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Undermining Iraq’s Food Security

 By Ghali Hassan 

01/31/05 "ICH" -- 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 orders left by administrator Paul Bremer, is Order 81 on “Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety”[1]. 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, and undermine Iraq’s food security.   

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, showed that the Fertile Crescent, including modern Iraq, was the first region where sheep were domesticated and wheat crops were cultivated around 9000-8000 B.C.  Since then, the inhabitants of Mesopotamia have used informal seed supply system to plant their crops. While much has changed in the ensuing millennia, agriculture remains an essential part of Iraq’s heritage. 

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 Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 97 percent of Iraqi farmers used farm-saved seeds from their own stocks from last year harvest or purchased from local market. The new law deprives Iraqi farmers of their innovation and development of important crops such barley, wheat, pulses and the famous Iraqi date. Despite extreme aridity, characterised by low rainfalls and soil salinity, Iraq had a world standard agricultural sector producing good quality food for generations.  

Under the new US Order, the saving and planting of seeds will be illegal and 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 its yearly crop seeds for planting. The term of the monopoly is 20 years for crop varieties and 25 for trees and vines. During this time the protected variety de facto becomes the property of the breeder, and nobody can plant or otherwise use this variety without compensating the breeder.  

Iraqi farmers will have to buy and plant so-called “protected” crop varieties brought into Iraq by mostly American transactional corporations such as Monsanto 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 genetically modified (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” said GRAIN, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) which promotes sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity and people's 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 transactional corporations [2]. For example, Monsanto controls over 90% 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. The new Order is an extension of the old genocidal economic sanctions. 

Since 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. Under the sanctions regime, Iraq’s food security and agricultural activities are severely threatened. Agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, farm machineries and other necessary items for food production are not available under the dual-use policy thus undermining food availability. The sanctions has 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 5 years. It was a deliberate mass atrocity [3]. 

During the 13 years of UN-sponsored sanctions, Iraq’s was barred from importing important items such as agricultural fertilisers, pesticides, foodstuff and many other agricultural tools essential for the production of food for the Iraqi population. “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 U.N.'s ‘oil for food’ program. I quickly realized that this humanitarian program was a Band-Aid for a U.N. sanctions regime that was quite literally killing people. Feeling the moral credibility of the U.N. was being undermined, and not wishing to be complicit in what I felt was a criminal violation of human rights, I resigned after 13 months”, Denis Halliday, former humanitarian aid coordinator for Iraq told an audience at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts on November 05, 1998. 

We know now that the pretexts for the US-Britain wars and sanctions on Iraq are utter lies. Iraq had no WMD since 1991 and Iraq had no relations with terrorist groups. The war on Iraq was initiated on the basis of overall strategic goals that include the control of Iraq’s natural resources, including Iraq’s oil. We also know that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 ‘constitutes blatant aggression by the US and Britain outside the bounds of the UN Charter’ and international law. US wars and the sanctions against Iraq have severely damaged Iraq’s ability to produce food for its population.  

The US Order 81 will complete this deliberate and illegal destruction of Iraq’s agricultural sector. By illegally invading Iraq and robbing Iraq of its plant varieties, and depriving it of food security, the US is in violation of international law. Iraq’s plant varieties comprise the agricultural heritage of Iraq belonging to the Iraqi farmers. Iraq sovereignty including food sovereignty for the Iraqi people is paramount.  

Only an end to US occupation and the return of Iraq’s natural resources, including biological resources, will ensure Iraq’s freedom and liberation from foreign forces. 

Ghali Hassan lives in Perth, Western Australia. He can be contacted on:
G.Hassan@exchange.curtin.edu.au

Notes: 

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

[2] http://www.grain.org/articles/?id=6.

[3] Gideon Polya, Australasian Science June 2004.

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