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Cablegate: Ninewa: Drought Threatens Already Stressed Farm

VZCZCXRO6953
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #0143 0200724
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 200724Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5276
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY

UNCLAS BAGHDAD 000143

SIPDIS

DEPT OF AGRICULTURE PASS TO USAID

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON EAGR SENV EAID PGOV IZ
SUBJECT: NINEWA: DROUGHT THREATENS ALREADY STRESSED FARM
SECTOR

This is a Ninewa Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) message.

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) A late start to the rainy season in the northern
Iraqi province of Ninewa threatens the province's wheat crop
and sheep herds in an agricultural economy already suffering
from tight credit, a lack of fuel and security constraints on
marketing. While rains usually begin in late October in this
potentially productive grain-farming province, Ninewa has
received only one day of significant rainfall since
September. Normal rainfall over this period is on average
4.2 inches, but this year's rainfall since September has been
no more than one-quarter that amount. The PRT is working
closely with local partners on a long-term transition to
sustainable agriculture, a sector that could provide rural
employment and raw materials for a thriving food-processing
industry. For this season, though, nothing short of an
immediate infusion of water and forage would reverse the
effects of the current drought. End Summary.

Wheat Planting Reduced, Low Germination Expected
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (SBU) Early estimates from farmers across the province,
local and provincial agricultural officials, and Provincial
Reconstruction Team agricultural advisors are that the rains'
delay has prompted wheat farmers this year to plant 15-30
percent less land than usual. The lack of rainfall during
the crucial post-planting period may reduce germination of
this year's already below-average crop by at least 50
percent. Farmers said they need rain by the middle of March
to germinate and sustain any of the seeds they planted this
season.

Sheep Herds Lack Forage
-----------------------

3. (SBU) A lack of rain is squeezing sheep herders as well.
Normal fall and winter forage did not materialize due to the
last four months' dry weather. With the current sub-freezing
night-time temperatures across Ninewa, meaningful amounts of
forage are now not expected until at least March. Farmers
told the PRT that they expect many sheep could die of
malnutrition before adequate forage is available.

PRT Pursuing GOI, Private Farm Solutions
----------------------------------------

4. (SBU) The PRT is pursuing several projects to address the
credit, fuel and security constraints on Ninewa's farm
sector. These initiatives include multi-sectarian rural farm
associations to share risk on common problems like high input
prices, expansion of local veterinary programs, increased
access to micro-loans, and business improvement loans for
agricultural processors. Unfortunately, none of these can
address the short-term lack of rain.

Comment
-------

5. (SBU) The lack of rains in Ninewa harms a local
agricultural economy already depressed by tight credit, a
lack of fuel and security constraints on marketing. While
some parts of the province could farm wheat and barley with
only rain, others depend on the marginally operational Al
Jazeera Irrigation System and expensive individual pumps.
While rains are the only full solution to a failing wheat
crop and starving sheep, stop-gap measures could include
increased fuel resources for private irrigation pumps,
improved veterinary care to combat malnutrition-related
diseases and delivery of forage from overseas markets. In
the long-term, a multi-year transition of marginal cropland
to pastureland would provide farmers a profitable way to use
their land without relying on rains to grow grain.
CROCKER

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