ERBIL - The Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) has hundreds of thousands of hectares of agricultural land, both pasture and arable. It has water from mountain snowmelt, rain, springs, and rivers flowing from Iran and Turkey.
But Kurdistan's agriculture sector also faces serious challenges: climate change, drought, financial crises, and strained relationships with neighboring countries.
As the leader of the Kurdistan Regional Government's (KRG) Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, Begard Talabani is responsible for managing these issues and helping to solve problems.
The most urgent problem is drought. Low rainfalls and reduced flows in waterways coming from Iran are having a dramatic negative impacts, Talabani told Iraq Oil Report in an interview at her office in Erbil last week.
To build the dams and water storage ponds that it believes necessary to minimize shortages in future years, the KRG is planning to enter public-private partnerships with foreign companies. Officials are currently in the process of examining proposals, and contracts are likely to be awarded imminently, Talabani said.
Another issue is competition for produce. Farmers in the KRI struggle to match the prices goods imported in bulk from Iran and Turkey. To try to make local products such as fruit and vegetables more competitive, the KRG is planning to introduce import tariffs on foreign products.
The agricultural sector is also affected by long-running tensions between Erbil and Baghdad. According to Talabani, wheat farmers in the Kurdistan region are owed payments for their crops from the federal Iraq government, while representatives from Erbil were not involved in recent talks over division of water resources between the federal Iraqi government and Turkey.
The KRG's chronic budget shortfalls are also complicating her ministry's work.
“In previous cabinets, a special budget was allocated to the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources, but now this budget has been cut off,” Talabani said. “The Council of Minister’s excuse is the financial crisis, and the lack of an adequate budget at its disposal.”
As well as her ministerial position in government, Talabani is on the leadership council of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the KRG’s two main ruling parties. The full transcript of her interview is available below for Iraq Oil Report subscribers.
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