La résilience
Emergency fertilizer distributions help conflict-affected Iraqi farmers increase wheat production

Emergency fertilizer distributions help conflict-affected Iraqi farmers increase wheat production


More than 2 000 farmers affected by conflict in Iraq have received 750 tonnes of fertilizer from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to increase production of their winter wheat crops. The farmers, from Alqosh and Sheikan districts of Ninewa Governorate each received 350 kilograms of fertilizer, half of which will be used now for planting and the other half in spring to boost the wheat’s growth.

Loading bags of fertilizer

Since the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) took parts of Iraq’s wheat belt in 2014, farmers have struggled to either access or afford fertilizer and other agricultural inputs, due to challenges that include restricted access to markets, the high cost of inputs, and the effect of conflict on Iraq’s Government, resulting in delayed payments to farmers for previous crops.

“The shortage of fertilizer has been a challenge for us. We can’t afford to buy it,” said local farmer Seve Kheder Slo, who grows wheat with her husband on their small farm to support their seven children. “We just planted our winter wheat crop and we’ll use this fertilizer straight away. It will support the crop to grow more than it would otherwise.”

With nearly one-third of Iraqis requiring humanitarian assistance, food security remains one of the most worrying aspects of the crisis in Iraq. Some 77 percent of Iraq’s 2.9 million food insecure people are women, children or elderly.

“When farmers can no longer access or afford inputs like fertilizer and pesticides, their crops, should they be able to plant them at all, are unlikely to thrive,” said Dr Fadel El-Zubi, FAO Representative in Iraq. “Since 2014, this is one of the factors that has contributed to countrywide cereal shortages and a sharp rise in the cost of basic food commodities in Iraq. Restoring people’s ability to farm and trade in conflict-affected communities is not only important for food security, but also for building peace and prosperity in the country,” he said.

Wheat farmers in Ninewa Governorate and other parts of Iraq’s wheat belt rely on selling their crops to the Government for its Public Distribution System – an important social safety net entitling Iraqi citizens to receive rations of flour, rice, sugar and cooking oil from the government. However the cost of fighting ISIL, as well as low oil prices, saw government austerity measures introduced, including delayed payments for wheat. Unpaid farmers cannot afford agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, which are important for healthier and higher yielding crops.

The FAO fertilizer distribution, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, came as the winter rains began to fall and farmers started planting. Through providing fertilizer, the FAO project aims increase the income of vulnerable rural households (including smallholder and marginal farmers, agricultural wage earners and returnees to retaken areas) and improve their food and nutrition security, livelihoods and nutrition.

As the Government of Iraq retakes control of more areas, a major effort is needed to support the agriculture sector so that production can resume and livelihoods can be restored. FAO is seeking urgent funding of USD 89 million to strengthen its emergency response, including rehabilitating damaged agricultural infrastructure, supporting farmers to vaccinate and feed their livestock, and expanding cash-for-work and other income-generating activities. FAO’s work, in coordination with the Iraqi Government, supports families returning to retaken areas, internally displaced families, host communities and refugees from Syria. The fertilizer distribution project was funded through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).