The Team

Eng. Anas Abo Tarbosh, Eng. Mahmoud Alasad, Eng. Gassan Abboudnd, Mr Ibrahim Alnahar, Eng. Ahmad Alshaher, Eng. Wesam Abboud (left to right)

Our AVS Videos Team worked for months to create engaging and informative video content for farmers in NW Syria. With content spanning across all sectors within the industry, they produced and edited 15 episodes in Arabic. Through this project, they have contributed to the development of this region, while also considering ongoing conflict.

Conservation Agriculture | الزراعة الحافظة

Conservation agriculture is defined as the cultivation of crops without ploughing (zero tillage) using suitable seeders to cut through the soil and deposit seeds at an optimum depth to promote growth. In conservation agriculture, remnants of previous crops or green-cover crops are left, with the organic matter helping to preserve the soil, prevent erosion and degradation, and increase fertility and biodiversity.

This instructional video showcases conservation agriculture methods, highlighting its role in soil preservation and contribution to sustainable practices, which are of increasing importance in light of climate change and drought. An additional benefit is reduced production costs, in the face of rising fuel and agricultural input prices.

It draws on the experiences of agricultural engineers and farmers who have been implementing conservation agriculture for a few years, and explains how the system works and elements that need to be taken account of. In the video, farmers’ share their first-hand experience and its advantages such as:

  • reduced labour needs;
  • reduced time input;
  • reduced use of agricultural machinery;
  • reduced fuel consumption;
  • improved soil fertility and productivity in the longer term; and
  • conservation of soil moisture and water storage.

Safflower Cultivation | زراعة العصفر

The safflower is a herbal plant rich in nutrients whose flower is used as a spice in the preparation and manufacture of foods. Its oil, extracted from the seeds, is used medicinally to treat high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes, amongst other conditions. Safflower is more commonly known as ‘‘Cortom’’ reflecting its scientific name (Carthamus tinctorius L).

In recent years, the cultivation of safflower has increased in Syria, and  northern Syria in particular where it has been introduced by internally displaced farmers. They have brought with them their knowledge of cultivation and harvesting methods, including the collection and drying of safflower petals, and continue to cultivate safflower as a source of income for them and for their families.  Over 100 hectares are now dedicated to its cultivation in the North, including by farmers who are local to the region who have adopted it due to its low production costs, its low water needs allowing for rain-fed cultivation, and its high market value, all of which makes it an economically viable crop.

This instructional video captures and highlights farmers experiences of cultivating safflower, capturing and sharing valuable lessons including planting dates, related agricultural practices, and flower harvesting and marketing methods.

Safflower cultivation is also beneficial to beekeepers who locate their beehives near safflower fields as a rich source of food that increases the bees’ production and honey yields.

Fruit-tree Farming: Introducing Banana Cultivation | زراعة الأشجار المثمرة: ادخال زراعة الموز

Idlib Governorate in Northwest Syria is famous for the cultivation of diverse fruit trees including olives, figs and cherries. It is characterised by fertile soil and a mild climate that suits many types of fruit tree.

Under the current conflict conditions in which export is difficult, most farmers are forced to sell their produce in local markets at low prices due to produce exceeding demand. The introduction of new crops is an important new factor, allowing farmers to increase diversity of produce and opportunity in local markets, and enhance economic returns.

This instructive video documents the experience of a fruit trees farmer based in the city of Darkush, Idlib Governorate, who introduced banana cultivation on his farm. It highlights the challenges this raised, in particular the high cost of related inputs and the lack of reliable varieties, and suggests ways to address them:

  • support with agricultural inputs and transition to modern irrigation methods;
  • research to develop locally-adapted banana seedlings;
  • increased diversity through research on other types of fruit trees or varieties that are compatible with local environmental conditions.

Wheat Cultivation: Enhancing Food Security |
زراعة القمح: تعزيز الأمن الغذائي

Wheat is one of the most important strategic crops in Syria, both as a primary source of food and livelihood for farmers. However, climate change, including drought, coupled with a decade of conflict, loss of subsidies and mass inflation impacting agricultural production and agricultural input costs, has seen a decline of over 50% in wheat production.

Although local authorities and humanitarian organisations are supporting and encouraging farmers to cultivate wheat, in order to meet local needs, there is currently an approximately 50% shortfall. This support is provided in  different interventions, the most important of which is for actors that make up the wheat value chain, starting with agricultural inputs, storage and marketing, through to bread production, as well as the provision of agricultural extension services.

This video includes an interview with a representative of INSAN, a non-governmental organisation that is supporting wheat farmers. The interview addresses the importance of wheat as a crop, and the type of support that farmers need, including agricultural extension services through which cultivation methods that increase yields can be shared to ensure a profitable crop. The video outlines a number of urgent interventions to help address the challenges of expanding wheat production and enhancing farmers’ abilities to mitigate the negative impact of climate change and drought, and high agriculture production costs through:

  • the adoption of modern irrigation methods using solar energy;
  • the cultivation of appropriate wheat varieties;
  • the importance of preserving locally-adapted Syrian varieties;
  • support for the wheat value chain; and
  • ensuring that wheat is an economically viable crop that provides farmers with a reasonable return.

Alfalfa Cultivation: An Alternative Livestock Fodder Crop | زراعة الفصة – محصول علفي بديل للثروة الحيوانية

Alfalfa is considered a fodder crop that is of great economic importance and high nutritional value for livestock, especially cows. It also grows in different climatic conditions and adapts well to different types of soil.

Alfalfa is grown in Syria in most areas and soils, especially those with available water sources for irrigation. The cultivation of alfalfa as animal feed, in cattle farms in particular, offers a practical solution and reduced production costs, in a situation of declining alternative fodder crops, and the high prices and scarcity of concentrated feed in local markets.

Alfalfa also contributes to improving soil fertility by fixing atmospheric nitrogen, reduces soil erosion and provides a good source of nutrition for bees when in flower.This video documents the positive experiences of a livestock breeder in the city of Al-Bab, who has successful cultivated alfalfa as fodder for his cattle, highlighting the importance of adherence to planting seasons, of not planting seeds too deep in the soil, and of adhere to agricultural practices, as well as how to treat an alfalfa crop intended for use as fodder.

Grape Farming |
بساتين العنب

Grape vines are amongst the most common fruit trees cultivated across the whole of Syria, mainly for use as table grapes. The produce is marketed in local markets for immediate consumption, for processing or export to foreign markets. Although vine leaves are considered a by-product, they are used in the manufacture of nutritious meals and offer another important source of income for farmers and agricultural workers.

The cultivation of table grapes for export has increased in the recent twenty years in Aleppo Governorate in northern Syria. This instructional video includes an interview with the agricultural engineer, Ahmed Al-Shaher, in which he provides guidance on appropriate environmental conditions for grape cultivation, agricultural practices, and propagation and breeding methods, including:

  • Appropriate temperatures are one of the most important factors affecting successful grape cultivation. Grape vines need average winter temperatures of between 2 to 10 °C over a period of one to two months to support the growth of flower buds.
  • Grape vines thrive in fertile, deep and loamy soils.
  • It is preferable to grow vines using pergola system (horizontal wires) to produce high quality table grapes and using gable system (Vertical V or Y types) to produce grapes for food processing and thus obtain high productivity per unit area.
  • The traditional ground cultivation method is cheaper and easier to manage, but less productive.
  • Vines should be pruned in January by trained professionals, before growth begins and buds open. It is a specialist task that directly affects growth and productivity.
  • There are two types of pruning, the first carried out in the vines first years to form its structure, and the second to maximise the crop, once the required shape has been achieved.
  • Nitrogen fertiliser should be limited to avoid increased vegetative growth at the cost of both the quality and quantity of the fruit

Use of Hydroponics for Food Cultivation in Syria |
الزراعة المائية لإنتاج الغذاء في سورية

Protected agriculture, known locally as greenhouse farming, is one of the most important methods to increase production per unit area and enhance food security. It is mainly used to cultivate vegetables such as eggplant, cucumber, tomato, strawberry, lettuce, onion, etc.

In recent years, farmers have been experimenting with protected agriculture, including the use of hydroponics, to produce vegetables. Hydroponics is a modern soilless farming method, in which crops are not grown in soil, but are fed with nutrient solutions.

Hydroponics has many advantages, the most important of which are:

  • The possibility of controlling the ideal growing conditions for the plant, and its nutrient and water intake.
  • Cultivation can take place anywhere regardless of the availability of soil, with vegetables grown on roofs, for example.
  • Use of water can be rationalised, with a saving of about 70-80% of water as compared to traditional soil cultivation methods.
  • The use of pesticides can be reduced particularly those relating to soil-endemic diseases.
  • Production per unit area is increased as is the financial return for farmers.

There are however challenges involved in the use of hydroponics:

  • Hands-on expertise and knowledge are required.
  • Specialist equipment and techniques are required as well as an energy source.
  • The initial outlay to establish a hydroponic system is relatively high.
  • Hydroponic cultivation requires continues, almost daily monitoring of the concentration and PH level of the nutrient solution in particular.

This instructional video includes an interview with two farmers in Azaz City, in Northwest of Syria, who talk about their experiences in soilless farming and share the lessons they have learned. They explain the reasons why they chose to use soilless cultivation to grow vegetables and the most important agricultural practices. The advice they share includes:

  • The importance of using the right cultivation system relative to different vegetable crops.
  • The importance of respecting recommended planting distances.
  • The importance of the daily monitoring of the nutrient solution with quality measuring equipment.
  • They recommend a useful way to provide food for families without agricultural land, albeit requiring expert guidance.
  • They point to the use hydroponics to grow desirable vegetables for sale in local markets, as a source of income.

Use of Solar Energy for Irrigation |
استخدام الطاقة الشمسية في الري

Solar panels are widespread in northwestern Syria, where they have become the main source of electricity for every day domestic and commercial purposes such as lighting and appliances. Solar panels are currently equally abundant in refugee camps in front of tents, on roofs of homes and shops, and in fields and farms. They are used nowadays to run the Irrigation pumps which used to be run on diesel with resulting harmful environmental and health effects.

The use of solar energy to generate electricity and operate pumps and irrigation networks is an alternative approach that some farmers have turned to with considerable success. Many farmers now see solar panels as an important way to reduce production costs, given the high prices of agricultural inputs, including fuel, and decreasing marketing opportunities, and the decreasing viability of agriculture du to falling profits.

This video includes an interview with a farmer from rural Idlib who shares with us the benefits of replacing fuel with solar energy, the challenges faced when using solar energy for crop irrigation purposes, and important tips drawing on his own successful experience of transitioning to solar-powered irrigation. He also tells us about the associated costs of establishing a solar power plant, including the equipment that is required based on the depth of well, the size of the farm, crop types and their specific irrigation needs and the set-up costs, which are relatively high in the context of most farmers’ limited financial situation.

We appeal to organisations working in the agricultural field to introduce projects to facilitate the set up and use of solar powered crop irrigation systems by farmers in their current and future strategic planning, in order to increase food production, food security and sustainability amongst local communities.

Beekeeping |
تربية النحل

Beekeeping in northwest Syria is a profession that crosses family generations, with high local demand due to the nutritional and medicinal value of honey, ensuring good financial returns. Idlib governorate, characterised by a wealth and diversity of trees and plants and a rich source of nectar and pollen, makes it a suitable environment for beekeeping and honey production, and the main honey production governorate in Syria. Different types of honey are produced in line with the seasons and the flowers on which the bees graze, with the main beekeeping areas concentrated in Maarat al-Numan, Ariha, Dana, Sahel al-Rouj, Jabal Harem, as well as towns and villages in Jabal al-Zawiya. However, beekeeping has declined over the last ten years, by up to 65% according to some studies.

This video includes an interview with Muhannad Loki, a beekeeping specialist who discusses the ideal beekeeping environment, the most important practices and skills that beekeepers need, the benefits of bees in raising crop productivity, and the main difficulties facing beekeepers. Black seed (Nigella Sativa) and anise are amongst the most important crops for bees and the production of honey with high nutritional and medicinal values.

The video also outlines the key difficulties that have led to the decline in beehives, including: 

  • The import of good, certified bee breeds, in terms of productivity;
  • The lack of local bee breeding centres to produce certified and productive queens;
  • Indiscriminate use of agricultural pesticides and lack of control relative to toxicity to bees;
  • The absence of local entities to coordinate the use of pesticides by farmers, i.e. dates and areas, to inform beekeepers;
  • The costs associated with production and in particular the transport of hives to pasture locations;
  • Climate change and its negative impact on bees and grazing crops in general.

Agricultural nurseries for vegetable seedlings production | الزراعة المائية لإنتاج الغذاء في سورية

Vegetables constitute one of the most important food sources in daily diet. Their cultivation is culturally rooted amongst local rural families, whether small scale subsistence farming for home consumption or farming on a commercial scale. Vegetable cultivation also provides an important source of income for many rural families due to the associated labourer needs.

Despite financial constraints and environmental challenges such as lack of rain and drought, the high cost of inputs and the difficulties of marketing produce, farmers have continued to grow vegetable crops.

Certain crops such as tomatoes, eggplants, capsicum and (red) watermelons, are grown from seeds or seedlings, whose benefits have become known and desired by farmers. Agricultural nurseries, in whose greenhouses seedlings are grown for sale, have become a key source of reliable seedlings, as well as providing an income for their workers.

This video includes an interview with agronomist Anas Tarboush and a displaced farmer who has drawn on his seedling expertise to establish a vegetable seedling nursery in response to the demands and needs of farmers in the region. Anas explains why local farmers have chosen to buy and plant seedlings rather than seeds, central to which is access to reliable seedlings that are disease free, promote earlier yields, extend the growing season and enable land to be exploited to a maximum. 

Another important reason for using seedlings is that they enable farmers to graft them onto disease resistant rootstocks, resistant to endemic diseases in the soil, with a resulting increase in productivity in watermelon crops, for example. The farmer discusses the practicalities of seedling production, including preparation of the growing substrates, seed selection, planting and the further growing practices, to ensure strong healthy seedlings.

Water Buffalo – An Endangered Animal in Syria |
الجاموس – ثروة حيوانية مهددة بالانقراض في سورية

Buffalo herds are farmed in areas such as swamps or close to rivers, with water an integral part of their natural habitat. They are disease tolerant and consume less feed than cows, which are both reasons why they are farmed in rural areas across Syria. Buffalo meat and milk products have a high nutritional value and contain lower levels of fat than those of cows. Their sweet milk is used in many food industries and, in particular, the manufacture of the world-renowned mozzarella cheese.

Despite this, their numbers continue to decline, and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) has classified buffalos as an undervalued asset. It is amongst the most neglected and endangered animals in Northwest Syria.

The most important buffalo farming areas in Syria are the Al-Ghab Plain and the Al-Jazeera region, whose rivers, swamps and pastures offer a suitable environment.  The practice is indigenous to the local culture in these areas, distinguishing rural families, and passed down through the generations. Buffalo decline is particularly severe in the Al-Ghab Plain as a result of the prolonged conflict and the displacement of buffalo farmers to other areas.

This video includes an interview with Mr. Mahmoud, a displaced buffalo farmer from the Al-Ghab Plain, which sheds light on the importance of buffalo breeding as a form of sustainable rural farming and source of both biodiversity and food diversity. Agricultural engineer, Wissam, and Mr Mahmoud, discuss the challenges that buffalo farmers currently face, including that of displacement, of finding suitable pastures, the high cost of feed, low milk yield, the absence of veterinary services, and the lack of engagement and support from government institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

It highlights the following as essential to sustaining buffalo farming: 

  • Government and NGO-led conservation projects.
  • Support to breeders, in particular fodder and veterinary care
  • Support re access to suitable pastures near rivers or swamps.
  • The establishment of mew research centres to improve local breeds and productivity.
  • The establishment of multiple buffalo farms

Palm Tree Seedlings |
فسائل النخيل

Palm trees are classified as perennial trees, as they are distinguished by their ability to grow and produce in hot and dry climatic conditions. They have the ability to adapt to these environmental conditions. Their roots extend and spread vertically and horizontally in the soil until they reach the wet areas from which they fulfil their water needs.

Palm trees are mainly grown for dates. They are also planted as windbreaks on the edges of farms. Date palms are also used to combat desertification in many Arab countries because they provide protection for the trees and plants that are grown with or beneath them.

Palm cultivation in Syria is mainly in eastern regions such as Palmyra, Al-Bukamal and Deir ez-Zor, providing both a high economic return and nutritional value. However, the palm has suffered from the prolonged conflict for a number of reasons, including a lack of interest in developing its cultivation, the absence of research and extension centres, and the closure of nurseries producing and propagating reliable palm seedlings. This instructional video documents the experience of an agricultural engineer whose interest lies in the planting and propagation of palm trees in Palmyra. He tells us about their importance, the ideal environmental conditions, and the methods used to plant and propagate them. He also shares his experience of saving, multiplying and caring for a number of date palm seedlings that he carried with him during his forced migration to northern Syria. He has established a training and educational centre to transfer his knowledge and expertise to those who are interested in cultivating palm trees.

His experience is unique because it focuses on a tree that was already being neglected prior to the conflict, reflecting his personal and creative efforts to impart knowledge and experiences to students and other learners.

Olive by-product – Olive pomace |
المنتجات الثانوية للزيتون – البيرين

The governorates of Aleppo and Idlib are famous for the cultivation of olive trees, which are estimated to number over 20 million. Olive trees are one of the most important rain-fed crops in Syria, which is considered to be their country of origin. Planted for thousands of years. Its cultivation is central to local communities and customs, as well as an important part of Syria’s heritage and culture. Olive trees are also an important economic source and livelihood for a large segment of farmers and mill owners, and can be grown on less fertile land that is not suitable for other crops. However, their cultivation has declined since 2011, with production down by more than 30%, due to the conflict, increased costs, and the expansion of informal camps and military operations that have led to the burning and felling of thousands of this blessed tree.

Olive oil and table olives are its main product, although the last ten years have seen an increased interest in olive pomace, the solid residue left following the pressing of olives, which can be used an alternative heating fuel. Demand has increased, particularly amongst poor families, as a relatively low cost fuel.

This video includes an interview with an olive pomace producer who tell us about the methods used in its manufacture, its most important uses, and key considerations to be taken account of in both its manufacture and consumption.

It is also worth mentioning that the production of olive pomace is one of the most environmentally friendly ways to recycle olive waste, as a good and sustainable alternative to wood, eliminating the need for local communities to fell or prune trees for heating purposes, and helping to preserve forests and vegetation cover to mitigate climate change.

Enhancement of Summer Vegetable Production |
تعزيز إنتاج الخضار الصيفية

The cultivation and production of summer vegetables in northern Syria is one of the most important sources of income for farmers and agricultural workers, with agricultural workers estimated to make up over 70% of the population. Summer vegetables being sold in local markets are the main nutritional source for local populations in areas with suitable soil and climatic growing conditions. They include tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, melons, zucchini and many leafy vegetables.

However, the production of summer vegetables has declined in recent years for a number of reasons, the most important of which are:

  • Climate change with declining rainfall and severe heat waves leading to drought.
  • Declining groundwater levels impacting on wells, as the main source of irrigation water.
  • Absence of irrigation modernisation projects.
  • Rising cost of inputs, in particular, fertiliser, fuel and pesticides.
  • Weak local markets and the inability to export to foreign markets.
  • Increased poverty due to inflation and a lack of job opportunities, with a resulting decrease in purchasing power. 
  • Decline in agricultural extension services, coupled with an absence of coordinated sector planning.
  • Decline in agricultural land due to the spread of informal camps and construction.

In this video, agricultural engineer Ahmed Al-Shaher, addresses these realities and the current challenges, and suggests some solutions:

  • Projects allowing water to be drawn from lakes and rivers, and the reconstruction of irrigation systems.
  • Use of solar energy to generate electricity to run irrigation systems.
  • Organic fertiliser production projects to replace chemical fertilisers.
  • Agricultural extension services, teaching reliable pest control and the correct use of pesticides.

Dairy Products in NWS |
تعزيز إنتاج الخضار الصيفية

Dairy products, including cheese, are a basic food consumed daily. The production of dairy-based foods is a longstanding activity amongst most Syrian families, especially rural ones, with traditional home-produced dairy products favoured by the majority of consumers. In northern Syria, sheep, goat or cows’ milk is used, with the rearing of such livestock a primary source of income for many rural families.

Many small factories also manufacture dairy products in northern Syria for local markets. In this video, engineer, Wissam Al-Abboud, sheds light on the challenges facing dairy production. The video also includes an interview with a displaced dairy producer from Eastern Ghouta, who has established a small dairy factory in the city of Al-Bab. He shares his experiences and production methods for milk, cheese, butter, ghee and other dairy products manufactured for the local market. He also tells us about the difficulties he faces, such as high production costs and fuel in particular, inflation and the decreasing purchasing power of consumers.

 He believes that electricity generating solar energy projects will help to reduce production costs, although the dramatic decline in livestock in recent years due to drought and the rising cost feed have also led to a decline in dairy products and their availability in local markets at reasonable prices.