WASHINGTON - The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says the wheat seeds it recently provided to farmers in northeast Syria meet "high standards for safety and quality."
The announcement comes after claims by the Syrian government that the seeds donated by the U.S. agency "are not suitable for cultivation."
Last week, USAID donated 3,000 tons of wheat seeds to Syria's northeast to help address wheat shortages in a region hit by a growing drought.
The Syrian government claimed Tuesday, however, that a sample analysis of the U.S.-provided seeds found they are not suitable for cultivation.
The "seeds contain a high rate of nematodes [plant-parasitic worms], which reached 40 percent, and this poses a great danger to agriculture in the region, especially as its effects cause great damage that is exacerbated by the passage of time," Said Hajji, head of the government's agriculture directorate in Hasaka province, was quoted by Syria's state-run SANA news agency as saying.
The Syrian government official warned local farmers in northeast Syria against using the seeds, urging people to destroy them.
A USAID spokesperson, however, told VOA in a statement that the wheat seeds go through treatment and testing for safety and quality before they are donated.
"USAID is supplying Adana and Cihan wheat seed varieties to Syrian farmers, which are sourced from the region and undergo a series of tests at a qualified lab in (the) Kurdish Region of Iraq to verify their quality before they are transported and distributed to farmers in northeast Syria," the spokesperson said.
The U.S. official added that the "seeds are tested for purity, germination rate, smut, presence of barley, insects, Cephalonia, nematodes, and to ensure they are effectively treated with fungicide."
Some local farmers told the Kurdish news network Rudaw they have received wheat seeds from USAID partners and have already cultivated them in their farmlands.
Northeast Syria is largely under the control of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military alliance that has been a major U.S. partner in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) terror group in the war-torn country.
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has minimal presence in the area, doesn't recognize an SDF-led local administration and opposes the presence of about 900 American troops, who are deployed in northeast Syria as part of an international coalition against IS.
John Saleh, a Washington-based Syrian affairs analyst said, "The Assad regime, along with its main backer, Russia, don't want to see development in the Kurdish region, especially if it is supported by the U.S."
He told VOA the Syrian government wants northeast Syria to remain economically weak in the hope that it will control it again if U.S. forces depart at some point.
"Therefore, they spread these types of absurd rumors to create fear and panic among farmers who are in desperate need for help during these tough economic times," Saleh said.