Iraq's total production of major cereals (wheat, barley, rice and corn) has averaged less than 2 million tons in the last 5 years. Current production is estimated at less than half of the level in 1990. Agricultural productivity has suffered from limited investment and resources, shortages of inputs, deteriorating irrigation infrastructure, increasing soil salinity. Production was further reduced in recent years due to drought. Better weather during the 2001/02 growing season raised production 20 percent over the previous year. The current growing season (MY 2003/04) began in October-November, 2002 when winter grains were planted.
Crop Production Background
Arable land is estimated at 11.5 million hectares, approximately 20-30 percent of the country's total area. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates only 8 million hectares are used for agriculture and less than half are cultivated annually. Seventy-five percent of the cultivated area is located in the central and southern regions.
Click here to see MAP: Land Cover in Iraq derived from Landsat Imagery - 2000
Irrigated crops are grown primarily in central and southern Iraq and in the river valleys. Irrigated summer crops include rice, corn, dates, cotton, vegetables and fruits. Irrigation water is extracted from rivers, although groundwater is also used in the north and some western desert areas. For the most part, a single crop is planted per year, although there is some multiple cropping of vegetables where irrigation water is available. Rain-fed crops are grown primarily in the northeastern plains and mountain valleys. Rain-fed winter grains are grown during the wet months from November through April. The amount and timing of rainfall are critical and cause wide variations in production. Rain-fed wheat and barley constitute 40-50 percent of the total wheat and barley production.
Five-year average production estimates for Iraq are 860,000 metric tons (MT) of wheat and 720,000 MT of barley, and 210, 000 MT of rice. Less than 100,000 metric tons of corn is also grown. Production of major crops has decreased steadily since 1990. Current total production of major grains is estimated to be down 50 percent from the 1990/91 level. Three years of drought from 1999-2001 significantly reduced production. Rain-fed areas suffered from severe reductions in rainfall. Irrigated areas were seriously affected by reduced water availability from diminished river flows.
Significant area and yield declines have resulted from shortages of inputs (i.e. seeds, fertilizers and pesticides) and machinery, irrigation related problems (increasing soil salinity from flood irrigation and lack of drainage tiles, reduced irrigation water and deteriorating irrigation infrastructures), poor crop rotations to meet food deficits, and limited aerial spraying to control pests including the Sunn Pest (a major pest on wheat and barley in the region). An effort was made, in the early 1990's, to counter economic sanctions and increase domestic food production by raising area and yield. However, the gains made appear to have been short-lived and area has since stagnated.
Previous Growing Season Summary (MY 2002/03)
Last season's wheat production is estimated at 800,000 metric tons and barley at 650,000 metric tons, up 23 and 18 percent over the previous year, due to improved weather. The wheat and barley crops were harvested June-July 2002. Wheat and barley production increased over the previous three drought-affected years, due to improved growing conditions, but was still only 70 percent of the 5-year average. Last season's rough rice production is estimated at 150,000 metric tons, 30 percent lower than the 5-year average. The rice crop was planted in April-May and harvested in September-October. Estimated seasonal rainfall totals during 2001/02 were near normal in the growing areas of central Iraq. In the north, the rainfall was better than the previous three years for much of the season although the seasonal total was only 70 percent of normal.
Analysis of vegetation condition (vigor) indicated by satellite-derived vegetation index (NDVI) further supports that growing conditions improved due to better weather in the north. Seasonal NDVI increased throughout the northern growing areas in comparison to average conditions over recent years (1997/98-2000/01). Central and southern Iraq, however, do not appear to have experienced similar improvement.
Current Growing Season Update
Planted areas for the 2003/04 winter grains are expected to be similar to last year. Last season's estimated increase in production was attributed to improved weather. Winter grains were planted last October through December. December precipitation was near to above normal in the north but drier than normal in the remainder of the country. However, estimated rainfall totals thus far in the season are 75 percent or less of normal in much of the north. Colder than normal weather in mid-to-late December was followed by unseasonably warm temperatures, 3 to 5 degrees C above normal, in the first half of January.
Early season vegetation vigor indicated by NDVI shows limited improvement compared to last year in some growing areas in central and southern Iraq. Conditions are similar to slightly worse than last year in the remainder of the country. However, during these early months in the growing season, less vegetation is present and little vegetative growth occurs. Production will depend on growing conditions throughout the remainder of the season, and especially on moisture availability during the critical reproductive to grain-filling stage in the spring. The winter grains will be harvested from May to July.
FAO/WFP (1997), Special Report: FAO/WFP Food Supply and Nutrition Assessment Mission to Iraq, 3 October 1997.
FAO (1999), Drought Effects Briefing Notes, FAO Representation in Iraq, September 1999.
PECAD's Weather and Vegetation Index Monitoring Analysis Products for Iraq and worldwide, click on CROP EXPLORER at http://www.fas.usda.gov/pecad
For more information, contact Maria Anulacion of the Production Estimates and Crop Assessment Division at 202-690-0139.