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Field crops

Tables 1 and 2 below summarise the main crop areas, cropping systems and average yields in the country as well as in the three northern Governorates.

Table 1. Average (14 Years) Area, Production and Yield of various crops in Iraq


Area ha

Production M. Ton

Yield kg/ha


1 416 871

997 964



1 440 538

932 614



109 991

211 979

1 927


73 013

137 392

1 831





Dry Broad bean

8 032

14 559

1 767

Green Broad bean

18 977

97 371

5 159

Tobacco Leaves

2 454

2 448

1 006


143 939

614 804

4 261


50 521

334 721

6 575

Source: FAOSTAT Database

Table 2. Area, Production and Average Yield of various crops in three northern Governorates


Area ha

Production M.Ton

Yield kg / ha


469 469

393 395



139 102

95 951



48 043

26 951



4 434

2 637



661 048

Source: FAO Bulletin (2001)

i. Dry land field crops

Generally speaking, a wide range of field crops is grown in the rain fed areas in Iraq. Main dray land crops include wheat and barley in cereals, sunflower and sesame in oil seeds, chickpea, lentil, and dry broad bean in pulses and sugar beet in industrial crops. In certain dray land areas, some supplementary irrigation is also provided where the rainfall is not secured.

Wheat is the most important staple food crop in Iraq. Barley is mainly used for animal feed. The annual average (14 years) area covered by wheat and barely is about 1.5 million ha each. Production is about 1 million tons each (FAOSTAT Database). Wheat, barley, chickpea, lentil, dry broad bean and sugar beet are grown during winter as rain-fed crops in the northern Governorates of the country where 400 to 1000 millimetres of rainfall is received annually and the region is considered to be secured for the rain-fed crop production. Wheat is also grown in semi-secured area (200 to 400 millimetre of annual rainfall) with supplementary irrigation. Sunflower and sesame are grown during summer season mainly under irrigation. In some high rainfall areas in the northern Governorates, sunflower is also grown as rain-fed crop. Since barley has some drought resistant capacity, barley is generally grown in comparatively dryer areas than wheat.

Current yield levels of crops in Iraq are significantly lower than the international averages. Average wheat yield is about 727 kg/ha where barley is about 624 kg/ha. Due to prolonged war, sanctions, civil strife and drought of 1999 and 2000, Iraq could not improve the productivity potential of its main field crops. The infrastructures for research and extension services and inputs production established prior to the 1990 war were either damaged during the war or deteriorated afterwards due to shortage of funds for maintenance and operation.

In the northern Governorates, wheat, barley, chickpea, lentil and sunflower are the most important dry land field crops. Chickpea has become a popular cash crop among farmers mainly because of the suitability of the area for its production, attractive market price, crop rotation and soil fertility improvement. The total dry land area in the three northern Governorates is estimated at about 656,280 ha (FAO 2001). The yield levels are slightly higher than in the centre and south. The average wheat yield is 839 kg per ha and barley is 690 kg per ha. The introduction of the Food Basket that is mostly supplied by imported grains had depressing impact on domestic wheat prices and resulted in many farmers switching to barley production for feed.

ii. Irrigated field crops

Rice, maize, cotton and sunflower crops are mainly grown under irrigation during summer season. Rice is second most important staple food crop and the third major cereal crop in Iraq. Rice covers an annual average area of about 110 000 per ha and its production is estimated at about 212 000 tons (FAOSTAT Database). Annual average area for maize is about 73 000 ha and production is about 137 000 tons. The average rice yield is about 2 000 kg per ha whereas maize yield is 1 900 kg per ha (FAOSTAT Database). Maize is comparatively a new crop in Iraq, introduced to supplement poultry feed production. Rice and maize crops are rotated with vegetables, sunflower and cotton. The productivity of rice and maize decreased during the sanctions period mainly due to shortage of inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation water, as well as to substantially reduced research and extension services in the country. In the northern governorate of Iraq, sunflower and rice are grown as irrigated field crops.

Generally winter crops are grown during the period of October to May and summer season crops are grown from March to September.

Fruits and vegetables

Tomato, cucumber, watermelon, onion, okra, eggplant, sweet melon, broad green bean, green bean, sweet pepper, squash, lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, carrot, cabbage and cauliflower are the main vegetables and date palm, citrus, grape, pomegranate, stone fruits (apricot, plum, peach, almond), pear, olive, apples and fig are the main fruit crops grown in Iraq. Iraq is considered to be the largest producer of date palm fruit in the world.

The cultivated area of vegetables is estimated at about 9% (450,000 ha) of the total cultivated area and about 6% (300,000 ha) is covered by permanent fruit trees. Vegetables and fruits provide good supplementary and nutritive food in daily diet and they also fetch attractive price for the producers. Vegetables are grown all year round in Iraq. Similarly fruit trees are grown throughout Iraq as the climate is considered highly suitable for various fruits. Date palm is the most popular fruit in Iraq, which is grown in the central and southern part of the country. The area covered by date palm alone in the 2002 was 150,000 ha and production was about 650,000 tons (FAOSTAT Database).

Deciduous fruits are mostly grown in the central and northern Iraq due to the presence of cold climate. The seasonal fresh fruits are available almost all the year round.

The quality of fruits produced in Iraq is generally low. Improper harvesting techniques and post harvest handling are the most important reasons for the low quality. Significant amount of grape, fig and apricot fruits are dried and consumed in variety of ways in Iraq. Pomegranates are used for juice extraction and the juice is used for cooking and other purposes.

Some potential for increasing vegetable production has been exploited mainly by using imported high yielding varieties, modern irrigation systems and plastic structures. But fruit sector is very much behind its potentials for possible improvement in productivity and production. Droughts of the 1999/2000 and 2000/2001 destroyed many orchards. Variety mixture, lack of pruning and maintenance, pests and diseases and improper harvesting and post harvest handling are some of the major problems of fruit production in Iraq.

The northern Governorates of Iraq are rich in deciduous fruits and vegetable production. The Oil-for-Food programme was instrumental in improving the productivity of vegetables in northern Iraq. The yield levels of major vegetables, especially tomato, have increased significantly during the last few years. This was mainly due to the supply of high yielding varieties and appropriate technical support under the programme.

Soil fertility and crop yields

Over time, the soils of Iraq have considerably deteriorated in both physical and chemical properties. The fertility deterioration was mainly due to constant removal of crop residues (organic matter) to feed animals, absence of crop rotation and fallowing, compaction of soil due to high animal stocking and use of heavy machines and high erosion imposed by monoculture. Other factor for soil fertility deterioration has been the, limited application of fertilisers caused by shortage and high cost. Monoculture was introduced with the introduction of agriculture mechanisation in Iraq. Monoculture farming also increased weed, disease and pest population along with the depletion of soil fertility. The deterioration in soil fertility has resulted in current yield levels of most crops in Iraq of being significantly lower than the international average.


The annual average requirement of wheat and barley seeds is about 167,000 tons and 150,000 tons, respectively. Prior to the sanctions Iraq had established state owned three seed companies with nearly 80,000 tons of seed production and processing capacity. But during the sanctions, seed production and processing capacity of these companies has virtually collapsed.

Currently nearly 95% of the seeds of field crops including cereals are planted as farmers' own saved seeds. Lack of good quality seeds continued to be the main constraints to increasing crop production in Iraq. The seeds produced and distributed during the sanction period have been generally poor in quality. Both physical and genetic purity levels have been low.

The seed industry has suffered from lack of timely maintenance of processing plants and staff incentives. Since the agriculture research has also deteriorated, provision of new crop varieties in the seed production stream through research remained virtually non-existent. Some improvement during the last three years has been made in seed testing and quality control activity with UNDP funding and technical assistance of FAO to State Board of Seed Testing and Certification (SBSTC) based in Baghdad. However, variety development, seed multiplication and processing sectors are in dire state that needed urgent and strong improvement programme. The Government of Iraq has, therefore, proposed the introduction of additional five units of seed processing facilities with 80,000 tons capacity for the centre and south of Iraq under the Oil-for-Food Programme (DPX). The plants, however, have not yet arrived in the country.

In the three northern Governorates of Iraq, seven mobile seed cleaners, each with a capacity of one ton per hour, were provided through the Oil-for-Food programme, and made a significant contribution to improve the supply of quality of wheat and barley seeds. During the year 2001, the mobile cleaners cleaned 12,000 tons of seeds for the farmers additional three seed processing plants have also been proposed to cater for the requirements of seed processing in the three northern Governorates. FAO has also initiated informal improved seed production system for wheat in the northern Governorates. The quality of wheat seed in the north has greatly improved.

Seeds for vegetable such as cucumber, tomato, watermelon, onion, sweet pepper, cabbage, cauliflower and melon are traditionally imported. Similarly prior and during the sanctions period, Iraq has been importing certified and hybrid sunflower seeds. During the period of 1999 to 2002 GOI imported 512 tons of tomato, cucumber, watermelon, onion, pepper, eggplant, squash and green bean seeds which fulfilled only 25% of the total need in the centre and south of Iraq (FAO Baghdad Database). A large proportion of vegetable seeds are supplied by the private sector.

The efforts to develop the agricultural and the seed sector should start with the definition of policies in agricultural research/production, in particular for availability of plant genetic resources and their use in plant breeding to obtain crop varieties adapted to the local conditions, the further development of the whole chain of seed production (basic, foundation seeds, etc.) seed processing/field and lab quality control/storage/distribution, responsibilities of the public and the private sectors, including participatory plant breeding in conjunction with NARS and IARS.

An element that could be successfully applied, at least in the first years of the whole seed process to be developed, is the use of the Quality Declared Seeds as proposed by FAO and successfully applied on other similar difficult situations (Afghanistan, Rwanda) or in peaceful conditions (Costa Rica, Zambia).

In conclusion, there is a need to establish a seed system in the country to add value to its local seed related activities including conservation and sustainable use of PGRFA. AGPS is ready to participate in the elaboration and establishment of local seed and PGRFA policies; programmes and projects.

Fertiliser supply

Iraq was self sufficient in compound (N.P) and urea (nitrogenous) fertilisers prior to the sanctions. During the sanctions period, due to lacking in appropriate maintenance and availability of spare parts, the production capacity of the existing three fertiliser factories deteriorated markedly reaching virtual collapse. This consequently reduced the production of required fertilisers and led to substantial decline in fertiliser application rates than in turn resulted in significant reduction in soil fertility and crop productivity. Before the sanctions, Iraq had annual capacity of producing 1.2 million tons of compound (N.P) and 1 million tones of urea fertiliser. Some surplus production used to be exported. Current domestic production covers only about 10% of compound phosphate (130 000 m tones) and 40% of nitrogenous (400,000 m tones) fertilisers. During the period of 2000 to 2002, GOI imported 40,000 tons of Di-ammonium phosphate and 17,000 tons of Potassium sulphate through the Oil-for-Food Programme for the centre and south of Iraq (FAO Baghdad database).

According to FAO estimates, the requirement for the three northern Governorates of Iraq is approximately 134,000 tons of NPK fertilisers per annum. FAO records in the north programme shows that between 1997 and 2002 the Oil-for-Food programme imported nearly 83,000 tons of mainly Di-ammonium phosphate fertiliser for the three northern Governorates. This represented around 20% requirements of the region. Informal and private sectors have been filling the gap in the centre, south and northern Governorates of Iraq. Because of the low price of wheat and barley, most farmers can not afford to apply fertiliser as required for optimum crop production unless it is highly subsidised.

Sustainability of farm production and conservation agriculture

Conservation agriculture goes beyond the single farming practices applied for production of a specific crop. It involves the complete agricultural system where production of crops plays an important role. Conservation farming should start with the adoption of simple procedures such as avoiding burning and preserving crop residue on the soil surface, using the right population of plants; using appropriate tillage and planting systems. Implementation of these farming procedures will lead to conservation agriculture and will by itself, increase yield and stabilize production with sustainability. Adoption of more complex farming practices, such as crop rotation and no tillage requires a higher standard of agricultural management and takes much longer time to integrate.

Plant protection

In general, plant pests, diseases and weeds impose a serious threat to crop production in Iraq. Population of weeds, insect pests and diseases was increased by the introduction of monoculture farming in the country. Sunn pest and cover smut in wheat and barley, Dubas bug and Borer in date palm, whitefly in citrus and vegetables and mites in fruits and vegetables are the most important pests and diseases that have been causing serious losses in agriculture production in Iraq. Similarly, several broad and narrow leaf weeds in major crops have also been responsible for the low crop yields in Iraq.

Traditionally, Iraq has been relying heavily on agrochemicals for the control of various weeds, pests and diseases. During the years 1998 to 2002, Iraq imported a total of 655 tons of fungicides, 2,573 tons of herbicides, 3,538 tons of insecticides and 117 tons of nematicides for the centre and south of Iraq. This covered 25% of its pesticides needs (FAO Baghdad database). The gap is filled by informal and private sectors.

Pesticides are applied through either ground or aerial spraying. State Board of Plant Protection controls the use and distribution of pesticides. The ultra-low volume (ULV) pesticides are applied mainly to control serious pests like sun-pest, grasshoppers and date palm diseases through either aerial or ground control application procedures solely undertaken by the State Board of Plant Protection. Emulsion concentrates (EC) pesticides, however, are given to the farmers according to their needs. Upon receipt of specific farmers' requests, the plant protection staff determine the type, quantity and application dose required for each individual case.

In the three northern Governorates, from phase I to VIII, of the Distribution Plans of the Oil-for-Food Programme has imported and distributed nearly 2,100 tons of various agrochemicals and 23,544 sprayers and 2,097 hand dusters to over 50,000 farming families of over 4,000 villages at subsidised prices. The Programme has also trained significant number of farmers and local government staff in plant protection techniques.

Integrated plant pest management (IPPM)

Integrated Plant Pest Management (IPPM) is still in an early stage of understanding, development and adoption in Iraq. Since many serious insects have developed resistance to most pesticides, control of such pests has become extremely difficult especially in some crops like cotton and vegetables. Similarly price of pesticides have also become so high that it is becoming impossible for common farmers to be able to afford. This compelled the government and farmers to look for alternatives to pesticides in controlling pests and diseases in crop production in Iraq. Since 2002 the government has initiated the use of IPPM in cotton by introducing biological control of cotton boll worm insect. Those farmers who applied biological method of controlling cotton boll worm were extremely happy by the success they obtained in cotton production this year (FAO's cotton assessment 2003 January). This shows that IPPM has great role to play in the field of plant protection in Iraq. But, as noted above, the absence of basic infrastructure for research and extension is still the main constraint to the advancement and continuity of such important activity in Iraq.

In the three northern Governorates, Integrated Plant Pest Management activity has been initiated since the last two years and a significant progress has been made in the field of sunn pest and grass hopper control in wheat and other crops.


Bee-keeping is a traditional activity in Iraq. Bees are important for crop pollination, honey production and improved farmers' income. Prior to the Oil-for-Food Programme due to war, civil strife and the sanctions, beekeeping activity severely deteriorated. The Programme has provided some limited amount of inputs such as modern beehives, beewax, extracting machines and pesticides to revive the beekeeping industry. However, shortages of required inputs, diseases, pests and limited extension and support services were the main constraints to beekeeping in Iraq. The yield levels are generally low (9 kg per hive per annum as against 15-20 kg per hive per annum). Replacement of traditional beehive by improved ones has been taking place. However, many farmers are still using local beehives that produce much less yield than the improved beehives. There is a wide scope for improving the productivity of beekeeping in Iraq. Yield and quality could be improved significantly by replacing the local beehives, reducing the incidence of diseases and pests and providing support in improving the genetic purity of bee breed and honey processing.

Bee-keeping in the northern Governorates has a better potential than in the centre and south of Iraq. In the north, there is plenty of vegetation (natural forests and agriculture) to sustain beekeeping. FAO through the Oil-for-Food Programme in the north has provided similar items as in the centre and south but covering much larger number of beekeepers. Apart from providing the above basic inputs, FAO has also provided training opportunities to substantial number of beekeepers.

Institutions and services

The ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Irrigation are the government institutions responsible for agriculture development in Iraq. Several departments under the Ministry of Agriculture are responsible for plant production and protection activities. The main departments include: State Board of Seed Testing and Certification (SBSTC), State Board of Applied Agricultural Research (SBAAR) for research activities, Agricultural Supply Company (ASCO) for inputs procurement and distribution. Iraqi Company and Mesopotamia Company are mainly responsible for seed production and processing, State Board of Plant Protection (SBPP) for plant protection activities. The Ministry of Irrigation and its department called Centre for Soil and Water Resource (CSWR) are responsible for irrigation water supply. The Colleges of Agriculture in Baghdad and Mosul focus mainly on agriculture research and training.

Main constraints to crop production

Natural advantages of Iraqi agriculture

Potential for increasing agricultural production

The vital role of agriculture program in Iraq is to enhance domestic food production towards improving the dietary needs of Iraqi population. Agriculture production involves many complex and inter-related biological processes that need careful and balanced interventions to achieve set goals in crop production. The following are some interventions suggested for enhancing agriculture development in Iraq.

Crop production and protection in the Northern Governorates

Table 1: land use in the three northern Governorates of Iraq

(Average 1990/91-1999/00)

Total arable Area ha

Orchard area ha

Total cropping area ha

Other (1) Ha

Total land Ha


280 939

30 053

310 992

680 956

991 948


391 383

22 269

413 652

648 357

1 062 009


703 736

28 701

732 437

1 231 511

1 963 948


1 376 058

81 023

1 457 081

2 560 824

4 017 905

This includes: non-arable land, forests and mountain, natural pastures and other lands. Source: FAO (2001)

The total area of the three northern Governorates of Iraq (Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaimaniyah) is estimated at 4,017,905 ha, of which 1,376,057 ha (34.2%) is arable land, and 81,023 ha are occupied by orchards. Thus, a total of 1,457,081 ha are used for cropping (table 1). Almost half of the arable land is rain fed; while only around 27,000 ha (less than 2%) are irrigated field crops (table 2).

Table 2: arable land use in the three northern Governorates of Iraq

(average 1990/91-1999/00)

Dry-land crop area ha

Irrigated crop area ha

Summer veg. Area ha

Fallow area ha

Total arable area ha


145 420

10 425

15 341

109 752

280 938


265 310

2 100

10 202

113 771

391 383


245 550

14 404

11 226

432 555

703 735


656 280

26 929

36 769

656 078

1 376 056

Source: FAO (2001)

Agriculture remains the major source of employment for the northern Iraqi population. Most (over 70%) of the population of 3.6 million is either directly or indirectly involved in agriculture; in 2001, 62% were rural and 45% directly involved in agriculture (Impiglia, 2002). However, the structure of North Iraqi society has been continuously changing. According to UN-Habitat (2002), the urban population is now 91%, while only 9% of population can be considered as rural. Only 316 000 people live in rural villages, while more than 3 230 000 persons live in urban areas. Nevertheless, the agricultural sector remains the main source of income and employment in the area. According to the same source, there are 219 000 farm families in the region and the average family size is almost 7 persons (6.86), while the population is growing 2.7% per annum.

Considerable variation of farm sizes exists between Governorates. While the average farm size in the region is 10 ha (40 donum), average farm sizes range from 7.26 ha in Sulaimaniyah to 16.61 ha in Dohuk. The arable area per farm averages 4.3 ha.


The three northern Governorates of Iraq are characterized by a "Mediterranean"-type climate with wet winters and dry summers. Considerable climatic variation occurs throughout the region in response to the influence of different topographical features. Of the total arable land (about 1.4 million ha), 37% is within a guaranteed rainfall secure zone (>500 mm), 34% is classified as a semi-guaranteed rainfall semi-secure zone (from 350 to 500 mm), and 17.5% within a non-guaranteed rainfall non-secure zone area (<350 mm). However, the rain distribution is very erratic which might adversely affect the production of rain fed winter crops. For example, in the period from 1998 to 2001 droughts dramatically affected agricultural production, and many farmers suffered complete crop failure.

Crop production

Crop production in the three northern Governorates is mainly characterized by dry land field crops, followed by orchards, irrigated crops and summer vegetables.

i. Dry-land field crops. The most common cultivated crops are cereals (mainly wheat and barley) and grain legumes (chickpea and lentil) (table 3).

Table 3: dry-land crop production in the three northern Governorates of Iraq

(average 1990/91-1999/00)

Cultivated area Ha

Production Mt

Yield Kg/ha


469 469

393 395



139 102

95 951



48 083

26 951



4 434

2 637



656 280



Source: FAO (2001)

Wheat and barley are the best-adapted crops for the region and there are only a few viable alternatives in the lower rainfall areas. Wheat is a staple crop. Average areas sown to wheat have declined by about 40% since 1990, while the area of barley and fallow have increased, following the introduction of the "food basket". FAO distributes seed of improved durum and bread wheat varieties, but can cover only a limited portion of the total requirements.

Barley is important as animal feed. In contrast to wheat, barley areas have shown a tendency to increase since the introduction of the "food basket", possibly because livestock products have suffered less from depressed markets.

Chickpea and lentil crops are important as a source of income for farmers and as a source of protein for human food and animal feed in northern Iraq. In addition, chickpea and lentil are considered important for improving soil fertility through fixation of atmospheric nitrogen for the next crop.

ii. Orchards. The cultivation of deciduous fruit species has been practised for a long time in the North of Iraq. The area of orchards total 81,023 ha. Dohuk has the largest area with 30,053 ha. Perennial fruits grown include: grapes, apple, apricot, plums, pomegranate, pears, peaches, olives, almonds and various nuts including pistachio.

The demand of temperate fruit products is continuously increasing due to increasing consumption by both the rural and urban populations. At present, to satisfy the need of local markets, different kinds of fruits are imported from neighbouring countries (Iran and Turkey). Some fruits are dried and processed at the household level into jams and juices.

With the exception of grapes and apricots, all these crops are characterized by very low yields and poor quality fruit. Thus, lower market prices are realized for these other fruits which are being imported from Iran and Turkey.

iii. Irrigated field crops. A wide range of irrigated field crops is grown. The main irrigated crops are: rice, sunflower, sesame, mash, cotton, corn, tobacco and peanut (see table 4). Industrial crops such as sunflower and maize can be cultivated for the purposes of increasing the supply of vegetable for human consumption and for feed feeds. Also, the development of these crops could increase and stabilize farmers' incomes and the employment at village level. At the present time, maize production is not very popular but increasing under the effects of Oil-for-Food Programme (why???). Soybean is the least known of the irrigated crops by farmers and its introduction will bring important benefits through further diversifying cropping systems, or by providing a source of high quality protein for poultry feed Maize and soybeans will improve feed quality for the estimated chicken population of 50 million and could assist in further expansion of the poultry industry.

The introduction of modern industrial crops based on new production techniques and marketing strategies can impact positively on the whole cropping system of a region. However, the introduction of new crops in to established farming systems in the region will stimulate a shift from a low-input agriculture system to a higher-input more intensive production system. This is an important change in the whole system, which will require careful monitoring with respect to its sustainability. The region's farming system requires crops in rotation with the widely grown wheat and barley cereals. More diversified crop rotations need to be introduced in order to improve soil conditions, to reduce pest and disease problems, reduce risks of low incomes and to increase farm incomes.

Table 4: irrigated crop production in the three northern Governorates of Iraq

(average 1990/91-1999/00)

Cultivated area Ha

Production Mt

Yield Kg/ha



22 150

2 215


13 479

13 874

1 029


1 054








1 320

1 381

1 046




1 996


1 920

4 763

2 481




1 412


26 929



Source: FAO (2001)

The area of irrigated field crops has declined in recent years, due in part to a lack of maintenance of irrigation schemes and a series of severe droughts which have substantially reduced the quantity of water available for irrigation, and depressed demand for irrigated crops as a result of the "food basket". The yields of most irrigated field crops are low by international standards where the same crops are grown under similar conditions.

iv. Summer vegetables. In northern Iraq, people have an old tradition for using vegetables although they are available in limited quantities especially during the winter. Also, often the quality of their products is not high due to the limited knowledge of advanced cultural practices and particularly to the total absence of any post harvest care and technology. However there is good potential to cultivate vegetables under irrigation especially using modern water management techniques.

Summer vegetables grown in the project area are: tomato, onion, okra, eggplant, cucumber, green bean, lima bean, squash, watermelon, melon and pepper (table 5). These crops generally require irrigation (the only rain fed annual vegetable is melon, with the largest area in Dohuk where there is sufficient rain. The area of summer vegetables is rapidly increasing due to their higher value and strong demand and the non-inclusion in the "food basket".. These crops are grown for local markets, and are an important source of cash for small farmers and women.

Vegetable and fruit production is highly dependent on the availability of sufficient of irrigation water during the summer and, if necessary, some supplementary irrigation during winter. The major constraints to horticulture production are pests and diseases, lack of appropriate management and poor horticulture practices.

Table 5: summer vegetables production in the three northern Governorates of Iraq

(average 1990/91-1999/00)

Cultivated area Ha

Production Mt

Yield Kg/ha


12 604

123 955

9 179


3 133

19 939

6 304



3 437

3 836



8 430

9 561


2 836

16 437

5 822

Green bean


1 820

3 835

Lima bean



3 834



5 516

6 421


1 631

14 308

8 978


13 060

68 422

4 924



1 224

6 540


36 769



Source: FAO (2001)

Soil fertility and crop yields

The soils of the three Governorates have over time been severely depleted of both their chemical and physical fertility due to constant removal of crop residues to feed animals, and the effects of high stocking rates of sheep and goats on soil compaction and erosion. Deforestation to supply fuel for heating and cooking in times of shortage has been widespread. Soil fertility is one of the main bases of productive cropping. Yields of the main agricultural crops in northern Iraq are well below their potential compared with countries that have similar climates. It is thus clear that soil fertility must be improved as one of the first steps in lifting crop production.

The grain yields of cereal and food legume crops are low by any standards, as already stated above. In other countries, under similar rainfall (or even less) and similar environmental conditions, 3-4 times of these yields were obtained when adapted technology was used. The reasons behind these low levels of productivity of these crops are attributed not only to low and erratic rainfall in some years, but to the fact that they are poorly managed. Moreover, soil fertility has been neglected for long time, as many non recommended activities has been practiced during the last decade such as monoculture, deep tillage, overgrazing and removal of crop residues, and neglecting the integration of legume crops to certain extent in the cropping system. Also, the increased use of mixed varieties and of lower inputs contributed to an overall yield decline.

Improved technologies related to high yielding and adapted to environmental conditions (e.g. drought tolerant) cultivars, and cultural practices (fertilization, crop rotation, planting time, seeding rate, legume rhizoidal inoculation ...etc) are needed for improving the productivity of these crops.

Seed supply

Seed supply should be considered as a key factor to improve agricultural productivity. In fact, since 1927, cereal seed production was considered as the major objective of the Government of Iraq. Although in principle all basic components of seed program are in place[4], in the last two decades there is not an organized seed production system working in the three northern Governorates of Iraq (Impiglia, 2002). There is no private sector production of annual crop seeds and most farmers use their own saved seed. The origins of seed in use are mostly high yielding varieties that have lost their vigour due to lack of renewal, and there isn't a proper breeding programme.

Although there is an existing variety release and registration system in Iraq, the 3NGI are in a situation where non new material is introduced and tested in the local conditions and practically variety improvement is not present in the North. Furthermore, no variety maintenance is carried out in the area, reducing productivity of the existing varieties and not giving any possibility to identify and select new suitable varieties for the agro-ecological conditions of the 3NGI.

Consequently, the seed quality of the major crops has been the subject of considerable concern to farmers for the last twenty years in the three northern Governorates. Furthermore, the severe last three years of drought have caused shortage of seed, mainly wheat and barley. Few private nurseries exist for the production of tree seedlings.

Total requirement of seeds for the two major crops in northern Iraq (wheat and barley) is estimated to be 50,000 tons for wheat, and 14,000 tons for barley. Major constraints in the supply of quality seeds are: the absence of an organized seed production system; a limited capacity of seed cleaning, grading and treatment plants; proper seed storage facilities. More specifically, the large percentage of weeds and barley seeds found mixed in with the harvested wheat seed constitutes the major qualitative problem.

Plant protection

Pests and diseases are a permanent threat for the agricultural production in the three northern Governorates. Large arrays of pests and diseases have been identified that affect the yields in the different crops grown in the region.

Insects like Sunn pest and soft scale have been serious threat to wheat and barley growers since many years and at times cause substantial losses in production. Similarly, the covered smut disease is a serious problem in wheat production. Farmers who do not treat their seeds may loose up to 60% of their production in some years. Red spider mite and white fly are serious problems for vegetable and fruit growers of the region. Grasshoppers cause serious damage to vegetables and orchards in the mountain areas where there is less vegetation in the surroundings. Rodents have been common problem of farmers in the flat lands for all crops. Weeds like wild oat, Syrian scabies weed and wild mustard in wheat and barley crops may strongly reduce yields.

Farmers rely on the use of pesticides to control these pests. This sole reliance on pesticides is unsustainable and therefore Integrated Production and Pest Management (IPPM) strategies have to be introduced. Farmer Field School (FFS) based training has proven to be a very effective vehicle for the development of and training in IPPM. Therefore the FFS approach needs to be introduced in the Governorates.

Risks inherent to the use of pesticides have to be kept as low as possible. To this effect, farmers need continuous training in the handling and application of pesticides according to good agricultural practice. In addition, adequate storage facilities and related working space are essential to store and handle pesticides

Development potential

The three northern Governorates have the soil and water resources to meet their basic food needs in wheat and rice - the main staples. Conditions are also favourable for efficient production of high value products, including dairy, poultry, vegetables and fruits and edible oils. However, for this area, to exploit its potential it must create a system of incentives that encourage private effort and investment and along with good public services that provide support and a regulating framework (FAO, 2001). The challenge for the rehabilitation of crop production is to raise productivity in a sustainable manner (FAO, 2000).

OFP resources available to the region provide an important opportunity from a national perspective to achieve economic diversification and to strengthen the non-oil economy. The high share of the rural population in the region requires an investment focus on agriculture as the main growth engine and the principal means to reduce poverty. The economic viability of a well prepared agricultural rehabilitation programme appears quite certain, although the removal of market and price distortions appears to be a critical issue. The social justification of the programme would be strong if its coverage could be broadened to reach most of the farming population (FAO, 2001).

Conservation farming in the region

In the three northern Governorates, under the Oil-for-Food Programme, FAO in close collaboration with the local authorities initiated work on conservation agriculture through training activities and the implementation of a long term experiment in the field at Ainkawa Research Centre. The experiments aimed at testing two important components of farming systems: the crop rotation and soil management. On the basis of these experiments, a set of instructions to plant and conduct the research, (which intends to be a long term trial to allow the improvement of physical, chemical and biological conditions of the soil) was elaborated[5]. This long term experiment started in 2001 on crop rotation and soil management and can be considered as a "laboratory" in the field, where soil organic matter content, insects and disease occurrence, effects on soil physics (aggregation, structure, density, etc.) can be studied.

Under the Oil-for-Food Programme, field observation on soil management, at the three northern Governorates, were also implemented to verify the possibility to initiate a minimum and zero tillage at the observation level. Based on the analysis of the field observations, instructions for planting including field lay out and instruction for soil preparation, were prepared (FAO. 2003b).

A third work on these conservation activities, also under the Oil-for Food Programme, was carried out at Ainkawa Research Centre. A field observation on Crop Sequence was planted for the second year, in order to understand how the new crops such as soybean, sunflower and maize fit in the farmers cropping systems. Again, instructions for a plan for four years of crop sequence, the field lay out and data assessments were developed on the basis of the analysis.

Constraints to conservation farming in the region

The constraints to conservation farming in the region include, inter alia, the following:

The following research activities are needed in the future to ensure proper implementation of conservation farming:

[4] In 1968 a quality control and certification scheme, as well as seed production farms were established by the Iraqi Government. Also, FAO organised a project on seed production and certification from 1969 to 1974. In 1990 the Government endorsed a national seed policy, and in 1995 a National Seed Board was set up (Impiglia, 2002).
[5] See the technical Annex on crop production and farming system in the Three-year plan for the northern Governorates, FAO, TCES, 2003 Rome.

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