Submitted to: Department of State Middle East Group on Agriculture
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: October 6, 2002
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: Agriculture in Iraq is facing multiple pressures to meet the food requirements of a large and growing population. The agrarian sector in Iraq witnessed a number of drastic measures during the last 40 years. These include land reform, cooperative and collective state farming, central planning and, finally, private ownership. Cultivable land areas vary from 5-8 million ha; however, no more than 3.5 million ha (47% irrigated and 53% dryland farming) have been actually cultivated. The demographic pressure on the land combined with the need to produce more food from a limited and shrinking resource base of land and water are forcing farmers to follow exploitative production practices that maximize short-term returns at the expense of long-term sustainability. Agriculture uses 95% of all available water resources and produces 30% of the country's food requirements. Iraq will face greater water shortages in the coming decades and may have to adjust its agricultural production system accordingly. Agricultural production remains constrained by the lack of quality seed, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, animal vaccines, machinery, irrigation equipment and spare parts. Moreover, water resources across the country are declining (estimated at 43% of normal level in 1998) due to a severe drought which devastated crops on ~70% of the rainfed arable land in the country. Land degradation, salinization, declining crop yields due to mismanagement of land resources and lack of inputs are serious problems, especially in the irrigated lands. The country's forest and rangeland resources are deteriorating mainly as a result of deforestation and overstocking what are essentially fragile ecosystems. Number of farm animals, their health and production are deteriorating because of shortages in feed, veterinary services and vaccines. The analysis presented in this paper is of value to policy makers, agricultural planners, university educators, researchers and environmentalists in order to re-structure the agricultural sector and devise long-term, holistic solutions to the many problems accumulated over the last few decades.
Technical Abstract: Agricultural systems in the dry-, irrigated- and range-lands of Iraq are facing an unprecedented pressure to meet the food requirements of a population of 22.8 million and increasing at about 3% annually. The current situation is creating new, more intensive and more diverse demands on farmers, agricultural producers and planners. Estimates of cultivable land areas vary from 5-8 million ha; however, no more than 3.5 million ha (47% irrigated and 53% dryland farming) have been actually cultivated. Major structural adjustments in the agricultural sector are needed to solve Iraq's huge water problems caused by geographic, topographic and management factors. Water demand would range from 70,000 to 90,000 million cubic meters; it could result in a negative balance of 15,000 million cubic meters. Prior to 1990, Iraq produced about one-third of its annual basic food needs and spent about US$ 2 billion to import the balance of its requirements. Since then, the situation has deteriorated due to lack of agricultural inputs, increased environmental degradation and under-funded and under-staffed research and extension services. It is estimated that Iraq will need US$ 3.5 billion to import basic foods to meet the annual shortages during the next decade. Agricultural production remains constrained due to lack of quality seed, herbicides, insecticides, fertilizers, animal vaccines, machinery, irrigation equipment and spare parts. Water resources are declining (estimated at 43% of normal level in 1998) due to severe drought which devastated crops on ~70% of the rainfed arable land in the country. Cereal production dropped in the past decade from 400,000 to 100,000 metric tons due to many environmental and managerial problems. Rangelands and forest resources are deteriorating as a result of overstocking what are essentially fragile ecosystems and because of deforestation for fuelwood and charcoal. The livestock sector experienced serious problems during the last decade because of shortages in feed, veterinary services and vaccines. Meat and milk production declined by 24% during the late 1980s as compared to the 1970s. To deal with the multiple challenges imposed upon it by internal and external factors, the agricultural sector has to structurally adjust itself to address socio-economic, land-use, livestock production and feed resources, water resources, agro-ecology, environmental protection and research and extension themes in a holistic, multidisciplinary and long-term approach.