by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) June 29, 2011
Authorities have ordered an extra allocation of electricity to rice farmers in central Iraq to help them irrigate their fields and rescue drought-threatened crops, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
"The ministry of electricity has ordered power supplies from 3 am to 11 am from mid-June to October 10 in the areas of Najaf and Diwaniya where rice is cultivated to support the national economy," ministry spokesman Musab al-Madar said in a statement.
Iraq has suffered repeated years of low rainfall for the past decade and a half, leaving the third of the population that lives from farming dependent on irrigation to water their crops.
Madar said the extra hours would be in addition to the eight hours of power a day the areas already get.
The successive years of drought have led to a sharp fall in the acreage of rice planted.
"In Najaf province... it used to account for 50,000 hectares under cultivation, but in recent years only 17,250 hectares have been cultivated," provincial agriculture official Zuhair Abdel Razzaq Ali said recently.
The decline in production has carried a heavy price im import costs. In 2008, Iraq produced 120,000 tons of rice and imported 10 times that amount, at a cost of $600 million, according to agriculture ministry figures.
Iraq suffers from an acute shortage of electricity, with demand outstripping supply two-fold, resulting in heavy rationing.
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