Country Listing

Syria Table of Contents


Land Use

The bulk of the country is arid, with little vegetation. In 1984, nearly 20 percent was classified as desert (see table 8, Land Use, Appendix). Another 45 percent of the land was classified as steppe and pasture, although its grazing capacity was very limited--much like land in the American Southwest. Less than 3 percent of the land was forested, with only part of it commercially useful. Cultivatable land amounted to 33 percent of the total area. In 1984, 91.7 percent of the total cultivable area of 6.17 million hectares was cultivated.

Major expansion of the cultivated area occurred in the 1940s and 1950s. Much of the expansion was the result of investment by wealthy urban merchants, many of whom were from the country's religious minorities. Their innovations included large-scale use of farm machinery, pumps, and irrigation where possible, and differrent tenure arrangements for farm operators than were used in other parts of the country. But the efforts of the merchants of Aleppo and other commercial centers largely exhausted the potential for bringing new land under cultivation. The area of cultivation (6.9 million hectares) and land irrigated (760,000 hectares) peaked in 1963 and has been appreciably smaller since then. In 1984, aproximately 5.7 million hectares were under cultivation, with 618,000 irrigated.

Opinions differ as to the causes of the decline of cultivated and irrigated areas after 1963. Some observers say that marginal lands brought under cultivation proved uneconomical after a few years and were abandoned. Others claim that the merchantdevelopers used exploitive techniques that eventually reduced the productivity of the soil. Still other observers blame land-reform measures, which coincided with the decline of the cultivated and irrigated areas. Each view is probably somewhat valid.

In the future, expansion of the cultivated area will be slow and costly. Although the Euphrates irrigation projects will provide water to bring additional land under cultivation, growth will be partly offset by the loss of arable land to urban expansion, roads, and other facilities for a growing population. After the disappointing results of the Euphrates irrigation projects through the mid-1980s, the government began to develop rain-fed agriculture to offset potential setbacks in the Euphrates scheme. Drainage investments also will be required to maintain cultivation on some irrigated areas that currently suffer from waterlogging or excessive salinity.

Data as of April 1987