Sunday 30 December 2012

Reviving the Agricultural Sector in Iraq

By:Jamal Fuad, Ph.D.*
Background information:
The agricultural sector, in Iraq generally, and in Kurdistan in particular, has greatly suffered under the rule of the Ba’athist regime. It has been subjected to a number of distortions of unequal input supply, preferential subsidies, and import irregularities that overlooked the rules of supply and demand while a heavy dependence on imports further undermined local production. The regime further minimized support to research and extension while keeping farmers ill informed of technological developments and thereby keeping production at subsistence levels. The two devastating wars again diverted much of the country’s resources to the 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 4,500 villages in Kurdistan forcing the
residents to relocate and resulting in many moving to collective towns. The regime also laid millions of land mines around villages and water sources and in the rangelands and causing casualties daily. The regime drained the famous marsh lands of southern Iraq and, in drying out a unique area of wetlands, the environmental crime of the century was committed and half a million marsh residents were forced to leave their homes. Again the south, 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 in the two governorates of Najaf and Diwaniya. It also dumped fresh water into the Razzaz salt lake to prevent the flow of fresh water to the South. In short, the regime did everything to undermine the agricultural sector which was then left in total disarray.
Declaration of the UN Sanctions on Iraq:
The Iraqi regime’s behavior, culminating in its 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 revenues, 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 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 needed for the health and other sectors, thus saving many lives.
The Oil for Food Program as enacted by the UN had many drawbacks.
Firstly, it allowed only the use of imported food for distribution and prevented the purchase of locally produced items for distribution throughout Iraq. Secondly, it distributed food to all sectors of the population, both rich and poor alike. As the quality of the food was of poor standard, those with the means to do so opted to buy food from other sources while selling their UN allocation in the local market. Thus the market was inundated with imported food that had been rejected by people and this caused a fall in the price of local products especially wheat. Under such circumstances farmers could not get a fair price for heir produce and gave up farming to join the rest of the population in reliant on the food distributed under the Oil for Food Program.
Unfortunately, the Oil for Food Program of the UN was replaced by the distribution of food coupons from the Ministry of Trade and this continuation of food handouts over almost twenty years has been the main obstacle in the face of the revival of the agricultural sector. Many other countries have used food distribution programs in adverse situations but these have always been terminated after a few years. Iraq is unique in continuing to continue to implement this system over almost two decades. There has been no political will to terminate the system and as yet no alternative system has been found to be acceptable by politicians. (Alternatives have been proposed on Kurdistan Food security.) The result of food handouts has been the creation of a social situation which I call the Dependency Culture.

It is against this background that we should plan the revitalization of the country’s agricultural sector. The provision of a 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 are needed to support farming systems that should be market oriented. Such staff will also be active in the delivery of new technologies to the farmers, and to ensure equity of input distribution. Our objectives 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 the revival of 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, water, climate and the expertise required for the cultivation of a large number of both field and horticultural crops, and of domestic animals. Part of the income received from the oil sector should be invested in agriculture for the rehabilitation of the irrigation and drainage canals, and of the countryside in general. An increase of local production must be actively supported and protected against the importation of agricultural items that can locally be produced. This policy must be adhered to in order to revitalise the agricultural sector. The farming community suffered greatly during the years of sanctions when the country was totally dependent on imports of agricultural products and local farmers lost billions of dollars, villages and our countryside suffered while foreign farmers profited. Any policy to the contrary should be actively opposed.
Shortcomings of the Current Agriculture Policies:

While food subsidies continue the government is following a reckless agricultural policy that has expanded the ongoing corruption in the country. The policy of offering prices for agricultural commodities that are higher than those of the international market has prompted farmers to find means of cheating the system and double their profits. For example the price of about 700 US$ offered to farmers for a ton of wheat when its price on the international market is closer to 300 US$ is too great a temptation way to a small group of local farmers. It has been widely reported it that more ‘local’ wheat has been taken into the silos than was actually produced in the country, while others have bought wheat in neighboring countries for 50% of the price paid within Kurdistan for local wheat, then they register the grain as being locally produced when it arrives at the silos, so making a very healthy profit. Meanwhile the government distributing pickup trucks to farmers at subsidy prices does little to encourage rejuvenation of the agriculture sector.
Our objectives, then, are the creation of an advanced, market orientated, 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:
1.       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 work needs to be continued with more emphasis placed on research in the field, in order to introduce improved techniques to the farmers’ fields. At this stage agricultural research staff must be involved in order that they become fully aware of newly introduced technology in all areas of agricultural development.
Training of agricultural extension staff must become a continued activity that is developed and expanded, both in theory and in practical field application. The role of all agricultural institutions must be expanded and involved in the transfer of technological knowledge to extension staff. Therefore, there must be a two-direction flow of information in the triangular research-education-extension set up. In this way all those involved in the agricultural sector will become aware of what others are doing in the fields of their concern.
There are a number of research centers in the country that need to be upgraded and supported in order to become effective in finding new technologies that could be transferred and applied by farmers in the field. As we anticipate a rainfall shortage in the future research in irrigation will have a prominent place in designing a research program to define the limits of irrigation, determination the water requirements of individual crops, and studies on underground water supplies. It will be on the basis of the findings of these studies that laws will be developed and implemented in order to safeguard the integrity of the water table and subterranean water resources.
Water availability has become critical in the region and we face reduced river water levels as Turkey, Iran, and Syria construct dams on the rivers flowing into Iraq. (Kurdistanfoodsecurity has been informed that the completion of Turkey’s Aleeso dam in 2013 will result in a drop in levels in the R. Tigris from 20.6 billion cubic metres per year to 9.7 billion cubic metres. In addition Syria and Iran are constructing dams on other rivers entering Iraq.)
While the possibilities of increasing our water storage capacity through the construction of small dams in the north should be explored we need to minimize farm water usage. Sprinkler and drip irrigation technology should be introduced whenever it is feasible to do so but we also need to investigate other ways of maximizing production from available supplies by the introduction of strains of plants better suited to arid conditions and the use of mulches.
Further, dependence solely on rain in Kurdistan is in decline as annual rainfall levels have been on the decline as global temperatures increase. An active program is needed to finance supplementary irrigation whenever there is a shortfall in the amount of seasonal rain. In such cases crop yield will increase almost tenfold when irrigation is used at critical times of plant growth.
2.       Animal Production Sector
This sector has been well developed through the support it has received from FAO, which provided feed, vitamins and veterinary care in the past. There was an active breed improvement campaign through insemination of local cows and this program should be revitalized.  Breeding and care of small ruminants should also be thoroughly surveyed and breeding programs initiated. 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 yet there is still the capacity of producing animals that perform better on the available feed. 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.
At the present time in Kurdistan and Iraq only about a quarter of the red meat and poultry consumed is produced locally. These figures are based on records from slaughterhouses and poultry producers as there are no reliable statistical records available and a policy of ‘open border’ that facilitates the importation of livestock and meat products, both legal and illegal. Indeed, keeping statistical records in other areas of agriculture and indeed many areas of trade and production.
3.       Mechanization
Machinery for land preparation, harvesting, and crop processing should be introduced on a larger scale. However, the 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.
4.       After-Harvest Loss
Through delays in harvesting crops, the unavailability of an adequate transport system, and lack of proper storage facilities, farmers incur heavy losses in harvests. 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 facilities would increase levels of marketed crops and ensure better farm incomes.
5.       Fruit Nurseries
Provision of fruit nurseries, where improved mother plants are kept for
use in producing grafted stock farms, will result in improving the existing fruit tree varieties. For citrus production, indexing is essential in order to ensure virus free plants. Currently, many orchards have viral infections that reduce yields and produce low quality fruits. A campaign to attend to this problem is in order.
6.       Forest Nurseries
There are a number of nurseries spread out at strategic locations that need to be supported and developed. Such nurseries would produce seedlings that can be used not only for aesthetic reasons, but also to protect watersheds, decrease erosion, improve soil water percolation that will improve water aquifers but also improve the quality of life for both human and wildlife populations.
7.       Plant Protection and Weed Control Measures
In order to increase production levels and to improve the quality of the crops produced, it is essential that an integrated pest management program is introduced to ensure control of diseases, insects, and weeds on farm fields. Such operations must be executed under the control of trained extension staff to insure safety of both farmers, consumers and the environment.
8.        Agricultural Cooperatives
Agricultural cooperatives are very important to give farmers greater bargaining powers, either in marketing their products or purchasing inputs. Currently farmers are disadvantaged in their efforts to gain fair market prices while most of the profits end up in the retailers cash boxes. Usual retail prices exceed farm prices by 3 to 1.
For purchasing inputs of feed, fertilizers, machinery or plant protection chemicals, farmers can gain by buying through their cooperatives to ensure wholesale deals that are unavailable to individual buyers.
9.       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:
·       Agro-industries will provide food for the population and feed for
         livestock and poultry.
·       Agro-industries will provide job opportunities for a large sector
         of the population.
·       Agro-industries will make use of farm byproducts, making the farming operation more profitable, and provide for a clean
·       Above all agro-industries will help boost the economy and insures
         local production of essential=al items required by the local
·       Agro-industries will further do away with imports of many products
         which sometimes  can be unsafe for use by the local population.
·       Agro-industries will support local food security for the population.
10.     Opportunities for building Agro-industries
Opportunities for building agro-industrial outlets abound in Iraq as well as in Kurdistan. In Kurdistan the plains of Garmian (Kalar, Kifri, etc.) Sharazoor, Rania, Sharbazher, and the Erbil plains, Aqra, Zakho are important areas where agro-industries can flourish. Dairy industries can do well in both Sharazoor (Halabja) and the Rania areas. The same areas can provide for vegetable oil production such as sunflower oil. In the case of animal feed production there are many areas that are suitable for growing maize, soybeans, grains and legumes that could be mixed and prepared as feeds for livestock and poultry.
*Senior Agronomist, Internationl Consultant
Former FAO and WORLD BANK staff

Tuesday 11 December 2012

IRAQ;The Oil for Food Program, When Can We End It?نهاية الحصه التموينيه؟

The population of Iraq, a country that now has an oil revenue of
over 120 BillionsUS$ per year, has been reliant on food handouts for 16 years.
It is time we grew our own food!

Jamal Fuad, Ph.D[i].

International Consultant


For the first time in the history of the Kurds, we are more or less independent, receive a budget that could not have been even dreamed of few years ago, and billions of dollars fill our treasury. PLEASE let us take advantage of this opportunity and let us find means of finding work for our young people. Let us invest in Agriculture. With determination we can do it. We can become a real developed country. Why not engage a few international experts and also make use of our own experts, to show us the roadmap to achieving this. Let us consider all venues on how to modernize our land, our people and our future outlook.  Now that we have the chance let us use our budget to take Kurdistan into the Modern World. After years of suffering it is time to go ahead.  This semi- independence was not gained easily. On the road to this semi independence, thousands have sacrificed their lives, thousands were imprisoned, while many more thousands perished in the Anfal Campaign and the chemical bombardment of our villages and towns. We should not ever forget this, and as much as the cost of reaching this current stage was, perhaps it would be even more costly to keep the level of independence we now enjoy. So let us take advantage of the present, and plan for the future of Kurdistan and its people.


The implementation of the Oil-for-Food Program in 1996, using oil revenue to purchase food and other items for distribution to the Iraqi population, was no doubt an important UN decision imposed on the Iraqi regime.  It definitely saved many lives and prevented the imminent starvation that was facing the Iraqi population. However, two regulations of the program caused the decline of the Iraqi agricultural sector, and the loss of the local farmers’ enthusiasm to participate in the production of food. These two damaging regulations were:

1.     No local procurement of food products was allowed, and

2.     The food items were distributed equally to all the sectors of the population, rich and poor alike.

Both regulations discouraged local food production as there were no markets for locally produced food items.

As many of the well-to-do sectors of the population did not use their food rations, either because they could afford not to do so, or they rejected the poor quality of the food rations distributed. Therefore, such items eventually found their way to the local markets and critically lowered prices of locally produced food items. Such low prices discouraged farmers to engage in food production, as it became un-economical to do so. Furthermore, the earlier regime’s policies of evicting farmers from their villages, moving them into collective villages, carrying out the Anfal[2] Campaign, and using chemical weapons in the country side, were further reasons why agricultural production ceased. Our farmers ended up becoming consumers of imported food rather than producers. This was the start of the Dependency Culture that is continuing to date.

Steps needed before the cancellation of the oil for food program:

Recent attempts to do away with the Oil for Food Program failed, as the agricultural sector has weakened greatly and local production cannot meet the demand of the population. Neither the Central Government, nor our Regional Authorities, have so far taken serious steps to increase support to the agricultural sector, such as allocating sufficient budgetary need for the sector, provision of required credit to farmers through agricultural banks, or provision of seeds, fertilizers and machinery. Agricultural extension remains weak as they lack transportation and training to periodically visit the farmers and advise them on better production methodology.  We need to realize that we are living in a global economy and we need to raise production standards in order to face outside competition and survive the challenge.

The Current Situation:

Production methodology, storing and marketing of our agricultural products require serious attention. Yields are low by world standards and the quality of the products is also below standard levels. Storing and marketing need improvement in order to compete in the global markets. This is especially true of dairy, vegetable, and fruit products where local products cannot compete with imported ones. Unless we raise our standards of quality and marketing, sale of these items is problematic and will always bring lower prices that will not pay for the cost of its production. Farm labor has also become more expensive due to existing inflation, and therefore, we need to introduce more machinery in to our farms.

With respect to animal and poultry sectors the cost of feed, which is being mostly imported, will keep meat price high and beyond the reach of the lower income group.

Creating Market Demand for locally Produced Food Items

Due to earlier Baathist political policies, and the unprofitability of agricultural enterprises as a result of the implementation of the Oil for Food Program, large numbers of our farmers have abandoned their farms to live in bigger towns and cities. This is especially true of the younger generation.  It would take a great effort to lure such people back to their land holdings and restart their agricultural activities. As the cost of farm labor has escalated, production costs have also risen causing a rise in sale prices that cannot compete with that of imported goods. Further, poor yields, poor quality and poor marketing prices make the sale of local products even more difficult.

Then we should ask ourselves: How can we convince our farmers to return to their land, and restart reviving an agriculture sector so badly damaged?  

It is obvious that this cannot be accomplished by simply lecturing them to go back, or forcing them to do so. Neither can this process be accomplished by distributing a few pickups, or by the unrealistic policy of buying crops at three times the international price from a small group of wheat growers, as is practiced in the plains of Erbil with the wheat crop.

What we need to do at present is to create demand for the traditional crops that can be locally grown.  We need to guarantee purchase of all farmers’ production of identified crops at reasonable prices, possibly close to the prevalent international price.  This could be one serious action that will give financial incentives to the farmers and may encourage them to return to the countryside. 

An important question now arises: What would the government do with all the products that are purchased by the government? The answer to this important question is that establishing agro-industries can be an important factor that can come to the rescue.  Such products that are bought by the government and which cannot compete with imported products, will be processed in specific agro-industrial projects which need to be immediately constructed such as a dairy processing industry, oil production, cereal processing, and fruit and vegetable processing plants in addition to feed production plants for the production of feed for our livestock, poultry and fish farms. Such agro-industries become the center for marketing locally produced agricultural products.  The quality demanded by such specific industries is not as restrictive compared to the consumers demand for high quality merchandise that can compete with imported, well presented, and good quality items. Creating specific agro-industries will create the required demand and would encourage farmers to engage in crop and livestock production activities as they will be assured of a market for their product and an agreed price for it.  This is the only way to encourage farmers to return to their farms and start producing the food required for the population. Only when this system is established, and our farmers start quality agricultural production, can we think of ending the Oil for Food Program.

The importance of Agro-industries:

Specific agro-industries, whether built by the government or by the private sector through provision of credit, are very important for a number of reasons:

1.    Provision of a center where farmers can dispose of their agricultural production;

2.    Providing the market with some food items that are currently imported;

3.    It would provide job opportunities, especially where our young       graduates can find jobs;

4.    It would create demand for agricultural products and give incentives to our farmers to improve the quality of their products and increase their production level;

5.    It would provide funds to the farmers whereby they can improve their financial and social status;

6.     The marketing venues are established through annually announcing guaranteed purchase of food items, with agreed upon prices acceptable to the farmers.  Once the farmer is assured of an income, he will endeavor to return to farming practices.

(I suggested that the government has to initiate the agro-industries since investment in the agricultural projects takes a longer time than investment in other sectors, such as the construction sector or in some industrial projects.  This being the case the private sector is wary of such projects and is not ready to invest in a project that takes a longer time to recover the costs involved.   However, the government can afford waiting for its return of its investment in agro-industrial projects, unlike the private sector which are after quick gains on their investments.)

History behind this suggestion:

Early in the 1950’s, the Iraqi Ministry of Development decided to introduce the sugar industry to Iraq because of the large quantities of sugar that were consumed by Iraq’s population. A joint committee between the ministries of Development, Agriculture and Industry was formed to supervise this project. 

The crop that was used was sugar beet. The beet crop was to be tested in three regions to select the best area or region suited for its growth.  Three areas were selected for this purpose: Sharezoor, in Sulaimani, Hawija  in Kirkuk, and selected areas in the plain of Mosul. When the program started there was not a single head of sugar beet grown in Iraq. (Sugar beet is different from the garden beet which is very well known in Iraq). A program of extension activities on how to grow sugar beet started on farmers’ fields, while plans for a sugar beet factory was progressing in parallel at the Ministry of Industry. Through an effective extension system, farmers were guided to plant small areas of sugar beet on their farms to acquaint themselves with the agronomic procedures and find out how much they would gain if they shifted to sugar beet production. They were continually supervised on how to get maximum yield from the crop, and were given seeds, fertilizers and plant protection chemicals. At the end of the season the beets were harvested, weighed and the farmers were rewarded with a check for the quantity of the beets they had produced. As the factory was not ready, the beets were left on the farmers fields to feed their livestock until the factory become operational.

The first beet factory was built in Mosul in 1959. The second factory was built in Sulaimania in the1970’s. Unfortunately, this factory was destroyed during the Iraq/Iran war in the eighties. Currently, a similar experiment for soybean is under implementation by a group of Americans on the plains of Erbil.  

The importance of Agro-industries:

We currently import just about every food and animal feedstuff that we need from abroad.  The quality of these food and feed is not assured, and many imported items are expired by the time they reach the markets. Further, we have ample land and water to attend to the needs of our population. We need not wait for food or feed to come from out of the country. Above all we have a large number of unemployed people who must be put to work if we want our young country to develop. We have a chance to become an important agricultural country, especially now that we have a sufficient budget to allocate to the agricultural sector. The country cannot develop with our countryside devastated and our young graduates remaining without work.  Further, and most importantly, we need to provide good quality food for our population, and provide cheaper feed to our livestock to bring down the inflated prices of poultry and beef because of the high costs of importing feed.

How to Start:

As I stated earlier, the quality of our agricultural products is poor, its storage and marketing are such that the consumers prefer imported well packaged products, and therefore the farmers will not get the prices they like to get. Having a guaranteed market such as an agro-industry will encourage them to produce a better crop or spend money to improve their crops’ quality through varietal changes, better storage, or eventual marketing.

Initially, specific locations are chosen for the production of crops or animals in the region. For example: Duhok and Zakho could be good places for fruit processing or animal and poultry feed production. So is Sharbazher in Sulaimany. The plains of Erbil remain the center of wheat production, while Sharezoor in Sulaimany could be the center for a dairy industry where maize, millet, sorghum and soybean can be successfully grown. The warmer regions of Kirkuk and Garmian would be assigned to barley. Vegetables are grown just about everywhere.  Penjween, having a colder climate, is well suited for the growth of seed potato and its storage.  There are other considerations that need to be taken into account, such as economic justification for selecting specific locations, ease of transport, accessibility, etc. The places mentioned in this report are by no means exhaustive and are only given here as possible examples. 

While the agro-industries are being implemented, the Ministry of agriculture will strengthen its research and extension staff, with emphasis on training both abroad and in the country, and plans for the selection and production of better seeds, while the mechanization department tests the best machinery suited for the production and harvest of the crops to be grown.

What is required from the Government?

A policy statement from the government stating its commitment to the rejuvenation of the Agricultural Sector and recognising the importance of the sector in the development of the country. To this effect it will establish The Agricultural High Committee, to attend to the following tasks:

1.    Identify the food and feed stuff needs of Iraqi Kurdistan and lay down a road map identifying specific steps for its implementation.

2.     Identify measures needed to satisfy the food and feed needs of Iraqi Kurdistan.

3.     Identify areas where specific projects are to be implemented, especially those of the agro-industrial projects.

4.     Discuss needs of trained personnel in specific disciplines, and those areas where they are needed.

5.     Identify, and implement, the means of strengthening the agricultural quarantine system in the border areas of Kurdistan.

6.    Identify suitable agricultural machinery for crops grown.  

7.    Determine where expertise is needed to support proposed projects.

8.    Encourage the agricultural staff to attend seminars and conferences

9.    Establish Agricultural Credit banks, and raise loan ceilings to satisfactory levels.

10.Form committees to engage in specific tasks assigned by the Committee.

11.Set up an advisory system to follow up progress on projects suggested by the High Agricultural Committee.


[i]Jamal Fuad, born in Sulaimania, finished his grade and high school education also here ; left for Beirut , Lebanon, to improve his English language; received his B. Sc. from N.C State college and MS.C from the U of Maryland, in Agronomy, both USA. Worked 5 years for the Ministry of Ag in Baghdad, Iraq, then returned for further studies at the U of Minnesota , where he received Ph.D. in Plant Genetics. Back to Min of Ag. Baghdad, to head the Field Crops Division, then to FAO as International technical staff for 9 years, and later for 13 years at the World Bank headquarters in Washington, D.C.;Spent 4 years as assistant to the University of Sulaimania President , before returning to FAO and the World Bank. He was recruited to become Minister of Humanitarian Affairs for 2 years and one year as Minister of Agriculture with the Regional Kurdish Government in Iraqi Kurdistan. Now, he is retired and enjoys living with his wife Kathy, on a hobby farm near a small village, close to his home town Sulaimania.

{2} The Anfal Campaign refers to a policy of the Iraqi former regime to destroy large number of villages, evicting its population to the South of the country where they were all killed men, women, and children.