The al-Roj Plain in west Idlib countryside, which includes the village of Arab Sa'id (among dozens of others), is renowned in the wider region for its fertility and agricultural importance. Since a previous interview I conducted touched on the issue of agriculture and agricultural aid in the al-Roj Plain, I decided to explore this topic in more depth. Below is an interview I conducted today with a former representative of the agricultural office with the local council in the al-Roj Plain, affiliated with the Salvation Government that is backed by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.
Q: Firstly in general what are the types of crops that are grown in the al-Roj Plain?
A: Now the winter crops: wheat, barley, chickpeas.
Q: And during the summer?
A: All the vegetables, of course for the farmers who have irrigation water.
Q: Can you clarify what is the role of the agricultural office exactly and to what side is it affiliated?
A: The agricultural office is intended to track all the crops planted and carry out field visits and in the event of occurrence of damages the report is to be referred to the relevant parties in agriculture. The agricultural office is affiliated with the services department in the Salvation Government. Also the agricultural office coordinated with the humanitarian NGOs that have interest in supporting agriculture. The Agricultural Ministry in the Salvation Government has offered pesticides against field mice in all the agricultural lands and there are specialist engineers as well in the Salvation Government undertaking tracking of agriculture and the problems of farmers and the challenges.
Q: In general how is the agricultural situation in the al-Roj Plain? What are the most important problems?
A: If God wills it will be a good year, but the farmers' first and last reliance is on agriculture, and on the land, and the support of the NGOs in the field of agriculture is weak and insufficient, and the rise of costs of goods in general from seeds, fertiliser and pesticides.
Q: So for example are there problems with regards to the availability of water and electricity to pump water?
A: Of course. The power provides service in the summer, and very few are those who have the possibility of power, and the one who has a well for irrigation water: also the number is very few. And the rise in costs of fuel in comparison with the sales price for the production.
Q: What are the NGOs that have offered support in the al-Roj Plain? And has the support from the NGOs decreased recently?
A: al-Hanad this year. Atkad and Children of Paradise in the preceding year. This year the support is very little and there is no NGO besides al-Hanad that has offered support for some of the farmers.
Q: Also some of the supporters of Hurras al-Din say that the villages like Arab Sa'id have been deprived of agricultural aid. What is your response to these words?
A: I don't know, I don't have information. The support has decreased in general with regards to the .NGOs, and in particular the agricultural [support]
Q: So in short what are the most important challenges? And do you have a message for the NGOs?
A: The challenges: the al-Roj Plain is the remaining and only [agricultural] land in northwest Syria: the al-Roj Plain is a foodbasket of all crops. If there is no interest in the al-Roj Plain and in particular the wheat crop, it may lead to the loss of a great part of the wheat production: the main source of bread. The farmers may leave the land without planting because of the rise of costs of agriculture. We ask all the NGOs to take an interest in the al-Roj Plain because it contains all the crops and thousands of families depend in their income on the agriculture.