Between searing drought and Ukraine war, Iraq watchful over wheat

Iraqi farmer Kamel Hamed looks at the golden ears of wheat waving in the wind, unable to hide his anguish over the baking heat that is decimating his harvest.

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“The drought is unbelievable,” said the 53-year-old in a white dishdasha robe and keffiyeh head covering at his farm in Jaliha village of central Diwaniya province.

“Even the well water can’t be used, it’s salt water.”

Searing heat and a lack of rain were already threatening his harvest. Then came Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, driving up the cost of fuel, seeds and fertiliser.

Like all farmers in Iraq, Hamed must follow the instructions of the state authorities who are the main grain buyers.

They determine the areas to be planted and the level of irrigation, depending on rain and water reserves. This year, due to water shortages, Iraq has reduced the area under cultivation by half.

As a result, Hamed has planted just one quarter of his 100 donums (10 hectares), where the combine harvester was now throwing grain into a truck bed.

“This year we didn’t even get 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of wheat from one donum” — less than half the usual harvest — he said.

The war in Ukraine has “pushed up the price of motor oil and of high-yield seeds”, he added — yet “another financial burden for farmers”.

“I don’t know how to support my family. No salary, no job, where can I go?”

– ‘Abandon the land’ –

After decades of war and insurgency, Iraq faces another huge challenge: severe water scarcity driven by climate change.

It is highly sensitive issue for Iraq and its 41 million people, who feel the impacts on a daily basis, from depleted rivers to rapid desertification and more intense sandstorms.

Iraq’s big rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, and their tributaries originate in Turkey and Syria as well as Iran, which dam them upstream, reducing the flow as they enter Iraq.

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