Iraqi farmer harvests wheat. Photo: Safin Hamed / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – With Turkey diverting water from the Tigris River for its Ilisu Dam project, wheat farmers down river in Iraq may be forced to reduce their crop planting by as much as 50 percent, leading to a spike in imports of wheat and other grains.
“Next season will be affected as the filling of the Ilisu Dam will start,” Iraq’s deputy agriculture minister, Mahdi al Qaisi, told Bloomberg on Monday.
The country will need to increase imports from other countries to meet consumer demand.
On Sunday, Iraq’s agriculture ministry tendered to purchase 50,000 tons of wheat from the US, Canada and Australia.
Iraq is the second largest buyer of wheat for planting in the Middle East after Egypt.
Iraq’s water crisis has led Baghdad’s ministry of agriculture to call for a temporary ban on the planting of other water intensive crops starting in July.
Rice, white and yellow corn, sesame, sun flower seeds, mung beans, and cotton are among crops facing prohibition.
“The agricultural plan for the summer” was modified “because the quantities of water needed for these cereals are not available,” Iraqi ministry of agriculture spokesman Hamid al-Nayef said last week as reported by AFP.
Al-Nayef added that Iraq may also have to resume importing corn next year. Roughly 100,000 tons of corn is currently held in reserve, which will last about a year.
The water shortages affecting Iraq’s crops are being blamed on Turkey’s controversial Ilisu Dam project on the Tigris River. The hydropower dam has been under construction for over two decades and is due to start filling this month, according to state-run Anadolu Agency.
Erbil, however, says it will ignore the ban on planting certain crops, as the Kurdistan Region is not suffering the same degree of water scarcity.
“The Kurdistan Region doesn’t have a water problem for irrigation and agriculture,” Akram Ahmed, the KRG’s director general of dams and water reserves told Rudaw last week.