Additionally al-Mahdi believes that the way they are going about developing the agricultural projects can only be of benefit to the whole region, if not the whole country.
“We’re importing equipment and we’re trying to overcome some of the local challenges with modern technology – these are challenges that the individual farmer could not overcome on their own,” al-Mahdi told NIQASH.
For example, Karbala has a lot of desert areas where water for agriculture is hard to come by, or expensive. Some of the most recent projects are introducing high tech equipment in order to extract ground water and to improve irrigation.
And finally the shrines’ representatives also say that if and when their products do reach the Karbala market, that it can only be good for local consumers – they will have more choice and better prices, thanks to competition, they conclude.
It’s true, that some smaller businesses driven out of the market, local economist Khaled Tayseer, concedes – especially if some of these big projects just keep getting bigger. It would be important to ensure that small businesses do survive as they too are important to the Iraqi economy. It’s also important not to treat any one party preferentially, Tayseer argues.
“There are some parties linked with the state, or who have a big influence with the state, and they’re able to access facilities like loans and import licenses much more easily,” Tayseer adds. “The government needs to ensure that its control and resource distribution is even handed so that one group doesn’t grow at the expense of others.”
On the other hand though, Tayseer continued, it’s not easy to monopolize the market in Iraq.
“For many years Iraq was dependent on exports from other countries for food and other products,” Tayseer says. “So today its domestic markets are still wide open and can still accommodate hundreds of different business options.”