Undermining Iraq's Food Security


The US Occupation authority has imposed legislation which could have detrimental and lasting impact on Iraqis farmers and Iraq’s ability to produce food for the Iraqi people. One of the 100 orders issued by administrator Paul Bremer is US Order 81 on ‘Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety'(link here ). Unless an independent sovereign Iraqi government repeals it, it will override Iraq’s original patent law of 1970, which, in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, prohibited private ownership of biological resources.

Iraq is home to the oldest agricultural traditions in the world. Historical, genetic and archaeological evidence, including radiocarbon dating of carbon-containing materials at the site, show that the Fertile Crescent, including modern Iraq, was the first region where sheep were domesticated and wheat crops were cultivated around 8000 BC. Since then, the inhabitants of Mesopotamia have used informal seed supply systems to plant their crops. While much has changed in the ensuing millennia, agriculture remains an essential part of Iraq’s heritage. Despite extreme aridity, characterised by low rainfalls and soil salinity, Iraq had a world standard agricultural sector producing good quality food for generations.

Traditionally, Iraqi farmers used ‘farm-saved seed’ and the free innovation with and exchange of planting materials among farming communities has long been the basis of agricultural practice. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 97 per cent of Iraqi farmers used farm-saved seeds from their own stocks from the last year’s harvest or purchased from the local market. The new Order deprives Iraqi farmers of this innovation and development of important crops such barley, wheat, pulses and the famous Iraqi dates.

Under the new Order, the saving and planting of seeds will be illegal. The market will only offer plant material produced by transactional agribusiness corporations. The US Order introduces a system of private monopoly rights over seeds and will force Iraqi farmers to relay on big US corporations to buy their yearly crop seeds for planting. The term of the monopoly is twenty years for crop varieties and twenty-five for trees and vines. During this time the protected variety becomes the property of the breeder, and nobody can plant or otherwise use this variety without compensating the breeder. The US administration wants to turn Iraq into a testing ground for ‘high yield seed varieties’ of genetically modified (GM) crops, which will have profound effects worldwide.

Iraqi farmers will have to buy and plant so-called ‘protected’ crop varieties brought into Iraq by mostly American multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow Chemical. According to Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok-based policy research and advocacy centre, ‘the new patent law also explicitly promotes the commercialisation of GM seeds in Iraq’, which will have detrimental effects on the environment and people’s health, and increase farmers’ dependency on agribusiness. Furthermore, ‘commercial agriculture places a real premium on genetic uniformity. It is not an adequate genetic reservoir for the future, they rest on a very narrow genetic base, and it’s been selected solely for the goal of maximising production and profits,’ said Hope Shand, Research Director of Erosion, Technology and Concentration Group.

This is a ‘new US war against Iraqi farmers’, writes GRAIN, the non-governmental organisation (NGO), which promotes sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity and people control over genetic resources and local knowledge. The recent report by GRAIN and Focus on the Global South has found that the new legislation has been carefully put in place by the US administration in order to prevent Iraqis farmers from saving their seeds and effectively hands over the seed market to multinational corporations, such as Monsanto which controls over 90 per cent of the total world area sown to transgenic seeds. ‘The US has been imposing patents on life around the world through trade deals. In this case, they invaded [Iraq] first, and then imposed their patents. This is both immoral and unacceptable,’ writes Shalini Bhutani, one of the report’s authors. Order 81 is an extension of the old genocidal economic sanctions in its restrictions. It will restrict Iraq’s ability to produce food for local consumption.

In 1990 the US imposed harsh conditions on Iraq through the UN-supervised economic sanctions regimes. The sanctions restricted Iraq’s ability to export oil and, more importantly, to import vital commodities such as food and medicines. Iraq was barred from importing agricultural tools essential for the production of food for the Iraqi population. Under the sanctions regime, Iraq’s food security and agricultural activities were severely threatened. Agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, farm machineries and other necessary items for food production were not available under the dual-use policy thus undermining food availability.

According to a 1997 report by FAO, Iraq’s ‘[c]rop yields… remain low due to poor land preparation as a result of a lack of machinery, low use of inputs, deteriorating soil quality and irrigation facilities’ and ‘The animal population has declined steeply due to severe shortages of feed and vaccines during the embargo years.’ The introduction of the Latin American screwworm, Chrysomya bezziana, by the US has decimated Iraq’s livestock and killed many people as well. The small parasite, which was unknown there until 1996, has found a favourable environment in Iraq. ‘These Latin American parasites now to be found in Iraq should provoke a few questions about the probability of biological warfare’, quoted Felicity Arbuthnot in The New Internationalist magazine. The sanctions have damaged Iraq’s agricultural sector and caused the death of hundreds of thousand of Iraqis.

Reliable estimates from humanitarian aid organisations and UN officials estimated that the total number of Iraqi deaths caused by the sanctions’ impact on food, medicines, water treatment and other health-related factors is about 1.5 million, a third of them children under the age of five years. It was a deliberate mass atrocity (link here).

During the thirteen years of UN-sponsored sanctions, ‘You kill people without blood or organs flying around, without angering American public opinion. People are dying silently in their beds. If 5,000 children are dying each month, this means 60,000 a year. Over eight years, we have half a million children. This is equivalent to two or three Hiroshimas,’ Ashraf Bayoumi, former head of the World Food Programme Observation Unit, in charge of monitoring food distribution in Iraq told Al-Ahram Weekly on 24 December 1998.

According to several credible reports, food shortages and malnutrition was a lesser problem before the sanctions. ‘I went to Iraq in September 1997 to oversee the UN’s œoil for food  program. I quickly realized that this humanitarian program was a Band-Aid for a UN sanctions regime that was quite literally killing people. Feeling the moral credibility of the UN was being undermined, and not wishing to be complicit in what I felt was a criminal violation of human rights, I resigned after thirteen months,’ Denis Halliday, former humanitarian aid coordinator for Iraq told an audience at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on 5 November, 1998.

We know now that the pretexts for the US-Britain war and sanctions against the Iraqi people were utter lies. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) since 1991, and Iraq never had any relations with terrorist groups. We also know that the invasion and occupation of Iraq constitute blatant aggression by the US and Britain outside the bounds of the UN Charter and international law (link here). The purposes of the war against Iraq were the removal of a nationalist government, and the control of Iraq’s natural resources, including Iraq’s oil resources. US imperial policy against Iraq has severely damaged Iraq’s ability to produce food for its population.

The US has also decided that, ‘despite 10 000 years practice, Iraqis don’t know what wheat works best in their own conditions, and would be better off with some new, imported American varieties. Under the guise, therefore, of helping get Iraq back on its feet, the US is setting out to totally reengineer the country’s traditional farming systems into a US-style corporate agribusiness,’ writes Jeremy Smith in The Ecologist . With this in mind, the US will hold the Iraqi farmers hostage to US corporations.

Order 81 is an illegal act of biopiracy of Iraq’s agricultural heritage and designed to undermine food security. By illegally invading Iraq and robbing it of its plant varieties, the US is in violation of international law. These plant varieties comprise Iraq’s agricultural heritage and belong to the Iraqi farmers. Food sovereignty is paramount to the Iraqi people.

The US agenda in Iraq is against the wishes and aspirations of the Iraqi people. Only an end to US occupation and the return of Iraq’s natural resources to the people, including biological resources, will ensure Iraqis freedom and liberation from US imperial occupation.

Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law of 2004, CPA Order No. 81, www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/20040426_CPAORD_81_Patents_Law.pdf

GRAIN, www.grain.org/articles/?id=6

Felicity Arbuthnot, New Internationalist, issue 316, September 1999. www.newint.org/issue316/danger.htm

Gideon Polya, Australasian Science www.control.com.au/bi2004/255conScience.pdf

Iraq War was Illegal and Breached UN Charter, Says Annan by Ewan Macaskill and Julian Borger www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/attack/law/2004/0916illegal.htm

Jeremy Smith, The Ecologist, February 2005, www.theecologist.org/article.html?article=487

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