How would you describe the present state of agriculture in the Kurdistan Region?
Iraq suffered under Saddam, but the Kurdish Region, and in particular our villages, suffered more than anyone else in the country. Saddam forced people from the villages to the cities. I first came to this area in 1965, and the villages were thriving. They were strong and vibrant. Those villages were producing a large amount of produce. So, they were producers. Today, they are consumers. Most of the agricultural products are imported. We should dedicate at least 10% of our budget to agriculture in order to revive the sector. However, we are not even at 2% right now.
Can you explain the importance of food security and what is the government doing to promote the idea?
The concept of food security was introduced three years ago. Food security includes water, agriculture, food safety, and overall health. This could be the health of the animals being imported or simply the quality of the medicine. It all relates. Food security has not been placed at the top of the agenda. If you look at the budget’s allocation of funding, you will find agriculture on the bottom. When the people come to realize that food security is as important as national security, then things might change. However, food security and agriculture require sweat equity. Kurdistan used to be a sweat nation. Now, it seems more like a salaried nation.
You’re quite active in terms of water resources. What can you tell us about those resources in the Kurdistan Region?
It has been estimated that 60% of the water consumed in Kurdistan is produced locally. However, it’s not really produced here. It’s either precipitated in the form of rain and snow or it comes from waterways that originate in neighboring countries. The basin for these waterways, specifically the Tigris and Euphrates, is located in parts of southeast Turkey, eastern Syria, and western Iran. A few months ago, NASA conducted a report that estimated that 144 billion cubic meters of water have disappeared from this area in the last 5 years. The report indicated that 20% evaporated, 20% went to the lakes and disappeared, and 60% disappeared from the groundwater. That’s a lot. If this process continues for the next five years without any corrective efforts, we will soon look like another Gulf State.
How does the present supply of water measure up to the Region’s current water needs?
For every million people, you need one billion cubic meters of water. With that in mind, we definitely have a deficit in the Kurdistan Region. Currently, there are estimated to be around 23 million people living in Iraq. The amount of water coming from the Tigris and the Euphrates is not enough to sustain that population, so a deficit exists. At the moment, from the Tigris, we receive 20 billion m3 annually. By the end of next year, the Ilisu Dam will be finished and will reduce those 20 billion m3 to 9 billion m3.
As a result of the GAP Project on the Euphrates, seven dams have already been built on the Turkish side and five on the Syrian side. There aren’t concrete numbers for the Euphrates. However, from my estimates, we will receive only 7-8 billion m3 annually as a result of these dams. Right now, the rain and the snow of Kurdistan are supplementing our water levels. For now, this is providing some stability. However, there is still a deficit. This year, of course, we had excellent rain. Statistics would indicate that the amount of rain we had this year was three times better than last year. However, that’s not a long-term solution because we can’t rely on this as being a constant occurrence.
What about meat production in the Region?
The people of Kurdistan love our meat. We are a nation of carnivores! However, we don’t have enough animals available locally to produce the amount of meat that is in demand. So smuggling animals and meat has become a bigger business. This leads to the importation and usage of inferior meat that comes with the risk of being contaminated, diseased, or chemically treated. In some cases, the meat consumed here has been smuggled over land from India or Pakistan. It’s another situation that is in need of attention and reform. We locally produce less than 20% of our requirement for red meat and poultry. I am afraid we cannot go on this way.