Sanctions Hinder Iraq's Effort to Grow Food

By Aziz, Barbara Nimri | National Catholic Reporter, July 28, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Sanctions Hinder Iraq's Effort to Grow Food

Aziz, Barbara Nimri, National Catholic Reporter

BAGHDAD, Iraq--The United Nation's trade sanctions on Iraq were intended to punish a renegade state. But some observers now say the strategy is being carried to inhumane proportions by the United Nation's deliberate undermining of Iraq's attempts to grow its own food.

According to Iraqis and even nongovernmental organization officials in Baghdad familiar with conditions -- a weak and diseased population -- the way sanctions are being applied to the country is beyond any acceptable standard.

The head of the Baghdad office of the Food and Agricultural Organization, a U.N, agency, expresses dismay over the manner in which domestic agricultural production is being hampered. "Iraq has the land; it has the water; it has the expertise," says Dr. Amin Khalil who heads the Baghdad office of the Food and Agricultural Organization, or FAO. "And FAO is supplying Iraq with limited amounts of animal drugs and vaccines as well as some material to combat pests and weeds." Yet, programs often cannot be implemented, he said.

Despite the mandate of the FAO to assist Iraq in raising production, U.N. bureaucracy and procedures may be contributing to the problem.

For example, Khalil notes how a crisis developed around the anti-weed spraying of the winter wheat crop. Weed, already spreading over huge areas of cultivated fields in north Iraq, had to be sprayed by mid-February. "Because herbicides are chemical, FAO itself must apply for an import license from the U.N. Sanctions Committee in New York. We submit all requests -- for vaccines, spare parts for agricultural equipment -- to New York," says Khalil.

In the case of the essential herbicide, his office applied to the Sanctions Committee in September 1994. The time for spraying arrived and passed without a reply. When approval from New York finally arrived, it was March -- too late for any herbicide to be of use. As a result, 50 percent to 60 percent of this years' wheat crop is lost. If the pesticide to control certain insects had not been on hand, the entire wheat crop would have been destroyed, say officials in Baghdad. Iraq's rice and barley crops face a similar fate.

Even before this year's herbicide shortage, there was a severe shortfall in chemical fertilizer, which also is restricted because of sanctions and a lack of money. Iraq thus depends on what it can produce locally.

Abu Jaffar, plant protection officer in the northern governate of Mosel, reports that government factories presently produce only a small percentage of what is needed.

Iraq did not have a self-sufficient agricultural infrastructure in place before the April 1991 Gulf War. Since 1980, Iraq allowed itself to become heavily dependent on food imports. Seventy percent of its needs came from abroad. Before sanctions were imposed in 1990, Iraq purchased 100 percent of its poultry feed from Canada, most of its rice and cooking oil from the United States, milk from Holland and France, meat from Bulgaria and wheat from Australia. It produced no vaccines or pesticides; its irrigation systems were in disrepair; and saline lands, created by decades of flooding, were not drained.

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