The Kurdish Globe
By Sleman Tashan
Qadir Aziz, a farmer in Baghirma, near Erbil who owns 12 green houses, was able to produce large quantities of vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, chili and even melons last year and make good money by selling them in the market. However, this year he has only planted cucumbers and due the excess amount of cucumbers in the market, he cannot sell it at the price he is looking for.
Cucumbers are also imported to Kurdistan Region from the central and southern parts of Iraq. Although, the Kurdish authorities have set the price of cucumbers for farmers at IQD 850 per kilograms (approximately USD 0.70), due to excess supplies in the markets, farmers are sometimes forced to sell a kilogram between IQD 500 to 600. This is in sharp contacts the previous month when prices were IQD 1,500.
Meanwhile, tomato prices also rose to IQD 2,000 per kilogram due to a lack of domestic products.
One of the reasons why farmer produce cucumbers rather than tomatoes is the fact that cucumbers reap in 35 days while tomatoes need 120 days.
Since 2007, the KRG Ministry of Agriculture has distributed a number of greenhouses to farmers and later a large number of investors started to buy greenhouses. One of the benefits of this technology is that the can be utilized all year long, but in Kurdistan farmers only use them during spring and summer seasons.
According to a ministry initiative, the number of greenhouses was supposed to rise to 15,000 across the region to reach 100% self-sufficiency, but we are now in mid-2012 and the current number is only 7,193 units, i.e. less than 50% of the target number, diminishing expectations that the targets can be met.
Due to a lack of coordination and planning between the farmers and the ministry's authorities, the farmers move from growing one product to another every year without consideration to the supplies and demands of the markets. However, if there was a plan to cater for these market factors, all the products would have sold at very good prices in the market and market demands could be better accommodated.
Agriculture Ministry is planning to support the disputed areas this year by providing 220 greenhouses to the inhabitants of those areas, with 50 to be allocated to Makhmour, 50 to Garmian and 120 to Duhok.
Zana Ahmed, who had a greenhouse project in Qushtapa, 10 kilometers south of Erbil, said that he had 60 greenhouses, but he had to reluctantly sell all of them and give up his farming job.
High production cost, lack of competition and a flood of imports from Iran and Turkey are among the factors that forced Ahmed to sell his greenhouses.
"We were in agreement with the ministry that they would ban imports from Iran from April 1, but this year they implemented the ban on May 20," explained Ahmed who was forced to sell his greenhouses at a loss of USD 110,000. "So, anything that costs us IQD 300 per kilogram, we had to sell it for IQD 250."
Engineer Kamal Mohammed, Director of Greenhouses at the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, argues that a lack of stability in the market combined with labor and overhead costs such as fuel constrains farmers from production.
Mohammed reiterates the need for a more effective policy to encourage and support farmers to keep production overhead to a minimum.
Agriculture Ministry's Director General of Planning Anwar Omar claims that at present 80% of the greenhouses in the region are currently operating and supplying the market.
This year the ministry is planning to assist farmers in the supply of fuel and electricity so that they can continue production all year long.
Omar told the Globe that agricultural guidelines will have a positive role in coordinating the greenhouses' production variety through the Producing Farmers' Union.
This union can buy farmers' products and distribute them in the markets. The union is currently operating in Sulaimaniya and Garmian and with another one set to be established in Erbil this year. The ministry will also assist them with transportation facilities, cooling equipment and fuel in addition to more encouragement and support.
Around 21 types of vegetables are generally consumed in the region, and Omar argues that the region will reach self-sufficiency in products such as zucchini, cucumber, chili and onion in the near future, "and in the coming two years we will be able to supply domestically 80% of tomato demands and we are trying to produce all vegetables domestically in the future."
In the past, the ministry was buying the greenhouses and distributing them to farmers through tenders, but from this year they will give loans to farmers to buy greenhouses, while the new greenhouses, unlike the old ones, will have air-conditioning facilities that can be used across all four seasons.
By controlling borders and providing farmers with pesticide, fertilizers and other requirements, the greenhouse project can supply vegetables to the whole region. Furthermore, if 4 workers are employed in each of the 7,000 greenhouses, this will create 30 thousand valuable job opportunities for the locals.
In the past, with its fertile lands and abundant water resources, Kurdistan was able to cater for the majority of its vegetable demands domestically despite a lack of technology.
However, the Baathist regime destroyed thousands of villages in the region and relocated villagers in compounds. This significantly harmed Kurdistan's agriculture sector to the extent that Kurdistan was recently importing as much as 90% of its agricultural product needs.
After the fall of the Baathist Regime in 2003, the economy of the region witnessed a drastic change and its authorities have set plans and strategies for developing the agriculture sector. Measures include encouraging farmers and villagers to return to their villages and restart their agricultural activities and also provide them with tools, equipment and access to financing.
However, there are still some obstacles on the way to reaching these goals, and the KRG authorities emphasize that their next step is to work to overcome these key obstacles.
Ministry of Agriculture launched the greenhouse project in 2006 and the first step was to install a number of greenhouses in the research centers.
In late 2006, a number of fields were specified for setting up greenhouses, which were distributed in the following way: Girdarasha in Erbil Province, Bazyan in Suleimaniya Province, Malta in Duhok Province and Kalar in Garmian Area.
Each greenhouse is 400 to 450 square meters and each seasons cucumber produce in one greenhouse reaches 12 tons.
At the beginning, the price of each greenhouse was USD 900, but this price has now decreased to below USD 5000 per unit.