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Kurdistan agriculture turning organic to compete internationally

By Rawa Abdullah 7/10/2017
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Kurdistan agriculture turning organic to compete internationally
A farmer works the fields in Kurdistan. Photo: Farzin Hassan | Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Kurdistan Region’s agriculture ministry has become a member of an international organization promoting organic agriculture. An official from the ministry said producing organic food will open new markets for local farmers. 

The Ministry of Agriculture became a member of the German-based International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) two weeks ago. IFOAM connects some 800 affiliates in more than 100 countries. 

“The Kurdistan Region cannot currently compete with Iran and Turkey in terms of product and price. That is why we thought about developing organic agriculture so that we can find an international market for our products through this way,” Dr. Anwar Ahmed, an official with the ministry’s High Committee of Organic Agriculture, told Rudaw.

“Some businessmen from Kurdistan wanted to export Kurdistan’s produce and fruits to Qatar after Qatar came under an embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt. But Qatar rejected most of the products after examination showed abundant use of fertilizer. It only approved onion imports produced in a semi-organic manner. Through this experience we realized that the only way to enter international markets is to develop organic agriculture,” Ahmed explained.

Organic agriculture is on the rise due to increasing demand for organic products. In 1999, nearly 11 million hectares of land were used to grow organic products. According to IFOAM, this increased to 43.7 hectares in 2013. The overall sale of organic products was 68 billion euros in the same year.

According to data gathered by IFOAM, Australia pays the most attention to organic agriculture. It grows 12.14 million hectares of organic products annually. Argentina comes second in this regard with 3.8 million hectares and the US comes third with 1.9 million hectares. 

“The Kurdistan Region has good infrastructure for organic agriculture. It only needs some instructions and some laws” to impose regulations, Ahmed said.

Grapes, pomegranates, figs, apples, walnuts, rice, and honey are some of the products produced without the use of fertilizer, said Ahmed. But “we cannot sell them as organic or semi-organic products to other countries because no international organization has been supporting us to issue organic certificates for these products. This is due to the lack of a law specific on the bases of organic agriculture.”

There are three sets of international criteria for organic food: the American, Japanese and European criteria. Each has its own regulations.

“Most demands for organic products are from European countries. And because the Kurdistan Region’s climate and products are more suitable for the European criterion, that is why we want to benefit from European laws and criteria,” Ahmed said.

Organic agriculture is more cost effective and better for the environment, argued Arshad Yasin Khoshnaw, an expert on the technique and a lecturer in Salahaddin University’s agriculture faculty.

“Organic agriculture can help us obtain healthy food and clean the land from the damage of chemical fertilizer. This way, we don’t have to spend money on importing chemical fertilizer. Most of the fertilizer is harmful to the environment, land, and food products. Their quality is so low that they affect the growth of the products,” he said. 

According to this expert, if the ministry takes steps to develop this kind of agriculture, it should begin with training sessions for farmers and should choose pieces of land that are far from roads and the poisonous gases emitted from cars. The ministry should start with land that has not already been exposed to heavy use of chemical materials.

In organic agriculture, there are lower yields because of not using artificial seeds and chemical fertilizers. This is why organic agriculture is not favored by every farmer.

“By using glasshouses, we can protect products from diseases and control the heat and cold; we can also grow most produce in a suspended way. This can make up for the reduced yield” of organic agriculture, said Khoshnaw.

In the Kurdistan Region, there is good infrastructure for organic agriculture.

As a first step, the Ministry of Agriculture has formed a high committee to work on organic agriculture. It has also produced some posters and leaflets and provincial directorates of agricultural research have been asked to pay particular attention to research on organic agriculture.

“Changing Kurdistan’s agricultural system to organic is not an easy job. It needs a lot of time. In the first phase, farmers can stop using chemical fertilizer. They can learn to make organic fertilizer. In subsequent stages, we can use the areas that have seen fewer diseases. We can also benefit from useful ants to control diseases and the bushes,” said Maqsud Khalid, director of agricultural research in Erbil.

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