By:Jamal Fuad, Ph. D., Senior Agronomist
Former FAO and WORLD BANK staff
The agricultural sector, in Iraq generally, and in Kurdistan in particular, has greatly suffered under the rule of the Bathist regime. It has been subjected to a number of distortions of unequal input supply, preferential subsidies, and import irregularities that overlooked supply and demand rule. Heavy dependence on imports further undermined local production. The regime further minimized support to research and extension, keeping the farmers ill informed on newly developed technologies, thereby keeping production at subsistence levels. The two devastating wars again diverted much of the country’s resources to defense sector, leaving the agricultural sector wanting for investment and improvement. These factors forced the farmers to migrate to the towns to work in sectors other than agriculture.
The regime destroyed 4500 villages in Kurdistan thereby forcing the residents to relocate, moving many to collective towns. The regime also laid millions of land mines around villages and water sources and in the rangelands that caused daily casualties. Again, the regime dried up the famous marshes of southern Iraq, committing an environmental crime of the century and forcing the migration of half a million marsh residents. In the South again the regime destroyed close to 300,000 palm trees to make room for security roads during the Iraq/Iran war. After the 1991 uprising, the regime also prevented rice production at the two governorates of Najaf and Diwaniya. It also dumped fresh water into the Razzaz salt lake to prevent flow of fresh water to the South. In short, the regime did everything to undermine the agricultural sector which was left in total disarray.
Declaration of the UN Sanctions on Iraq:
The Iraqi regime’s behavior as described earlier, especially after the invasion of Kuwait, prompted the International Community to declare sanctions on Iraq, which totally brought the country to a standstill in its capacity to import or export goods. The UN took over Iraqi oil revenue, putting it in an escrow account, giving the UN total power to manage such funds. During the years 1992-1995, Iraq was on the verge of a famine as local agricultural output was limited, while its imports were curtailed by imposed sanctions and lack of funds at the disposal of the Iraqi government. The vast deterioration of the health and nutrition status of the Iraqi population forced the UN to act to save Iraqi lives as it had reached critical levels. So at the end of 1995, the International community enacted the Oil for Food Program whereby the UN took over the import of food and other essential items as needed for health and other sectors, thus saving many lives.
The Oil for Food Program as enacted by the UN had many drawbacks. First, it allowed only the use of imported food for distribution and prevented the purchase of locally produced items for distribution throughout Iraq. And, second, it distributed food to all sectors of the population, rich and poor alike. As the quality of the food distributed was below the standard, those with fair income opted for purchase of food from other sources, selling the UN allocation in the local market. Thus the market was inundated with food items that were rejected by the people, causing a fall in prices of local products, especially wheat. Under such circumstances farmers could not get their fair price for items they cultivated and hence they left their farming profession and joined the rest of the population in relying on the food distributed under the oil for food program.
Unfortunately, the oil for food program is continued to date and has been the main obstacle in the face of the revival of the agricultural sector. This program has created a social situation which I call Dependency Culture. (Please read the appendix at the end of this report)
Against this background we should plan the agricultural rehabilitation efforts. Provision of basic infrastructure of water, electricity, clinics, and schools should be the first priority. Farmers should be supported with required inputs of seeds, fertilizers, agricultural tools, and plant protection chemicals. Such support would gradually be eliminated as farmers become self reliant. At this stage agricultural credit banks are required to provide credit to farmers when they need it. Trained agricultural extension staff is needed to engage in supporting farming systems that should be market oriented. Such staff will also be active in the delivery of new technologies to the farmers, and to insure equity of input distribution. Our objectives, then, are the creation of an advanced, market oriented, and more or less self reliant farming system, within a relatively short period of time.
A Policy Statement
The rehabilitation plan must first address revival of the village life, input availability, technology transfer and provision of storage and marketing facilities. These activities should be carried out in parallel as much as possible. As farmers’ incomes improve, they will become more and more self-reliant.
Iraq is basically an agricultural country. It has the land, the water, the know-how, and the climate that allows for the cultivation of large number of field and horticultural crops, and domestic animals. Part of the income received from the oil sector should be invested in agriculture to rehabilitate the irrigation and the drainage canals, and toward the rehabilitation of the countryside in general. An increase of local production must be actively supported and protected against dumping of agricultural items that can locally be produced. This should be the policy which must be adhered to in order to modernize the agricultural sector. The farming community had greatly suffered during the sanction years of the past when the country totally depended on imports of agricultural products, leaving local farmers lose billions of dollars that enriched overseas farmers rather than modernize our own countryside. Any policy to the contrary should be actively opposed.
Shortcoming of the Current Agriculture PoliciesWhile the oil for food program is continuing and food rations are given to rich and poor alike, the government is following a reckless agricultural policy that has expanded the ongoing corruption in the country. The number one wrong policy of offering higher than international prices to agricultural commodities has prompted farmers to find means of cheating the system and double their profits. For example the price of about US$700 offered to farmers for a ton of wheat while the international market is closer to US$300, is nothing less than a way of enriching a small group of local farmers. Rumors has it that much wheat has been entered into the silos that were actually produced in the country, while others bought wheat in neighboring countries for 50% of the local price, registering it as local and imported into the silos as locally produced commodity. Then distributing pickup truck to farmers at subsidy prices is not much in the way of rejuvenating the agriculture sector.
Our objectives, then, are the creation of an advanced, market oriented, and more or less self reliant farming system, within a relatively short period of time.
Priorities in the Agricultural Sector.
The following aspects of agricultural institutions should be seriously addressed:
I. Agricultural Research and Extension and Training
Agricultural research in Iraq, and also Kurdistan, has been ongoing for over five decades. Useful information is already at hand that should be translated into practical applications in the field. As new problems arise, research works need to be continued with more emphasis on on-farm research, in order to introduce improved techniques into farmers fields. At this stage agricultural research staff must be involved in such works to become aware of newly introduced technologies in all areas of agricultural development.
Training of the agricultural extension staff must become a continuing activity that would be developed and expanded, both in theory and practical field application. The role of agricultural learning institution must be expanded and involved in the technology transfer to the extension staff. Therefore, there must be a two-direction flow of information in the triangular research-education-extension set up. In this way all actors in the agricultural sector will become aware of what the other is doing in the fields of their concern.
Current Research activities:
There are a number of research centers in the country that are required to be upgraded and supported to become effective in finding new technologies that could be transferred and applied by farmers in the field . As we anticipate rainfall shortage in the future. Research on irrigation will have prominent place in designing research program to define limits of irrigation, determination crop water needs, and underground water studies on the basis of which adequate laws would be enacted in order to safeguard underground water integrity.
As water has become critical in the region, and due to the existing competition, notably with Turkey , Iran, and Syria, introduction of new water saving devices should be introduced to increase water storage capacity through building of small dams in the North. Additionally, and to minimize on farm water use, sprinkler and drip irrigation technology should be introduced whenever it is feasible to do so.
Further, dependence solely on rain in Kurdistan is something of the past. Due to global warming trend rainfall has been on the decline. An active program is needed to finance supplementary irrigation whenever there is a shortfall in the amount of seasonal. In such cases crop yield will increase almost tenfold when irrigation is used at critical times of plant growth.
II. Animal Production Sector
This sector has been well developed due to large support it has received from FAO, which provided with feed and vitamins and veterinary medical needs. There is also an active breed improvement campaign through insemination of local cows. This program should be continued and encouraged. In order to preserve natural range, farmers should be made aware of the necessity of keeping only such herds that can be supported by existing range in their vicinity. Dependence on free feed and water delivery to the herd should become a relic of the past, except in special circumstances when there is an environmental emergency.
Machinery for land preparation, harvesting, and crop processing should be introduced on a larger scale. However, haphazard use of heavy machinery will cause more damage if adequate care is not taken in the judicious use of such machinery. It is essential that the extension staff are well trained in the use and maintenance of farm machinery.
IV. After-Harvest Loss
Due to delay in crop harvest, un-availability of adequate transport system, and lack of proper storing facilities, farmers incur heavy losses in the crop they harvest. It is safe to say that perhaps close to 30% of the harvested crop does not reach the market due to such losses. Therefore, the supply of adequate harvesting machinery, building on farm storage capacity, and provision of proper transport means for marketing would increase marketed crops and insures better farming income.
V. Fruit Nurseries
Provision of fruit nurseries where improved mother plants are kept for use in the grafting such trees at the farmers levels, will result in upgrading the existing fruit tree varieties. For citrus, indexing is essential to insure virus free plants. Currently, many orchards are infected with virus which has reduced yields and production of low quality fruits. A campaign to attend to this problem is in order.
VI. Forest Nurseries
There are a number of nurseries spread out at strategic location that need to be supported and developed. Such nurseries would provide for seedlings, not only for aesthetic reason, but also to protect water sheds, decrease erosion, improve soil water percolation that will improve water aquifer, and improve the quality of life for the human and the wildlife alike.
VII. Plant Protection and Weed control Measures
In order to increase production level, and to improve the quality of the crops produced, it is essential that an integrated pest management program is introduced to insure disease, insect, and weed control on farmers fields. Such operations must be executed under the control of trained extension staff to insure safety for both farmers and consumers alike.
VIII. Agricultural Cooperatives
Agricultural cooperatives are very important to give farmers greater bargaining power either in marketing their products or purchasing inputs. Currently farmers are disadvantaged in their effort to gain fair market prices while most of the profits end up at the retailers cash boxes. Usual retail prices exceed farmer prices by 3 to 1.
For purchasing of inputs of feed, fertilizers, machinery or plant protection chemicals, farmers can gain much by buying through their cooperatives to insure wholesale deals that is unavailable for individual buyers.
IX. Plant and Animal quarantine Centers
Current plant and animal quarantine centers are inadequate and its staff ill trained to obstruct incoming diseases and parasites into the country. An effective program is required to strengthen border supervision with well trained qualified staff to insure protection of the fauna and flora of our land from outside threats.
X. The Importance of agro-industries.
Agro-industries are industries that use agricultural products as raw material. Oil, sugar, canned vegetables, dairy farms, cereal processing, animal poultry feed production and cotton processing are but few examples that rely on agricultural products. Building agro-industries has multiple advantages among which are the following:1. Agro-industries will provide food for the population and feed for the animals and poultry.
2. Agro-industries will provide job opportunities for a large sector of the population.
3. Agro-industries will make use of farm byproducts, making the farming operation more profitable, and provide for a clean environment.
4. Above all agro-industries will help boost the economy and insure local production of essential=al items required by the local population.
5. Agro-industries will further do away with imports of many products which at times can endanger the health of the local population.
6. Agro-industries will support food security for the local population.
XI. Opportunities for building Agro-industries.
Opportunities for building agro-industrial outlet abound in Iraq as well as in Kurdistan. For the latter, the plains of Garmian(Kalar, Kifri, etc.)Sharazoor, Rania, Sharbazher, Erbil plains, Aqra, Zakho are important areas where agro-industries can flourish. Dairy industries can do well in both Sharazoor (Halabja) and Rania areas. The same areas can provide for vegetable oil production such as sunflower oil production. For animal feed production there are many suitable planes that are suitable for growing maize, soybeans, grains. And legumes that could be mixed and prepared as feed for animals and poultry.