By Ronald P Verdonk, Agricultural Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Looking at Iraqi agriculture over the past year, relatively abundant rainfall in late 2009 and through the first quarter of 2010 led to bumper 2010 wheat and barley crops. With last year’s domestic wheat harvest at just over 2.5 million metric tons and barley at about 1 million metric tons, these production levels doubled when compared to either the 2008 or 2009 drought-reduced crops.
Searching for space to store its 2010 wheat crop, Iraqi Ministry of Trade tendering for imported wheat dropped off through much of the latter half of the last year. Now, in keeping with regional attempts to make sure staples are in adequate supply, the Ministry of Trade has stepped up tendering for the products that make up its Public Distribution System: Wheat (flour), rice, sugar and vegetable oil.
Of course, like all buyers in the international market and in view of escalating prices since July 2010, Iraq has to pay more to meet its needs. On average, Iraq is typically dependent on wheat imports to meet 60-70% of demand and relies on imported rice to meet about 90% of its needs. And speaking of rice, at a little more than 150,000 metric tons in rough rice production, Iraq’s 2010 harvest is estimated to have grown at least 10% versus 2009 output.
Prospects for 2011 currently suggest a slight reduction in output of wheat and barley in 2011, especially in view of the paucity of rainfall during the wheat/barley planting season, October-December. Moreover, poor quality seed and insufficient fertilizer will continue to limit growth in yields that would otherwise occur.
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.