Iraq Agriculture and Food Supply: Background and Issues


Publication Date: June 2004

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Agriculture, forestry and fishing; Trade


Coverage: Iraq


Iraq's agricultural sector represents a small but vital component of Iraq's economy. Over the past several decades agriculture's role in the economy has been heavily influenced by Iraq's involvement in military conflicts, particularly the 198088 Iran-Iraq War, the 1991 Gulf War, and the 2003 Iraq War, and by varying degrees of government effort to promote and/or control agricultural production.

Rapid population growth coupled with limited arable land and a general stagnation in agricultural productivity has steadily increased dependence on imports to meet domestic food needs since the mid-1960s. Prior to the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq was a major trading partner with the U.S. Iraq benefitted from substantial USDA agricultural export credit during the 1980s to purchase large quantities of U.S. agricultural commodities. By the mid-1980s Iraq was the major destination for U.S. rice exports. Iraq was also an important purchaser of U.S. wheat, corn, soymeal, and cotton. After the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. agricultural export credit to Iraq was ended and USDA was left with $2 billion in unpaid credit. U.S. agricultural trade with Iraq remained negligible through 2002.

Present-day Iraqi agriculture and trade have been heavily shaped by the 1990 U.N. sanctions and the Iraqi government's response to them. From 1991 to 1996, prior to the startup of the U.N.'s Oil-For-Food program (OFFP), Iraq's agricultural imports averaged $958 million or less than half of the pre-war level. Under the OFFP, the value of Iraq's agricultural imports rebounded to average $1.5 billion (during the 1997-2002 period).

In early 2003, just prior to the U.S. -- Iraq War, the country's agricultural sector remained beset by the legacy of past mis-management, unresolved disputes over land and water rights, and the lingering effects of a severe drought during 1999-2001. Clearly, Iraq will be dependent on imports for fully meeting domestic food demand for several years to come. In the near term, food aid shipments are likely to play a major role in determining the share of Iraq's agricultural imports, and may influence the evolution of future commercial imports.

This report is an extension of CRS Report RS21516, "Iraq's Agriculture: Background and Status." It provides a brief description of Iraq's agro-climatic setting and the history of agricultural policy, production, and trade leading up to the period just prior to the 2003 Gulf War; it reviews issues likely to affect the long-term outlook for Iraq's agricultural production and trade; and it provides several tables of historical data relevant to understanding the evolution of Iraq's agricultural production and trade. This report will be updated as events warrant. For detailed discussion on the status of humanitarian aid efforts, see CRS Report RL31833, Iraq: Recent Developments in Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance. For discussion on the U.N. Oil-For-Food Program and trade during the decade of the 1990s see CRS Report RL30472, Iraq: Oil-For-Food Program, International Sanctions, and Illicit Trade.