Monday 18 April 2011

Food Security and Safety in Kurdistan and Iraqامن و سلامة الغذاء

The phrase ‘self sufficient’ and achieving ‘self-sufficiency’ are frequently used as the goals we seek to achieve in agriculture, or indeed with regard to industrial production. Indeed we frequently find that someone or other is quoted in the media as stating that Kurdistan or Iraq will be self-sufficient in e.g. cereal or meat production within the next 3 or 5 years, but are these agricultural goals really achievable when we consider what the general public now expects in terms of food availability?
We have become accustomed now to using supermarkets when buying food and in addition we have developed a liking for many food items that cannot be produced here. The climate and environment of Kurdistan and Iraq will naturally limit what can be grown here so we cannot expect to become self sufficient in terms of for example banana or kiwi fruit production etc. We must recognise that there will always be a demand for imported ‘luxury’ foods that we can never hope to produce but it is imperative that we endeavour to become self sufficient in staples such as wheat and other cereals. In the long term it is feasible that we will become self sufficient to a degree in terms of vegetable, fruit and cereal production yet we will need to consider strategies to minimise wastage of crops. This is a particular problem when crops are grown for sale in supermarkets, which is very fast replacing the little corner shops, where customers are accustomed to selecting their purchase from amongst similar sized vegetables or fruit, in plastic packaging. The supermarket will require the produce, e.g. lettuce, to be clean and of a certain size or weight and so that it can be easily packaged and priced, but the plants that do not meet the specifications may then be regarded as waste and never reach a shop. This means that a percentage of vegetable crops, perfectly suitable for human consumption, are wasted before being offered for sale, it is marketing and retail that causes the waste of food.

The consumption of meat has steadily risen over the years and we may never achieve full sufficiency with regard to red meat because of the feed requirements for cattle, however we should reach a measure of self sufficiency with regard to red meat but it will require much effort and we must also recognise that it is not possible to say the goal will be achieved within a fixed time period. On the other hand we have the opportunity to become self sufficient in poultry production and indeed could develop the industry to the point where we export poultry products.

Agriculture in Kurdistan and Iraq must be supported heavily in order to reach the maximum level of self sufficiency possible. This will give us a degree of food security that at present does not exist and threatening or national security. Today we rely on imported food to feed the nation and this cannot continue in a world where food security is a problem for all nations and we see wealthy countries ‘doing deals’ in order to obtain access to agricultural land in the developing world. The problem that all of the world’s governments will face in the future will be how to produce sufficient food for an ever growing population. Some will say that the easy answer is to make up the shortfall by importing food but the problem that this brings is one of food safety.

Ensuring that food is safe for human consumption is a problem that becomes particularly difficult when the food product is imported. We need to ask questions such as can the Gulf States, with so little available grazing land, really be producing so much fresh cows’ milk that they can export it to Iraq, or is the fresh milk that we import actually reconstituted from milk powder? Kurdistan has seven border points where food is brought into the country by road from neighbouring states. On the Iraq/Turkey border is the checkpoint, customs and food inspectors at Ibrahimalkhalil while on the borders with Iran there are three official checkpoints with food inspectors and three other places that are considered to be unofficial. Perwizkhan is the smallest of the custom controlled border crossings with Iran and the inspector there has reported that in the last 2 years he has sent back into Iran 7,000 tons of expired and perished foodstuffs that was en route for sale in Kurdistan. The Iranian ambassador in Baghdad has said that 78% of Iran’s trade with Iraq enters through Kurdistan while the other 22% comes across the borders of the south. The ambassador said that 500 to 600 Lorries enter Kurdistan each day in each border crossing from Iran and one must therefore ask how much of the food carried on those Lorries meet food safety standards if a food inspector in Perwizkhan is sending back 100 tons a day of unsafe products. What is entering the country at the points where these checks are not taking place? Just how safe is the imported food on the supermarket shelf?

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