Conservation cropping in the drylands of northern Iraq

Agriculture currently provides about eight per cent of Iraq’s GDP and 20 per cent of its employments, supporting seven million people of a total population of 26 million. There has been a 50 per cent decline in Iraqi agricultural production in the past 20 years. Professor Siddique from The UWA Institute of Agriculture is involved in a project providing the Iraqi Government with ongoing assistance in crucial elements of its National Development Strategy, particularly in improving the nation’s food security.

War, drought and limited access to technological advances have had a significant negative impact in agricultural development and productivity in Iraq. Of the factors that contribute to crop yield, 70 per cent relate to crop management practices such as the frequency of soil tilling. Current wheat production in Iraq satisfies less than half of the national demand, so modification of traditional farming methods, improved crop varieties and crop management has great potential to help Iraqi farmers increase their wheat yields.

Since 2005, The UWA Institute of Agriculture has participated in a project to assist the re-establishment of agriculture and enhance cropping practices in the dryland areas of northern Iraq. The project, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and AusAID, aims to increase crop productivity, profitability and sustainability in northern Iraq through development, evaluation and promotion of conservation cropping technologies involving zero-tillage, stubble mulching, improved crop varieties and better crop management. The project is also involved in capacity building in Iraq through MSc students at UWA and short term training programs.

Gaps in the agricultural knowledge of Iraq’s farming and research community have appeared after 15 years of isolation from the Internet, recent research and advances in agricultural and information technology. These gaps can be closed with training, new equipment, and study tours to countries facing technical issues in agriculture similar to those in Iraq.

The major challenges and constraints for Iraqi agriculture are declining production, low crop yields, highly variable and low rainfall, poor research and extension services, lack of availability and increasing cost of impost and low prices and marketing difficulties for outputs.

Local villagers have been trained to produce and market seed and zero-till machinery. Meanwhile, local agricultural agencies have received technical training to plan, implement and monitor research and development programs. So far, local growers have widely adopted these conservation cropping systems.

The project partners include Ministry of Agriculture and University of Mosul (Iraq), International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), The University of Western Australia and University of Adelaide. The project is funded by the Australian Government through Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and AusAID.

Collaborator/s

  • Dr Stephen Loss (ICARDA)
  • Dr Abdul Sattar