Iraq violence threatens critical harvest, says FAO

By Eliot Beer

- Last updated on GMT

Iraq violence threatens critical harvest, says FAO

Related tags Food and agriculture organization Agriculture

The recent conflict in Iraq has pushed the country to the brink of a food supply crisis through risks to harvests and growing refugee numbers, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned.

As a result of the renewed insurgency, more than a million people have fled their homes since January, leaving farms untended during the main harvest season, with many of the refugees coming from key farming regions, according to the FAO. This has turned what had forecast to be a favourable year for Iraq’s harvest into a potential disaster.

If the conflict continues, basic food commodities and other essential items will be increasingly unavailable to the most vulnerable, despite government subsidies​,” said Fadel El Zubi, the FAO’s representative in Iraq.

The conflict and displacement has also coincided with the peak of summer heat and the holy month of Ramadan, when household expenditures on food and other essential items are normally higher​,” he added.

Key regions threatened

The governorates of Nineveh and Salahddin, which are among those most affected by the conflict, produce around one third of Iraq’s wheat and 38% of its barley, said the FAO. Before the recent outbreak of violence, the organisation had been forecasting an above-average wheat harvest of 3 million tonnes, and an average barley harvest of 900,000 tonnes.

The current crisis is expected to negatively impact on the on-going harvesting and post-harvesting activities. In addition, the large displacements of people would result in labour shortages at the critical harvesting period. Problems of logistics, storage facilities and larger post-harvest losses are also expected to add to the decline in domestic production and supply​,” said FAO senior economist Shukri Ahmed in the most recent Global Information and Early Warning System report on Iraq.

Even before the threatened harvest, Iraq’s food supply was already under enormous pressure from existing refugees and displaced people in the country, including approximately 225,000 Syrian refugees in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. The FAO is also warning of the spread of disease among livestock animals as an additional threat to Iraq’s food security.

Imports and prices to rise

As a result of the increased pressure on food supplies, the FAO is now predicting increases in Iraq’s cereal import requirements, along with increases in food prices throughout the country. In its GIEWS report, the FAO said poor households and displaced people would be particularly affected.

Lack of resources limit the coping capacities available to households and limit access to food. Should the situation continue, prices of basic food and essential non-food items are expected to rise despite the subsidies and government policies, particularly if cross-border movement of goods is hampered by security conditions​,” said Ahmed in the GIEWS report.

A rapid food security assessment together with a continuous monitoring system is urgently required to ensure that timely information and analysis is available for humanitarian response and for contingency planning​,” he added.

The FAO has made an appeal for US$12.7m in urgent aid, to be raised by August, to mitigate the effects of the poor harvest and other food security pressures in Iraq.

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