BAGHDAD, 11 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Iraqi farmers say they urgently need supplies of good quality seed, pesticides and equipment if they are to be able to grow quality crops and prevent long term damage to agricultural land and loss of income.
Their difficulties started after the US-led invasion in 2003, ending the regime of Saddam Hussein the farmers say.
Normally, supplies of fresh seed would be purchased through the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) at controlled prices. But the amount of seed available had become insufficient for the requirements of farmers.
"After the military missions ended in Iraq, most of the Iraqi farmers stopped receiving any supplies from the stores of the agricultural ministry," Hamed Razak, a farmer from Baghdad said.
"These missing supplies affected our income and crops because we had to buy them from the market at a price double or treble the official price," Razak continued.
Because farmers had to pay inflated prices for seed purchased on the open market they could only afford to buy a smaller amount of seed and production was drastically reduced.
"Decreased supplies of seed and equipment by the Ministry of Agriculture made planting a large area impossible. This also meant leaving the land without growing crops which caused increased saltiness (salinity) and uncultivated wild land," another farmer from Baghdad, Hassen Jassem said.
In order to continue planting a larger area, many farmers used the MoA supply and then made up the shortfall with seeds from the market. Jassem added that seed and supplies purchased in this way were not checked for quality which caused further problems.
"The farmer bought his stock from the local market which is not the best choice because seeds and pesticides are expensive or bad quality which affected both farmer's crops and consumers," Jassem added.
Iraq produces wheat, barley, rice, corn, dates and assorted vegetable crops. Most of the rice, vegetables and dates are grown in central and southern Iraq.
Farmers need supplies of quality seeds and equipment, such as combine harvesters and tractors, particularly for the grain crops.
After the UN sanctions were imposed in the 1990's affecting food supplies, Saddam Hussein issued orders for an 80 percent increase in the area planted with cereal corps.
The MoA supplied the farmers with fertiliser, seeds, farm equipment, pesticides, water pumps and fuel under Saddam's rule.
These supplies came to an abrupt halt when many of the government storage facilities were looted and burned after the US-led war in 2003, pushing agricultural productivity down to critical levels.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports after 2003 showed that there was an urgent requirement for spare parts and fuel in order to keep combine harvesters and tractors running for the upcoming harvest season. In addition, urgent support was needed to revive cereal crop marketing and distribution facilities.
The FAO launched an emergency aid appeal for Iraq in 2003 to raise US $86 million for agricultural assistance to secure crop and livestock production and to improve productivity in the agricultural sector.
The MoA is now redoubling efforts to supply mechanised equipment and supplies to farmers to ensure the production of the staple cereal crops, wheat and barley in order to maintain production.
"We will supply the farmers with water sprinkler equipment and tractors for reasonable prices or by installment payments for the spring harvest," the director of the Research Department of the State Company of Agricultural Supplies (SCAS) in the MoA Mohammed Abdul-Kareem said.
"We will distribute these supplies through our marketing departments, agents and local farmers association (LFA) in the country," Abdul-Kareem continued.
Some farmers in Baghdad complain that the MoA supports only the producers of staple crops while farmers who grow vegetables receive no assistance.
"I have not received seeds or equipment from the MoA for three years. I bought seeds and pesticides from the market and I rent tractors to plant my land," said Baghdad farmer Madee Ali.
However, an official at the MoA said the plan for agriculture this year will cover all the farmers' needs and will cover producers of both staple and non-staple crops.
"We are planning to supply equipment, seeds, pesticides, animal feed, plastic, nylon and animal inoculations and spare parts for all the farmers in whole the country," Abdul-Kareem said.
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