ECONOMY: AGRICULTURE, LIVESTOCK AND FISHING
According to DISEASESLEARNING, 17% of the active population is still employed in agriculture, which forms the basis of the country’s economy; however, as a whole it is not a particularly flourishing sector, although it presents variously differentiated aspects in relation to the natural environment and the transformations brought about by man. Above all, irrigation has succeeded in making fairly large areas arable, thus increasing, sometimes even considerably, certain productions; but, taken as a whole, agriculture appears not very modernized, indeed attested to traditional techniques that are scarcely profitable, also because the prevailing agricultural management regime – small ownership – does not facilitate the large-scale introduction of new cultivation methods. The abolition of the old landed estate was a significant progress, but the subsequent fragmentation of the land did not substantially modify the widespread immobility of the sector; more economically and socially incisive was the creation of cooperatives, favored through credit facilities and technical assistance. However, the most serious problem to be solved for Syrian agriculture is the insufficiency of the irrigation network, even crucial for a country that only along the coast and in the northern belt has sufficiently abundant rainfall (in these areas indeed the yields are high and crops are practiced in rotation). The government has been carrying out irrigation programs since the 1960s, redeeming a part of the land that would otherwise have remained unused. This was made possible through the construction of a series of dams, also suitable for supplying electricity to industries; the most important is that of Thawrah on the Euphrates (built with Soviet help), which gave rise to Lake al-Asad. The oldest irrigation system is that of the norias: these are often gigantic wooden wheels (one, operating in Hamāh, on the Orontes, since medieval times, has a diameter of over 20 m), equipped with a series of tubs also made of wood; when the tubs are at the bottom, they are filled with water and when they reach the top they pour it into a canal that conveys the water to the land to be irrigated. Now approx. 30% of the land area is cultivated; a large part of it is occupied by wheat and barley, both cereals that resist drought well and that are widespread throughout the western and northern belt with typical red-brown soils. They are also cultivated, all intended for internal consumption, corn and millet and in certain irrigated areas rice, then vegetables, especially tomatoes and onions, then chickpeas, beans, broad beans, lentils, etc., as well as potatoes. The country’s highest commercial crop, destined to a large extent for export, is that of cotton which is widespread above all in the Oronte valley; the cultivation of tobacco and sugar beet is moderate, especially in the district of Al-Lādhiqīyah. More relevant, however, are the typical Mediterranean tree crops, such as those of vines and olives (of which it is the leading Asian producer); other oilseeds present are sesame and peanuts. Finally, good harvests give the orchards: figs, which are well adapted to drought, citrus fruits, apricots, pears, plums, peaches, oranges, pistachios, etc. The forests, extended in ancient times, have now almost disappeared, reduced to a few strips in the districts of Al-Lādhiqīyah, Hims, Hamāh and Aleppo. Meadows and pastures, on the other hand, cover almost 45% of the territorial surface; they are exploited by both permanent and nomadic pastoralism. Given the climatic and pedological conditions, sheep and goats prevail; in addition to wool they supply, as in all Arab countries, the basic meat food. However, poultry farming is also widespread, while fishing is of little importance.
The Syrian territory was certainly inhabited since the most remote Paleolithic times: this is attested above all by the remains of the lower levels of the stratigraphy highlighted in the locality of Jabrud. There are numerous testimonies relating to the lower Paleolithic, with different deposits in which it was possible to establish a sequence of the evolution of the Acheulean, in which there are complexes of the ancient Acheulean, as at Sitt Markho in the lower valley of Nahr el Kebir; of the middle Acheulean, as in Berzine and Latamne north of Hama; of the upper and final Acheulean, as in Gharmachi and Douara, not far from the oasis of Palmyra, in Abou Jamaa on the Euphrates and in some of the shelters of the Uadi Skifta, near Jabrud. Followed by the Jabrudian, an industry on splinters and double-sided with dates included around 150,000 years from today, known in various places including El Kowm, and the Hummalian, an industry on large blades dated around 100,000 years. Mousterian levels, sometimes of the levallois technique, are known in Douara, El Kowm and Wadi Skifta and some other locations. In the last two sites mentioned, complexes of the Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic (geometric Kebarian) have been studied, the latter dated between about 12,000 and 10,500 years from today. No less abundant are the testimonies dating back to Neolithic times, for which it can be distinguished, in addition to a rich facies of the Natufian (IX-VIII millennium BC), identified above all in the important excavations of Mureybet, a pre-ceramic period, dating back to the beginning of VII millennium a. C., highlighted in Tel Ramad and Ras Shamra, and a subsequent Neolithic period highlighted in these and other localities, especially in the area of Antioch, where the variety of clay products allows the distinction of different cultural aspects. For the subsequent Eneolithic period of particular importance are the discoveries made in Halaf, a tell of the northern regions. In the fourth millennium, the influence of the Mesopotamian culture of Obeid is noted throughout the region.