By Ronald P Verdonk, Agricultural Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
At this point in late March/early April, Iraq would benefit from additional moisture in order for its winter wheat to fill out and further develop. Already, given the regional drop in precipitation through the growing season compared to a year ago, irrigation supplies are relatively limited and will affect wheat crop development, which is a cause for concern in more than half the overall crop (roughly from Kirkuk southward) because that portion depends on irrigation for production.
With regard to the north of Iraq, which accounts for about 40% of wheat produced, the lack of early season rain reduced wheat planting and was further affected by continued precipitation shortfalls, which will likely cause yields to also miss production targets. To address on a limited scale the continued challenge of adequate water supply, the Ministry of Agriculture is in the process of buying hundreds of units of imported center-pivot irrigation equipment for subsequent sale to Iraqi farmers at a fifty percent discount. Effective deployment of 400 or 500 center-pivot units will take a year or two before the equipment is positioned across the country, which underscores a challenge that Iraq is beginning to confront as it further stabilizes and normalizes its agricultural production.
Public and private sector roles need to change in order for Iraqi agriculture to achieve its full potential. There is no question that the government’s role is critical in this process. Iraq’s government institutions need to ensure that the backbone, the infrastructure, is in place to support farm production throughout the country. However, the decades-old practice of Iraq’s government playing a dominant part in the agriculture sector by controlling input supply, output marketing and food processing must change to allow more private sector control of the industry. Public command should transition to private control for there to be sustainable job creation and a more prosperous rural population in Iraq. No question, the Ministry of Agriculture has a responsibility to regulate the sector, support farmer education, deal with salinity, line irrigation canals, rehabilitate soils – among a myriad of other challenges – but questions about the business of agriculture, those are best handled by the private sector.
Ronald P Verdonk is an Agricultural Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. He has extensive experience in the agriculture sector, including placements in a wide range of developing economies.