A farmer stands in his pomegranate orchard in Smaquli valley, outside of Erbil. Photo: Hannah Lynch/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Region’s financial crunch has hit the tree market, with sales of saplings down by 50 percent.
The KRG Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources has 16 sapling farms to develop, that were producing more than a million saplings and selling them onto farmers at reduced rates. But production has declined because of the financial crisis and lack of a budget for the farms.
“The lack of budget is the main reason behind declining production at government farms. It has now been three years that no budget has been dedicated to tree farms. That is why production in state sapling farms has declined by 61 percent compared to the time before the financial crisis,” said Hussein Hamakarim, director general of farms and forests in the Kurdistan Region.
“Due to the effects of the financial crisis, the ability of farmers to buy saplings has weakened. That is why 20 percent of saplings grown by state farms remain unsold,” he added.
According to statistics produced by the Farming General Directorate, from 2010 to 2013, the number of saplings produced at the government farms rose from 933,000 to 1.112 million. But the past three years have seen a decline to just 437,000 trees last year.
State farms cultivate figs, pomegranates, and grapes from cuttings and grow peach, apricot, apple, and other trees from seed.
“Sapling farms need farmers to grow and clone trees. But because of the lack of budget, engineers and employees are doing this themselves. That is why the ability of state farms to grow cloned saplings has declined substantially,” Hamakarim explained.
The province of Sulaimani has seven state farms with strong production numbers that have plummeted over the past three years.
“The abilities of our engineers, employees, land and water resources remain the same. But it has now been two years the government has not dedicated any budget to us because of the financial crisis. That is why the ability of these farms to grow saplings has declined by 65 percent,” explained Jalil Shamsadin, director of sapling farms in Sulaimani province.
State farms sell saplings to farmers at subsidized prices, between 500 and 750 dinars (42 – 63 cents).
“Farmers have little financial ability to buy saplings because of the financial crisis, even though prices are low. They can’t buy enough saplings for their farms. That is why some of the saplings these farms produce remain unsold every year,” Shamsadin said.
In addition to state farms, there are also some private saplings farms in the Kurdistan Region. They plant trees locally and also import them.
According to data gathered by the Ministry of Agriculture, nearly 7.218 million saplings and rose bushes were imported in 2013. But, last year, that number declined by half, to 3.573 million.
Ibrahim Zuhdi is the director of Rona Flower company that imports trees and flowers from the Netherlands and Italy. He said the Kurdistan Region spends nearly $10 million on importing flowers and saplings every year.
“Ten percent of the saplings we import are for farming, like figs, peach, apples, and others. We import some other sapling types from Turkey and Italy.”
“Due to the financial crisis, nowadays there is demand for flowers and saplings in the $2 to $25 price range,” he said.
According to Iraqi law, importation of grape and olive saplings is prohibited.