28 April 2003, Rome -- At least one-third of Iraq's critical spring grain crop appears to have emerged unscathed from the conflict, according to preliminary surveys conducted by FAO.

In a statement issued today, FAO warned however, that the fate of the bulk of the winter crop of cereals, some 1.2 million tonnes of sorely needed wheat and barley, remains in doubt.

The UN agency based its preliminary assessment on reports received from national staff in Iraq.

In Iraq's three northern governorates (Erbil, Dohuk, Sulaimaniyah) most farmers were not displaced from their fields during the conflict, which means they are well placed to begin harvesting their grain crops in a few weeks.

The northern governorates are expected to produce between 30 and 35 percent of this year's total estimated crop of 1.7 million tonnes of grain.

If the harvest in the north proceeds on schedule, it will help alleviate food shortages by producing more than
500 000 tonnes of wheat and barley, enough to fill at least 20 000 truckloads that would otherwise have to be imported.

The Euphrates valley crop

The situation is less clear in the 18 governorates in the center and south, especially in the grain growing regions south of Baghdad between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where another third of the cereal crop is cultivated.

While still too early to predict the loss of the Euphrates valley crop of wheat, barley and rice, there may well be difficulties, according to FAO.

Unlike the rain-fed northern crop, the southern crop depends entirely on irrigation, which is in turn heavily reliant on electricity and fuel supply to run the pumping networks. There are similar difficulties with the spring crop of vegetables in the south, also entirely dependent on irrigation.

Internal trade of food and vegetables has often been disrupted, which sometimes has led to significant price increases.

In the northern governorates, chicken prices shot up by 20 percent, motivated in part by the fact that poultry producers in the north stopped hatching and raising new chicks during the fighting because they could not ship products to traditional markets in Baghdad and other parts of the south.

Fuel prices, too, have soared, heightening the burden on Iraq's heavily mechanized farming structure. With the ceasing of hostilities, diesel prices have returned to normal, gasoline prices are between 50 and 75 percent higher than pre-war levels.

FAO has recently launched an appeal for $86 million covering agricultural assistance to secure crop and livestock production and improve agricultural productivity in Iraq.

To date, several donors have shown interest in the appeal, with $2.5 million pledged by the UK.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105