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KRG takes a positive step to protect local agriculture

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KRG takes a positive step to protect local agriculture

PostAuthor: Anthea » Fri Sep 06, 2019 12:58 am

KRG takes a positive step
to protect local agriculture

This week the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) began implementing a ban on imported tomatoes. The KRG Ministry of Agriculture also announced a ban on imported pomegranates, which will take effect on September 10

The moratoriums are aimed at protecting local growers of tomatoes and pomegranates, of which there are plenty, from competing producers in neighboring Turkey and Iran. Prices for tomatoes in particular sank so low recently that local producers were filmed dumping their produce out of frustration. With such scenes widely shared on social media, the government felt the need to take action.

Although blocking imports or imposing tariffs on competing products from abroad will cost consumers in the Kurdistan Region, the KRG is pursuing a necessary and good policy on the issue. Autonomy means more than political autonomy.

Many recall at the time of the Kurdistan independence referendum two years ago, Iran closed its border to to the Kurdistan Region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan likewise threatened to turn off the Kurds’ “oil tap” and close Turkey’s border with the region.

The slump in international oil prices in 2014 and the resulting financial crisis also reminded the KRG’s leaders and inhabitants of the need to diversify the Kurdistan Region’s economy. Studies on rentier economies also indicate that democracy fares better when the economy is not completely dominated by state oil revenues.

KRG leaders have long known all this, and they have been talking about revitalizing Kurdistan’s agricultural sector for at least fifteen years. The challenges and negative legacies of the past remain daunting, however. While Iraqi Kurdistan was once the bread basket of Iraq, its agriculture was devastated in the 1980s and 1990s.

The 1980s witnessed the Iran-Iraq war, significant parts of which were fought in Kurdistan. Towards the end of that war, former president Saddam Hussein’s regime launched the genocidal Anfal campaigns against the Kurds – clearing whole swathes of Kurdistan of its people and villages. Some 4,000 rural communities were destroyed by the regime as a result.

As if that were not enough, the United Nations “Oil for Food” program in 1995 drove another nail into the coffin of Kurdish agriculture. Although the program appeared well-intentioned – using Iraqi oil export revenues to provide a daily food basket for every person in the country – the “free” food was not locally sourced.

Since virtually everyone in Iraq (with the exception of dissident Shiite areas in the south that Saddam denied food aid to) was getting free Turkish, European and American eggs, cheese, bread and other staples through the program, sales of locally produced agricultural goods collapsed.

Restoring Kurdistan’s agriculture following such severe blows requires a lot of careful diligence and determination. The events of the 1980s and 1990s also saw high levels of rural-urban migration, and getting people to return to the land can prove tricky. This seems especially true when government investment in agriculture and rural communities remains inadequate. Few people will want to return to villages still lacking electricity and services. Without more investment in irrigation and modern farming techniques, local agriculture will also continue to lag behind competitors in Turkey and Iran.

Although the KRG has taken some steps in this regard, efforts remain insufficient – especially after the budget crisis of 2014, the war with the Islamic State (ISIS) and the refugee burden forced the KRG to focus on other matters. According to a 2017 study by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Sweden’s Lund University, satellite imagery shows that agricultural yields in Kurdistan continued to decline since 2000.

The KRG’s renewed determination to reverse this decline and return Iraqi Kurdistan to its bread basket status therefore comes as welcome news. Other countries, including Israel with its drip irrigation experts, may have expertise to offer in helping overcome the serious challenges ahead. Truly investing in rural infrastructure – including schools, roads, internet and electrification of the countryside – must remain part of the plan.

The building of processing plants for locally-grown produce could also offer more value to the sector and urban employment as well. More agricultural loans and credits for seed, tractors and other necessary inputs would also help a great deal.

Finally, controls on competing imports like the ones announced this week also have a key role to play in renewing Kurdistan’s agriculture. The import controls and tariffs should not become permanent, however. In the same way that South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and other countries built up key domestic economic sectors they wished to support, the trade and tariff protections should be used to give local producers time to become competitive. They should be given targets to meet and a time table for how long they can expect the import controls to protect them.

With a multi-pronged strategy from the government, Kurdistan’s agriculture could then get the fighting chance it needs to not only supply the local market, but export some of its produce as well.
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KRG takes a positive step to protect local agriculture



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