The University of Western Australia (UWA) and its Institute of Agriculture continue to play an important role expanding the capacity of Iraqi agriculture and reducing the country's dependence on imported food by training Iraq's brightest and best graduate agriculture students.
Ten graduate students joined UWA early this year to study for their Master of Science degrees in Animal Science, Plant Pathology, Genetics and Breeding and Agricultural and Resource Economics at UWA.
The UWA students are currently employed by the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture and their study in Australia is being funded by Australia-Iraq Agricultural Scholarships provided by the Australian Government under the AusAID Scholarship Program.
Institute of Agriculture Director, Winthrop Professor Kadambot Siddique, said UWA was pleased to assist the Iraqi Government with crucial elements of its National Development Strategy, which includes improving its agricultural sector and economy.
"Iraqi agriculture faces some very serious challenges from declining production, low crop yields, poor research and extension services and low prices," Professor Siddique said.
"Drought from 1999 to 2001 and 2007 to 2009 significantly reduced production leading to increased import of grain to Iraq. The 10 outstanding Iraqi graduate students at UWA this year will be well trained to address those challenges."
Agriculture currently provides about eight per cent of Iraq's GDP and 20 per cent of its employment, supporting seven million people of a total population of 26 million.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 11.5 million hectares of Iraq is arable, but of the eight million hectares used for agriculture, less than half is cultivated annually.
Three quarters of that cultivated area is in the central and southern regions, but wheat, the staple food crop, and barley, an important livestock crop, is concentrated in the north.
The students arrived in Western Australia in February 2009 and are currently studying English at UWA's Centre for English Language Training (CELT) to ensure they reach an adequate level to undertake their Masters programs.
UWA's Institute of Agriculture is also involved in a large project, ‘Development of conservation cropping in the drylands of northern Iraq', in partnership with the Syrian-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and AusAID.
Professor Siddique recently met with Iraqi Agriculture Ministerial staff, ICARDA and Australian collaborators in Aleppo, Syria, to discuss the conservation cropping project's progress and future direction, which includes two Masters students and one PhD student from Iraq joining UWA next year.
While in Syria, he also discussed UWA's involvement with further capacity building in Iraq with His Excellency Robert J. Tyson, Ambassador, Australian Embassy, Baghdad.
More than 100 Australia-Iraq Agricultural Scholarship students are currently studying in Australia at UWA and other tertiary institutions.
Winthrop Professor Tony O'Donnell, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UWA, said the Iraqi graduate students were not the University's only contribution to improving Iraqi agriculture.
"Last year 27 Iraqi agricultural scientists completed a short course on integrated plant disease management and in August another group studied soil fertility and land management at UWA as part of AusAID's capacity building program in Iraq.
"The major outcome of UWA's assistance to Iraqi agriculture is helping the country's national agricultural agencies develop sufficient technical capacity to plan, implement and monitor R&D programs that will make it more self sufficient in food," Professor O'Donnell said.
Caption to Photograph: Ten Iraqi graduate students have joined UWA to study Master of Science degrees in Animal Science, Plant Pathology, Genetics and Breeding and Agricultural and Resource Economics.