Couldn't open URL but article important enough I believe to send
without verifying it. Wren Osborn
Date Published: 21/01/05 Author: Jeremy Smith
Under the guise of helping get Iraq back on its feet, the US is setting
to totally re-engineer the country's traditional farming systems into a
US-style corporate agribusiness. They’ve even created a new law – Order
81 – to make sure it happens.
Coals to Newcastle. Ice to Eskimos. Tea to China. These are the acts of
ultimate salesmen, wily marketers able to sell even to people with no
to buy. To that list can now be added a new phrase – Wheat to Iraq.
Iraq is part of the ‘fertile crescent’ of Mesopotamia. It is here, in
around 8,500 to 8,000BC, that mankind first domesticated wheat, here
agriculture was born. In recent years however, the birthplace of farming
has been in trouble. Wheat production tumbled from 1,236,000 tons in
to just 384,000 tons in 2000. Why this should have happened very much
depends on whom you ask.
A press release from Headquarters United States Command reports that
‘Over the past 10 years, this region has not been able to keep up with
Iraq’s wheat demand. During the Saddam Hussein regime, farmers were
expected to continuously produce wheat, never leaving their fields
This tactic degraded the soil, leaving few nutrients for the next year’s
crop, increasing the chances for crop disease and fungus, and eventually
resulting in fewer yields.’ For the US military, the blame clearly lies
with the ‘tactics’ of ‘Saddam’s regime’.
However, in 1997 the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) found:
‘Crop yields... remain low due to poor land preparation as a result of
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’.
Less interested in selling a war perhaps, the FAO sees Iraqi agriculture
suffering due to a lack of necessary machinery and inputs, themselves
absent as the result of deprivation ‘during the embargo years’.
Or it could have been simpler still. According to a 2003 USDA report,
‘Current total production of major grains is estimated to be down 50
percent from the 1990/91 level. Three years of drought from 1999-2001
significantly reduced production.’
Whoever you believe, Iraqi wheat production has collapsed in recent
The next question then, is how to get it back on its feet.
Despite its recent troubles, Iraqi agriculture’s long history means that
for the last 10,000 years Iraqi farmers have been naturally selecting
varieties that work best with their climate. Each year they have saved
seeds from crops that prosper under certain conditions and replanted and
cross-pollinated them with others with different strengths the following
year, so that the crop continually improves. In 2002, the FAO estimated
that 97 per cent of Iraqi farmers used their own saved seed or bought
from local markets. That there are now over 200,000 known varieties of
wheat in the world is down in no small part to the unrecognised work of
farmers like these and their informal systems of knowledge sharing and
trade. It would be more than reasonable to assume that somewhere amongst
the many fields and grainstores of iraq there are samples of strong,
indigenous wheat varieties that could be developed and distributed
the country in order to bolster production once more.
Likewise, long before Abu Ghraib became the world’s most infamous
it was known for housing not inmates, but seeds. In the early 1970s
of the many varieties used by Iraqi farmers were starting to be saved in
the country’s national gene bank, situated in the town of Abu Ghraib.
Indeed one of Iraq’s most well known indigenous wheat varieties is
Unfortunately, this vital heritage and knowledge base is now believed
the victim of the current campaign and the many years of conflict that
preceded it. But there is another viable source. At the International
Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Syria there
still samples of several Iraqi varieties. As a revealing report by
the Global South and GRAIN comments: ‘These comprise the agricultural
heritage of Iraq belonging to the Iraqi farmers that ought now to be
If Iraq’s new adminstration truly wanted to re-establish Iraqi
agriculture for the benefit of the Iraqi people it would seek out the
fruits of their knowledge. It could scour the country for successful
and if it miraculously found none could bring over the seeds from ICARDA
and use those as the basis of a programme designed to give Iraq back the
agriculture it once gave the world.
The US, however, has 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
totally reengineer the country’s traditional farming systems into a
US-style corporate agribusiness. Or, as the aforementioned press release
from Headquarters United States Command puts it: ‘Multi-National Forces
are currently planting seeds for the future of agriculture in the
First, it is re-educating the farmers. An article in the Land and
Post reveals that thanks to a project undertaken by Texas A&M
University’s International Agriculture Office there are now 800 acres of
demonstration plots all across Iraq, teaching Iraqi farmers how to grow
‘high-yield seed varieties’ of crops that include barley, chick peas,
lentils – and wheat.
The leaders of the $107 million project have a stated goal of doubling
production of 30,000 Iraqi farms within the first year. After one year,
farmers will see soaring production levels. Many will be only too
to abandon their old ways in favour of the new technologies. Out will go
traditional methods. In will come imported American seeds (more than
GM, as Texas A&M's Agriculture Program considers itself ‘a recognised
world leader in using biotechnology’). And with the new seeds will come
new chemicals – pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, all sold to the
Iraqis by corporations such as Monsanto, Cargill and Dow.
Another article, this time in The Business Journal of Phoenix, declares:
‘An Arizona agri-research firm is supplying wheat seeds to be used by
farmers in Iraq looking to boost their country's homegrown food
supplies.’ That firm is called the World Wide Wheat Company, and in
partnership with three universities (including Texas A&M again) it is to
‘provide 1,000 pounds of wheat seeds to be used by Iraqi farmers north
According to Seedquest (described as the ‘central information website
the global seed industry’) WWWC is one of the leaders in developing
proprietary varieties of cereal seeds - ie varieties that are owned by a
particular company. According to the firm’s website, any ‘client’ (or
farmer as they were once known) wishing to grow one of their seeds,
a licensing fee for each variety’.
All of a sudden the donation doesn’t sound so altruistic. WWWC gives the
Iraqis some seeds. They get taught how to grow them, shown how much
‘better’ they are than their seeds, and then told that if they want any
more, they have to pay.
Another point in one of the articles casts further doubt on American
intentions. According to the Business Journal, ‘six kinds of wheat seeds
were developed for the Iraqi endeavour. Three will be used for farmers
grow wheat that is made into pasta; three seed strains will be for
Pasta? According to the 2001 World Food Programme report on Iraq,
‘Dietary habits and preferences included consumption of large quantities
and varieties of meat, as well as chicken, pulses, grains, vegetables,
fruits and dairy products.’ No mention of lasagne. Likewise, a quick
check of the Middle Eastern cookbook on my kitchen shelves, while not
exclusively Iraqi, reveals a grand total of no pasta dishes listed
There can be only two reasons why 50 per cent of the grains being
are for pasta. One, the US intends to have so many American soldiers and
businessmen in Iraq that it is orienting the country’s agriculture
feeding not ‘Starving Iraqis’ but ‘Overfed Americans’. Or, and more
likely, because the food was never meant to be eaten inside Iraq at all.
Iraqi farmers are to be taught to grow crops for export. Then they can
spend the money they earn (after they have paid for next year’s seeds
chemicals) buying food to feed their family. Under the guise of aid,
has incorporated them into the global economy.
What the US is now doing in Iraq has a very significant precedent. The
Green Revolution of the 1950s and 60s was to be the new dawn for
the developing world. Just as now in Iraq, Western scientists and
corporations arrived clutching new ‘wonder crops’, promising peasant
farmers that if they planted these new seeds they would soon be rich.
The result was somewhat different. As Vandana Shiva writes in Biopiracy
the plunder of nature and knowledge: ‘The miracle varieties displaced
diversity of traditionally grown crops, and through the erosion of
diversity the new seeds became a mechanism for introducing and fostering
pests. Indigenous varieties are resistant to local pests and diseases.
if certain diseases occur, some of the strains may be susceptible, but
others will have resistance to survive.’
Worldwide, thousands of traditional varieties developed over millennia
forsaken in favour of a few new hybrids, all owned by even fewer giant
multinationals. As a result, Mexico has lost 80 per cent of its corn
varieties since 1930. At least 9,000 varieties of wheat grown in China
been lost since 1949. Then in 1970 in the US, genetic uniformity
in the loss of almost a billion dollars worth of maize because 80 per
of the varieties grown were susceptible to a disease known as ‘southern
Overall, the FAO estimates that about 75 per cent of genetic diversity
agricultural crops was lost in the last century. The impact on small
farmers worldwide has been devastating. Demanding large sums of capital
high inputs of chemicals, such farming massively favours large scale,
industrial farmers. The many millions of dispossessd people in Asia and
elsewhere is in large part a result of this inequity. They can’t afford
to farm anymore, are driven off their land, either into their cities’
slums or across the seas to come knocking at the doors of those who once
offered them a poisoned chalice of false hope.
What separates the US’s current scheme from those of the Green
is that the earlier ones were, at least in part, the decisions of the
elected governments of the countries affected. The Iraqi plan is being
imposed on the people of Iraq without them having any say in the matter.
Having ousted Saddam, America is now behaving like a despot itself. It
decided what will happen in Iraq and it is doing it, regardless of
it is what the Iraqi people want.
When former Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer
departed Iraq in June 2004 he left behind a legacy of 100 ‘Orders’ for
the restructuring of the Iraqi legal system. Of these orders, one is
particularly pertinent to the issue of seeds. Order 81 covers the
‘Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits
and Plant Variety’. It amends Iraq’s original law on patents, created
in 1970, and is legally binding unless repealed by a future Iraqi
The most significant part of Order 81 is a new chapter that it inserts
‘Plant Variety Protection’ (PVP). This concerns itself not with the
protection of biodiversity, but rather with the protection of the
commercial interests of large seed corporations.
To qualify for PVP, seeds have to meet the following criteria: they
‘new, distinct, uniform and stable’. Under the new regulations imposed
by Order 81, therefore, the sort of seeds Iraqi farmers are now being
encouraged to grow by corporations such as WWWC will be those registered
On the other hand, it is impossible for the seeds developed by the
of Iraq to meet these criteria. Their seeds are not ‘new’ as they are
the product of millennia of development. Nor are they ‘distinct’. The
free exchange of seeds practiced for centuries ensures that
are spread and shared across local varieties. And they are the opposite
‘uniform’ and ‘stable’ by the very nature of their biodiversity.
They cross-pollinate with other nearby varieties, ensuring they are
changing and always adapting.
Cross-pollination is an important issue for another reason. In recent
several farmers have been taken to court for illegally growing a
corporation’s GM seeds. The farmers have argued they were doing so
unknowingly, that the seeds must have carried on the wind from a
neighbouring farm, for example. They have still been taken to court.
will now apply in Iraq. Under the new rules, if a farmer’s seed can be
shown to have been contaminated with one of the PVP registered seeds, he
could be fined. He may have been saving his seed for years, maybe even
generations, but if it mixes with a seed owned by a corporation and
creates a new hybrid, he may face a day in court.
Remember that 97 per cent of Iraqi farmers save their seeds. Order 81
puts paid to that. A new line has been added to the law which reads:
‘Farmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties
or any variety mentioned in items 1 and 2 of paragraph (C) of Article
The other varieties referred to are those that show similar
to the PVP varieties. If a corporation develops a variety resistant to a
particular Iraqi pest, and somewhere in Iraq a farmer is growing another
variety that does the same, it’s now illegal for him/her to save that
seed. It sounds mad, but it’s happened before. A few years back a
corporation called SunGene patented a sunflower variety with a very high
oleic acid content. It didn’t just patent the genetic structure though,
it patented the characteristic. Subsequently SunGene notified other
sunflower breeders that should they develop a variety high in oleic acid
with would be considered an infringement of the patent.
So the Iraqi farmer may have been wowed with the promise of a bumper
at the end of this year. But unlike before he can’t save his seed for
next. A 10,000-year old tradition has been replaced at a stroke with a
contract for hire.
Iraqi farmers have been made vassals to American corporations. That they
were baking bread for 9,500 years before America existed has no weight
it comes to deciding who owns Iraq’s wheat. Yet for every farmer that
stops growing his unique strain of saved seed the world loses another
variety, one that might have been useful in times of disease or drought.
In short, what America has done is not restructure Iraq’s agriculture,
but dismantle it. The people whose forefathers first mastered the
domestication of wheat will now have to pay for the privilege of
for someone else. And with that the world’s oldest farming heritage will
become just another subsidiary link in the vast American supply chain.