To address Iraq's deepening food insecurity international donors need to not only feed displaced people but also help farmers salvage next year's wheat harvest, a senior United Nations official told.
The prospect is not starvation tomorrow but rather a drastic drop in food production that would hit Iraq hard in next summer's harvest season and beyond, Cyril Ferrand said in a telephone interview from Rome.
Ferrand, who co-ordinates efforts for the World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Iraq, said the aid community was "racing against time" as two critical periods overlap, the winter months and the end of the wheat planting season. Even before the Islamic State advance, Iraq relied on imports to cover around half its wheat demand. The FAO estimates the country imported 2.7 million tons of wheat in the July 2013 to June 2014 marketing year.
The government bought 3.4 million tons of wheat from farmers in the last harvest before the Islamic State offensive, but 17 percent of that amount is now in Islamic State-controlled silos, according to the FAO. The UN says 2.8 million people need food assistance before the end of April. More than half of them are displaced. To keep food aid flowing, Ferrand said the WFP needs $70 million, while the FAO needs $38.5 million to deliver seeds and fertilizers to farmers before the end of the of wheat planting season next month.
Islamic State militants drove hundreds of thousands of farming families off their fertile farmland and into camps in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. "A large number of farmers have fled their fields...but we must make sure that those who remained and can access their land are able to plant," said Ferrand.