The introduction of commercial strawberry production in Iraq has been a satisfying success. Following the initial introduction of certified nursery stock to a few trial growers in 2009, the production of strawberries in the country has enjoyed annual growth well in excess of 100% each season. Why has it been such a success and why strawberry and not another crop?
Strawberry production is a special development tool for several reasons. First, it’s a high value crop yielding nearly unmatched gross revenues on a per hectare basis. Farmers with very small land holdings can earn an impressive income on a modestly sized parcel. And the turnaround on investment is very short. An Iraqi farmer can plant in October and complete his season by May or June, effectively earning his return on investment in less than a year.
Managed properly, some plantings are good producers the following season. Certainly the labor requirement is substantial but in the absence of other employment opportunities, farm jobs are of great benefit to a community or extended family.
But strawberries are not an easy crop to grow, harvest and market. The crop is management and labor intensive. Attracted by the financial reward of growing this valuable crop, farmers learn to manage valuable techniques and practices they can apply to the production of other crops; drip irrigation, fertigation, the use of plastic mulch for weed control and effective post-harvest handling and marketing are examples.
Iraq is not the first economy to benefit from the introduction of strawberry production as a development tool. It has been used as a licit substitute crop in Colombia, the Cochabamba region of Bolivia and the golden triangle in Southeast Asia. Even today in Northern California we see Hmong refugees establishing themselves on tiny parcels of land with strawberry production. One can only imagine why some of the most successful strawberry growers in California are of Japanese descent.
Bob Nottelmann is a crop production specialist with California Pacific Plant Exports (Cal Pacific) and Ekland Marketing of California (Emco). Specializing in strawberry and blackberry, Cal Pacific is an exporter of certified nursery stock to fruit growers in over 50 countries. Cal Pacific sources its stock from certified nurseries in the United States, Turkey and Argentina. Emco is a marketing and licensing company providing plant breeders a range of services including overseas trialing, licensing of nurseries, marketing and promotion, royalty collection and variety protection and registration.