August 14, 2014

14/08/2014: Islamic state militants grab new weapon - wheat

After seizing five oil fields and Iraq's biggest dam, Sunni militants bent on creating an Islamic empire in the Middle East now control yet  another powerful economic weapon – wheat supplies, reports Business Insider.

Fighters from the Islamic State have overrun large areas in five of Iraq's most fertile provinces, where the United Nations food agency says around 40 percent of its wheat is grown.
http://www.businessinsider.com/r-exclusive-islamic-state-militants-seize-wheat-from-state-silos---iraq-grain-board--2014-13
A woman carries a bundle of newly harvested wheat stalks in Albu Efan village southwest of Falluja

Now they're helping themselves to grain stored in government silos, milling it and distributing the flour on the local market, an Iraqi official told Reuters. The Islamic State has even tried to sell smuggled wheat back to the government to finance a war effort marked by extreme violence and brutality.

International officials are drawing uneasy comparisons with the days of hardship under dictator Saddam Hussein, when Western sanctions led to serious shortages in the 1990s. "Now is the worst time for food insecurity since the sanctions and things are getting worse," said Fadel El-Zubi, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative for Iraq.

While Iraq faces no immediate food shortages, the longer term outlook is deeply uncertain.

Hassan Nusayif al-Tamimi, head of an independent nationwide union of farmers' cooperatives, said the militants were intimidating any producers who tried to resist.

"They are destroying crops and produce, and this is creating friction with the farmers. They are placing farmers under a lot of pressure so  that they can take their grain," he said, adding that farmers had reported fighters were also wrecking wells.

Many farmers have joined the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who have fled the Arab and foreign fighters' advance. Those who remain have yet to be paid for the last crop, meaning they have no money to buy seed, fuel and fertilisers to plant the next.

The statistics following the jihadists' lightning advance across northern Iraq in June are grim both for the government in Baghdad and a population that needs reliable food supplies.
Iraq's trade ministry says 1.1 million tonnes of wheat it bought from farmers this harvest season is in silos in the five provinces. This represents nearly 20 percent of annual Iraqi consumption which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) puts at around 6.5 million tonnes, roughly half of which is imported.

Amidst the chaos of northern Iraq, it remains unclear exactly how much wheat has fallen into rebel hands, as the government still controls parts of the provinces.

However, a source at the Agriculture Ministry confirmed the size of the problem. About 30 percent of Iraq's entire farm production, including the wheat crop, is at risk, the source said, requesting anonymity.


Read more HERE.
 

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