By Layth Mahdi, Agricultural Advisor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.
Iraq is divided into two Main Climate Zones. A dry rain-fed zone (300 – 350 mm/year) in the north and a dry to semi-dry (100 – 200 mm/year) in the central-south irrigated zone. Winter precipitation varies with low and dry-spills during cropping season from late-October to mid-December. One-third of cereals (wheat and barley) are growing in a rain-fed zone and two-third under irrigated conditions.
Agricultural areas around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers as well as other water sources from Iran suffer from drought and shortage of water. According to GoI the water flow dropped from 600 m3/sec to 200 m3/sec. These conditions have directly contributed to the dropping levels of crop production, displacement and poverty in the country.
The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) is planning to introduce modern irrigation systems to farmers in order to save water; however, special training programs are needed to improve farmer’s knowledge and skills in irrigation management. The Agricultural Extension Service is an institution that bridges the gap between farmers and agricultural research scientists. This service needs to be revitalized so it may better serve the needs of farmers. In addition, farmers need agricultural policies and government programs which help to improve agriculture production. If the MoA does not take the necessary steps for improving this sector, Iraq will fall further back in domestic agricultural production.
Agriculture represents a small component, but is essential to the economy. It is largely practiced by rural citizens relying on traditional irrigation method, whose livelihoods depend on agriculture production. Most agricultural production depends heavily on traditional irrigation. About 8 million hector (m ha) of the total area is irrigable and the remaining 4 m ha is rain-fed. In 1997, the total irrigated areas was estimated at 3.4 m ha; of which 87.5% received water from irrigation projects, 9.2% from rivers using irrigation pumps, 3.1% from wells and 1.2% from the spring sources (FAO, 2005).
The main irrigated crops are wheat, barley, maize, vegetables, and date palms. In dry rain-fed farming systems, water-use for wheat is about 350 mm/year, and for barley is 300 mm/year. Traditionally, farmers use flood irrigation to grow their crops, which is highly inefficient, resulting in 60% water loss. This method has been used in Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.
During my observation in the irrigated areas of Iraq, I found farmers planting wheat and barley on poor seedbed preparation (flat land) with flood irrigation. The farmers I met admitted that they do not have the knowledge, skills or money to buy farming equipments. Flood irrigation is an ancient method of irrigating crops. Farmers can switch to furrow irrigation and save time and obtain more grain yield than flood irrigation. Furrow irrigation requires different seedbed preparation then what Iraqi farmers currently use.
One of the goals of furrow irrigation is to reduce the large amount of applied water to crops. A demonstration of furrow irrigation can be found in this pdf.