Poultry farmers in the northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan are pondering a strange problem. While a large quantity of Iraqi Kurdish poultry products is exported and sold in other parts of Iraq, a large quantity is also imported – and Iraqi Kurdish chicken farmers say they cannot compete with the international imports, flooding their market at lower prices.
“It’s a simple enough deal,” says Sarhad Hama, who owns a large chicken farm near Halabja. “Local production is not enough to meet the demands of the region. But Kurdistan also depends on imported products, so we need to export our own goods to central and southern Iraq.”
The merchants who import the poultry products have more money and influence than the local producers.
At the same time imported poultry products are putting pressure on local producers. Official statistics indicate that every local in Iraqi Kurdistan consumes around 25 kilograms of chicken per year. The local government says there are 350 different poultry farms in the region, producing tonnes of chicken a day.
“If we estimate that there are about 5 million people in Iraqi Kurdistan and that each of them consumes 25 kilograms of chicken a year, then we would need 125,000 tonnes of chicken annually,” says Jamal Shukri, of the local Ministry of Agriculture. “But that exceeds the maximum locals can produce, which is why we allow imports of poultry.”
Some locals say that the local product tends to be of higher quality but the imported goods are popular because they are usually sold at lower prices.
Ramadan Mohammed, a livestock specialist at the Ministry, suggests another reason: “The merchants who import the poultry products have more money and influence than the local producers, which is why nobody cares as much about the Kurdish farmers,” he argues. “There is also a lack of coordination between the owners of the various poultry products which means that the sector has never managed to establish a united and solid base from which to compete.”
However as Mohammed points out, neither the imports nor the financial crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan – which has seen demand for consumer goods drop in general – has managed to defeat the local chicken farmers yet. Over the past three years, around 150 new farms have opened and the number of those who have closed remains low, he declares.
"Local officials support local products, but our hands are tied as there is no law to regulate this trade," Mohammed says, adding that if something isn’t done soon, then the importers will triumph over the local farmers. “The only solution is to impose higher taxes on the imported goods and to encourage better marketing of local products.”