Iraq Table of Contents
Date palms along the Tigris River near Baghdad
Courtesy Matson Collection
Most farming in Iraq entails planting and harvesting a single crop per year. In the rain-fed areas the winter crop, primarily grain, is planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. In the irrigated areas of central and southern Iraq, summer crops predominate. A little multiple cropping, usually of vegetables, exists where irrigation water is available over more than a single season.
Even with some double or triple cropping, the intensity of cultivation is usually on the order of 50 percent because of the practice of leaving about half the arable land fallow each year. In the rain-fed region, land is left fallow so that it can accumulate moisture. The fertility of fallow land is also increased by plowing under weeds and other plant material that grow during the fallow period. On irrigated land, fallow periods also contribute some humus to the soil.
Grain, primarily wheat and barley, was Iraq's most important crop. Cereal production increased almost 80 percent between 1975 and 1985, notwithstanding wide variations in the harvest from year to year as the amount and the timing of rainfall strongly affected both the area planted and the harvest. Between 1980 and 1985, the area under wheat cultivation increased steadily for a cumulative growth of 30 percent, to about 1,566,500 hectares. In 1985, the most recent year for which statistics were available in 1988, Iraq harvested a bumper crop of 1.4 million tons of wheat. In 1984, a drought year, Iraq harvested less than half the planted area for a yield of between 250,000 and 471,000 tons, according to foreign and Iraqi sources respectively. The north and central rain-fed areas were the principal wheat producers (see table 7, Appendix).
Barley requires less water than wheat does, and it is more tolerant of salinity in the soil. For these reasons, Iraq started to substitute barley production for wheat production in the 1970s, particularly in southern regions troubled by soil salinity. Between 1980 and 1985, the total area under barley cultivation grew 44 percent, and by 1985 barley and wheat production were virtually equal in terms both of area cultivated and of total yield. Rice, grown in paddies, was Iraq's third most important crop as measured by cultivated area, which in 1985 amounted to 24,500 hectares. The area under cultivation, however, did not grow appreciably between 1980 and 1985; 1985 production totaled almost 150,000 tons. Iraq also produced maize, millet, and oil seeds in smaller quantities.
A number of other crops were grown, but acreage and production were limited. With the exception of tobacco, of which Iraq produced 17,000 tons on 16,500 hectares in 1985, cash crop production declined steeply in the 1980s. Probably because of domestic competition from synthetic imports and a declining export market, production of cotton was only 7,200 tons in 1985, compared with 26,000 tons in 1977. Production of sugar beets was halted completely in 1983, and sugarcane production declined by more than half between 1980 and 1985.
Iraq may have cut back on production of sugar beets and sugarcane because of an intention to produce sugar from dates. Dates, of which Iraq produces eight distinct varieties, have long been a staple of the local diet. The most abundant date groves were found along the Shatt al Arab. In the early 1960s, more than 30 million date palms existed. In the mid-1970s, the Iraqi government estimated that the number of date palms had declined to about 22 million, at which time production of dates amounted to 578,000 tons. The devastation of the Shatt al Arab area during the Iran-Iraq War hastened the destruction of date palm groves, and in 1985 the government estimated the number of date palms at fewer than 13 million. Date production in 1987 dropped to 220,000 tons. The government-managed Iraqi Date Administration, however, planned to increase production in an attempt to boost export revenue. In 1987 about 150,000 tons, or 68 percent of the harvest, was exported, primarily to Western Europe, Japan, India, and other Arab countries. The Iraqi Date Administration also devised plans to construct large facilities to extract sugar, alcohol, vinegar, and concentrated protein meal from dates. Iraq produced a variety of other fruits as well, including melons, grapes, apples, apricots, and citrus. Production of such fruits increased almost 30 percent between 1975 and 1985.
Vegetable production also increased, particularly near urban centers, where a comparatively sophisticated marketing system had been developed. Vegetable gardening usually employed relatively modern techniques, including the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Tomatoes were the most important crop, with production amounting to more than 600,000 tons in 1985. Other vegetables produced in significant quantity were beans, eggplant, okra, cucumbers, and onions. Overall vegetable production increased almost 90 percent between 1975 and 1985, even though the production of legumes dropped about 25 percent over the same period.
Crop production accounted for about two-thirds of value added in the agricultural sector in the late 1980s, and the raising of livestock contributed about one-third. In the past, a substantial part of the rural population had been nomadic, moving animals between seasonal grazing areas. Sheep and goats were the most important livestock, supplying meat, wool, milk, skins, and hair. A 1978 government survey, which represented the most recent official data available as of early 1988, estimated the sheep population at 9.7 million and the goat population at 2.1 million. Sheep and goats were tended primarily by nomadic and seminomadic groups. The 1978 survey estimated the number of cattle at 1.7 million, the number of water buffalo at 170,000, the number of horses at 53,000, and the number of camels at 70,000.
In the 1970s, the government started to emphasize livestock and fish production, in an effort to add protein to the national diet. But 1985's red meat production (about 93,000 tons) and milk production (375,000 tons) were, respectively, about 24 and 23 percent less than the in 1975 totals, although other figures indicated that total livestock production remained stable between 1976 and 1985. In the mid-1980s, however, British, West German, and Hungarian companies were given contracts to establish poultry farms. At the same time, the government expanded aquaculture and deep-sea fishing. Total production of processed chicken and fish almost doubled, to about 20,000 tons apiece, from 1981 to 1985, while egg production increased substantially, to more than 1 billion per year. The government planned to construct a US$160 million deep-sea fishing facility in Basra and predicted that, within 10 years, freshwater fishing would supply up to 100,000 tons of fish. Iraq nevertheless continued to import substantial quantities of frozen poultry, meat, and fish to meet local needs for protein.
Data as of May 1988
Iraq Table of Contents