Dry Iraq Tries New Drought Resistant Grains

Iraq this year plans to start sowing a new generation of grain seeds it hopes will be more resistant to drought and soil salinity and could help bolster its wheat crop in a couple of years, an agriculture official said.

The Iraqi government’s meteorological department last week said it expected three years of drought, and the Agricultural Ministry is working on improved irrigation and cross-germination of seeds better suited to Iraq’s hot, dry climate.

Muthana El-Muadhidi, director general of the state board for agricultural research, told Reuters his agency was cross-germinating different types of grains including two types of rough wheat and bread wheat to make them more resilient.

“We have produced these wheat seeds to create a species that can grow in the Iraqi environment and cope with the current and future climate changes,” Muadhidi said.

“Two characteristics of this wheat are resistance to salinity and dry weather with high productivity,” he said.

Iraq harvested 1.73 million tonnes of wheat in its 2010-11 season down from 1.866 million tonnes in 2009-10 after drought this year.

But Muadhidi said the new seeds and better irrigation could triple overall wheat production by 2015.

He said in areas where the new grains would be used, Iraq’s output could reach between 1.4-1.5 tonnes a dunam – the local field measurement equal to 2,500 sq. m – up from output from the standard seeds used in Iraq which produce 600-800 kg per dunam.

The new wheat seeds will start to be grown in 2011 and 2012 and 2014-15 will be the first harvest for consumption.

Iraq has worked for six years on joint research with Syriabased agricultural research cent res the Internat ional Center for Agricultural Research for Dry Areas and ACSAD or Arab Center for the Study of Arid Zones and Dry Lands.

Water shortages still pose a big challenge for Iraq due to a rising population, depletion of resources, lack of rainfall and advancing desertification, officials say.

Wheat and rice production have suffered in the past two years, due in part to rising temperatures, along with a dearth of water in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Iraq has said its upstream neighbours Turkey, Syria and Iran were taking too much from the rivers Tigris, Euphrates and their tributaries, and small flows coming from Iran were limiting water supplies to Iraq’s farmland.

Much of Iraq’s impor ted wheat and rice goes to a large public food rations program. The country consumes 4.5 million tonnes of wheat and 1.2 million tonnes of rice a year, most of it imported.

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