Agriculture Ministry Allocates $285m for Dates

AKnews reports that the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture has announced the allocation of $285 million [350 billion Iraqi dinars] for the rehabilitation of the country’s palm groves.

Ministry spokesman Karim al-Tamimi told the agency that $177.3m of the allocation will fund an investment plan put together by the General Authority of Palms, $76.3m will be used for private investment plans through the ministry and the remaining $31.4m will fund loans to palm grove owners.

The Iraqi government launched a comprehensive initiative to improve the agricultural situation in the country in July 2007, setting a ten year deadline for Iraq to reach the stage of self-sufficiency in strategic crops.

The initiative includes, among other things, supporting farmers with seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, land reclamation, and ensuring the purchase of strategic crops at market prices.

Iraq today has 11 million date palms and the Ministry aims to raise that to 30 million over the next ten years.

The renewal of date exportation from Iraq is part of the government’s plan to develop alternative sources of revenue in an economy that has an almost 95% dependency on oil revenues.

In the 1970s, Iraq’s 34 million date palms accounted for 30% of the world total. Official figures indicate that annual exports from the Basra province alone reached more than 130,000 tons.

Iraq now ranks only 7th among world date producers, according to Kamil Mikhlif al-Dulaimi, head of the Agriculture Ministry's date palm board.

The region, once home to almost 13 million palm trees, acclaimed to be among the finest in the world, suffered greatly during the Iraqi-Iranian war which began in 1980 when the Saddam regime ordered the 'beheading' or bulldozing of many of the palms as part of a campaign to enhance security in the region.

In more recent years, the outbreak of the 2003 war to bring down the Saddam regime, heralded further devastation to the agricultural areas of Faw and Abu Khusaib and Shatt al-Arab in the Basrah province.

Many orchards were seriously damaged as hundreds of families were displaced from the Ahwar marshes to the palm groves. At the same time, benefiting from the chaos in the region, gangs were seizing farmland by force and reselling it to developers.

(Source: AKnews, Reuters)

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