Agriculture: Iraq’s Best Chance for Decreasing Poverty, Hunger and Unemployment

By Layth Mahdi, Agricultural Advisor. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraqi people are like a camel eating grass and carrying gold! Despite the huge oil budget (more than $100 billion/year), poverty and unemployment are the major issues facing the Government of Iraq (GoI).

The growth of the agriculture GDP declined sharply from 7.5% to less than 1% since 2003. The price of food is rising and people cannot afford to buy food especially those who suffer from low income in remote and rural areas. Over 90% of the vegetable and fruits are imported.

The reasons behind this are:

  1. after 2003 Iraq suddenly shifted to a free market without any government plan and support;
  2. the agriculture production depend on four ministries (Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Water & Resources and Ministry of Trade) in addition to the Agricultural Initiative by the PM Al Maliki (failed program). Those five institutions required leadership and vision; however, the top decision makers lacked experience, planning, and management strategies.

Recently, I met and contacted a few senior advisors close to the PM Al Maliki and Members of Parliament. I found that the advisors lacked concern about food security, poverty and unemployment in the country. Creating a fund to restore agriculture production and fighting poverty and unemployment is not on their agenda.

The PM should act urgently to create jobs and stop growing poverty and unemployment. He needs fresh faces and ideas to improve the economy. He must create agricultural working groups, as the agricultural sector absorbs a large unemployed. Agriculture has the potential of providing over one million jobs opportunity. This will attract enormous local & international investments in agribusiness sectors across Iraq (read my articles in Iraq business news).

GoI suggested a budget of 105 billion dollar for this year. Tensions and hunger are rising and within a few years we may see hunger driven revolution upcoming in the south of Iraq that will have a negative impact on GoI. Any increase in monthly oil production MUST consider those who live in poor conditions. About 9 million people currently live under the poverty line ($2 per day). If the current situation continues without socioeconomic development, poverty will rise by 30% by the end of the PM presidency in 2014.

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