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FAO in Iraq

Iraq at a glance

Overview

Iraq is an agricultural country. Although a considerable portion of its agricultural lands are under irrigation, it still depends highly on rain fed agriculture for grain and sheep production. Rain fed agriculture is practiced in the northern parts where the mountains, foothills, and Jazeera desert are located. Land potentially suitable for agricultural production however is not more than 27 percent of the total area of the country. The rest includes deserts with extremely low rainfall and rocky/steep mountains which are the natural grazing grounds for the millions of head of sheep and goats in the country.

The total area which has been used for agricultural production is about 8 million hectares which is almost 67 percent of the cultivable area. However, due to certain limitations such as soil salinity, drought, shortage of irrigation water in summer, fallowing and the unstable political situation it is estimated that the average area actually cropped each year ranges from 3 to 4 million hectares.

Livestock constitutes an integral part of farming systems. Traditionally farmers keep livestock to enhance farm incomes and satisfy their basic food requirements. Sheep, goats and cattle are the most important livestock, supplying meat, wool, milk, skins, and hair.

Challenges

After years of war and social unrest, Iraq is facing a number of challenges. The poor performance of the agricultural sector and lack of employment perspectives drive migration to the urban areas, generating pressure on service delivery and increasing urban poverty. Iraq’s agricultural sector represents a small, but vital component of Iraq’s economy. However, population growth combined with the need to produce more food from a limited and shrinking resource base of land and water have resulted in farming systems that tend to maximize short-term returns at the expense of long-term sustainability.

Water losses in irrigation schemes, all over Iraq, are substantial. By and large, water is conveyed to farmers’ fields through very poorly maintained distribution systems made of earth canals and ditches which suffer significant water losses because of infiltration, seepage or leakage.

Overgrazing is a major problem. There are no coordinated efforts to bring about improved range management to increase livestock production while maintaining range resources.

The recent intensification of violence in Iraq coincides with wheat planting. If farmers are displaced, or unable to venture to their fields, this will have implications for medium-term food security. Food security conditions are likely to deteriorate with large number of IDPs putting strain on hosting communities, in particular as large share of IDPs have fled toward cities in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Lack of resources limit the coping capacities available to households and limit access to food.

Agriculture-based livelihoods face severe constraints across the value chain. Major constraints include: restricted access to land due to violence; internal population displacement; reduced availability and increased cost of farming inputs; physical damage to land, farming equipment and infrastructure including storage facilities; the disruption of markets; increased cost of and reduced access to animal feed sources; and reduced veterinary supplies and services.