First Development Project in Marginalised Region

Shar For Development has launched a first-of-a-kind development project in the north-eastern al-Jazirah plain to lure local investors and limit dependence on international support in the future.

(ʿAmuda, al-Hasakah, Syria) The marginalising policies that the region of al-Jazirah has endured for decades have resulted in widespread unemployment, driving a great part of the workforce from the area. In the light of the Syrian crisis, the region is considered relatively safe, but unemployment persists especially in the absence of sustainable development projects.

The Avdan project (which means “irrigation” in Kurdmanji) is one of several projects launched by Shar for Development since its establishment in 2013 in al-Qamishli. The project falls within the organisation’s vision that is aimed to activate the latent powers in the community and enhance a pattern of initiatives that help achieve sustainable development. Local investors will certainly enrich this experience that has managed to attract their attention. 

The challenges of winter agriculture

In the city of ʿAmuda, located 26 Km west of al-Qamishli, five greenhouses were erected to plant winter tomatoes. Usama Hajj Qasim, the project manager, told Good Morning Syria that “the space of each greenhouse is 400 square metres. A drip irrigation system and an electricity network for lighting were also set up, and each greenhouse is equipped with a heater to provide the tomatoes with the appropriate temperature to grow.”  

Hajj Qasim pointed out that several employees are working on the project, including engineers and five displaced female workers from the  Arab-majority city of ash-Shaddadah (20 Km south of al-Hasakah), which was conquered by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after they expelled militants of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in February 2016. “These engineers haven’t worked in winter agriculture before,”  added the project director.  

Speaking about the hardships faced by the project, Hajj Qasim explained: “There are many (difficulties) caused by the lack of certain necessary products in the region, such as seeds, heating (systems), and nylon. We used local expertise to provide heating, and we brought seeds from Damascus. As for the nylon, we settled for the available types in the local market, knowing that they do not fit exactly our need.” The man also affirmed that the project reached the production stage in early March 2016 due to delays in the cultivation process.  

For his part, Kadar Shaykhmous, the human relations officer at Shar, added: “After long negotiations, we managed to agree with International Relief and Development (IRD) on funding the project and adding it to the list of projects implemented by the organisation in Syria.”   

Shaykhmous explained that the project was conceived to support the agricultural sector through a new and uncommon system, “since the regime had not encourage such cultivations before.” This was part of the economic marginalisation policy, despite the nature of al-Jazirah, whose livelihood is widely based on agriculture. 

Security helps to reduce relief work

Despite the large number of organisations operating in al-Jazirah (161 organisations according to Citizens for Syria statistics), only ten of them work in relief, which means that most organisations prefer other types of activities. 

The stable security situation has undoubtedly played an important role in this in spite of the great numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs) arriving from other Syrian regions. Therefore, “the (Shar) organisation seeks to increase the attention granted to development projects, especially at the economic level, in order to allow the region to advance and become a model for other areas in Syria when the circumstances are stable,” added Shaykhmous.    

Moreover, the human relations officer ascribed Shar’s policy in this field to its evaluation of similar cases in other parts of the world, where relief contributed to “weakening the community’s productivity.” This has been actually the case of other war-torn regions in Syria. 

Although al-Jazirah was never properly besieged, it would rely on imported winter vegetables that it received from the Syrian coast. However, solutions had to be found during the crisis, especially since the area became surrounded by the so-called IS “provinces” (wilayat) and suffered from the closing of Turkish border crossings.  

Local investment in development projects 

Tackling the prospects of development projects in the region, independently of international support, Shaykhmous said: “Our work today helps the transition toward an economically stable society and the creation of job opportunities. It also encourages local investors to work in the area by providing a successful and effective model on how to invest, especially in traditional economic sectors.”  

Nonetheless, he indicated that the absence of laws that protect investors, and the latter’s concerns about the profitability of such projects, make them less  common. 

Meanwhile, ʿAbdul-Qadir Hoban, an investor from al-Qamishli, visited Avdan and praised the exceptional project, mentioning that he was preparing to launch a similar one. “Investors are apprehensive about a project like this one as it is the first of its kind in the region and would require taking some risks,” he told Good Morning Syria.   

The investor added that Shar For Development is willing to offer full consultancy on the project given its previous experience, and stated that the Rojava – Northern Syria Democratic Federal System can supply fuel oil (mazut) for heating at low prices, while investors are to provide other necessities.  

“The new investors own agricultural lands and they will turn to winter agriculture by allocating space for greenhouses. The Avdan project has in fact proven this to be more successful and lucrative than other cultivations despite the high costs,” Hoban explained.

Khoshman Qado, from al-Qamishli, has a degree in Philosophy. He is a journalist and writes in both Kurdish and Arabic for a number of newspapers and magazines, such as Saiedet Souria magazine, Sor Mey magazine, Shar magazine and Souriatna newspaper.

This article was originally posted by Good Morning Syria, and you can find the original article here.

Image: PHOTO: Famers water plants inside a greenhouse in the rebel-held town of Dael, in Deraa Governorate, Syria April 24, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir