August 6, 2009

Drought to slash Iraq's wheat harvest, boost imports

Iraq may harvest its worst wheat crop in a decade this year, as an extended drought cuts water supply, which will force the country to increase grain imports.


Iraq's wheat harvest may drop to 40 percent of normal levels as rainfall declines 50 percent, said Fadel El-Zubi, head of the Iraqi office at the FAO.


This is the fourth consecutive year of drought in Iraq, he said, adding that Iraq will have to import four million tonnes of wheat this year to meet its annual demand of about five million tonnes.


The FAO forecasts Iraq's wheat production to total less than one million tonnes this year, compared with the average output of 2.5 million tonnes from 2000 to 2007. Iraq produced 1.5 million tonnes of wheat last year.


Lesser river water flowing out of Turkey and Syria has also hurt Iraq's grain-growing areas, according to the USDA. Iraq is dependent on water from rivers passing through Syria and Iran, which are also facing drier-than-normal conditions, said USDA analyst Michael Shean.


Crop yields are expected to be significantly reduced in major southern irrigated provinces this year owing to critical shortages of irrigation water in the Tigris and Euphrates river systems during the wheat growing season, said Shean said in a May 12 report.


Iraq will import 3.8 million tonnes of wheat in the 12 months ending June 2010, the most since the period ending June 2006, according to the USDA.


El-Zubi said Iraq, Syria and Turkey needs a water sharing agreement to help Iraq tackle the drought.


The FAO is currently working with Iraq on a water plan that involves upgrading the country's irrigation infrastructure, cutting water consumption through more efficient use and better crops, and brokering a treaty among the neighbours, El-Zubi said.