BEIRUT - Syrian will import half as much wheat in 2023 as the previous year due to an expected boost in the domestic harvest, Minister of Agriculture Mohammad Hassaan Qatna said on Monday.

Before war erupted in 2011, Syria produced around 4 million tonnes of wheat yearly, enough to feed itself and export to neighbouring countries. But with erratic rainfall patterns and the country's traditional breadbasket in the northeast outside government control, production has been paltry in recent years.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine last year prompted a spike in worldwide grain prices, making Syrian imports more expensive even as Damascus relied more on external sources.

"This year, the rainfall at the beginning of the season was a bit delayed, but all the planned areas were cultivated and the rainfall distribution was good," Qatna told Reuters in an interview in Beirut.

As a result, Qatna said, winter wheat production was "very good" and anticipated imports will be about "50% of what Syria used to import in past years", describing it as "a good achievement".

Last year, Syria imported around 1.5 million tonnes of wheat, with Russia providing all but a fraction of them, according to Refinitiv data.

Qatna said areas in the north - where Turkey-backed rebels as well as U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters each control swathes of separate territory – had not been cultivated by the central Syrian authorities.

He declined to provide Reuters with specific figures on production and import.

Qatna said Syria mainly imports wheat from Russia, which has backed the Syrian government militarily and financially.

Russian authorities have not disclosed grain supplies to Syria for a number of years. Last year, Reuters reported that wheat sent to Syria from the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea increased 17-fold to just over 500,000 tonnes.

(Reporting by Rajaa bint Talal and Laila Bassam; Writing by Rajaa bint Talal, Maya Gebeily and Ed Osmond)