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Commodity Intelligence Report
December 27, 2016

IRAQ: Rice Production Up from Last Year but Still Below Average

Rice is an important commodity in Iraq, where annual consumption is almost 100 pounds per person compared to about 30 pounds in the United States. Over the last 10 years, rice production has met only 8 to 21 percent of domestic consumption (Fig. 1). Even though demand is high, limited area and inadequate water resources prevent increased production. This makes Iraq an important market for countries wanting to export rice. In 2016, Iraq ranked among the world’s top 10 rice importers (Fig. 2).

Iraq’s major rice growing region is located near the city of Najaf, south of Baghdad on the Euphrates River. Because rainfall is very limited in the summer months, irrigation water from the Euphrates is the lifeblood of the region, allowing for the production of rice, dates, forage crops, and vegetables.

The Euphrates receives most of its water in the form of rainfall and melting snow, resulting in peak volumes during April and May. The recharge area for the Euphrates begins in northeastern Turkey. As the river flows towards the Najaf rice area, it must cross 12 dams, many of which provide critical hydroelectric power. The reservoirs behind the dams are also very important sources for irrigation, which has allowed agricultural expansion and has transformed entire regions. The Southeastern Anatolia Project in Turkey already supplies irrigation to over 700,000 hectares (ha) of farmland and includes plans to add another 300,000 ha in the near future.

One of the most important facilities in Iraq is the Haditha Dam which also creates Lake Qadisiyah (Fig. 3). Haditha is the second-largest hydroelectric provider to the power grid in Iraq after the Mosul Dam. Haditha has been a major provider of electrical power to Baghdad since re-establishment of the transmission line by US forces and contractors in 2004.

With heavy demand for electricity a possible factor, Lake Qadisiyah offers a unique perspective on the link between meteorological drought (lack of precipitation) and hydrologic drought (lack of water) in Iraq. Based on observations of Lake Qadisiyah, a meteorological drought over the recharge area in Turkey has been observed to be followed by a hydrologic drought in Iraq months later. This is evident from satellite imagery of the lake for each year following a meteorological drought (Fig. 4).

Cumulative precipitation over recent years is illustrated in Fig. 5. Drought was evident over the Euphrates recharge area for winter years from 2007 to 2010 and again from 2013 to 2014. Interestingly, Lake Qadisiyah’s surface area did not decrease until the year following the meteorological drought over northeastern Turkey. The exception was the near-normal lake level observed in 2012 following the recharge area winter drought across 2010 to 2011. In the summers marked by low river flow, Iraq rice production in the Najaf region declined significantly. In each of the low-flow years of 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2015, the rice crop was less than 40 percent of the 10-year average.

The rice crop harvested in November of 2016 represents the crop for marketing year 2016/17. A comparison of September satellite imagery indicates a decrease in rice area between 2012, which was a year of high rice production, and 2016 (Figures 6 and 7). A map of the difference from the mean of the 12-year satellite vegetation index (NDVI anomaly) illustrates the areas where production had diminished in 2016 (Fig. 8).

The graph of the vegetation index curves was used to quantify the amount of decrease as compared to previous years (Fig. 9). On closer inspection, satellite imagery reveals that the decreased output was due to lower planted area. High-resolution satellite imagery (Figures 10 and 11) clearly shows a lack of planting for a location just southeast of Najaf that was fully planted in 2012, but this year a large adjacent area was left fallow.

Based on satellite observations, the harvested rice area for 2016/17 is estimated at 65,000 ha, up 35 percent from last year, which was a low-production year, but still 15 percent below the 5-year average. Yield is estimated to be near the 5-year average, at 4.0 tons per hectare. Production is estimated at 173,000 tons (milled rice), up 37 percent from last year but down 19 percent from the 5-year average.

Last year (marketing year 2015/16), the rice crop was significantly lower, having been impacted by low river flow. This year the flow in the Euphrates River was apparently not restricted, based on Lake Qadisiyah satellite observations. Disruption of government payments and concerns about the ongoing conflict are most likely the main reasons for planting less rice. Satellite imagery shows that harvest operations were ongoing in mid-November (Figure 12). Harvest typically is complete by the end of November.

While Iraq rice consumption is dependent on imports, the recent low-flow years and their economic effect in a politically volatile region makes management of Euphrates water resources between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq a pressing concern. This needs to be addressed as demand for water will increase with the completion of upstream irrigation projects.


Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.

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For more information contact William Baker | | (202) 260-8109
USDA-FAS, Office of Global Analysis

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