Monday, 04 June 2012, 09:36 GMT
Draught threatens agricultural production

Workers unload wheat from a truck in the Erbil Silo in this file photo of August 20, 2011./GLOBE PHOTO/Sleman Tashan

The Kurdish Globe
By Sleman Tashan

Low levels of rain-fall lead to sharp drop in crop production and damage to the farming community

Crop production in Kurdistan had reached the target set by the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) in the past two years, but this year it is expected that the numbers will fall significantly below both the previous years' level and government targets due to a damaging draught and unexpectedly low levels of rain this year.

Last year, May 20th was the first day where wheat and barley from local farmers was received, however, this year the process has not yet even started and according to Ibrahim Abdulhamid, Director of Erbil Crops Trade Company, it will not start until early this month.

Anwar Omar, Director General of Planning at the (KRG) Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, explained that the areas of Erbil, Baranati, Shamamik, and even Bardarsh in the Duhok Province and Garmian and Kalar in the Suleimaniya Province are now suffering from this draught.

Omar expects that the production levels of wheat and barley will fall by 30% this year.

Reaffirming the problem, Mohammed Dashti, Head of Erbil Branch of Kurdistan Farmers Syndicate, said that they had visited some villages and from Qatawi to Qartaj farmers would not be able to harvest this year.

The situation is better in the farms that have water wells and an irrigation system, but in Erbil province the situation is generally not promising. Even Harir, which was the only hope of farmers, does not seem to have a lot of produce this year.

However, the impact of draught seems lower in Duhok and Suleimaniya provinces compared to Erbil.

Dara Hassan Faraj, Director of Suleimaniya Metrology explained that this year the rain level has increased by 6 mm compared to last year and reached 566 mm. However, without giving any figures, Hassan Wahab, Director of Region's Metrology indicated that the level was very low in Erbil this year.

The crops production level of 2010 was significantly higher than the previous years where the amount of wheat and barley had doubled in the Makhmour Silo and quadrupled in the Erbil Silo, with the gross production volume nearing half a million across the whole region.

Although the situation was generally good during past year despite the relative draught, in Erbil things have worsened since 2010.

In 2011, a total of 453,900 tons of wheat was deposited at the Erbil Silo and 61,245 tons were received at the Makhmour Silo in addition to 7,599 tons of barley. Hence the total quantity of crops produced in Erbil in 2011 was 120,298 tons.

The number was 214,083 tons in 2010, some 94 thousand tons higher than that of 2011. This number is expected to fall even further this year.

Agricultural loans are granted to farmers for irrigation and other agricultural development projects, and this year the ceiling for the loan is expected to be increased from IQD 100 million (approximately USD 83 thousand) to IQD 150 million.

Only in Erbil, 504 farmers have dug water wells using agricultural loans. Although, this has decreased the fear of draught for those farmers, the majority of the province's lands still depend on rain water for irrigation and draught still threatens the agriculture sector.

This rain-dependency of Region's agriculture leaves productivity at risk due to shortage of rain and distorted raining schedules.

Kurdistan Region is well known for its water resources and rivers, but this resource has not been used properly with failure to build enough dams and irrigation systems to irrigate the region's agricultural lands.

The price of crops is determined by the ministry of trade every year, and this year the ministry has announced that it would buy crops from farmers with the same price of last year. The price of a ton of grade one wheat is IQD 720,000 (approximately USD 600), and grade 2 is IQD 620,000, while grade three wheat and barley is bought at IQD 520,000 per ton.

But farmers are not happy about this and argue that the price should have been increased this year due to the draught and the fall of the purchasing power of the Iraqi Dinar.

Omar told the Globe that farmers asked for a price increase last year as well, but it was not accepted. He also argued that the price is very reasonable and significantly higher than global standards as nowhere else in the world is a ton of crops bought at a price higher than USD 200.

Salih Mohammed Amin, a farmer from Bahrika, northwest of Erbil, states that he cannot harvest the same amount of crops as last year, and argues that he and other farmers like him deserve compensation from the government for the damage caused to them through this draught.

However, till now the 2012 budget of the KRG is not approved and Omar believes that without this they cannot talk about any compensation.

Jiyan Omar Maarouf, member of the agriculture and irrigation committee in the Kurdistan Parliament, told the Globe that they have discussed this issue in their meetings with the agriculture minister, and although the new draft has not yet arrived at the committee, committee members agree that a budget should be specified for compensating farmers for various damages including draught.

Besides, Dashti says that his syndicate has submitted a request to the government for compensation of draught damages.

"Farmers do not have any source of income other than their farms, and if they are not compensated in such situations, they will face big difficulties," Dashti told the Globe. "The compensation does not necessarily need to be a monetary basis, but it could rather be in terms of providing subsidized electricity and fuel, higher loan or other facilitations."

The best support the government could give the farmers in particular and the region's agriculture sector in general would be the construction of dams on the region's large numbers of rivers.