Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Iraq Will Continue Large Food Imports in 2010

Iraq has large and fertile agricultural lands compared to its neighbors due to the two large rivers that flow through it, the Euphrates and Tigris. The country was once self-sufficient in farm products, but the agriculture sector began a steady decline in the 1970s due to government emphasis upon the oil industry. In 1976 for example, Baghdad spent 18% of its budget on farming, which then dropped to less than 10% in 1980. The Iran-Iraq War disrupted the business even more, and during the 1990s the irrigation system began breaking down and salt levels in the soil dramatically increased. Rapid population increase over the decades, a series of droughts, and international sanctions, put added pressure on the industry. By 2002 Iraq imported 80-100% of its food staples, but was still self-sufficient in fruits and vegetables.

Today Iraq is suffering the third year of drought, which is increasing the need for food imports. At the end of January 2010 for example, the Ministry of Agriculture reported that rice production decreased from 120,000 tons in 2008 to 102,000 tons in 2009. That will require about 1 million tons of rice imports to meet the country’s need. Wheat production is also down, and Iraq will need to buy 4 million tons of that staple this year. The large increase in food imports in recent years has partially led to a trade deficit in 2009

The latest numbers by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction show that farming makes up 8.4% of Iraq’s GDP, and 12.3% of the workforce. That makes it the second largest employer after the government. The decline of agriculture however, is leading to people leaving the rural areas to look for jobs in the cities. Whether the industry will be able to recover will largely be determined by the amount of water that Iraq receives this year. Even then, the lack of government support, and the large food ration system that distorts commodity prices and discourages farming, will mean that the business will continue to struggle in the future.


Iraq Survey Group, “Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCIA on Iraq’s WMD,” 9/30/04

Shatab, Ali, “Iraq rice yields slump; rice imports surge,” Azzaman, 1/29/10

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, “Quarterly Report and Semiannual Report to the United States Congress,” 1/30/10


Jason said...

Is there any hope for escape from the Socialist system, where private farmers could return to work on privately owned farms for profit?

Joel Wing said...

From what I can tell Iraq's farming has been in decline since the 1970s. It would take a lot of government support for the industry to be revived. Plus they're in the middle of a three year drought and salt levels are going up in the south.

Joel Wing said...

Hey Jason,

Have a little more time to respond now. Farming just has so many problems that the government is the only thing that can save it from further decline. It needs to invest more of its oil wealth into agriculture, but that hasn't really happened. To just name a few things the government needs to do is set tariffs to keep out the flood of cheap imports that have swept into the country since the U.S. invasion, provide investment into Iraq's irrigation system, pay for dams, invest in pumps, diversify crops, cut the food ration system, etc. The Agriculture Ministry is working on some of these issues, but I don't know if they have the $ to make a real impact. U.S. efforts haven't had that much of a real effect either. said...

Iraq's population has more than doubled since the days it was a food exporter. Don't confuse food self sufficiency with food security. The ability of Iraq's people to buy food is what matters, regardless of the source. Also, Iraq is not suffering 'its third year of drought'. Both in Iraq and, importantly, upstream in Turkey, Iran, and Syria, rains have so far been quite good.

Joel Wing said...

spencertdy wrote:
"Iraq is not suffering 'its third year of drought'."

In July. 09 the head of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization in Iraq said that the country had actually been suffering four years of drought, the effects just weren't really felt until the 2nd year.

"Both in Iraq and, importantly, upstream in Turkey, Iran, and Syria, rains have so far been quite good."

Yes I read about that as well. There was some flooding in northern Iraq. Do you know if the levels are the same, greater or less than the averages though? You could have a large downpour for a short period of time and still have a drought.

As far as the Iraqi government goes, the Agriculture Ministry said this month that they are still lacking sufficient water.

"The ability of Iraq's people to buy food is what matters, regardless of the source. "

Agreed and the food imports for the food rations and the plethora of cheap imports allow Iraqis to still get food. The last major report on food insecurity from the end of 2008 by the U.N. found that around 930,000 fell into that category, which was a large drop from 4 million estimated in a 2005 study.

Joel Wing said...

Iraq's Water Minister said on Feb. 28, 2010 that despite heavy snow and rain Turkey still isn't allowing enough water through its dams, and that means Iraq is only receiving half or less of what it needs for farming along the Euphrates.

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