Rebel Homs court orders end to grain trade with regime

The rebel-led High Sharia Court in Homs issued a decree last Monday stipulating that grain produced in the encircled northern countryside must remain there for residents.

People of the northern countryside have lived under a four-year blockade imposed by regime forces that intensified with the beginning of Russian airstrikes in Syria in October 2015.

In previous years, traders would sell grain to regime-affiliated men outside the boundaries of northern Homs because it fetched a higher price. That is how “wheat leaves the countryside and falls into regime hands,” Khalid al-Aud, a local wheat farmer, tells Syria Direct's Osama Abu Zeid.

Now, the High Sharia Court issued Monday's decree along with Jabhat a-Nusra's own sharia entity to put a stop to grain exports and keep residents fed as the May harvest begins. The move comes months after the Syrian army tightened the encirclement on northern Homs by closing the last roads into the rebel-held pocket in late 2015.

The High Sharia Court is made up of judges affiliated with local brigades and responsible for adjudicating intra-rebel disputes along with civilian cases.

Grain farmer al-Aud supports last Monday's Sharia Court decision, intended to “ensure the most basic components of life under the siege.”

Q: Why did the court issue this new decision? Was anyone able to buy these products before in the encircled north Homs countryside?

The point of the law is for the court to protect food in the encircled Homs countryside— primarily, to maintain quantities of wheat in order keep bread available as long as possible in light of the siege conditions.

Humanitarian-focused charities can buy the harvests with money they receive from outside organizations (i.e., money originating outside the encircled northern countryside). Alternatively, traders buy the harvests.

Q: How long will the available grain in the northern Homs countryside last?

If everything were gathered together and remained inside the region, it would provide grain and bread for about a year.

Q: Why didn't the northern countryside have enough grain in past years?

Unfortunately a large portion of the grain used to go to the regime, indirectly, by way of traders who did business with it.

There are traders inside the northern countryside who buy harvests from the farmers. After they secure the grain, they sell it to other traders outside the encirclement, in areas of regime control. The harvests reach those traders—I don't know how—and in that manner the wheat leaves the countryside and falls into regime hands.

The traders took advantage of the higher price they were offering versus the humanitarian organizations, the latter of which paid SP60 ($.27) per kilo, while traders paid SP90 ($.41) per kilo, which encouraged the farmers to sell to them.

Q: Who sets prices, and how much does wheat cost this year?

Prices vary and are determined by demand. We're waiting for the beginning of the buying season over the coming days to see what prices will be like. But they won't be the same as last year, when the price was SP80 to SP90 per kilo ($.36 to $.41). Now, with the rise of the dollar against the Syrian pound, no farmer will sell for less than SP150 or SP160 per kilo ($.68 to $.73).

Osama Abu Zeid

Osama Abu Zeid is a native of Homs, where he served as a media activist and founding member of the Homs Revolutionary Council after the Syrian uprising began in 2011.

Dan Wilkofsky

Dan Wilkofsky was a 2013-2014 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Amman, Jordan, where he worked with Talal Abu Ghazaleh Translation and the Ministry of Social Development. He has a BA in Classics (Latin) and Middle East Studies from Brown University.