JALIHA: The golden wheat ears of Kamel Hamed sway languidly in the wind. But faced with this rural landscape in central Iraq, the farmer does not hide his fear: between drought and water shortages, his harvest has been cut in half.
“The drought is unbelievable at the moment. Even in the wells the water cannot be used. It is salt water,” said Mr. Hamed in a white dishdasha, his head covered with a keffiyeh.
And since February, the effects of the war in Ukraine have been felt even in the fields near the village of Jaliha: the prices of fuel, fertilizer and seeds have risen sharply. What the production costs to explode.
Like all farmers in Iraq, Kamel Hamed follows the guidelines of the authorities, who buy his grains. They determine the area planted and the degree of irrigation, depending on water resources and rainfall.
This year, Iraq has halved its built-up areas due to water shortages. Mechanically, harvests have declined.
Mr. Hamed has planted a quarter of his 100 donums (10 hectares). In its fields, the combine makes systematic round trips to cut the ripe ears. The granules are projected into the container of a truck.
“This year, a single donum didn’t even bring us 500 kilograms of wheat,” complains the 53-year-old farmer. In previous seasons that was one ton per donum.
The war in Ukraine has caused “the price of motor oils and high-yield seeds to rise”. “Another financial burden for farmers,” he sighs.
“I don’t know how to support my family,” adds Mr. Hamed. “No salary, no job, where can I go?”.
“Leaving the Earth”
But the essential factor is water. An extremely sensitive topic for Iraq and its 41 million inhabitants, who feel the effects of climate change on a daily basis: desertification, repeated sandstorms, falling rainfall and lower river levels.
It is also an important geostrategic issue. Iraq shares the waters of several rivers, especially those of the Tigris and Euphrates, with Turkey and Syria, as well as with Iran. Baghdad faces headwinds against the construction of dams upstream in its neighbors, which reduce the flow of rivers as they arrive in Iraq.
Irrigated by the Euphrates, Diwaniya province, where Jaliha is located, normally receives 180 cubic meters of water per second. This year, the level will fluctuate between “80 and 90 cubic meters,” laments Hani Chaër, who leads a collective of farmers responsible for distributing the water.
Witness the standing water of Tharima’s main irrigation canal, which serves the surrounding land’s 200,000 donums. Some locks are completely dry.
He also denounces the lack of support from the authorities. According to him, the Ministry of Agriculture has only given 5 kilos of fertilizer this season, compared to 40 kilos in previous years.
“The farmer will leave, leave the country to go to the city to find a job,” he laments.
The spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Hamid al-Nayef, justifies himself by referring to the decision to increase the purchase price to pay producers about $500 per tonne.
In 2019 and 2020, wheat crops reached five million tons, enough to ensure “self-sufficiency” for Iraq, he told AFP.
This season, the country should have between 2.5 and 3 million tons of wheat. “Three million tons is not enough for a whole year for the Iraqis,” the spokesman admits. “It will be necessary to import”.
Iraq will face the vagaries of the global market and rising prices due to the conflict in Ukraine, even though Baghdad mainly imports its grains from Canada, Australia and the United States.
“Due to the play of supply and demand, prices are even rising in the United States or in other countries,” admits Mr. Nayef.
In his field in Jaliha, Ahmed Al-Jelhawi questions his life choices.
“I dropped out of college to devote myself to farming,” the 30-year-old laments. “But this year agriculture is zero”.
He once harvested 500 tons of wheat. This year it will be between 50 and 75 tons, he says. “Between low production and rising prices, there’s a good chance we won’t be able to plant next year.”