Business is flourishing for some of Iraq’s strawberry farmers thanks to higher-yield varieties and new growing techniques provided by the U.S. government through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The success of this program is an example of U.S.-Iraqi cooperation, under the auspices of the Strategic Framework Agreement, to support domestic agricultural production in Iraq.
Iraq had some marginal strawberry production prior to 2009 based on old technology and outdated varieties, which proved to be of little profit for producers. During 2009, the USAID-Inma Agribusiness Program introduced to Iraq efficient production techniques and a high-yield plant variety developed in California that is suited to the local market due to its firmness, size and tolerance of heat.
USAID started by training nine farmers, and with the permission of Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture, introduced just over 120,000 new plants.
Since the program’s inception, the two most successful farmers have expanded their strawberry operations and have substantially increased their income. One of them has tripled his production and is selling the high-value crop to private retailers throughout the country.
One of the largest supermarket chains in the world is opening a new store soon in Erbil and has expressed interest in selling his strawberries. In addition, approximately 30 other growers have adopted USAID’s model this year, and they are all planting new strawberry crops on their farms without direct USAID assistance.
Based on the success of this program, Iraqi strawberry growers recently ordered 500,000 new plants, which will cover 37 donums or approximately 20 acres of land. Each of the plants averages 800 grams of strawberries. Estimates on the final yield of the new plants range from 150 to 400 tons, with a value ranging between $600,000 and $1.6 million.