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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Farmers bemoan insecurity, loss of subsidies

BASRA, 5 June 2003 (IRIN) - The thick wads of dried chicken droppings crackling underfoot and chicken feathers flying about on the oven-hot breeze are the only signs that this single-storeyed building just south of Basra used to be a poultry farm. Redundant workers squat against a shaded wall, smoking cigarettes, waiting for someone to come, something to do.

"Four months ago we had more than 8,000 chickens here and lots of work," owner of the farm, Dakel Hasan, told IRIN as he flapped wildly at the swarms of flies that now populate his farm instead. "Now we smoke cigarettes."

And, according to Hasan, there is nothing unique about his situation: stripped of government support and the crucial subsidies which had formerly kept their farms afloat, farmers like Hasan have no choice but to close down.

"The government used to regularly bring us new chicks from the farms in Baghdad, but now there is no government, and it is no longer safe to travel between here and Baghdad," he said.

"Poultry farmers rely on regular supplies of new chicks in order to keep running," Khaled Ben Khaled, a poultry expert with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)told IRIN.

"But the breakdown of the supply chain from Baghdad due to the war, and a lack of security means that business has simply stopped."

Whereas FAO, supported by donors like the British Department for International Development (DFID), is ready to fill the subsidy gap, there is little it can do to re-establish the supply chain without a major improvement in security.

The problem is not just confined to poultry farmers. Khaled's FAO colleague, Joseph Dome, acknowledges that although crop farmers - his area of expertise - are not in such a predicament as their poultry counterparts, his charges are also suffering from the breakdown of the subsidy system.

"In Iraq farming and agricultural supplies were subsidised by the former regime to the extent that seeds, fertilisers and pesticides were available to farmers at about one-quarter of the market price," Dome explained.

All of which means that although there is no threat of an imminent humanitarian crisis in Iraq, the risk remains that pockets of vulnerable farming groups will appear. Moreover, until security improves and concerned parties are able to move more freely about the country it is going to be difficult to know where these vulnerable groups are.

"This is not Afghanistan or the Congo, and we're not in the middle of a humanitarian emergency," Philip Upson, the head of DFID's Basra office told IRIN. "But the lack of security is a major problem, and without it, it's going to be very difficult to fix Iraq's problems."

Animal feed, pesticides and fertilisers were all produced in and around Baghdad under the old regime, and although there is a grave danger that widespread looting in the area may have rendered some of these facilities unusable, the feeling amongst experts here is that the best way to get farms producing at full capacity again is to get the old system up and running as soon as possible.

The immediate future for Iraq's farmers will therefore depend on the ease with which the Baghdad side of the supply chain can be reactivated, and to this end there is currently an FAO assessment team in Baghdad.

"We are planning to meet the Baghdad team in Nasiriyah in the next few days to hear what they have learnt," said Khaled. "If these facilities can be restarted and if the occupying powers restore security then it will be quite easy to get the farms back on track." And if not? "We'll have to start bringing supplies in from Kuwait."



Themes: (IRIN) Food Security



This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2003

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