* Syria’s grain output down 10 pct in 2011
* About 1.4 mln people are food insecure in Syria-WFP
* Economic downturn to hit Syria’s commercial import capacity (Adds more details)
MILAN, March 14 (Reuters) - Syria, hit by a civil unrest, needs to raise cereals import by about a third in the current marketing year after its local grain output 10 percent dropped in 2011, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Wednesday.
“Continued civil unrest in the Syrian Arab Republic since mid-March 2011 has raised serious concern over the state of food security, particularly for vulnerable groups,” the FAO said in a special alert note.
Syria should increase cereals imports by about 1 million tonnes to some 4 million tonnes in the 2011/12 marketing year, after the country’s grain production fell to 4.2 million tonnes in 2010 from about 4.7 million tonnes in 2010, the FAO said.
Syria relies on food imports for almost half of its total domestic consumption, with wheat imports used for food while maize and barley are used mainly for feed, the agency said.
Wheat output dropped 10 percent to 3.25 million tonnes in Syria in 2011, the FAO said.
About 1.4 million people are affected by food insecurity since the start of the unrest, mainly concentrated in hotspot areas including Homs, Hama and Damascus, the FAO said citing another UN body, the World Food Programme (WFP).
Earlier this month, the United Nations said it was preparing food stocks for 1.5 million people in Syria deprived of basic supplies after nearly a year of conflict.
The United Nations says forces of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad have killed more than 8,000 people in their drive to crush the uprising. Assad’s forces attacked the southern city of Deraa on Wednesday.
The FAO said the outlook for Syria’s 2012 winter cereal crops, currently at vegetative stage and due for harvest from May, is uncertain given possible disruptions in overall agricultural activities and limited access to fertilizers and seeds.
On top of that, it is reported that civil unrest in some areas prevented farmers from accessing their farmland during the harvest, the Rome-based agency said.
Syria’s economy is estimated to have contracted in 2011 and the downturn is expected to continue this year, the FAO said.
“Economic and trading sanctions together with the strong depreciation of the local currency are expected to negatively affect the country’s commercial import capacity, including food commodities,” it said. (Reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova; Editing by Alison Birrane and Hans-Juergen Peters)