By : Jamal Fuad(Ph.D.) Former FAO and WORLD Bank Staff
(June 26, 2011)
In order to encourage farmers to return to the lands they had been forcibly evicted by the dictatorial Saddam Regime, about 25 years ago, the Kurdish Regional Government(The KRG) has embarked on an agricultural policy that is neither sustainable nor will it achieve the objective desired by the KRG authority. The current policy is nothing but a cosmetic treatment of a difficult issue that should be addressed in more systematic and professional way.
Examples of such irrational policy are many. Here we only mention two such policies. First, distributing pickup trucks to farmers without attending to the reasons behind current low level of agricultural production is futile, as use of such trucks has been more for pleasure and for use in non agricultural activities. And secondly, and a more serious one, is to offer farmers prices for grains (wheat and Barley) that are double the international markets. This is no way to increase agricultural production of such crops. This policy has lead also to corruptive use of the system by opportunists who smuggle grains across the international borders to deliver it to the silos as national products.
The irrationality of this policy is very obvious: For one thing it helps only very limited farmers; secondly, it is rather costly and is not sustainable. As an example, If we consider our annual wheat production in areas under KRG to be about 500,000 tons, then we are paying US$150 million (500,000X$300= US$150,000,000) more to farmers than importing the same quantity from the international markets. There are better ways to utilize such funds. Instead of benefiting limited numbers of farmers, we have many ways for utilizing the US$150 million to support a much larger number of farmers. One such areas is provision of machinery suitable for the topographically different land types we have in Kurdistan. This is a high priority to help farmers prepare their lands for planting, and to harvest their crops in time. It would also facilitate, fertilizing and planting our various winter and summer crops. Currently after harvest loss is very high due to lack of proper harvesting machines that delays harvesting of grains that remain in the fields unattended for over two to three months for lack of threshing machines or combines. This is true especially in the intermountain areas where a wide range of grain and leguminous crops are grown.
Cost of agricultural labor has been on the rise. In order to facilitate agricultural operations throughout Kurdistan, it is important to substitute hand labor and introduce appropriate agricultural machinery as much as possible.
In the United States of America, less than 10% of the population are engaged in farming activities. However through the use of high technology and the use of agricultural machinery, this country not only satisfies its needs in all agricultural commodities, but it also supports many other countries for their major food and feed requirements.
The decline of the countryside population and its labor force is a phenomena acknowledged all over the world. This decline, however, this decline has been substituted for by introducing suitable machines that fit the land and the crops for which they are being utilized.
It is imperative that any agriculture policy that will be adopted must first and foremost address the empowerment of the farmers so that they can achieve a suitable standard of living from income received from their farming operations. Such empowerment can be achieved through a number of channels. Hence, in addition to importance to the supply of agriculture machinery mentioned earlier, other priorities for which adequate budget must be allocated are as follows: :
1. Improvement of the living condition at the village level through provision of education facilities, health clinics, clean drinking water and electricity.
2. Provision of improved crop and vegetable seeds at reasonable prices.
3. Support to agricultural research nationally, and provision of agricultural extension service at the village level the will help increase the level of know-how in the production of agricultural commodities.
4. Marketing of the agricultural products. This is a crucial matter as current marketing favors mainly the retailer who sells his products 3 to 4 times over the price he pays to the farmer.
5. For any agricultural item produced in Kurdistan heavy tariffs should be imposed on similar imported items.
6. We need to recognize that rain-fed agriculture in Kurdistan is something of the past. Due to global climatic change, rain-fed agriculture is no more reliable. Therefore farmers require assistance in the provision of irrigation water. This can be achieved by support in judicious supply of wells, dam building, and other specific measures that would increase soil water penetration and increased ground water storage. Supply of energy becomes more crucial for irrigated crops as wells and sprinklers require energy for operation.
7. Further, the Ministry of Agriculture must assist farmers to form agriculture cooperatives to help them in getting better marketing opportunities, and get a better competitive bargaining power in marketing their crops, and in the imports of seeds, fertilizers, farm equipment, and feed for their animals and poultry.
8. One of the most important support measure that the KRG can take is the provision of long and short credits to farmers to rejuvenate their farming operations, buy appropriate machinery and establish small agro-industrial enterprises to utilize their produce, be that fruits, vegetables, dairy, etc.
The agricultural sector has been totally devastated through years of neglect, internal conflicts, disincentive through eviction, years of sanctions, and the UN oil for food program that indiscriminately inundated the markets with food items, totally ignoring local production of grains and dairy products. The KRG needs to exert a greater effort into encouraging farmers to return to their lands, at least those who still own large areas of agricultural lands.
The KRG should also allocate adequate budgetary needs to the Ministry of Agriculture to support introduction of modern technology in agricultural operations through conducting better agricultural research programs and to establish an effective extension system to deliver newly found technologies to farmers’ fields. The time has come to seriously address the total rejuvenation needs of the agriculture sector and to do away with current inadequate cosmetic treatment that has been thus far implemented.