Drought threatens Amber rice, a staple in Iraqi households

Iraq’s climate is optimal for the cultivation of rice, including the rare variety Amber. The high temprature of summer, abundant fertile soil adjacent to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers make it prime. At every Iraqi dinner table, Amber rice must be present, but this household staple is threatened with extinction, as a result of the drought that has hit the country and the decline in vital water supply for its survival.

The Najaf governorate, specifically the Abbasiyat and Mashkhab areas, are characterised by the cultivation of amber rice. Local farmer, Najeh Al-Azibawi, expresses his concerns and echoes the thoughts of many farming families who are engaged in the production of amber rice and how the drought has impacted their work and the agricultural sector as a whole. In order to produce Amber rice, vast fields must be flooded with water over several months during the summer but after three years of drought, the Amber rice season this year in Iraq will be very limited. 

The Iraqi authorities have condemned its neighbours Turkey and Iran, who have built dams on the sources of the two rivers, leading to a decrease in the water level in Iraq. The head of the agricultural associations in Najaf, Ahmed Sawadi Hassoun, says that his country is “threatened by not cultivating Amber rice and it is likely to become extinct due to the scarcity of water”. “We don’t know anything else, this is a farmers’ livelihood,” says Jassim Muhammad Zaher, a sixty-year-old farmer in Najaf, about rice cultivation. He criticised the procedures of the authorities that buy their crops but delay paying their dues, and do not provide farmers with the necessary fertilisers. 

The World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the World, recorded a decrease in rates in agricultural activity in Iraq, especially after the drought. The decline of Amber rice cultivation threatens other professions, such as dozens of small local factories, which purify and clean the crop before putting it on the market as rice ready for cooking.

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