Shafaq News/ Iraq's agriculture sector faces a serious threat due to climate change, which has reduced crop yields and livestock productivity.
The country has grappled with escalating drought, rising temperatures, diminishing water bodies, decreased rainfall, and overall water scarcity, making it one of the five most affected countries by climate change globally, leading to the drying up of 70% of agricultural land.
Experts say that one of the main causes of this problem is the high dependence on imported water for irrigation, which consumes more than three-quarters of the country's total water use. They call for modern technologies to conserve water and optimize its use.
The decrease in water availability has affected Iraq's agricultural sector, posed a severe threat to fundamental human rights, created barriers to sustainable development, and worsened the humanitarian situation.
According to the U.N. Environment Programme, Iraq is the fifth most vulnerable country in the world to extreme temperatures and water shortages.
Climate change has also increased the frequency and intensity of sand and dust storms, negatively impacting health, the environment, and the economy.
The Iraqi government and the international community have been working to address these challenges. Still, more efforts are needed to ensure the resilience and adaptation of the Iraqi people and ecosystems.
The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources claims that it has preserved and increased its strategic reserve, consisting of artificial lakes formed by dams and river barriers and natural lakes such as Tharthar, Habbaniyah, and other wetlands. However, this reserve has reached its lowest level in the history of Iraq.
Revenues below 50%
The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources is anticipating an expansion of the current water reserve from 10 billion cubic meters to 15 billion cubic meters by the end of the flood season, drawing from ice, snow, rain, and other sources.
Khaled Shimal, the ministry's spokesperson, informed Shafaq News Agency that "the Ministry has taken significant measures to augment the reserve by addressing violations, eliminating fish ponds, and mitigating water pollutants, resulting in a reduction of water usage by over 80 cubic meters per second."
Shimal also mentioned that the ministry is replenishing the Euphrates from Lake Tharthar with 100 cubic meters per second and directly from the Tigris River via the Samarra Dam irrigation outlets with almost 150 cubic meters per second due to its diminished flow.
The agricultural plan
The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources is finalizing an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture for the upcoming summer agricultural plan.
Shimal elaborated, "The winter agricultural plan has been executed without issues, as water was sourced from surface water, rainwater, and groundwater."
Shimal said that the agricultural plan is based on three key indicators: the first one is the water in the strategic reserve or natural storage lakes, which can be used for irrigation when necessary. The second one is the "realized revenue, which is more reliable than expected," covering surface water, rain, or snowmelt revenues. The third one is the global market indicators, the supply and demand principles, and the global and local food security requirements.
He emphasized, "The agricultural plan hinges on agricultural policy and the willingness of all units to adhere to water consumption rationing and governance."
The agricultural sector, encompassing both plant and animal cultivation, has been impacted by the climate changes affecting Iraq and the region, resulting in a general decrease in productivity.
Khatab Al-Dhamin, an agricultural expert, said, "Plant production has seen a significant decline due to reduced cultivated areas, impacting both irrigated and rain-fed crops reliant on rainwater."
Al-Dhamin highlighted that rainfall and river water levels have significantly decreased, prompting the government to scale back the agricultural plan, particularly for areas irrigated by river water or wells without ample rainfall.
This reduction in cultivated areas has led to the cessation of wheat cultivation in many rain-fed regions, except for some northern areas still receiving adequate rainfall. However, rain-fed agriculture has completely halted in Saladin, Anbar, Kirkuk, Diyala, parts of Nineveh, and central and southern regions.
Furthermore, Al-Dhamin pointed out that irrigated agriculture, including cultivating vegetables, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and other staple crops, has also decreased in cultivated areas. The Ministry of Water Resources has cut off water from certain areas outside the agricultural plan over the past year, resulting in their desiccation.
Discussing fish farming basins, Al-Dhamin noted that the Ministry of Water Resources has also restricted water access, particularly in north and south Baghdad, leading to the complete cessation and drying up of thousands of fish farming fields.
Regarding animal production, Al-Dhamin noted that while the damage to the sector is "not insignificant," it is comparatively lower than the impact on plant production.
The challenges the animal sector faces, particularly livestock breeding, are attributed to decreased rainfall, which has deprived livestock of natural pastures. Additionally, the rise in market feed prices, driven by factors such as rain scarcity and international inflation, has further compounded these challenges.
The increase in feed prices has resulted in a lack of access to adequate and quality food for livestock, leading to reduced productivity in terms of reproduction and the quantity of meat and dairy products.
The scarcity of natural pastures has also contributed to this decline. Consequently, there has been a noticeable and constant increase in meat prices due to diminished productivity. This trend coincides with the continuous growth in demand for meat, driven by Iraq's significant annual population increase, as highlighted by Al-Dhamin.
The Iraqi agriculture sector utilizes only 75-80% of its water imports due to the outdated practice of surface irrigation. The remaining water is allocated for civil and industrial consumption, including oil production, which consumes approximately three cubic meters per barrel of oil.
Water and environmental expert Ahmed Saleh emphasized the importance of transitioning from surface irrigation to modern water-saving technologies such as drip irrigation, sprinkler systems, closed agriculture, hydroponics, and closed fish ponds. He noted that Iraq has begun implementing these advanced irrigation methods in the Karbala governorate this year.
Saleh stressed the need to explore alternatives for strategic crops, suggesting that it may not be necessary to continue cultivating wheat and barley domestically, as these crops are available at a lower cost in neighboring countries. Importing these crops instead of cultivating them domestically could significantly conserve water for other agricultural sectors, such as horticulture.
Highlighting Iraq's status as a downstream country without formal treaties with upstream countries, Saleh underscored the necessity of diplomatic efforts to establish binding water treaties to secure Iraq's water rights. He emphasized that Iraq has internal springs contributing to 30% of its annual water revenues, with most water coming from Turkey and fewer from Iran.
Saleh pointed out that the central and southern regions have been particularly affected by drought, leading to the loss of hundreds of thousands of water-related jobs in agriculture, fishing, and fish farming and impacting bird populations.
The water crisis has significantly affected alfalfa and field crop farms in the Middle Euphrates regions, with severe consequences in southern Iraq. For example, the Maysan Governorate has lost 100% of its marshes due to drought. Amara and Nasiriyah have experienced an 80% reduction, and Basra and Babylon have also been affected on both agricultural and animal husbandry fronts.
Additionally, Saleh highlighted the economic impact of the water crisis, noting that feed prices have fluctuated dramatically, reaching as high as one million and a quarter million dinars per ton before returning to 600,000 IQD per ton. The drought has also affected the tourism sector, affecting tourism companies, hotels, restaurants, and other related industries.
Overall, Saleh's insights underscored the urgent need for modernizing irrigation practices, finding alternatives to water-intensive crops, and pursuing diplomatic efforts to secure Iraq's water rights and mitigate the impacts of climate change on the country's agricultural and economic sectors.
Iraq is facing a water crisis due to the construction of dams and irrigation systems by Iran and Turkey, which reduce water flow into its rivers and marshes.
Iraq's cooperation with its neighboring countries is necessary to secure its water rights and manage its transboundary rivers.
The international community also played a pivotal role in supporting Iraq's efforts to cope with climate change and achieve sustainable development.