Women Prove Most Significant Investors in Hama Absentee-Owned Lands
Between November 2022 and March 2023, the Hama governorate published lists containing the names of investors in vacant arid lands for the 2023-2024 agricultural season. Vacant lands are those owned by absentees forcibly displaced to opposition-controlled areas in northern Syria. These lands include salikh, or arid, lands not planted with trees.
There are two types of investors: those who won in the public auctions to invest in absentee-owned lands, and relatives whose requests to invest in their absent relatives’ lands were approved by the Hama governorate without having to enter the auctions. Separate lists of investors were issued for each type. In both cases, investors must pay an investment fee called ihala. For auction winners, the fee is the final bid price, while for relatives, it is the initial price set by the governorate.
In October 2022, the Council of Ministers issued Decision No. 12011, which gave priority to first-degree relatives in investing in vacant lands offered for agricultural investment, without requiring these relatives to enter future public auctions. The Council of Ministers also required first-degree relatives to declare the properties they wish to invest in 15 days before the public auctions.
However, contrary to what Decision No. 12011 had stipulated, the Hama governorate’s lists included first- but also second-degree relatives. First-degree relatives are a person’s parents, spouses and children, while second-degree relatives include grandparents, siblings and paternal grandchildren.
According to an announcement posted on January 11 to the Hama governorate’s Facebook page, the central committee, which allocates the farmlands for investment, allowed investors to pay the investment fee in two installments: the first in January and the second in June 2023. This central committee is headed by the Hama governor and includes representatives from the Baath Party branch, Hama police leadership, the Agriculture Directorate, the governorate Executive Office and Legal Department and the Hama Farmers Union. There are also spatial technical committees responsible for counting and identifying absentee lands, which branch off from this central committee.
According to a local correspondent for The Syria Report, the Hama governorate’s General Secretariat delivered more than 2,000 investment contracts to investors through a single window in the governorate building. People can invest in more than one piece of land, each of which has a separate investment contract that includes the property number. Under Decision No. 12011, in order to receive the investment contract, the investors must pay the investment fee and financial guarantees, and provide documents that include a pledge to cultivate the land according to the agricultural production plan determined by the Ministry of Agriculture. Finally, they must also obtain a security approval to invest in the land.
Under Decision No. 12011, absentee landowners with vacant land are considered deceased. Relatives investing in the land must present an inheritance inventory document. The document aims to identify the “deceased” person’s heirs and their degree of kinship, as well as each heir’s shares in the inheritance. The inheritance inventory document has no relation to the deceased’s properties and does not include their assets or real estate. In November 2022, the Hama governorate amended the Council of Ministers decision, allowing first- and second-degree relatives to submit a civil registration extract instead of an inheritance inventory when investing in absentee lands.
According to the correspondent, women make up a large portion of the names on the list of relatives investing in the absentee lands. This is due in part to some forcibly displaced male landowners with vacant lands depending on their female first- and second-degree relatives to invest in their vacant properties. Such arrangements are often done by agreement between the parties which also includes sharing the costs and profits. In most cases, this agreement is made to prevent those outside of their family from seizing and extorting absentee lands.