3 April 2003, Rome -- Conflict could be devastating for Iraq's rural economy with consequences on the country's capacity to produce food, FAO warned today in the wake of its recent launch of a $86 million appeal to help meet the emergency.

Close to two-thirds of Iraq's 24.5 million people rely entirely for their daily sustenance on food baskets provided under the UN's Oil-for-Food Programme, halted since the war began.

FAO, responsible for the Oil-for-Food Programme's agricultural component, said Iraq's farmers will require seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, machinery, fuel, spare parts and other tools they need to plant, harvest and secure current and future crops.

Animal feed, vaccines and medicines are needed for the farmers' livestock.

Saving the "bread basket"

FAO's prime concern is the approaching harvest of the winter wheat and barley crop, expected to begin in late April and estimated at between 1.5 and 1.7 million tonnes of grain.

"Loss of the winter harvest, especially in Iraq's northern 'bread basket' provinces, which account for more than half of the country's entire cereal production, would further aggravate what is already a difficult situation," said Laurent Thomas, Chief, Special Emergency Programmes Service.

"All efforts have to be made to save this harvest throughout the country where access will be feasible, by making sure farmers are in position with their combine harvesters working, and fuel, spare parts and storage in place," said Thomas.

As compelling is the need to ensure that planting for the irrigated spring crop of vegetable, maize and rice proceeds on schedule.

The vegetable crop, a source of much-needed cash as well as an essential supply of the vitamins, proteins and micronutrients missing from the food-aid baskets, should be underway now.

FAO is appealing for more than $20 million for three emergency projects to secure the grain harvest and the spring and fall plantings.

There are six other projects in the $86 million appeal, all designed to:
  • protect harvest;
  • increase food production;
  • prevent outbreaks of animal diseases;
  • ensure water supplies in rural areas;
  • coordinate relief efforts.
FAO also needs funds to improve, plan and coordinate food security activities in collaboration with other UN agencies and NGO's and to monitor their impact on the nutritional status of the population.

Water a priority

Any disruption to the water supply, which provides both drinking water and irrigation, will damage crops and livestock production.

Provision has also been made in the FAO appeal for pipes, pumps, drills and technical expertise required to set-up emergency water supplies and repair damaged irrigation networks, if needed.

A $9.8 million project is designed to support the country's 4 000 poultry farms, another essential source of the animal proteins missing from the food basket.

Prior to the outbreak of the current conflict, Iraq was producing up to 155 000 metric tonnes of poultry meat and 2 billion eggs annually.

The lack of veterinary services, vaccines, drugs and quarantine controls could also result in the spread of animal diseases with serious economic impact in Iraq and possibly with impact on the whole region.

Veterinary checks on the border of neighbouring countries and vaccination campaigns will be required to prevent outbreaks of animal diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease and pestes des petits ruminants among the country's 1.5 million head of cattle and 18 million sheep and goats.

"These animals are the wealth of a large part of Iraq's rural population," said Thomas. "So if people move, they are going to take their animals with them, increasing the risk of animal diseases spreading within the country and possibly across borders."

Nick Parsons
FAO News and Multimedia Service
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