Iraq was the land of Sawad . Sawad was the name used in early Islamic times (7th-12th centuries) for the southern Iraq. It means “black land” or ” arable land”. Thus, the land of Mesopotamia was called Sawad land , and the name of the land of Sawad means the proliferation of palm trees on the globe, and according to official classifications, Iraq was at the forefront of the world in the number of palm trees in terms of production quantity and quality and types and export.
The number of palm trees in Iraq, according to statistics conducted in the seventies, amounted to about 50 million palm trees, but the wars and difficult conditions and economic blockade in the nineties of the last century caused the number to fall to about 30 million palm trees according to an approximate census conducted in 2002, and the number of palm continued to decrease until it has reached only 16 million palm trees nationwide, according to the 2014 census.
Iraq contains more than 650 varieties of palm (dates) out of about 2000 varieties of palm in the world, and Iraq is the most country contains palm varieties compared to the rest of the countries, and spread a number of rare local varieties, including Barhi, Halawi, Sayer, Ashrasi, and Diri , and others, palm plantations cover large areas of the country.
Historically, Iraq is one of the oldest date palm cultivars in the world. It was the first documented appearance of the date palm tree in the ancient world in the historic city of Aredo in southern Iraq (about 4000 BC), which was a major area for date palm cultivation. The Iraqi Museum is containing a seal for two legs with a date palm dating back to the Akkadian era (c. 2730 BC).
The obelisk of Hammurabi (about 1754 BC) contains seven laws related to palm trees, including a law imposing large fines on those who cut a palm, and other laws relating to pollination of trees, and the relationship between the farmer and the owner of the land, and penalties for negligence and lack of care, where the peasant is required to pay renting the orchard in full to the owner if his negligence or lack of care of the trees caused the lack of date production.
The Assyrians revered four things: the date palm, the plow, the winged bull and the sacred tree.
Since the end of the sixties of the last century, Iraq has been exporting about 75% of the world’s dates and occupies the top ranks, but it began to decline due to wars, especially after 2003, where the lack of water and the spread of agricultural pests such as Dubas Bug and Lesser date moth , which kill many palm groves.
One of the most important problems experienced by the dates sector, economic adviser Abdul Samad al-Mashhadani confirms the weakness of planning and the lack of coordination between Iraqi government institutions, citing the great contradiction in the data of the ministries of planning and agriculture on Iraq’s production of dates for 2016, when the Ministry of Planning announced that the total domestic production reached 615 thousand while the figure announced by the Ministry of Agriculture 850 thousand tons.
But in light of the chaos in the country, which affected all sectors, including agriculture and supply to the government sector, and the lack of serious effort to reopen the stalled manufacturing plants, which confirms that it alone can provide 150 thousand jobs for the people of the cities where those factories .
Government negligence, lack of support, wars and poor marketing are among the main reasons for the collapse of the Iraqi date industry and its successive setbacks, in addition the Iraqi Company for the manufacture and marketing of dates is unable to encapsulate this commodity to compete the supply in the markets of neighboring countries, according to experts and specialists in agriculture.
We do not deny between the past of the trade of dates, which reached a high level of prosperity in 1969, when the Iraqi government enacted a special law regulating its export and distribution evenly on world markets, and Iraq was able to obtain huge imports of equipment and machinery and even laboratories by bartering dates, and an unfortunate present amounted to the distribution of imported dates to guests of conferences and festivals held in Baghdad.
A survey by the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation reveals that Iraq owned 32 million palm trees in 1952, while the number of palm trees in the last census in 2014 dropped to 17 million palm trees.
The Ministry of Agriculture has not developed any plans to market Iraqi dates for several years, due to the lack of financial allocations to receive the crop on which prices are determined for each product, according to Faraj Nahi, assistant director of agriculture Dhi Qar.
Nahi confirms that the areas of palm trees in the province of Dhi Qar amounted to about 45 thousand dunums, but this area has declined because most of them near the city limits, and some of them turned into houses, and forced farmers to sell them for housing.
The deterioration of date palms not only in Dhi Qar, but in most of the southern Iraqi provinces, where it saw a clear decline in cultivated areas, to form in 2003 a turning point in agricultural life in Iraq, after a huge wave of leveling continues to this day.
The coordination and planning of the Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for the drought and the lack of control in the south of the Iraqi capital, specifically the Yusufiya region, which is known for agriculture, and one of the farmers in that area , who owns 200 palm trees and dozens of trees producing orange fruit says : he has not sold one kilogram of production of dates since four Years, due to the lack of government control of agricultural pests and the significant shortage of irrigation water.
The spokesman of the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture Hamid Nayef adds to the list of previous palm problems, the dilemma of pests coming from outside the border, specifically the insect “red weevil” or the so-called “palm cancer”, which moved to the city of Basra in southern Iraq from the date palm plantations of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, pointing to their formation a team headed by the Minister personally to address and control this issue, and they have positive initial results, as well as more effective results in the control of dangerous Dubas insect.
Before 2003, the control was carried out using agricultural aircraft, and is carried out annually and regularly, and is announced in advance on television and through agricultural associations, so that the farmer to prepare his land for them, but after that year , the area did not have any similar control operation, as officials of agricultural associations respond to them that the unstable security in their areas or lack of funding prevents control , arguments less important than the problem of scarcity of water allocated to the area, which led farmers to dig wells for watering plantations, and often the quality of water is not suitable for irrigation and causes severe damage to crops in the forefront Dates.
Corruption and excessive profit behind bulldozing agricultural land:
The trade of semantic real estate offices, led by some top state officials and the hidden hands of obscene profits, is fragmenting agricultural land and selling them as residential plots, while half of Iraq’s land is desert, and these desert lands can be used to fill the shortage in providing housing land, thus preserving this national wealth.
Large areas of agricultural land in Iraq have recently been deliberately leveled and dredged to turn them into residential land and profit from selling them at high prices. Iraqi officials in the ministries of agriculture and justice said that at least 10,000 dunams (10 million square meters) of agricultural lands have been completely dredged completely since the beginning of this year, and armed factions, parties and officials are involved in the campaign to remove large areas of palm groves.
According to the officials, who declined to be named, most of the dredging is in Baghdad, Basra, Babil, Diyala and Salah al-Din, and the land was changed and converted from agricultural to residential, and then distributed as plots of land for varying amounts of money.
A senior official in the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that at least 50% of the areas that were dredged are palm groves, and that the deliberated fires or dredging by bulldozing or spraying agricultural land with chemicals that lead to the destruction of trees and palm trees, and that a large part of it was converted from agricultural to residential, after cutting into a land of 200 to 300 square meters and sold at high prices compared to agricultural land prices.
Corruption is behind the devastation of the country, where greed made eyes blind and killing belonging and patriotism in the gangs , not to tell Iraqis, but corrupt and gangs , they will be cursed by history and Iraqis, where they run after money to kill and terrorize the country in various ways, including the removal of palms and citrus orchards, estimated at billions of dinars Square meters with at least 50 million dinars (about 40 thousand dollars), pointing to the involvement of political parties and military commanders in the army and armed factions in the issue.
The number of date palms that have been cut so far this year cannot be counted, but we are talking about more massive numbers than last year.
Some leaks from the Iraqi Ministry of Justice indicate that the Integrity Commission has submitted files proving manipulation and destruction of agricultural land and deliberate fire crimes , in order to turn them into residential lands and sell them , and that all orchards that fell victim to these dredging operations are public and state-owned and not private.
Some farmers in the province of Karbala said that we are living a war of extermination on palm plantations, and that the government has a major role in this environmental, economic and agricultural disaster, and we expect after five years that we do not find a palm in the groves of Karbala, and the reason is the foreign dates that fill the local markets, and sold at high prices , five times compared to the price of Iraqi dates despite the good quality of Iraqi dates, and that he had annually about 2000 palm producing the finest types of dates, and was exporting tens of thousands of tons of dates, but after 2003 and because of the invasion of the Iraqi market by foreign dates, (Iranian and Saudi), and the lack of hand Government to adopt the export of dates as it was in the previous regime, the cultivation of dates in Iraq is dead and just like the graves.
According to an Iraqi trader who worked in dates and agricultural products, the neighboring countries buy Iraqi dates at a cheap price through their tools like some of the major traders in Iraq, and canning, packaging and re-marketing to Iraq again, and sold to Iraqis twice the price, where each kilo was sold at a price 2500 dinars, If you investigate the markets, you will find that the Iraqi markets are full of these dates, which were re-exported to Iraq in a demonic way in order to hit the national wealth for the cultivation of dates , making economic profitability by selling our dates on us.
There is a great demand for local dates in the season of harvesting dates, while imported dates invade the market, but the problem is that there are no factories for the canning and packaging of local dates, so we are forced as retailers to sell imported dates during the days of the year, where the price of each kilo reaches to more than 3000 dinars, for the disappearance of the domestic product.
Economic Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies