Iraq

Background 

On several occasions during the 1970's, senior officials from both the Iraqi Ministry of Agricultural and Agrarian Reform (MAAR) and the South Australian Department of Agriculture discussed the possibility of introducing the dryland cereal/medic farming system into Iraq. At that stage there was concern in MAAR that the current practice in Iraq of continuous cereal cropping based on deep cultivation was not achieving the full potential for production. At the same time these practices were unduly damaging to soil structure and decreasing the already low levels of soil fertility. 

Australia has had considerable influence in agricultural development in Iraq from 1972 when Dr Al Fakhry, Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture at Mosul University spent six months in Southern Australia and on return, taught details of aspects of the dryland farming system in his university.

The SA Minister of Agriculture, Tom Casey, visited Iraq in 1974, and John Shearer exhibited large cultivation equipment at the Baghdad Trade Fair. Later, SA Seedgrowers Cooperative (Seedco) established six demonstration sites in Northern Iraq. 

In 1979? the SA Minister of Agriculture Brian Chatterton  visited Iraq and had discussions with the Minister for Agriculture and Agrarian Reform.  As a result, a team of Iraqi agricultural experts visited Australia in June 1979 to observe the cereal/medic farming system in SA and WA.

Development of the Proposal & Contract

Following that visit the SA Government was invited to Iraq undertake a detailed site selection and project planning study for a demonstration farm.  This group of SADA staff (Dr Pat Harvey, Dr Don Plowman, Peter Carr, Ken Holden and Trevor Dillon) examined suitable areas in northern Iraq in Dec 1979, and developed a costed project proposal for a 20 000 dunum, 5 000ha (in Iraq, a dunum is equal to 0.25 hectares), demonstration farm in the Erbil Autonomous Region.

Despite the onset of the Iraq/Iran hostilities in 1980, SAGRIC International entered into a contract valued at $US9 564 950 with MAAR in June of that year.  This included cultivation, bulk handling seeding and harvesting machinery manufactured in SA.

The objectives of the project were:

  • To demonstrate the application of the integrated dry land farming system and to assess its potential contribution to agriculture in northern Iraq.
  • To increase the production of cereal crops through the use of legume based pastures in the cropping rotation.
  • To increase the production of Livestock in the cereal zone by replacing existing cropping techniques with the ley farming system.
  • To increase the efficiency of production of both cereal crops and livestock through the use of improved dry land farming methods.
  • To give agricultural engineers, farmers and farm managers an understanding of the principles of managing a legume based cereal/livestock system in order to achieve significant adoption of this system in the northern rainfed cereal areas.

Project Implementation

During early 1981 a project headquarters (what remains of the headquarters compound can be seen today using Google Earth at 36°14’ 14.94” N, 43°59’ 57.45” E) and staff housing was established on the periphery of Ain Kawah township, about 8Km NNW of Irbil, together with a satellite machinery and grain storage compound centred in the project area at Baharaka village, about 8km NNE of the headquarters base. Transportable Australian-made houses and sheds were erected, research facilities established, and farming equipment was imported. Subdivision of the area with about 160km of Australian cyclone/barb wire fencing also commenced.  The farm area was established in undulating country at about 600m altitude on deep krasnozem soils.  Rainfall was approx 400? mm, and temperatures were extreme – extended frost periods of frozen soil in winter with minima occasionally as low as -8°C, together with infrequent light snow, while average summer maxima continuously exceeded 40°C. 

A consequence of the country’s war footing for the SAGRIC project was the occurrence of regional guerrilla activity by various Kurdish separatist groups.  As a result all project sites and field operations were placed under military security provided by a permanent army detachment based in the home compound.

By late 1981 the expatriate workforce of eight was onsite, including families.  Glynn Weber was the initial project director, Peter Carr was livestock specialist and deputy project leader, Peter Mobbs as agronomist, Tony Denyer was Farm Operations Manager assisted by John Pearce, Rob McEwen and Alec Mack, and Bob Asser as administrative officer.  A key plank of the project’s technology transfer objectives was the establishment of an Iraqi counterpart team, which was lead by Ezzaddin Nejmaddin Abdul-Karim (Ezzaddin Nejmaddin Abdul-Karim was tragically assassinated in 1985). 

In October 1981 limited cereal cropping commenced using contemporary Australian cultivation and harvesting machinery. Yields good..., starlings, Levantine voles, frost effects on medic establishment etc,

The project was also provided with a flock of two hundred ewes of the fertile Hamdani breed seconded from local government sheep stations. 

The 20 000 donum of farming land to be used by the project was acquired in stages by the MAAR and the project team established the necessary facilities for farm operations and staff housing. A team of 8 Australians, expert in various technical disciplines or experienced farm managers, was based on the project and the necessary agricultural equipment and supplies were acquired and put into working order. Farm operations in the first year were limited but by 1982, the full 20 000 donums has been acquired, fenced and cropped to either cereal or medic.

In late 1982, as a consequence of an armed attack by guerrillas on the army guards at the Ain Kawah compound, the majority of Australian dependants based there were repatriated for security reasons.

The Australian project team was assisted on numerous occasions by short consulting visits by experts in agronomy, livestock, agricultural economics, extension and agricultural machinery. The transfer of a complex farming system in equilibrium with its physical and social environment in southern Australia could not be expected to work successfully without adaptation to the similar but not identical conditions in Iraq. Consequently, a large and comprehensive research and development programme was undertaken to adapt and refine the basic principles into a new, economically productive method of land use suitable for northern Iraq.

Virtually all components of the system needed evaluation under local conditions. The most productive commercial strains of medic and cereal were identified, the timing and depth of tillage and seeding operations were evaluated, and fertiliser and herbicide types and rates assessed. As new information became available from the research programmes, refinements were made to the techniques and management of the field operations.

By the conclusion of the project in mid 1985, a cereal/medic farming system had been successfully undertaken on a large scale. While varying significantly in detail from the South Australian system, it does not differ in the technical principles.

Having established this system, it must be pointed out that the cumulative benefits to soil fertility and structure are still very small. Many years are needed to achieve the full potential of the system. In addition, research programmes need to continue to further refine techniques and to incorporate new technical developments. In fact SAD A is still undertaking continuous research into all aspects of the cereal/medic system in order to optimise production even though this system has been in widespread use for forty years.

Counterpart Training & Involvement

It was clearly understood by both parties to the contract that that demonstration of the new technology only went part of the way towards its adoption as standard practice.  Consequently a team of Iraqi agriculturalists from MAAR was attached to the project team for the purposes of gaining a thorough understanding of the system and experience in its management. This proved to be a most successful phase of the project, and these Iraqi officers represent a most valuable asset in for further research and extension of the cereal/medic system.

Principal Findings

The project has demonstrated that the transfer of technically complex agricultural technology to new environments can be successfully achieved. The potential contribution of this system to the national economy of Iraqi is large for even at this early stage, there is evidence that both wheat and livestock production can be doubled and that financial returns to farmers would rise proportionally. The widespread adoption of the new system is a challenge of great concern to the Iraqi authorities and it is believed that their efforts will be most successful.

The Integrated Cereal/Medic Dryland Farming System

The cereal/medic dry land farming system, as practised in South Australia, has been adapted successfully to Northern Iraq after substantial technical modification. This project has demonstrated the potential of this system to provide a stable and non-exploitive rainfed farming system with high productivity. Agricultural production in Iraq could, in the long term, achieve similar gains to those experienced in recent decades in South Australia, where cereal and livestock production were doubled.

The Components of the System

While the individual principles of the system are simple, its overall effectiveness is dependent on the timely combination of the many different components with a high degree of precision. To maximise yields, some of the components of the system must be further adjusted to take account of variables such as seasonal conditions. No definite formula can be devised to combat these vagaries, the most satisfactory mechanism being the skilled judgement of a farmer with long experience in operating the system. This need for combining precision and Judgement means that proper planning and careful supervision will be needed to ensure the successful wider implementation of the system in the cereal growing areas of Iraq.

Findings for Cereals
  • That existing, widely sown cultivars of wheat and barley are less productive than new Iraqi and introduced alternatives. That shallow cultivation and sowing at control led depth al lows better seedling establishment and less loss to pests.
  • That precise placement of fertiliser in bands beside the seed row allows more efficient use of fertilisers and more rapid early growth.
  • Apart from the weed control provided by careful and timely seed bed preparation, the potential yield can only be achieved if chemical weed control is practised using efficient, modern herbicides.
Findings for Medics
  • While selected Australian cultivars of annual medics have proved to be quite productive on the project site, several local selections of Medicago have shown greater adaptation to the environment and therefore a higher potential for production and persistence. An ecological selection programme is continuing to determine the most productive strains.
  • Locally isolated strains of Rhizobium bacteria have been shown to be most effective in achieving good establishment and production from medic pastures.
  • Successful techniques for the establishment and management of self-regenerating medic pastures have been developed and demonstrated.
Soil and Tillage
  • Soil structure and ease of cultivation improved steadily due to the combined effects of fewer and shallower cultivations, and the soil organic matter contributed by the pasture phase of the rotation.
  • The principle of shallow cultivation using appropriate equipment is fundamental to the long-term success of the integrated farming system. While width and method of linkage can be optional, the mechanical principles of equipment used for seed bed preparation should incorporate spring-release tynes fitted with durable and well designed points.
Livestock
  • Self regenerating annual medic pastures have the potential to support at least twice as many sheep per hectare as volunteer growth on fallow land, and to provide large quantities of highly nutritious hay as a fodder reserve.
  • The improved nutrition of young sheep grazing medic in spring and early summer will allow increased growth thereby reducing the amount of grain fed for fattening prior to sale.
  • The white varieties of barley are equally as effective for fattening livestock as the local black varieties. As yields of white barley are considerably greater, less land needs to be put aside for stock feed production.
Economics
  • The increased productivity of cereal and livestock production economically. A local farmer using the project findings has the potential to increase gross margin from ID 65.500/ha to ID 137.200/ha. (ID represents Iraqi Dinars.  A Dinar is comprised of 1000 fils.)
  • The cost of purchasing a complete set of suitable machinery will be too great to justify for an individual farmer, so that contractors or co-operative farming operations may need to be encouraged. In addition, the effects of small farm size on the adoption and efficient operation of the system will be serious. Larger farms have greater potential to successfully adopt the new system and to provide a full-time occupation for the farm manager, (i.e. farms over 400 donums).

Further Development & Adoptation of the Cereal/Medic System

Subjects which will offer large, immediate gains in production are tillage, seeding methods, fertiliser usage and weed control. We would recommend that efforts to improve local practice in these areas be concentrated on in the first seasons. We would also recommend that the better soils of the farming lands be utilised in the first instance to help the introduction of the technology.

The beneficial effects of medic pastures will develop more slowly, producing high levels of productivity through better soil fertility, improved soil structure and with a reduced need for nitrogenous fertilisers.

It must be appreciated that this effect is slow, with progress measured decades rather than years.

Expansion of the system must be planned and steady. It is not possible to revolutionise the farming system of a region in one or two seasons. A carefully planned and supervised programme aimed at a steady increase of the area to which the system is applied would provide the best means of implementation.

Key demonstration farms should be established further refine the system, and to provide a clear example to farmers in the region. The initial demonstration farms should be established in reliable rainfall areas, and appropriate effort and support given must be made to al low them to succeed. This is necessary if they are to be effective in demonstrating that the integrated dry land farming system offers greater economic returns than alternative methods of cereal production.

Suitable equipment must be available. The importance of effective seed bed preparation and correct depth of sowing in successful application of the system cannot be over-stressed. Australian cultivation and seeding equipment has been specifically engineered to meet the requirements of this system. Some European and North American equipment, whilst it may be similar in principle, is designed for different conditions, less rugged in design and less effective in operation under local conditions. Because of these factors its use would lead to less satisfactory results.

Continuing research and development will be needed. The technical programmes for the development and testing of more productive annual legume and cereal varieties and other farming practices which have been established at Erbil will benefit from refinement and further adapt Lon to Iraq's special environment. Developing an efficient agriculture requires a continuing research and development programme to maximise the benefits of using the technology.

Suitable facilities must be established to provide practical training in the tasks involved in the system to those people who are ultimately going to administer the planned programme for its on-going implementation. It is essential that the administrators and engineers who are to supervise the adaptation of the technology are properly trained in all aspects of it. A training farm concept, based on the existing facility at Ain Kawah might provide the most effective means of achieving this. Such a facility could also be used for the basic training of farmers. in order to achieve the maximum benefit from systems technology, a programme of technical exchange with countries with similar soil/climate conditions is desirable.

Expert technical advice must be available to users of the system. Unless the initial operators achieve good results others will be reluctant to take up the system. The many small but significant problems which will be encountered in applying the different aspects of the technology must be capable of rapid solution by experienced agriculturalists. This technical advice must be available not only to Government officials but also, via a professional and effective extension service, to the farmers.

The establishment of an effective extension capability must be accorded priority. A mobile training unit able to visit various localities to train farmers should also be considered in planning the extension services required. In addition there must be an organisation capacity to produce extension material, e.g. handbooks, video film and charts.

The extension and implementation programme should be integrated into the national plan for agriculture. This is an essential component of the adaptation and implementation of the system. Countries commonly believe that it is possible to develop a cereal and livestock capability in isolation from other aspects of their rural production but this is not the case. For example, as sheep numbers vary with seasons it will be necessary to move sheep to and from the semi arid areas into the cereal growing areas. The satisfactory integration of the cereal zone into the remainder of Iraqi agriculture will be the crucial to success of the system, as has been demonstrated in Australia and other semi-arid areas.

It is important that a long term plan is established to build Iraqi's own capabilities in all areas which require inputs into the farming system. There should be no long term dependency on any other country. In addition to' fertiliser production, where Iraq already has a developing industry, capabilities need to be established in the fol lowing specific areas:

  • Pasture seed production
  • Rhizobium production
  • Herbicide availability and evaluation
  • Farm machinery production

It could be unrealistic to try and develop all these capabilities simultaneously but a rolling programme would seem to be essential to ensure that Iraq is in control of its own agricultural future.

The size of operational farm units needs to be above a certain minimum size to enable a rational use of equipment, to provide full-time employment for the manager, and to minimise the number of farmers needing retraining and servicing by extension staff. This need not disturb current patterns of land tenure, but may call for some change in the way individual land holdings are aggregated into operational units (e.g. on a family basis).

Suitable credit facilities will also need to be provided for producers. Farmers who will be involved in change must be provided with appropriate credit to al low them to farm the way the Government believes they should.

Appropriate incentives must be provided for farmers. Suitable crop and pasture cultivars. fertilisers and herbicides should be available to farmers at prices that give economic returns and which ensure that they adopt the technology wholeheartedly.

Project Staff

The following staff had permanent in-country roles:

Glynn Webber Project Director 1980-1982
Peter Barrow Project Director 1982-1984
Arthur Tideman Project Director 1984-1985
 
Peter Mobbs Agronomist
Rod Reeve Agronomist
 
Peter Carr  Livestock specialist & Dep Director 1981-1983
Geoff Lucas
 

Tony Denyer

Farm Manager
 
Peter Matthews Administrative Officer
Robert Asser Administrative Officer
 

John Pearce

Alec Mac
Robert McEwen

Robert Garske