Monday 26 January 2015

Let us Keep Kurdistan Safe by Jamal Fuad

Let us Keep Kurdistan Safe
Jamal Fuad, Ph.D. Retiree
Senior Agricultural Consultant
FAO and the World Bank
January 20, 2015

Events of the past few years should alert us that we are not immune to threats from outside. Such threats could dangerously affect us, and thwart us on the road to prosperity and eventual statehood. They show us collectively that we are not as safe as we think we are. Examples are many: For one, the central Iraqi government has stopped payment of salaries to the staff of the Kurdish Regional Government(KRG),and to its contractors for over a year, creating serious economic and financial difficulties. It has delayed many developmental projects, increased un-employment and brought about inflation in the cost of living. Contractors have stopped working on the ongoing projects for lack of funds.

A second concern is the arrival of an Islamic terrorist group to our borders that are carrying out a vicious and a barbaric war against our citizens. They have been kidnapping, murdering, looting, and destroying towns and villages, forcefully evicting its residents. Their vicious atrocities have created havoc among our citizens, and those of Syria who have run away from their towns and villages. These people, about one million and a half, have now been given asylum in Kurdistan and make up the third and serious concern for KRG.

In dealing with these problems, Baghdad government and our neighboring countries have shown but little concern. On the contrary, they are suspected of having invited such terrorists to carry on a war of attrition against the KRG. They aim at thwarting our political ambition and our desire to live in peace and prosperity, as if we have not suffered enough in the past to acts of abuse and torture, mass relocation, the Anfal Campaign, the use of chemical weapon, and endangering the lives of our people by laying millions of landmines in our countryside. We would like now to focus on our future. We aspire of providing a better quality of life for our people through provision of adequate infra structure, such as water and electricity, better education, better health system, and above all safeguarding our national freedom and security.

We must realize that we are extremely vulnerable. As a land-locked country, and with such unfriendly neighbors, we must stay alert and set out a plan to safeguard our national security. Above all we must try to be self-sufficient as much as possible to guard against any outside threats to our young democracy. Besides strengthening our national defense system, we need a serious attempt at insuring our food security. Without food security we cannot guarantee the national security. We do have plenty of oil. Unfortunately oil cannot be a substitute. That is why we need a serious plan to rejuvenate and prioritize the agricultural sector. Without food security we will always be under the mercy of our neighbors, limiting thus our political and economic freedoms. To avoid any future threats from outside, more of the oil money needs to be directed at supporting the agricultural sector. At presents we rely for almost 100% for our food and feed needs, on imports of agricultural products from many sources, but specifically more from our neighboring countries. We cannot rely on such a system, which is unreliable and is a threat to our future.

Kurdistan is rich in its natural endowment. We have suitable climate, sufficient fertile land and water unmatched by any other Middle Eastern country. We can produce just about every agricultural product that we need. We can do without imports of carrots from Australia, dairy products from Turkey, and onions and potatoes from Iran, or meats from Brazil. We have the water, the land, and the climate that supports production of all these items.

Unfortunately, due to past vicious policies of the Iraqi Government: relocating farmers, executing the Anfal Campaign, destroying farming infrastructure, etcetera, the agricultural activities had come to a standstill since the 1980’s. Under Government pressure large numbers of farmers had abandoned their farms and migrated to neighboring towns and cities. Further, the wrong implementation of the UN oil-for-food program put the last nail in the coffin of the agricultural sector. Later, and after normalization of the political situation in 2003, farmers were not ready to return to their lands anymore. Some farmers were just too old. Others had already settled in the towns and cities of Kurdistan, reluctant to once again disturb their family life. Neither the younger generation has any desire in returning to their villages, as they had become accustomed to city life and knew nothing about farming. Additionally, the KRG had no planned gave no encouragement and support to returning farmers. In effect, activities in the agricultural sector had come to a complete stop.

To rejuvenate the agricultural sector, massive funding is required to bring the farming sector out of the middle ages. We first need emphasis on the training of the farmers and the agricultural staff in the modern art of farming practices: use of better animal breeds, better quality seeds, appropriate use of insect and disease control measures, improved farming methodology, use of more machinery, better storage and marketing practices, are but few examples of modern practices. Further, provision of agricultural credit is vital to upgrade farming operation. Encouraging farmers to join agricultural cooperatives is important factor to facilitate collective bargaining in the marketing of agricultural products and in the purchase of animal feed, improved seeds, and agricultural machinery, and other needs for the farms.

An effective way to boost agricultural production is through establishment of multiple agro-industrial enterprises in specific agricultural locations. For example, where cereal crops are grown we can build agro-industries set up to make macaroni and other pasta. Similarly, where fruits and vegetables thrive, we can produce juices and canned fruits and vegetables, while dairy factories can be set up where cattle is in abundance. Initially, and only for a limited time, the government must be ready to buy every product that is being used for such agro-industries. Applying this policy will encourage farmers to grow the desired crop, as they are assured of its marketability. In addition to the fact that agro-industries will provide for locally needed agricultural products, it also has the advantage of providing jobs to our people, thus decreasing the current high rate of unemployment and decrease the desire of the young unemployed graduates to migrate. Unemployment brings about an unhappy society and can cause social unrest which we can do without.

The price paid to the farmers for the purchase of their crops for use in the agro-industrial enterprises should not exceed the international price, minus the cost of transport from the country of origin to Kurdistan. The current policy of paying wheat growers three times the international price is unwarranted and has led to corruption in the highest levels. It allows merchants to import of wheat from outside of the country, and deliver it to the silos as a local product. Such a practice brings a profit of three times per ton above the price paid for the wheat imported. As a lucrative trade, many might attempt at such a practice. This policy is un-affordable, economically unsustainable, and totally wrong. As stated earlier international price should be the base, and again money saved from this uneconomic pricing should be used for imports of agricultural needs of the farmers.

World population is steadily on the rise, and as the climate is getting warmer and rainfall on the decline, per capita land availability for agriculture is also declining worldwide. World food and feed prices are on the rise. A time is near when certain food and feed items might not be always available, due to expected demand. Such factors require that we pay more attention to the agricultural sector. To depend solely on the oil revenue for our annual budgetary needs is ill advised.

Here, I would like to emphasize that it was agriculture, and not oil, that created the great civilizations of China, Babylon and Egypt. It was also agriculture, not oil, that created the United State of America to become the leading world political, economic and financial power. Where agriculture flourishes, so do every other art. Agriculture has always been the backbone of developing civilizations, as it has provided not only food and feed, but also raw material for the evolving industries. It is unfortunate that we see many oil producing countries neglect the agricultural sector, all of whom face social unrest and face disintegration such we observe in Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, to mention but a few. It seems that there is a curse on every country that is dependent on oil for its budgetary needs.

I have written on this subject before. Unfortunately, no action has been taken to prioritize the agricultural sector. The ongoing political and financial turmoil that is currently sweeping the region is proof that we should urgently take a look at the sector. We must take immediate action to provide the means for needed rejuvenation. To depend on our neighbors for imports of agricultural products is not the right policy, as it endangers our future. The Kurdish proverb, "If you wait for your neighbor to feed you, you most likely remain hungry”. Let us heed to this folklore.

The Kurdish Administration, the KRG, has done many good deeds in the Region since 2004, especially in the sectors of Oil, Real Estate, Roads and Telecommunication, and tying Kurdistan to the main center of the world community through building many airports in in the main population centers in Iraqi Kurdistan. Such airports has been effective means that has facilitated connection of Kurdistan to development Center of the World. However, there remains much to be done in the sectors of Education, Health, electricity, and the Agricultural Sector which is the main theme of this article. 

Supporting the agricultural sector will promote a healthy life to our villages. Without having a marketable product, a village cannot survive and will eventually disappear. Currently, only the unemployed farmers visit their villages, mostly on weekends. The time has come to put a healthy life back into our devastated villages.

We should realize that money saved from the decreasing the agricultural imports can very well finance the infrastructure requirement of our villages. The time has come to take a serious look at the agricultural sector. It is unfortunate that past budgetary allocations for the sector in Kurdistan has been less than 1%.The international organizations, the World Bank and the FAO, have suggested that it should be no less than 10% of the national budget. The discrepancy is obvious.

The time to act is NOW.

Let us keep Kurdistan Safe

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