At least one-third of Iraq's cereal crop, upon which the country's staple of wheat bread heavily depends, appears to have emerged unscathed from the war, a UN Food and Agriculture Organisaton spokesman, Barry Came, told IRIN on Monday.
Farmers in the three northern governorates of Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah were not displaced from their homes during the fighting, which meant that they could begin to harvest over the next few weeks, and expect to produce about 500,000 mt of wheat and barley, Came said.
In the other 15 governorates the situation was less clear, however, especially in the breadbasket area south of Baghdad between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, he noted. Farmers in this region, which normally produced a third of the country's crop, had been displaced by fighting.
"This could mean a loss of 1.2 million tonnes of grain, which will otherwise have to be imported," Came said. "The other problem is that if they lose this year's harvest, there will be a lack of seeds for next year."
Unlike the northern governorates which have had adequate rainfall, crops in the south are heavily dependent on irrigation, which in turn depends on electricity - unavailable in many areas since the war - to run pumping networks.
Crops of vegetables have also been affected by lack of irrigation, leading to a 100 percent rise in prices in the north. This is because most vegetables available in the north are currently coming in from Iran, whereas usually they would be supplied by southern markets, hence the price increase.
"The Iraqi system is heavily dependent on mechanisation," said Came, noting that the average age of tractors in the country was now 24 years, while combine harvesters averaged about 20 years. "War and sanctions have slowly degraded the system," he said.
Even before sanctions, semiarid Iraq was only able to produce about one-third of its total cereal needs, due to lack of cultivable land.
The office of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI) reported on Monday that basic commodity prices in the country had shot up by between 20 and 50 percent since March 2003. Meanwhile, the exchange rate for the US dollar had also dropped from 4,500 Iraqi dinars before the war to a current rate of 1,170.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions