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Food makes up half of all imports in cash-strapped Kurdistan

By Rawa Abdullah 12/1/2018
A fruit market in Kurdistan. File photo: Rudaw
A fruit market in Kurdistan. File photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Food items make up about half of all goods imported into the Kurdistan Region as people with less money in their wallets focus on essentials. 

“Due to the economic crisis, peoples’ financial ability has declined. That is why people nowadays buy mostly food. This has led to an increase in food imports. Imports of electronic, electricity, building and furniture items come after food imports,” Nawzad Adham, director general at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, told Rudaw.

The majority of food consumed in the Kurdistan Region is imported, according to Adham, who added that though food items make up the bulk of goods brought into the Region, food imports have declined by 22 percent compared to peak levels in 2014. 

The majority of imports come through the Ibrahim Khalil gate on the Kurdistan Region-Turkey border. 

“Due to the economic crisis, sales of food items have dropped a bit too, but are still better compared to sales of other goods. Our monthly sales of food items reach $22 million,” said Haji Qasim Ibrahim, representative of a Turkish import company. 

Oil, rice, sugar, tomato sauce and spaghetti, and beans, are the top-demanded items, Ibrahim detailed. 

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of food import companies registered in the Kurdistan Region, including Turkish and Iranian companies promoting sale of their goods in Kurdistan. 

Ministry officials claim that most of the food items imported to the Kurdistan Region are later exported to Iraqi cities. 

However, trader Ibrahim, who has good relations with Arab traders, said: “Only 30 percent of these goods are exported to Iraqi cities because cities in the south mainly use Iranian goods because of their cheap price. But the Sunnis mostly use Turkish goods. This difference exists even in Kurdistan. According to our study, 90 percent of people in Duhok use Turkish goods, 80 percent in Erbil, and 60 percent in Sulaimani.” 

The KRG imposes some fees on imported agricultural products in order to protect and assist local farmers, but is far from reaching self-sufficiency.  

Dr. Khalis Ahmed Hamadamin, a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, told Rudaw that his ministry is committed to boosting domestic production and reducing dependence on imports, “But due to the small budget dedicated to us last year, in terms of quality and quantity we have reached self-sufficiency only in strategic products like wheat, potatoes, and onions.”  

According to the ministry’s figures, the Kurdistan Region produces about 73 percent of the chicken it consumes, less than half of its red meat, just over half of its milk, and 78 percent of its fish. 

The Region has the infrastructure to be self-sufficient in terms of eggs and chicken if all its projects are brought online, Hamadamin said. 

In terms of lentils and rice, the Kurdistan Region is far behind reaching demands, producing just 17 percent of lentils consumed and a mere 3 percent of rice consumed. 

Hamadamin said the Region does not have the water resources needed in order to grow the lentils and rice, but argues that better financial support would help the situation. 

He said growing sugar cane and sunflowers would also help to meet sugar and oil demands locally. 

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