Friday, December 19, 2008

Drought Leads To Food And Grain Imports

As reported before, Iraq is facing one of the worst droughts in decades. Rainfall in 2007 was down 40% according to Baghdad. Central and northern Iraq have been hit the hardest in places like Diyala, Ninewa, Dohuk, and Irbil. The Ministry of Agriculture noted that this was exacerbating the shrinking amount of arable land in the country, which is dropping 5% per year. Some of Iraq’s main crops have been devastated by this turn of events. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report called the situation a “disaster.” To deal with the problem, the government has announced plans to import thousands of tons of food and grain.

Baghdad declared that it would buy foreign foodstuffs to make up for the drop in domestic agriculture. That would have to account for wheat production that is down 27%, and a 60% reduction in barley. In the north, wheat farming has fallen 80-98%. To make up the difference, the government plans on spending $132 million on food imports. It will be buying 2.8 million tons of wheat for example, a 40% increase from last year.

Iraqi authorities have claimed they are providing aid to beleaguered farmers as well. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised $200 million to help with the drought. The Agriculture Ministry has been offering loans and fertilizer. A farming consultant that works for the U.S. however, claimed that this policy was a joke. He said that farmers usually can’t qualify for the loans, and needed to bribe officials if they really wanted one. He went on to say that the government was useless in this situation. The lack of electricity and fuel, which are necessary for irrigation pumps, and deteriorating infrastructure has also hampered Baghdad’s response.

To add to the difficulties, the severity of the drought is leading to some displacement. Agriculture is one of the largest employers in the country, and there are reports that farmers, especially, in the north, have begun leaving their land for towns and cities looking for employment. As an example, in July, when Iraqi forces launched an offensive in Diyala, U.S. and Iraqi forces came across the Fatamia village, which only had 3-4 families out of 30-40 still there. The military claimed the villagers had fled insurgents, but a resident said they had left because of the drought.

Because of these myriad problems, it’s not known when Iraq will recover from this drought. Farms have been devastated, the country is importing food, people are leaving rural areas, and the government as usual is not competent enough to really help. This comes on top of the financial problems Baghdad is running into with the huge drop in oil prices. The budget will probably run a deficit soon, which could imperial the import plan. The one bright spot is that in October there was rain. Whether this was a significant amount is not known. Until then Iraq will still be in this predicament.

For more on Iraq’s drought see:

United Nations Humanitarian Report On Iraq

More On Iraq’s Drought

Drought Update II

Drought Update

Iraq’s Drought

SOURCES

Haynes, Deborah, “Iraqis hunt for insurgents in Diyala unearths only ghost towns and drought,” Times of London, 7/29/08

Iraq Directory, “Iraq is Submitting a Tender to Buy 50 Thousand Tons of Wheat,” 11/25/08

Latif, Nizar, “Iraq in midst of ‘agricultural disaster,’” The National, 12/11/08

Rasheed, Ahmed and Ryan, Missy, “Iraq’s farm sector crumbling as drought bites,” Reuters, 10/24/08

Shatab, Ali, “Iraq to increase grain imports due to drop in local produce,” Azzaman, 5/16/08

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, “Iraq Humanitarian Update,” October 2008

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