Conflict and fragile ecosystems: building capacity to address biodiversity loss in Northwest Syria

Once thriving numbers of water buffalo and Shami goats have seriously declined in a regional economy heavily dependent on agriculture and livestock farming. Through dividing land, displacement, bombing, and leaving many farmers with little choice but to sell their animals, the war has disrupted the ecosystem underlying livestock farming communities. Addressing the environmental and economic challenges faced by Syrian livestock farmers will therefore be critical to recovery from persistent food insecurity and poverty.


SPRU’s Professor Fiona Marshall and the Department of Management’s Dr Mirela Barbu undertook the project in March-July 2023 in collaboration with Dr Shaher Abdullateef, the Director of the NGO ‘Syrian Academic Expertise’. Focussing on livestock farming in northwest Syria, the research aimed to address the interrelatedness of environmental land management and humanitarian needs in a protracted conflict zone.

Gathering hitherto sparse data on biodiversity loss and the role of ecosystems in sustaining farmer livelihoods in the region; the researchers highlighted the links between endangered species – water buffalo and Shami goats – and vulnerable local communities. The project also sought to engage with local and national stakeholders in NGOs and the private sector. The researchers then aimed to identify the existing needs and capabilities of livestock farms; providing recommendations for both breeders and wider decision-makers in supporting the long-term recovery of the sector and region.   

Research Approach

  • Interviewed all buffalo breeders in Idleb and Aleppo Governorates; to collect data on buffalo’s natural habitat and ecosystem changes, livelihoods, everyday practices, experiences and perceptions.
  • 1-day shadowing buffalo breeders on two farms to support interview data on current livestock farming practices and experiences in the region.
  • 2 focus group workshops with local and national decision-makers involved with livestock breeding, NGOs and private sector operators to gauge wider needs and expertise in the sector.

Impact and Outreach 

The project brings together Syrian livestock breeders and agricultural experts from local and national organisations to address pressing issues and disseminate practical information and problem-solving via the Agricultural Voices of Syria (AVS) podcasts, blogs and photobooks.

The research also generates policy recommendations in the form of a brief aimed at decision-makers in the region to address a gap in ecosystem services and financial resources for livestock farming; lessons can be learned for protracted conflict regions facing food insecurity and poverty.

Further Information

The Principal Investigators are Professor Fiona Marshall, Science Policy Research Unit, and Dr Mirela Barbu, Department of Management, at the Business School. The project, funded by a seed corn grant awarded by the School, builds on previous research by the team that first launched the AVS podcast series. Its findings led directly to a research brief addressing The Livestock and Livelihood Crisis in Northwest Syria.