Iraq: Agriculture and livelihoods needs assessment in the newly liberated areas of Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salahadin, February, 2016.

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Executive Summary

The assessment was carried out in five (sub-) districts in Salahadin governorate three districts in Ninewa; and three in Kirkuk. The overall importance of restoring agricultural activities and livelihoods across these areas is unquestionable – not only for the communities in these regions, but for Iraq as a whole. The invasions of these governorates by ISIS mainly occurred in the period June to August 2014. Some of Salahadin was liberated in April 2015, some parts just recently and some areas are still occupied. In Ninewa, the relevant districts were invaded in August 2014 and some parts liberated in the period June to November 2015. Large areas of Kirkuk were liberated in August 2015.


Crop production including wheat, barley, maize, fruits and vegetables in the newly liberated areas in Ninewa and Salahadin provided nearly 70% of household income prior to the occupation by ISIS. In Kirkuk which produces oil and is more urbanised, agriculture, forestry and aquaculture was the secondlargest employment sector after oil and used to provide jobs for 15% of the total workforce1 . In addition, these three governorates contributed nearly half of Iraq’s national production of cereals and so were major contributors to national food security.

ISIS invaded these governorates just after harvest time in 2014 so farmers immediately lost their harvest and a year’s worth of labour and investment.
Continued occupation and ongoing violence for several months after disrupted the 2015 cropping cycle as well. The major impact was through massive displacement of the local population, looting and destruction of silos and seed and fertilizer storage facilities as well as the collapse of government support in providing inputs. About 70 to 80% of cultivated area with corn, wheat, and barley was damaged (causing lower yields) or destroyed in areas in Salahadin. In Ninewa on average 32% of acres dedicated to wheat cultivations were badly damaged resulting in a lower yields, and 68% was completely lost. Likewise, 43% of the acres used for barley were damaged while 57% was completely destroyed.

In all three governorates, much of the existing irrigation is currently in urgent need of repair. Prior to the June 2014 invasion by ISIS, virtually every farmer had access to a constant supply of water through a combination of open-channel, sprinkler and drip irrigation systems. Water pumps, electrical transformers and pivotal sprinklers were damaged or looted.

Crop production is currently severely hindered by reduced access to land due to the presence of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as well as by the suspension of governmental assistance in terms of seeds, fertilizer and pesticides. Due to a lack of pesticides, pests such as spiders, mould, insects, rodents and weeds have become widespread and hard to control. This has resulted in a decrease in production which is made worse by a lack of machineries. Most of the tools and machineries used by the farmers have either been damaged or looted during the fighting and the higher prices in relation to the pre-crisis situation prevents many farmers from replacing their equipment. Recovery will require removal of IEDs to improve land access combined with provision of fertilizers, seeds and pesticides and access to basic equipment.


Across the governorates livestock was another important contributor to household incomes and food security constituting nearly 20% of income in many areas As a result of the crisis livestock related livelihoods and food supply suffered major disruptions. Up to 80% of sheep and goats and up to 50% cows were lost in many areas. Poultry suffered the highest average mortality rates at about 90%. Only 10 to 20% livestock shelters remain intact, Access to medicine, vaccines and other veterinarian services previously available from government are no longer provided. The main products; meat, milk and eggs, average a production loss of 30 to 50%. The main needs reported by farmers required to restore livestock production are adequate shelters, increasing access to medicine and vaccines, and affordable high-quality fodder for their animals. Additionally, farmers currently lack income and cash to buy back animals previously sold under stress.


In some areas of Salahadin, up to 28% farmers engage in aquaculture and nearly 18% breed fish. In Ninewa fishery activities are slightly less prevalent, and only about 3% of farmers in Kirkuk engage in fisheries. In Salahadin on average 46% of fish ponds were destroyed while in some places almost all boats were destroyed. On average, half of the hatcheries were destroyed, while damage to tools ranged widely from 10 to 100% across districts. Postcrisis production of fish is about 20 to 50% of pre-crisis levels. In Ninewa,
Zummar district, pre-crisis production was roughly 10 tons of fish per day.
It is estimated that current production fell to a mere 2 tons per day. The FSC assessment suggested daily catch of all three types of fish have roughly decreased by 75%2 , thus corroborating the empirical finding. Before the crisis, almost all of the fish farmers had access to fish feed and medicine. Yet, due to ensuing insecurity, access to these items has radically decreased to the point where only 10% of farmers reported having access. In the short term, the main needs to recover aquaculture activities in the region are the rehabilitation and repopulation of fish ponds, as well as the replacing of equipment lost in the previous months.


About 75% of residents work in the agricultural sector either as day labourers or farmers owning or renting an average of 6 acres. Many workers supplement their income from agricultural activities with some sort of other job, often as a civil servant (in customs or police force) or as shopkeepers. Many civilservants also supplement their public salaries by working as taxi-drivers.
Before the crisis, each farm employed around 14 workers on average 3 . In the current situation however, due to a lack of markets, falling prices and increasing costs, many farmers cannot afford to hire the labourers needed to work the same amount of land previously cultivated. Farmers’ income has been reduced by more than 50% since the war against ISIS with poorest among them having to survive on less than $200 per month. Among the most important factors for this downturn is the lack of payment by government to farmers for crops purchased over the last two years.
Food insecurity has become widespread throughout the districts with some estimating the level at over 50%.

Many families are trying to cope by engaging in negative coping mechanisms varying from reducing portion sizes, or the number of meals per day to borrowing money from friends and relatives. A few others were more fortunate and had saved some money for expected hard times. The interruption of the federal Public Distribution System (PDS) 4 has been reported as one of the main reasons for decreasing food security. There is an urgent need for cash or income amongst the population of the liberated areas, as well as small grants and loans to support livelihood activities... Importantly, supporting the recovery of the agricultural sector will provide citizens with much-needed job opportunities. For the long term recovery of agricultural livelihoods in these governorates, a comprehensive and structured approach to meet immediate, as well as longer term needs is required.


  1. Restore Crop Production:
  • Provide direct support in the form of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and enhanced land and machinery access to help restore crop production.

  • Provide temporary irrigation measures such as digging wells.

  • Support measures to restore market access.

2.Restore Livestock production.

  • Provide animals to support restocking, especially sheep and poultry.

  • Provide emergency vetinary services including medicines • Direct provision of chicken feed • Improve safety and access to pastures

3.Revitalise fish production in Ninewa and Salahadin

  • Rehabilitate fish ponds

  • Direct provision of fish feed and medicines

4.Stabilise Livelihoods (In addition to the above actions which will assist livelihoods)

  • Support cash for work schemes

  • Help rebuild small and micro businesses through grants, affordable loans, market access measures