At a time when global wheat prices have risen sharply because of the conflict in Ukraine, Iraqi farmers say they are paying the price for the government's decision to cut irrigation of farmland by 50 percent, AP reported.
The government took this step amid severe water shortages caused by high temperatures and drought, as well as continued water withdrawals by neighboring countries from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. All of these factors have resulted in severe water shortages for wheat production.
While struggling with water shortages, the Iraqi government cannot address other long-neglected problems.
Desertification has been cited as one of the factors that caused this year's incessant sandstorms. At least 10 such storms have hit the country in the past few months, covering cities in a thick layer of orange dust, grounding flights and sending thousands of people to hospitals.
Iraq relies on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for almost all of its water needs. Both rivers flow into Iraq from Turkey and Iran. These countries have built dams that either block or divert water, creating serious water shortages in Iraq, the agency notes.
Water Resources Minister Mahdi Rashid told the agency that water levels in the rivers are down 60 percent from last year.
The Ministry of Agriculture has taken steps to develop new varieties of wheat that are drought-resistant and introduce methods to increase yields.
Iraqi farmers have historically depended heavily on the state for food production, which politicians and experts say drains public funds.
The Ministry of Agriculture supports farmers by providing everything from harvesting tools, seeds, fertilizers and pesticides at a subsidized rate or for free. Water diverted from rivers for irrigation is free. The Department of Commerce stores or buys produce from farmers and distributes it to markets.
Wheat is a key strategic crop, accounting for 70% of the country's total grain production.
Planting begins in October, and harvesting typically begins in April and continues through June in some areas. Last year, the Ministry of Agriculture cut subsidies for fertilizers, seeds and pesticides, which angered farmers.
Local demand for the staple food is 5 to 6 million tons a year. But local production declines every year. In 2021, Iraq produced 4.2 million tons of wheat, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. In 2020, it will produce 6.2 million tons.