Iraq is offering thousands of opportunities to invest in the country's agricultural industry as part of the effort to develop and reform the industry, the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture announced last week.
The ministry has allocated 10 million dunams of agricultural land scattered across 13 provinces for investment projects. The ministry will also provide advice to investors about the best uses of any particular piece of land, based on previous studies of the locations.
The opportunities include projects that had been started several decades ago but had been abandoned because of the massive damages inflicted on them during 2003.
According to ministry officials, the rehabilitation work to get those projects back to operation requires a level of funding and expertise that the ministry is unable to provide without the assistance of outside investment.
"Investments play an important role in supporting and bolstering the efforts aimed at achieving growth in all areas, including the agricultural sector, which forms the backbone of the national economy for any country," said Sabah Deraa Abed, director general of the General Commission for Organising Agricultural Investments.
"On this basis, we are now trying to attract various local and foreign companies to enter into the agricultural sector to invest in it. We are allocating 195,000 opportunities for agricultural investment, and have prepared 10 million dunams [of land] on which projects can be established," he told Mawtani.
"These agricultural lands, which are scattered across 13 provinces, are free of any encroachments or legal or administrative problems. We have conducted intense field studies and analysis within the investment map project to determine their eligibility for investment," he said.
"Those studies give the investor considerable data on the land in which he wishes to invest in, in terms of the type of soil, the level of salinity, and the grade of its fertility, as well as provide advice on the nature of the investment project which can be established on it," Abed said.
Spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Kareem al-Tamimi, said his ministry "is counting on the investment opportunities to lift up and improve the state of the agricultural sector's infrastructure."
"There are giant agricultural projects, such as those for raising animals, animal products, transformative industries, and agricultural supplies, that are in need of repair and rehabilitation to bring them back into service again or raise their productivity and efficiency," al-Tamimi told Mawtani.
"Investment will help the ministry in both a technical and financial way to reconstruct and upgrade those projects so that they would help in meeting the country's needs for food products and locally manufactured agricultural goods. They will also provide thousands of work opportunities for the unemployed," he said.
"The ministry is keen to encourage parties to enter into the field of agricultural investment, and has taken several steps in this respect, such as preparing the investment map, and adoption of the one-window process to facilitate the investor's obtaining the necessary permit, and complete all the administrative steps needed to begin his project," he said.
Al-Tamimi said the ministry supports small and medium agricultural projects through the Small Farmers Fund, which since 2008 and up to now, has given out loans exceeding 900 billion dinars ($773 million).
Agricultural expert Adel al-Mukhtar said he supported opening the doors for investments in the agricultural sector, and noted the economic returns that such a move would achieve and how it will reinforce food security for Iraqi citizens.
Al-Mukhtar told Mawtani that there are obstacles that might hinder the entry of agriculture-specialised investment companies, the most important of which is the competition posed by imports.
"When an investor studies the state of the local market, he notices the presence of large quantities of imported agricultural and food products that are offered at competitive prices in comparison with the local products, and this does not encourage him to invest in the agricultural sector," he said.
Al-Mukhtar said legislation was needed "that would safeguard local agricultural products in the face of imports, as well as provide all the administrative and logistic facilities and the banking guarantees for investors".