Iraqi sheep farmer in Kurdistan. Farmers have been forced to sell such livestock because of lack of feed and water for their heards
After oil, Iraq’s other major business is farming. It is the country’s largest employer, accounting for between 25-40% of the workforce. Unfortunately, the country is in the middle of one of the worst droughts in years. The lack of water has destroyed much of Iraq’s crops this year, and will force it to increase food imports just as prices for those products are skyrocketing, and inflation is going up. This will be another test for the government, to see whether it can actually serve its people or not.
Farming has been a traditional business for thousands of years in Iraq. The U.S. has hoped that agriculture could provide jobs, a steady income for the rural sections of the country, and stability, but since the U.S. invasion agriculture has been stagnant. In 2006 for example, production dropped. One major cause was that under the Coalition Provisional Authority Law no. 80, farm subsidies were ended. This was an attempt to cut government intervention in the economy, and move Iraq more towards a free market, capitalist system. This put many farmers out of business, and led to hundreds leaving their villages for the cities looking for work.
Since the beginning of 2008 farming is again on the decline because of the drought. This was caused by a 30% drop in rain during the winter. In some regions, during the planting season of October to December 2007, they got little to no rain. Iraq has also blamed neighboring countries such as Turkey, Syria, and Iran, which have dams that control rivers that flow into Iraq of hoarding water, but they too are suffering from the drought. As a result, the U.S. believes that that wheat and barley will be down by 51% compared to last year. The northern provinces of Tamim, Ninewa, and Irbil have been hit the hardest. There the U.S. estimates that production will be down 80%. Iraq’s Planning Ministry said that it expects the country to grow 590,000 tons of wheat and 483,000 tons of barley, when it needs 4 million tons of the former and 2 million tons of the latter. The lack of barley means that farmers don’t have enough feed for their animals, which has caused a huge sell off of livestock as well.
The Iraqi government is being looked upon to solve this problem, but it may not be up to the task. Baghdad will have to import hundreds of thousands of tons of grain to meet Iraq’s needs. Food prices are at a record high level right now, so importing foreign agricultural products will push up prices. Already, in May 2008 the cost of food was up almost 14%, and was the largest cause of a spike in inflation in the country from 11% at the beginning of 2008, to 16% in April. In the meantime, the government has tried to provide aid to farmers, help with wells, and cut a deal with Turkey to increase the water flow down the Tigris River. The major problem is that the government has not been able to effectively spend its money in the past, and therefore may not be able to provide enough assistance, and buy the necessary foods stuffs. U.S. officials blame the slow bureaucracy, corruption, and government officials’ reluctance to travel around the country because of security fears as the causes. This could turn into another point of contention between the public that expects the government to provide basic necessities, and institutions that have failed to do that in the past. As violence is down to the lowest levels in years, Prime Minister Maliki’s ability to govern is coming more into focus, and is one of the most pressing issues to ensure that the security gains made can last.
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