Our task here at the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources is to provide food and food security, as well as to provide water and water security. When we examined our strategic plan, we did so from the top down. We had all the numbers, statistics, and tabulations for all the agricultural products that we produce, as well as for water storage, preservation, and use. We then used those numbers to establish a baseline of what we had and what was needed.
Food sufficiency, in my opinion, means providing every citizen with a menu that makes the individual citizen healthy; that means providing protein, carbohydrates, and minerals. So, we compared those needs to our total rates of local production. What we found was that, for certain items, such as wheat, we had reached self-sufficiency. In other areas, such as red meat, we needed to increase production so as to ensure that we are keeping our population healthy.
To allow us to then make the key decisions regarding our areas of focus, we simplified the data to help develop our Road Map, which is a revision of the ongoing 5-year Strategic Plan. We identified the areas that were below 50% self-sufficiency (colored red), the areas that were 50% self-sufficiency (colored yellow), and the areas in which we had achieved self-sufficiency (colored green). The idea then was simple: keep the green areas green, turn the yellow areas green, and turn the red areas yellow and, eventually, green. With this structure in place, we effectively and efficiently established our priority areas.
So, with the vision and the road map in place, what remained was the truly difficult part: developing the workforce to deliver these objectives. Once again, we prioritized our needs to develop a staff fit for purpose.
The immediate priority we identified was preparing and training the staff. We are currently writing job descriptions in an attempt to define where someone’s work starts and where it ends: we need accountability. We are also reviewing the overall structure of the Ministry in order to streamline our process because the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources is massive! Some of our reviews have revealed that certain employees have two or three managers. This means that this employee is receiving different sets of instructions that are often in conflict with each other. As a result, he or she doesn’t know what the proper course of action may be. So, we’re currently in the process of rectifying these types of problems. To do this, we’ve brought in some international partners. However, the vision is ours and the instruction is ours.
Then there are also issues of policy. The building blocks of this ministry are farmers. When I first received this appointment, everyone said, “Let’s support the farmers! Let’s support the farmers!” So, we supported them. However, when we looked at the production numbers, things didn’t add up. So, then we had to ask different questions. We had to analyze who exactly was a farmer.
There was a study done by JICA [Japanese International Cooperation Agency]. They surveyed the farmers in the Erbil Province and determined that 55% of them were government employees. In my book, government employees aren’t farmers. So, we limited our work to those farmers that were productive and independent. The budget here is very limited and is spread very thin. So, it is a waste if 55% of the people receiving support aren’t doing anything with it. It makes far more sense to put all the money into that 45% of famers that are producing food.
In addition, the Ministry provides 14 or 16 different forms of assistance for farmers. However, when we consulted with different groups of farmers from around the Kurdistan Region, we came to the realization that it would be more efficient and more productive to focus support on two or three areas that are directly linked to production. So, we now have an advisory team working on identifying the most critical areas of need. All of this work is currently ongoing and should have significant impacts on the agricultural sector here in the Kurdistan Region.