Iraq seeks India's agricultural expertise

New Delhi, Jan 16 (IANS) Iraqis will travel to India from April to get trained in irrigation and land reclamation.

The first batch of over 500 Iraqis will learn how to boost agricultural production and reduce their country's dependence on imports, which account for 90 percent of its food requirement.

"Iraq has sought India's assistance for training in irrigation, agriculture and land reclamation," J.S. Samra, chief executive officer of the National Rainfed Area Authority, told IANS.

"Iraq was self-sufficient in food in 1950 but in 2010 it imported about 90 percent of its requirements at a cost of $12 billion, which is 13 percent of its annual budget.

"India used to import about 10 million tonnes of wheat annually in the 1960s, and now exports 11 million tonnes foodgrain," Samra said.

He said Iraq had the potential to become self-sufficient in meeting its food needs.

According to him, inadequate water management was a reason for an average import of five million tonnes of wheat per year by Iraq.

Samra said the UN's food sanctions against Iraq in 1990 prohibited foreign investment in agriculture. The oil-for-food programme stipulated that food imports could only be made against oil export by Iraq.

Iraq's cultivable land at 11.5 million hectare comprises 26 percent of its geographical area.

"Only half of Iraq's cultivable land is cultivated," Samra said, adding that irrigation was critical in low rainfall countries like Iraq.

Samra said irrigation in Iraq suffers from damaged infrastructure, water logging and building up of salt in the soil. It needs investment for drainage to reclaim saline soil.

"Agriculture productivity in Iraq is half of neighbouring countries. There is a need to revitalise and remodel investments in rural development," Samra added.

"Lining of irrigation system, pipes, sprinkles and drip system would require massive investments."

Samra, also an agriculture scientist, also said that Iraq needed watershed development in hilly areas and rainwater conservation.

"Storage in small dams can enhance production. Diversification to horticulture can enhance incomes. India has vast experience (in these areas)."

Iraq once had one of the oldest irrigation systems in the world and was known for food production.

Indian farm machinery, veterinary services and fisheries technology would also be relevant to Iraq due to similar socio-economic conditions.

Samra said protected cultivation of fresh food around urban centres can enhance productivity and provide off-season supply of vegetables and fruits.

(Prashant Sood can be contacted at prashant.s@ians.in)

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