Iraqi Minister of Agriculture Ghazi al-Abboudi said Iraq “lost 40% of its agricultural production capacity after the Islamic State (IS) took control of the most productive provinces.” He said the Ministry of Agriculture “had hoped to achieve self-sufficiency and to announce it officially at the end of this year.”
In June, IS took control over Ninevah province and were headed toward the provinces of Salahuddin, Kirkuk, Diyala and Anbar and some areas around Baghdad before government forces halted its advancement.
Nearly a third of Iraq's population works in the agricultural sector, which provides a living for about 11 million out of 35 million Iraqis.
Abboudi told Al-Hayat, “The plan was designed to fully achieve self-sufficiency and food security and to officially announce it at the end of this year. Yet, security developments and the entry and control of terrorist gangs, namely IS, over the richest agricultural towns have prevented that.”
On strategic crops such as corn, wheat and barley, he said production “has reached a record of 80% of the actual need. After 2003, we have imported our needs of cereals.” He said, “Animal production reached 52% of the actual need, while we have achieved full self-sufficiency in the production of vegetables, and 60% of the production of fruits.” Abboudi did not overlook that “the infrastructure of the agricultural sector has been destroyed in these areas, and we have to start from scratch.”
He said that under the supervision of a number of experts, the ministry has prepared “alternative plans to restore the balance in food security, including focusing on the safe provinces, starting the intensive farming project to compensate for the shortfall, good seed subsidies and other solutions.”
On the investment plan in agricultural land, he said the ministry “completed an investment plan of 10 million acres, which was submitted to foreign companies through Iraq’s embassies abroad, and we have started receiving investment requests from good international companies. We will soon finish with the rest of the lands before they are annexed to the plan.”
Arable land in Iraq numbers nearly 24 million acres, more than half of which is planted each year, and plant crops (cereal crops in particular) represent two-thirds of agricultural production, while animal production represents one-third. Abboudi added that the agricultural loans that were distributed by the ministry to the agricultural producers “exceed 2.2 trillion dinars [$2 billion].” He stressed that the repercussions of the falling global oil prices and reduced federal budget “will not affect the lending campaign," saying, "Sufficient funds were allocated for this year.”
Dargham Muhammad Ali, head of the Economic Media Center in Iraq, told Al-Hayat, “Most of Iraq's production of cereal crops depends on the provinces of Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala, given the vast agricultural areas and rainfall there.”
He said that the state “was still going forward with land reclamation and the fighting against desertification, but these conditions may contribute to adverse results that would decrease agricultural areas.”
Iraqi economist Abbas Ghalibi said, “The annual food and fodder import bill is no less than $5 billion dollars,” adding, “What contributed to the ongoing deterioration in the agriculture sector over the past years is the delay in the issuance and enforcement of the customs tariff law as well as the production protection and anti-dumping law.” This, he said, has “weakened the competitiveness of local products and pushed producers to leave the agricultural [sector], particularly since agricultural production costs have increased for well known reasons.”
Ghalibi called on the Iraqi government to “activate the plan on foreign investment in agricultural land, since local farmers are moving to cities to work in other sectors after their living conditions have deteriorated.”