By Ronald P Verdonk, Agricultural Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Continuing with the theme of my last blog, I want to address other areas that the Iraqi public sector can tackle so that Iraqi agriculture can be more productive.
In this day and age, a critical component of public policy decision-making is data that is generally publicly available, good, sound numbers with which leadership in government can make more informed choices about the kind of support to target to producer groups.
The bureau in the Ministry of Planning responsible for statistics, COSIT (www. cosit.gov.iq) does a creditable job in terms of crunching some of the agricultural numbers although the timeliness of data remains a challenge. By and large, the availability of GoI-generated data across sectors remains a work in progress.
Another area in which the Iraqi Government can make a difference in agriculture concerns on-farm productivity. In fact, as the staff agricultural economist in my office, John Schnittker, points out, on a per hectare basis for about the last forty years, Iraqi farmers produce half as much wheat compared to the average output of their counterparts in Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan and Iran.
To what is that attributable? No doubt the vagaries of weather play a role in rain fed production and soil quality is also a factor. Fertilizer availability and improved seed are critical to getting better yields and both have been in short supply for years. The availability of the right kind of certified wheat seed available in the international marketplace could help address some of the shortfall, but Iraq needs to devote greater resources to the development of better local varieties just as the Ministry of Agriculture needs to overhaul its process for seed registration.
Iraq would do well to seek membership in the OECD Seed Schemes as means to shortcut the acquisition of a range of better, certified seed varieties.