Middle East Food Crisis Grows With Conflict

July 13 - As early harvests of grain come in from the fields in the Middle East, Iraq is facing shortages because of war-related problems farmers had in obtaining seed and also in distribution problems that began at the storage silos and continued through the supply chain to the point of household rations dispersals, according to press reports and UN FAO reports.

In July 12 story the Wall Street Journal quoted the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization's June country brief on Iraq, which said "Food prices in Anbar are the highest of all governorates, around 58 percent above the prices in Baghdad."

Iraq has a Public Distribution System (PDS) in which each citizen is entitled to nine kilograms of subsidized wheat flour a month. However, the distribution system is hampered in conflict zone, with many households receiving reduced or no monthly rations. The FAO report said that this disruption of the distribution system has led to higher prices in war zone provinces.

The FAO June report said that prior to last year's fighting the 2014 wheat forecast was 35 percent above the five year average and the barley forecast was 15 percent higher. In Iraq, however, the results were far short of the forecast.

"The delivery of the wheat crop to the silos coincided with the escalation of the conflict and large areas, especially the provinces of Ninewa and Salahedin, being controlled by ISIL fighters," the FAO country brief said. "Related reports indicate that farmers in Ninewa and Salahedin provinces did not yet receive payment for the wheat delivered, creating cash flow problems in the upcoming cropping season." This lack of cash, the Wall Street Journal and FAO both pointed out, prevented farmers from acquiring a sufficient amount of seeds.

Uneven Cereal Grain Production in the Mideast

"2015 cereal production in the Near East is expected to recover from last year's drought, driven by a projected 18 percent increase in output in Turkey," said an FAO statement. But war impinges agriculture in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, which are experiencing an "escalating humanitarian crisis," said the FAO.

In Yemen 12.9 million food insecure people about 6.1 million are in "Emergency" phase, and 6.8 million are in "Crisis" phase, a 21 percent increase over 2014, said the FAO's June "Crop Prospects and Food Situation report (pp. 23-25).

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