Syria was an overwhelmingly agricultural country until the early 1960s, when planned large-scale industrialization began. The state plays a major role in the country's economy, but government control has been eased since 2000. Some 25% of the people earn their living by farming; since 1970 land cultivation has increased more than 50%, largely because of government incentives and wider use of irrigation. The best farmland is located along the coast and in the Jabal al-Nusayriyah, around Aleppo, in the region between Hama and Homs, in the Damascus area, and in the land between the Euphrates and Khabur rivers, which is known as Al Jazira [Arab., = the island]. The principal crops include wheat, barley, cotton, lentils, chickpeas, olives, and sugar beets. Large numbers of poultry, cattle, and sheep are raised, and dairy products are important. Tourism has expanded in recent years.
Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs are the chief industrial centers. The main industries include petroleum refining; food, beverage, and tobacco processing; and the manufacture of textiles, chemicals, and precision-engineered products. Handicrafts such as articles of silk, leather, and glass are widely produced. The principal minerals extracted are petroleum, found mainly at Qarah Shuk (Karachuk) in the extreme northeast; natural gas, found mainly in the Al Jazira region; phosphates; limestone; and salt. Petroleum pipelines from Iraq and Jordan cross Syria, and there is also a pipeline from Qarah Shuk to the Mediterranean coast.
Since 1974 oil has been Syria's most important source of revenue; declining production in the early 21st cent. was offset by higher oil prices. In 2006, petroleum and agriculture together accounted for one half of the country's GDP. Latakia and Tartus are the main seaports. The chief exports are crude oil, petroleum products, fruits and vegetables, cotton fiber, clothing, meat and live animals, and wheat. The principal imports are machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, livestock, metals, chemicals, plastics, yarn, and paper. The leading trade partners are Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Germany, and Egypt.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.