Wednesday 29 June 2011

PENSION FUNDS: key players in the global farmland grab

Large scale agricultural land acquisitions are generating conflicts and controversies around the world. Yet funds continue to flow to overseas farmland like iron to a magnet. Why? Because of the potential financial returns. And some of the biggest players looking to profit from farmland are pension funds, with billions of dollars invested.

Pension funds currently juggle US$23 trillion in assets, of which some US$100 billion are believed to be invested in commodities. Of this money in commodities, some US$5–15 billion are reportedly going into farmland acquisitions. By 2015, these commodity and farmland investments are expected to double.

In a new report, GRAIN explores the role of pension funds in the global land grab. Experts say they are the biggest institutional investors in offshore farmland. Yet these investments are being made with people's retirement savings. Therefore, pension funds may be one of the few classes of land grabbers that working people can pull the plug on, by sheer virtue of the fact that it is their money.

Monday 27 June 2011

THE KRG AGRICULTURAL POLICY: How can it be Made More Effective?

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.

Tuesday 7 June 2011


I received the comments below from my friend Dr Jamal Fuad, how is well known in the field of agriculture both nationally and internationally. I have known Dr Jamal for more than four decades and I greatly value his professional view and I can but hope that one day someone will take heed of his comments, which greatly concur with my own opinions and those of other eminent Kurdish agricultural experts, and put them into practice.
I greatly appreciate these comments from Dr. Jamal and those of Dr. M.Ahmed and Dr.M. Berigari too.

Dear Talib,

Well, I am glad that the leaders have finally become aware of the importance of securing our food. Installing a sound agricultural program not only insures our food production, but it also decreases unemployment and leads to a more politically stable country. We are not doing enough to pave the way for drawing a  road map to jumpstart the agricultural activities and utilize the resources available to us, Land and Water.
But as they say the journey of the 1000 mile starts with the first step. So, let us see what are the steps that will lay the foundation of a sound agricultural development program? I think we have yet to initiate this ground work, and that is why I emphasize to get busy in starting this basic ground work.
Let us also emphasize that depending on nature for rainfall to irrigate our winter crops is something of the past, and that we need to secure sufficient surface and ground water, even for such crops as wheat and barley. With respect to livestock and poultry, we need to depend on a sedentary feeding program that will do away with the traditional 30 kilometer daily travel for grazing the cattle in the hills and plains near the villages. Then to develop our fruits and vegetables, we need to establish canning and drying operations to insure proper utilization of such fruits and vegetables, and to encourage more attention to the production of such crops.
laying down a strong foundation and proper justification for improving the agricultural sector.  This ground work requires that we need to get busy achieving it before we can draw an adequate plan for agricultural rejuvenation in Kurdistan. ….
 The steps to be followed are as follows...
Step 1:
The first step starts with laying down our needs of cereals, feed, oil, vegetable and fruits, poultry and dairy products. This should be based on the estimated population of 5 million people. For example, every person consumes annually 100kgms of flour. At 80% extraction this will amount to 125kgms of wheat/person /year, or 750,000 tons of wheat to satisfy the total Kurdish population. At current less than 200kgms/donm production it means we need to plant 3,625,000 donms of land, if we totally depend on rainfall for cereal production. Even that is not so sure and that is why we need to increase yield/unit area through better management (fertilizer/good seeds/weed control, and irrigation).
Step 2:
Such analysis as mentioned in Step 1, should be done for every crop that we grow to identify the bottle necks and determine the agricultural lands needed and irrigation development required in specific areas of Kurdistan.
Step 3:
Once we establish our total needs for food and feed we can check this against available resources of  land, water,  and plan towards identifying production bottle necks for each crop, fruits, and livestock and poultry production and develop means of improving the bottle necks. Such bottle necks could be in the source of cultivars we use or the breeds of animals/cattle, poultry, and sheep that are needed to enhance local production of meat, milk, or poultry.
Step 4:
We all realize that the agricultural labor force has declined and has become very costly. Therefore another solution to increase agricultural production with minimum cost would be through mechanization of agricultural operations. Such mechanization should be in accordance with specific needs of the location where they to be used, with low prices so the farmers can afford buying them. Alternatively, special mechanization centers to be established in known agricultural areas (to be listed at the end of this report).
Step 5:
With agricultural status as they are, financial resources are required to support farmers, and therefore agricultural banks are needed to finance machinery purchase as well as irrigation water, fertilizers, seeds and protective chemicals such as insecticides and herbicides.
Step 6:
No agricultural improvement would be realized without a sound agricultural extension in place, especially in known agricultural centers. The extension service would advise the farmers on the right seeds to plant, the right time to plant it, and its management throughout the growing period, including after harvest measures and marketing to protect the crop from spoilage and damage during transport and storage. After harvest loss amounts to more than 50% of the crops planted. Such losses are due to delayed harvesting, improper storage, transport and marketing.
Step 7:
Identifying the main Agricultural Centers in Kurdistan : Zakho, Duhok, Akra, Erbil plains, including Makhmor, Batas and Dyana, Rania, Bazian,  Shahrazoor, and Garmian are the main agricultural production centers,  while other small pockets exist mainly for fruit production.  (Kirkuk also has great potential which has not been included in this study). What we need for these centers is a complete analysis of their potential, existing bottlenecks for its low production levels and means of their enhancement. Specific water studies are required to check of the possibility of increasing the level of crop production under irrigation. In all these centers we need adequate extension services with qualified subject matter specialists to advise farmers of means of enhancement of crop production levels.
Step 8:
Once we have identified our main agricultural centers, their potential and bottle necks, then we can design specific projects to fit these areas, with specific cost analysis and projected production levels.Once I have the statistical information of available resources, then I can participate in project formulation in line with my experience in the World Bank.
I would like to encourage all Iraqi specilaist in the fiels of agriculture, livestock and food security and safety to contribute to this site and use it as a platform for their views.


The land that forms modern Iraq and Kurdistan was the birthplace of agriculture, domestication of livestock and civilization. Knowledge was gained and passed on to the next generation and agriculture, horticulture, livestock care, handcrafts and water management flourished. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the wonders of the ancient world and the laws of Hammurabi recorded the fees due to the veterinarian. In more recent history Iraq had centres for education in modern agriculture and veterinary medicine and in the Arab world only Iraq and Egypt were so advanced. For example, when I was in Libya in the mid 1970’s the majority of the Libyan veterinarians and agriculturists in Tripoli University had been trained by Iraqi

The fertile lands not only produced sufficient food for those who lived there but also a thriving export trade existed. Yet today we are dependent on food imported from neighbouring states and beyond, while in Kurdistan we do not value land in terms of its agricultural potential but rather with regard to the number of villas or other buildings it can accommodate. Today in any governorate in Iraq there are more competent agriculturalists than in many of the Gulf States that are wooing our politicians to give them access to Iraq’s agricultural land. Something those in the Gulf have desired from ancient times.
We cannot continue to sit back complacently and rely on food imports that will continue to rise in cost and which can come from dubious sources increasing the risk of disease. The risks are high and can be illustrated by the recent deaths in Europe caused by Escherichia coli. The time has come for Iraq to move forward from its subservience to the remnants of the Oil for Food program and reassert itself as a country capable of producing its own food. Iraq has a wealth of agricultural professionals who can be called on to revitalize the country’s agriculture and take it forwards towards a degree of self sufficiency yet it seems that the catalyst for this is missing. Why?

One repeatedly hears complaints that the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates are getting less and less as countries upstream take more and more water for their usage, but there is still water flowing past agricultural land in Iraq that is not being used. Why?

Sadly there is too much occupation with what we want now and little, if any, consideration give to what will be needed in the future. We have become content to take the easy road, welcome subsidized food and a salary, get the four wheel drive and the newly built home. We seem to have lost our pride and no longer seek to better ourselves as a nation, and are content to buy what we want from neighbouring states becoming ever more dependent and thereby weakening our food security, food safety and indeed our national security. A nation that cannot feed itself is weak.

 We need to remember that we do not own the land and environment around us but we hold it in trust for future generations. Our children and grandchildren will judge what we do.

Thursday 2 June 2011


The emergence of several infectious diseases, including plague, has been reported in the Libyan city and port of Tobruk. A medical source at the city's central hospital, said that at least 4 confirmed cases of plague have been isolated at the medical hospital while there are 17 other, as yet unconfirmed, cases. Bubonic plague is a zoonotic disease of man that can be fatal and in past centuries caused the Black Plague that decimated the populations of Europe and Asia. The disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis found in rats and mice and transmitted to humans by the bite of fleas that carry the disease from the rodents. The disease has persisted in parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, including the U.S.A., with outbreaks often resulting in fatalities.
In 2009 there was an outbreak of bubonic plague on the outskirts of Tobruk, which resulted in deaths and in Libya in 1976, Jordan 1997 and Saudi Arabia 2005 outbreaks of plague resulted from transmission of Y. pestis from camels. In these cases the disease was spread by slaughtering camels, eating infected meat and by transmission from camel fleas. Infection from the meat of an infected goat has also been reported in Libya in 1976. There is no information at present of the source of the current infection in Tobruk but it may involve camels.
The manifestations of plague in these cases are not stated but are likely to be bubonic in nature causing the characteristic, painful swelling of lymph nodes in the groin and armpits (the bubo). In the absence of pneumonia spread from the local node, person-to-person transmission in bubonic plague does not occur.
The Egyptian authorities are taking necessary action on the Egyptian-Libyan border to prevent the transmission of this zoonotic disease into Egypt and an official quarantine has been imposed at the alternate port of Salloum. The fear of the spread of the disease in Egypt will be the biggest focus with the re-emergence of the disease plague, and this has contributed to the current lawlessness taking place on the Libyan-Egyptian border.


A deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe is expected to worsen in coming days, a senior German scientist has said. Fourteen people have died in Germany and one woman has now died in Sweden after a trip to Germany. "We hope the number of cases will go down but we fear it will worsen," said Oliver Grieve, of the University Medical Centre Schleswig-Holstein, where many victims are being treated. More than 1,500 people have been infected by enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC), which can cause the deadly haemolytic-uraemic syndrome (HUS). Seventeen people have died - 16 of them in Germany and one in Sweden with cases reported in Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK. 
• Germany: 470 cases, 16 deaths
• Sweden: 15 cases, one death
• Denmark: Seven cases
• The Netherlands: Three cases
• UK: Three cases
• Spain: One case
It was thought cucumbers from Spain were the source believed to be of the 0104 strain of E. coli. In many instances, the gastrointestinal infection has led to HUS, which causes kidney problems and is potentially fatal. Spanish officials refused to accept the blame, saying it was unclear exactly when and where the vegetables were contaminated and German health officials now admit they do not know where this particularly virulent strain of E.coli has come from.
The president of Spain's fruit and vegetable export federation has urged the government to deal with the outbreak, saying it was costing Spanish exporters $200m (£120m) a week. Asked which countries had stopped buying Spanish produce, Jorge Brotons reportedly told a news conference: "Almost all Europe. There is a domino effect on all vegetables and fruits."
Reaction to the cucumber crisis

Germany         Consumers told not to eat cucumbers, lettuces and raw tomatoes. 329 cases of  E.coli confirmed; 14 deaths
Spain               Top European cucumber producer - threatens to seek compensation from the European Union for lost vegetables sales
Russia              Ban on all imports of cucumbers, tomatoes and fresh salad from Spain and Germany pending further notice
Czech Republic  Some Spanish-grown cucumbers removed from sale
France             Some Spanish-grown cucumbers removed from sale
Austria            Ban on sale of cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines imported via Germany
Belgium          Reported to have banned cucumber imports from Spain
Netherlands  Halted all cucumber shipments to Germany
Denmark       Testing cucumbers for contamination
On Monday, Spanish Agriculture Minister Rosa Aguilar denied Spanish vegetables were to blame, and said Spain would look into claiming damages for losses incurred."Our understanding is that the problem does not come from the [country of] origin," Ms Aguilar was quoted as saying by AFP news agency. "The image of Spain is being damaged, Spanish producers are being damaged and the Spanish government is not prepared to accept this situation," she said. The European Commission lifted its warning over the Spanish cucumbers on Wednesday, saying tests "did not confirm the presence of the specific serotype (O104), which is responsible for the outbreak affecting humans." Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Spain would "seek reparations before the relevant authorities in Europe".
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described the outbreak as "very large and very severe" and has urged countries to work together to find the source of contamination.
Russia has now banned the import of all fresh vegetables from the European Union because of the E. coli outbreak. The country's chief medical officer said EU-produced vegetables would be seized across Russia. The EU regarded the Russian ban as "disproportionate" and would be lodging a protest, European Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said. He added that the total value of EU exports of fresh vegetables to Russia was 600m euros a year, a quarter of the total exported. Spain, France, Germany and Poland are the biggest exporters.
Russia’s consumer protection agency head Gennady Onishchenko announced the ban to cover fresh vegetables from anywhere in the European Union and said orders to stop all incoming European vegetable shipments had been issued to Russian customs authorities, adding: "I call on people to forgo imported vegetables in favour of domestic produce. He criticised food safety standards in the EU."This shows that Europe's lauded health legislation - one which Russia is being urged to adopt - does not work," he said.