Important news for Mosul: Al Jazira irrigation system is back to work

Mosul-based agricultural engineer Ra’id al Ma’adhidi has recently reported that the so-called Al Jazira Irrigation System Project (northern part) has been renovated and is back to work with the support of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and a 1,547,845 USD contribution from UNDP. The project shall revive the agriculture in northwestern Nineveh, providing much-needed jobs and stabilization in the troubled area that has suffered for years from the devastation of the agricultural sector since 2003, with the result that many people joined armed groups. The project will provide locally grown vegetables, wheat and barley for millions of Iraqis across the country.

The Northern Al-Jazeera Irrigation Project is located 100 km northwest of Mosul in Rabi’a sub-district serving 58,700 hectares. The project was functional until June 9, 2014.

Nineveh Governorate was once known as the “breadbasket” of Iraq. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, it yielded 40-45 percent of Iraq’s annual wheat and barley production. Approximately 30 percent of all agricultural equipment available in Iraq is located in Nineveh. Agriculture has historically been a principle contributor to the Mosul economy. There are several grain silos in Mosul district, two of which are inside the city. In addition, Mosul has a number of factories for producing flour (private and government-owned) that are located within the city’s industrial areas, but cater to the needs of the larger Nineveh Governorate. Vegetables and fruits are also cultivated in the area for local and national consumption.

After the fall of Mosul, ISIS assumed control over agricultural production, flour factories and bakeries. It confiscated the wheat and barley in the city’s silos and transferred it to Syria. ISIS also confiscated all agricultural equipment loaned by the government to local farmers and from minorities who fled their cities and towns. They also forced farmers to sell them their products at lower than market rates. As an example, before June 2014, the official selling price of wheat set by the Ministry of Trade was IQD 850,000 per ton. Under ISIS, however, the local market price of wheat fell to IQD 250,000 per ton, at the expense of wheat farmers.

The combination of dwindling financial returns and a volatile security situation led many farmers to stop working in the fields, and to flee their villages in search of livelihood opportunities elsewhere. However, the agricultural sector did not entirely collapse. Reliant on rain rather than irrigation, grains continue to be produced in the area. Despite the good precipitation in 2015, the fear of military operations and the increase of fuel prices diminished agricultural production.

The suspension of the large governmental irrigation projects after the fall of Mosul, combined with the lack of access to quality fertilizer, have contributed to the decline of irrigation-reliant types of crops (e.g. vegetables and fruits) cultivated in the farmlands northwest of Mosul city (especially in Al-Qubba, Al-Rashidiya, and Hawi Al-Kanisa).

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