As harvest time approaches for farmers in northern Iraq, the security crisis caused by the extremist group known as the Islamic State is having an impact on crops and agricultural business.
Usually at this time of the year Iraq's Ministry of Commerce begins to buy wheat and barley crops from local farmers, storing the crops in grain silos from June 1 onwards, until the end of July. However this year that is not happening as it usually does in northern Iraq, where harvests have decreased by almost half in some areas because thousands of acres of arable land have been left fallow.
For example, grain farmers in the south western part of Kirkuk province, where the extremists have made a big impact and where there has been ongoing fighting, have been dealing with the fact that their lands are near, or on the frontline, of fighting between the Islamic State, or IS, group and the Iraqi Kurdish military.
“In Kirkuk province there are an estimated 740,000 acres of arable land,” Mahdi Mubarak, the director of Kirkuk's Department of Agriculture, told NIQASH. “But farmers have only been able to plant about 418,000 of those this year. The IS group has controlled a lot of that uncultivated land and other parts of farmland became battlefields. All in all, we expect wheat and barley production to decrease significantly this year, by around 200,000 tonnes compared to last year. It's a big loss for Kirkuk,” he concluded.
Other nearby parts of northern Iraq, such as the Makhmour district, are also well known for their agriculture. Much of the grain produced here is exported to the cities of the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and further south to Mosul, one of Iraq's biggest cities currently controlled by the IS group. The IS group has also managed to control some of these farming areas, displacing residents and disrupting farming.
Honar Baba Saleh, Director of the Makhmour Agriculture Department, estimates that local farmers in his area were unable to plant around 40 percent of available arable land.
“There are 555,000 dunums of agricultural land, but only 300,000 were planted,” Baba Saleh told NIQASH. “Farmers were afraid of war or fire on their land so they abandoned some parts of it this year.”
However Baba Saleh also pointed out that the lands that were planted had a very good season and he's hopeful that this increased output will make up for any losses caused by the security crisis.
There is also good news from the Department of Agriculture in the Iraqi Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah. “This year's harvest is expected to be very good,” Faridoon Omar, director of the Department, told NIQASH. “Crops will be good and of high quality,” he said, adding that the most fertile areas in his province - the Shahrazor Plain and the Karmayan – were producing well.
Overall authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan and the surrounding areas believe they should be able to get by on the harvest this year. However they have also stopped exporting grains and it seems unlikely that farmers will be selling much, if anything, to buyers in other parts of Iraq this year.