By Mohammad Raafi, FAO - Iraq
Soaring food prices, coupled with years of conflict and economic sanctions, have had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of Iraq’s people. To help mitigate the effects accompanying the outbreak of the avian flu, along with the rising prices of poultry, FAO sought to introduce an alternative source of protein to Iraqi household diets by helping increase fish production.
The fishing sector is among the weakest in Iraq’s economy. The country has a small coastline of less than 60 km. The rivers Tigris and Euphrates as well as the country’s marshes, dams and reservoirs, make up Iraq’s main water source for inland fishing.
The per capita fish consumption in Iraq is the lowest in the region compared to 12 kg in the Gulf Cooperation Countries, 10 kg in Iran, 4.5 kg in Syria and 3.7 kg in Jordan. The per capita fish consumption in Iraq saw a decline from 2.5 kg in 1990 to 0.8 kg in 2005. This was not only due to a decrease in purchasing power, but also to a gap between current supply and demand USAID, Business Models for Aquaculture in Iraq, May 2006.
In Iraq, this industry relies mostly on inland fishing which faces several constraints such as the lack of quality fish seed reaching the areas where there is potential for inland fish production. Poor communication and transportation facilities further aggravate the problem.
Since 2004, FAO, in partnership with Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture, has implemented a number of projects to restore and develop fish production in the country. Through the United Nations Development Group Iraq Trust Fund, FAO has contributed US $10 million towards the fisheries sector. These projects have sought to develop the current state of aquaculture by training and transferring the most recent technology in cage fish culture and by encouraging sustainable aquaculture activities using both local and foreign species.
The Organization has helped increase inland fish production through management, stocking and enhancement of the diversity of species with an effective regulatory framework. The project includes a range of interventions, such as the establishment of brood stock development centres and a brood fish supply network, the diversification of species in inland fish production and the establishment of a decentralized fish seed supply network.
The ultimate beneficiaries of this project are the inland fisheries and farming communities, particularly the rural poor and marginalized segments of society. It is estimated that to date more than 9,000 Iraqis benefited from the results of these projects. FAO, 2011 Project Summary, July 2011
With FAO installing cages for fish harvesting in twelve different locations in the Euphrates and Tigris, locally harvested fish prices have dropped by 40 per cent according to an evaluation conducted jointly by FAO and local universities. Basra University, Mosul University 2010 The growth period of fish also dropped from eight months to four.
These results have encouraged the private sector in Iraq to adopt the same technology as it has the potential to increase the pace of the rehabilitation of the fisheries sector. It equally enhanced the role of the Ministry of Agriculture to boost the private sector’s investments in this field, while leading to the establishment of 12 fishery associations.