U.S., Australia to rebuild Iraq’s farm sector

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WASHINGTON – The United States and Australia will jointly help rebuild agricultural production, the food delivery system and the agriculture ministry in Iraq.

J.B. Penn, U.S. undersecretary of agriculture for farm and foreign services, joined the Department of Agriculture’s newly named senior ministry adviser Dan Amstutz in outlining the U.S. strategy last week.

Amstutz has been meeting with Trevor Flugge, Australia’s agriculture representative in Iraq.

Need power first. Getting more oil flowing to power flour mills and pump irrigation water is one of agriculture’s immediate needs, Amstutz said.

Harvesting summer cereals in May and June and planting rice in irrigated land are additional short-term concerns, he said.

Food aid. There is enough wheat in Iraq being distributed by the U.N. World Food Program or ready to be shipped to last until fall, Amstutz said.

The United States has provided nearly 600,000 metric tons of food aid to the WFP for Iraq.

Once-strong farm region. Iraq historically is a rich agricultural area, but in recent years agriculture has deteriorated from a lack of machinery, little maintenance of irrigation systems, soil salinity and animal health problems, among other factors, Amstutz said.

Only half of the country’s 3 million hectares of irrigable land is being irrigated, he said.

The centrally planned agricultural system also lacked incentives for farmers to increase production, he added.

Amstutz said that within two to three years, weather permitting, Iraq can begin to see greater agricultural productivity.

Amstutz will move into Baghdad to begin work as soon as the area’s security situation improves.

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