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Wheat kings.

The Kurdistan Region's fertile agricultural land bodes the promise of self-sufficiency, as a vast number of villages - if encouraged - can yield local produce.Aa The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has planned various methods to improve this vital sector but the devastation wreaked upon the rural areas by previous Iraqi regimes has hampered these efforts. The KRG through various projects by ministries and departments including the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Tourism and Gardens' Directorate to name a few have been able to make significant progress. One noteworthy government initiative is the purchase of the farmers' harvest each year. This has served to encourage people to go back to their villages and assist in reviving the stagnant agricultural sector. The government has bought the harvest and reused it in a number of ways. The grain harvest has been made into wheat powder and distributed among the population every month along with the Oil-for-Food Program. It has also been used to make fodder, which goes back to the farmers who use it for their animals. The General Company for Grain Trade, which belongs to the region's Ministry of Trade, is the special directorate set up for the purpose of buying the harvest from the local farmers. "Most of the directives are from the Ministry of Trade of the central government but we also have some technical and administrative directives coming from the region's Ministry of Trade," said Khalid Hamid Mahmud, an agricultural engineer and general manager of the General Company for Grains Trade in Slemani which is an administrative office for receiving, storing and providing grain. He explained that each year the administration receives new directives from the central government on how to receive the harvest from the farmers in their area. "We must break down the grain into three grades according to their quality of use. Grade one and two are good wheat but three is bad and dirty wheat or barley which is used as animal food. We also import wheat which goes through the same laboratory procedures as the local grain. Up to now, we have had no poor quality wheat from the international shipments," said Mahmud. He explained that every vehicle that brings in the stock has to be checked for quality before a price tag is set. Samples are taken from each vehicle for tests, some of which are by machine and some by sight. "Every vehicle is given a secret number so that the owner remains undisclosed until the final results are known," he explained. Classification as per international standards of quality The laboratory tests ascertain the degree of the grain and set the limits for the percentages of elements that are allowed to exist in the grain such as the specific typical weight and moisture. There should be no percentages of carbonization, scion, decayed grains, insects or feces, otherwise it will not be classified as grade one quality grain as per international standards. The tests can be contested by the farmers as the administration has set up a special board for complaints. Tests can be redone under the supervision of the complaints board so that farmers can be assured that their stock was rejected on quality basis only. The General Company provides the seven mills in Slemani with 6,000 tons of grade one wheat, 3,000 tons of grade two and 1,500 tons of grade three that is used for making animal food. This is all distributed among the public. The city requires 18,000 tons of the international and local wheat in addition to 5,000 tons of barley. The different grades of wheat are also combined before it is made into powder. Wheat from Australia, Canada and the US, which are renowned for their quality, are mixed with 30 percent of grade one local wheat and 10 percent of grade two. "One ton of first class international wheat costs the Iraqi government US$460, while the wheat from other countries costs US$360. We buy different kinds of local grain according to the directives of the central government. For the current year, we have bought one ton of grade one wheat for 850,000 Iraq Dinars (ID), grade two for 750,000 ID, grade three for 450,000 ID and one ton of barely for 725,000 ID," said Mahmud. The administration has bought the largest amount for the current year but face problems in storage of the large quantities as they receive 80-100 vehicles daily which lead to large crowds in front of the administration. "Our administration is a silo granary but we do not have a suitable place for storing so we put all the grains outside to bear any weather which is not right scientifically. The government promised us to reconstruct the granary to use it properly," said Mahmud. He explained that there are 53 silos in Iraq and that their one is the only one not working. He explains that storage is a big problem as they must receive grains from the farmers in these three months of harvest, from the silos of the other provinces and from the imported vehicles. Despite these problems Mahmud explains that there is reason to rejoice nonetheless. "The range of our harvest has increased. In 2007 we bought 29,000 tons from the farmers in the three months of harvest but in 2008 owing to the severe drought we only bought 17,000 tons but the current year which we are in the middle of, we have already reached nearly 43,000 tons," he said. According to Mahmud, the regional demand for wheat is greater than can be provided for at present but he expressed the hope that in the years to come the Kurdistan Region will be able to fully provide for its own needs. "This year we may come close to providing for half of our region's needs."

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Publication:Soma Digest (Suleimanieh, Iraq)
Date:Sep 2, 2009
Next Article:A vibrant Kurdish economy can become reality.

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