By Layth Mahdi, Agricultural Advisor. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Agricultural development plays a key role in achieving human well-being, maintains food security, reduces poverty and mitigates violence. In addition, it contributes to the protection of natural resources, environmental stability and the balance between rural and urban populations as well as the protection of cultural heritage. The agricultural sector is essential to the provision of employment opportunities and the reduction of violence.
Prior to 2003, Iraq had imported about 30% of its food needs annually. The decline in agricultural production after this period, created the need for importing 90% of the food at a cost estimated at more than $12 billion annually. Due to the sudden shift in the agricultural policy from subsidized assistance to an immediate shift to a free market policy, the outcomes lead to a decline in production. The observed outcome resulted in many farmers abandoning the land and agriculture. The impact on natural resources results in an exploited and degraded environment leaving the land destitute and the people impoverished, unemployed experiencing a sense of losing their human dignity.
Despite the huge Iraqi budget (more than $ 90 billion/year), the trend of unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, among Iraq’s most vulnerable population-children; hunger and homelessness has accelerated in the past eight years. For example, unemployment reached more than 40%, and poverty up to 23% (7 million people) of the population. There are five million illiterate, eight million representing widows and spinsters. Additional, an estimated 2.7 million disabled Iraqis and more than two million displaced inside and outside the country. The average family size is large with 5 members per household in the urban sector and 8 members in the rural areas. Another issue that Iraqis face is their incomes per capita is low (300-400 dollars / month) contributing to deepening poverty.
Iraqi population birth rate has increased to more than 750 thousand per year. These worsening living conditions and the deterioration in the agricultural sector, education and health, poor services and increased violence coupled with the lack of or absence of economic development has increased the suffering of average Iraqis fomenting increased suffering from turmoil and political instability, social, and creates violence and terrorism.
Current Iraqi decision makers have exhibited a lack of vision for economic development due to their deficient skills, knowledge and the absence of leadership. Therefore, the performance of the GOI remains below par. Iraq is rich in natural resources and the government has all the administration, regulatory laws and funding, but lacks the political guidance and ability to reform and create economic development ultimately leading to unsustainable growth.
The Iraqi reconstruction efforts led by United State and the coalition have spent more than $60 billion to date. The goal has been to improve basic services, rebuild the economy, strengthen democracy, and improve the infrastructure, building capacity and legitimacy of the Iraqi government. USAID contractors have struggled and are perceived to have failed, unable to reach the full potential of their goals to improve economic growth. The projects were really quite simple and had little to no value in improving the local economy.
The U.S. government has a long-term strategic plan in the Middle East. At the same time the US government has many enemies. Tensions are rising (note recent ME riots) and more protests may be upcoming that will have a negative impact on GOI. The US military should consider initiating agricultural programs to assist GOI in creating jobs and reduce poverty which ultimately will enhance US-Iraqi relations. It is not in the best interest of America to keep the country impoverished and suffering from rising unemployment and poverty.
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