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Water shortages to cut Iraq’s irrigated wheat area
September 12, 2018
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BAGHDAD: Iraq, a major Middle East grain buyer, will cut the irrigated area it plants with wheat by half in the 2018-2019 growing season as water shortages grip the country, a government official told reporters.

Drought and dwindling river flows have already forced Iraq to ban farmers from planting rice and other water-intensive summer crops. Water scarcity was one of the issues galvanizing street protests in the country this year.

An investigation by media in July revealed how Nineveh, Iraq’s former breadbasket, was becoming a dust bowl after drought and years of war.

This latest move is likely to significantly raise wheat imports.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Mahdi Al Qaisi said irrigated land grown with winter grains, namely wheat and barley, would be halved.

“The shortage of water resources, climate change and drought are the main reasons behind this decision, our expectation is the area will shrink to half,” Qaisi said in an interview.

Iraq’s agricultural plan included 1.6 million hectares of wheat last 2017-2018 season. Of those, around one million hectares were irrigated and the rest relied on rainfall.

“We expect that the irrigated wheat area falls to half of what it was last year,” Qaisi said, implying plantings of 500,000 hectares.

The cut is expected to lower the country’s wheat production by at least 20 per cent, implying a significantly higher import bill Fadel Al Zubi, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Iraq Representative said.

Iraq already has an import gap of more than one million tonnes per year, with annual demand at around 4.5 million to 5 million tonnes.

“Imports will go up as a result of cutting down on production and also as a result of population increase,” Zubi said but he declined to give an exact estimate for size of imports next year.

Haidar al-Abbadi, the head of Iraq’s General Union of Farmers, confirmed the cut saying water shortage was the main reason behind it.

“Irrigated wheat will reach 2 million donhums (500,000 hectares) down from around 4 million last season,” he said.

Qaisi said it was too early to tell the area of land that could be grown with wheat relying on rainfall this season but he hoped it would make up for some of the shortfall.

Reuters
 

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