By Ronald P Verdonk, Agricultural Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Iraqi agriculture, like other sectors of the economy, has a lot of catching up to do in order to create jobs and play a more significant role in boosting GNP.
Production of grain, vegetables and fruit faces a range of challenges of which the following are the most significant:
- reduced water availability made worse by inefficient irrigation systems;
- intermittent electricity;
- substandard seed quality with few commercially appropriate varieties available;
- insufficient fertilizer, insecticide and herbicide supply;
- under-mechanized production;
- a land tenure system that precludes economies of scale; and
- time-consuming/costly import inspection procedures to the extent feed components like corn and soybean meal, for example, are needed.
Iraq is increasing its use of drip irrigation and greenhouse vegetable production and has an improved supply of locally grown fruits and vegetables though imports of cheap, good quality products from neighboring countries are widely available.
The animal production sector is a key resource base for food security and economic growth in Iraq. Small ruminants – sheep and goats - offer the ability to reproduce on poor quality forage and minimal water. The poultry and fish sector are also enjoying some resurgence but are limited by obstacles to imported feeds.
Due to the interruption in flow of technology and ideas that has occurred since the 1980s, Iraqi agriculture has been unable to stay abreast of agricultural technology developments both in terms of personnel and inputs, and Iraq has become more dependent on imports of agricultural products.
As Iraqi security strengthens and the economy regains its footing, there is little question that Iraqi agriculture can produce more to ensure a greater measure of food security, though under any realistic scenario Iraq will remain dependent upon food imports.
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.