Drought, war and limited access to technological advances have had a significant negative impact on agriculture development and productivity in Iraq.
To help redress the 50 per cent decline in Iraqi major crop production in the past 20 years, 27 Iraqi agricultural scientists are being trained in advanced integrated plant disease management (IPDM) at the Institute of Agriculture (IOA) at The University of Western Australia (UWA).
IOA Director, Professor Kadambot Siddique, said the major challenges and constraints for Iraqi agriculture are declining production, low crop yields, highly variable and low rainfall, poor research and extension services, lack of availability and increasing cost of inputs and low prices and marketing difficulties for outputs.
“The Institute of Agriculture was approached by AusAID early this year to develop a training program on IPDM,” Professor Siddique said.
“During the five week intensive course, trainees attend lectures and practical sessions on plant pathogens, which include bacteria, viruses, nematodes, fungi and mycoplasma.
“They learned to identify and manage pathogens and how these skills translate into practice by visiting WA field research stations. Chemical and biological control of plant diseases and development of resistance to fungicides are also covered,” he said.
The IPDM concept was the main focus of the training course.
Professor Siddique indicated the Iraqi Government had prioritised redeveloping its agricultural sector to improve the livelihood of rural people and reduce dependence on imported food.
“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,” he said.
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 the 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.
Professor Siddique explained that three drought years in Iraq, from 1999 to 2001 and subsequent drought in 2007/2008, had significantly reduced production.
“Rain-fed areas suffered severe reductions in rainfall and irrigated areas were seriously affected by reduced river flows.
“Even without water constraints, Iraqi crop production is poor by international standards, due to poor integrated crop management practices and a lack of widespread access to modern, improved plant varieties.”
Professor Siddique said another factor to address was that the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture and university scientists had been isolated from many scientific and technological advances for almost two decades.
“They haven’t travelled to conferences or participated in international masters or doctorate programs and haven’t had access to the internet and the latest computer technology, so
capacity building is now a major priority for the Iraqi Government.
“This gap can be closed with training, new equipment and study tours to countries such as Australia, which face technical issues in agriculture similar to those in Iraq,” he said.
Professor Krishnapillai Sivasithamparam, UWA School of Earth and Geographical Sciences and Professor Siddique developed the course, which is being delivered by eminent scientists from UWA and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA), through the School of Plant Biology within the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.
The IOA is also involved in a large project, “Development of conservation cropping in the drylands of northern Iraq”, in Iraq in partnership with ICARDA (Syria), which is supported by ACIAR and AusAID.
AusAID and UWA are currently discussing training opportunities and scholarships at UWA for post-graduate students from Iraq.
“The major outcome of courses such as the one delivered by UWA, is helping Iraqi national agricultural agencies develop sufficient technical capacity to plan, implement and monitor R&D programs in agriculture,” Professor Siddique concluded.
Authorised by ‘Institute of Agriculture – UWA’ and issued on its behalf by
Brendon Cant & Associates, Tel 08 9384 1122
Professor Kadambot Siddique, Tel 08 6488 7012, Mobile 0411 155 396