On June 19, 2023, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad issued the year’s Law No. 10, establishing a fund to finance the National Project for Transition to Modern Irrigation. The aim is to regulate a mandatory transition plan to modern irrigation methods in irrigated agricultural lands.
The new law supersedes Legislative Decree No. 91 of 2005 and its amendments and Law No. 20 of 2010, which previously governed the implementation of the modern irrigation transition plan. The new law restructures the committees through which the stages of a transformation pass through to the issuance of the final decision and increases the fines imposed on beneficiaries who fail to implement obligations.
Funding for the project will be managed by the Ministry of Agriculture, headquartered in Damascus, with the potential to establish branches in other governorates. Funding amounts are deposited into a current account at the Agricultural Bank. The funds will be disbursed as grants and loans to beneficiaries to finance farming equipment and expenses during the transition process. A beneficiary in this project is anyone who invests in agriculture, whether owners, beneficiaries, renters or farmers. Law No. 10 stipulates that for tenant and landowning farmers to receive loans, the owner must approve or provide another guarantee acceptable to the Agricultural Cooperative Bank.
Law No. 10 lays out a strategy for implementing the transition to modern irrigation. This strategy is carried out through four categories of committees:
- Sub-committees in the governorates established by the Minister of Agriculture. Each committee is chaired by the governor, with membership consisting of representatives from the Executive Office for the Agriculture Sector, the President of the Farmers’ Union in the governorate, and directors of the Ministries of Agriculture, Water Resources, Industry, Finance and Economy in the relevant governorate. These sub-committees propose areas where irrigated land should be transitioned to modern irrigation.
- A central committee established by the Minister of Agriculture and headed by the deputy minister. The committee consists of representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture, Water Resources, Industry, Finance and Economy, and the director of the Agricultural Bank. The central committee undertakes various tasks, including preparing a study of the areas required to transition to modern irrigation based on the sub-committee proposals.
- The Board of Directors for the National Project for Transition to Modern Irrigation Fund acts as a committee formed by the Prime Minister and chaired by the Minister of Agriculture. The board includes representatives from the Ministries of Agriculture, Water Resources, Industry, Finance and Economy, and the director of the Agricultural Bank. The board has various responsibilities, including managing the project’s funding and proposing areas for mandatory transition to modern irrigation based on the central committee’s study.
- The Higher Committee, chaired by the Prime Minister and including the Ministers of Agriculture, Water Resources, Industry, Finance, Economy, the President of the Planning and International Cooperation Commission and the President of the General Union of Farmers. This committee approves the areas for mandatory transition to modern irrigation based on the above committee’s proposals.
The assortment of committees will likely make implementation lengthier and more complex.
Law No. 10 mandates the transition to modern irrigation in the areas approved by the Higher Committee, while this transition remains optional in areas not approved. Once these areas are approved, the Minister of Agriculture decides to begin the transition process, accompanied by a plan outlining the included region’s boundaries and property numbers. If there are properties that have not undergone delimitation and census, a site map must be added for each, along with tables listing their owners, occupants, and legal documents.
Law No. 10 requires the Minister’s decision to be published in the Official Gazette and posted on the announcement board of the governorate administrative centre, the Directorate of Agriculture, the Farmers’ Union in that governorate, branches of the Agricultural Bank and agricultural associations. The law considers this publication a personal notification to the rights holders in the concerned area. Failure to personally notify may infringe on some landowners’ or occupants’ rights, especially considering that many have been displaced by the war or left the country.
Law No. 10 does not specify whether the Minister’s decision is final or if there is an opportunity to contest it. The previous law, No. 20 of 2010, explicitly stated that the Minister’s decision is final and may not undergo any review or challenge.
Under Law No. 10, those affected by the decision must consult the concerned authority in the governorate within three months from the announcement date to fulfil their obligations. The law does not specify these obligations. They are expected to be defined in the law’s executive instructions, which have not yet been issued.
Notably, Law No. 10 considers anyone whose land falls within the regions included in the transition projects and who refuses to fulfil the following obligations as violating the law. The law imposes hefty fines on violators, starting from SYP 50,000 per dunam in the first year of refusal and depriving them of all forms of support provided by the ministry to farmers. If the violation continues into the second year, the fine increases to SYP 100,000 per dunam, with a continued cutoff of the Ministry of Agriculture’s support. The fine rises to SYP 250,000 per dunam if the violation continues into the third year, up to the end of the fifth year, with deprivation of Ministry support. After the fifth year, the fine increases to SYP 500,000 per dunam.
These fines are imposed by a decision from the Minister, collected under the Public Assets Collection Law, and go to the public state treasury.