seeds, forage seeds, and agricultural waste.
- Fakher Aldin: based in Aleppo; deals in fresh cut-flowers, flower bulbs, and seedlings.
- Debbane and Co.: marketer and importer of pesticides, fertilizers, seeds, and equipment.
- Agricultural Products Company: in the business of pesticides and fertilizers.
The Syrian Government has been encouraging the formation of NGOs especially since 2000. That has led to a surge in the number of NGOs close to 1,400. These organizations, in character, could be religious, charitable, community based or development focused. The areas of interest for the development NGOs are mainly youth (example: Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association) and environment (example: Syrian Environmental Organization). NGOs in Syria are required by law to register with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MOSAL). Although NGOs are said to engage in extension type work, little information is available about them and their specific extension activities.
Farmers-based associations, cooperatives and societies
Although it is said that farmers associations are present in Syria yet there is no information documented on their nature and activities. The only association found during the literature review is the Syrian Arab Horse Association.
In Syria, cooperatives were initially used as a way to promote socialism and socialist relations. The first cooperative law was passed in 1950, but by 1957 there were only 57 cooperatives, 38 of which were in the agricultural sector. According to an ILO report, before 1976, Syria had 3,385 agricultural cooperatives with 256,000 members. In 1984, the number of agricultural cooperatives was 4.050 having 440,347 members. Presently, Farmers’ Cooperative Union is one of the three cooperative sector unions. There is little information available on cooperatives’ extension activities because, in all probability, they depend on the public apparatus for their extension needs. Syria has an Agricultural Cooperative Bank.
List of Extension Providers
The following list shows an excerpt from the GFRAS Directory of Extension Providers for Syria . Some of these entries may be specially marked for having more detailed information in the database of the Worldwide Extension Study WWES.
Training Options for Extension Professionals
Pre-service education in agricultural disciplines including agricultural extension may be pursued at any of the following universities, as all of them have faculties of agriculture:
- Damascus University, Damascus (public; established in 1923).
- Aleppo University, Aleppo (public; established in 1958).
- Tishreen University, Lattakia (public; established in 1971).
- AlBa’th University, Homs (public; established in 1979).
- Union University for Applied Sciences (private; established in 2003).
In-service training may be received if offered on regular basis by the following institutions, or it may be arranged at any of these institutions by the Department of Agriculture, assuming funds are available for this purpose:
- Faculties of Agriculture at any of the above mentioned five universities.
- Technology Transfer Department of the General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research.
- International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), located in Aleppo.
- Any of the following agriculture-related Technical Intermediate Institutes (TIIs), located in different cities, that offer two-year certificate (associate degree) program and specialized post-Baccalaureate courses:
- In Damascus: Agricultural TII; TII for Agro-food.
- In Aleppo: Agricultural TII; TII for Agricultural Mechanization.
- In Latakia: Agricultural TII; Veterinary TII.
- In Homs: Agricultural TII; TII for Agro-food.
- In Hama: Agricultural TII; Veterinary TII.
- In Idleb: Agricultural TII; Veterinary TII.
- In Tartous: Agricultural TII.
- In Al-Rakka: Agricultural TII; Veterinary TII; TII for Land Reclamation.
- In Der-El-zor: Agricultural TII; TII for Land Reclamation; Veterinary TII.
- In Hasakeh: Agricultural TII; TII for Agricultural Machinery; Veterinary TII.
- In Dar’a: Agricultural TII.
- In Sweida: Agricultural TII.
- In Quneitra: Agricultural TII.
Info-mediaries and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for Agriculture and Extension
Syria was the first among the Arab countries to introduce information technology (IT) in its governmental institutions in 1970s. The country had a relatively good telecommunication network, but the pace of ITC development and adoption remained slow until 1990s. IT was introduced in academic institutions in 1995. Computer engineering specialization programs were started in Damascus University in 1998 and in other universities in 2000. Internet services became available in the country in 1999, and the Syrian Virtual University was established in 2002. In 2003, the Ministry of Communications and Technology was established to handle all matters concerning ICT. A “National ICT Strategy for Socio-Economic Development in Syria” was prepared with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and adopted by the government in 2004. According to the World Bank, in 2011, the number of mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) was 63.16. During the same year, the number of Internet users (per 100 people) in the country was 22.5.
In spite of the above mentioned developments, there is little evidence of ICT application to the Syrian agriculture sector. The only two developments in this area have been first, the inclusion of Syria in the Near East Virtual Extension and Research Communication Network (VERCON) by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and second, almost all the institutes affiliated with the General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research have been connected to one another through the Internet.
Resources and References
Beintema, N.M., M. Jamal, and M. Mohammad. 2006. Syria: Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators; ASTI Country Brief No. 35. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute.
Bosman, M. 2012. The NGO sector in Syria - an overview. INTRAC (International NGO Training and Research Center) www.intrac.org .
EACEA. 2004. Higher Education System in Syria – An Overview (Draft Version I). The Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency.
Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).2007. National Profile of the Information Society in the Syrian Arab Republic; /ESCWA/ICTD/2007/Technical Paper 3. New York: United Nations.
IFAD (no date). Agricultural extension theatre: The Syrian experience. Rural Poverty Portal.
Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Syrian Arab Republic. 2008. National Report: Follow up to the World Food Summit Action Plan.
Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, Syrian Arab Republic and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).2004. National ICT Strategy for Socio-Economic Development in Syria.
Polat, H. 2010. Cooperatives in the Arab World: Reaffirming their Validity for Local and Regional Development (Background paper for the Sub-Regional Knowledge Sharing Workshop on Cooperatives in the Arab States, held at Beirut, 23-26 November 2010, organized by the International Labor Organization (ILO), Regional Office for Arab States.
Rama, D. 2000. Final Report on Agricultural Marketing and Processing. Consultancy Report prepared under the FAO project GCP/SYR/006/ITA for the Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Santucci, F.M. 2002. Agricultural extension and research in Syria. In Agricultural Research and Extension Network Newsletter No. 45, January 2002.
Santucci, F.M., A.H. Alrefae’e, G. Nassour, S.E. Saker, S. Othman, and W. Hamzah. 2002. Farmers’ opinion about agricultural extension service in Syria. New Medit N. 1, Pp. 56-61.
Shaikh, D.A. 2004. Agricultural Extension and Development Methodology in Syria; Syria Country Paper presented at the Regional Workshop on Options of Reform for Agricultural Extension in the Near East, held at Amman, Jordan, 2-4 October 2004; organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Taleb, T. 2004. General Commission for Scientific Agricultural Research; Syria Country Paper presented at the Sub-Regional Expert Consultation Meeting on Technology Transfer, held at Irbid, Jordan (30 March – 1 April, 2004); organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
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- Authored by M. Kalim Qamar (July 2013)
- Edited by Burton E. Swanson