Baghdad event explores the role of co-ops in Iraq’s agriculture

The agricultural sector remains the largest employer in rural areas in Iraq and it employs 20% of the Iraq’s workforce.

Partners implementing the European Union Agri-food Business Development Programme (AfBDP) met in Baghdad on 29 May to discuss the development of farmers’ organisations and co-operatives in Iraq.

The event brought together a range of stakeholders, including Iraqi government officials and representatives from the EU’s AfBDP members, which include the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Trade Centre (ITC), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and COWATER.

The meeting focused on how the AfBDP is working to support co-operatives, by implementing certain models of farmer organisations, supporting co-operatives to advance employment and decent work and financing climate adaptation. Participants also pointed out how a conducive policy environment for co-operative development and the promotion of farmers groups could also help to grow the sector.

In recent decades, Iraq’s agricultural sector suffered due to sanctions, conflict, and extreme weather, among others. According to the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the country lost 40% of its agricultural production in the wake of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) crisis. Yet, the agricultural sector remains the largest employer in rural areas in Iraq and it employs 20% of the country’s workforce.

AfBDP aims to promote sustainable job creation in Iraq’s agri-food sector, focusing on the dairy, tomato, date and poultry value chains. The partners are working with the government and private sector to address existing gaps and weaknesses, facilitate economic reforms and improve working conditions within the sector. They also provide technical and financial assistance and work to build the capacity of public and private actors, including co-ops.

“This event today is an opportunity, the first of its kind that brings together stakeholders from the various sectors of the government, the private sector and organisations, to come up with recommendations that will help regulate or organise co-operative work with a new concept…I invite all organisations to provide their support so that we can modernise the concept of co-operative work in Iraq,” said Mithaq Abdul-Hussein, the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture.

“The EU has been a long standing partner of Iraq in supporting the agricultural sector as a way to diversify the economy and promote jobs creation. Agricultural co-operatives can and should play an important role in supporting farmers and this model is successful working in many areas of the world both in the developed and developing world. Today’s discussion was important to understand the challenges faced by agricultural cooperatives in Iraq, and to discuss how to make them more effective in targeting the needs of the farmers,” said Ville Varjola, Ambassador of the European Union to Iraq.

“Co-operatives should be seen as important partners in socio-economic development. Their democratic nature, collective ownership and focus on self-help create a unique means of empowerment. At a time when the world of work is experiencing unprecedented changes, we look forward to continuing to grow our partnerships in this field, in order to support sustainable development and a more just, inclusive and safe future of work with decent work for all,” said Maha Kattaa, ILO Country Coordinator in Iraq.