You might wonder why Iraq, one of the most oil-rich countries in the world, would want to invest in building up its biofuels sector. At first blush it seems like a stretch of resources for a country trying to recover after years of war.
However, In Iraq the agricultural sector has long been the dominant source of jobs. In fact, much of modern agriculture was developed in the Iraqi area over 7,000 years ago. With the recent devastation caused by the instability of war coupled with an extended drought, those jobs have disappeared. So, although Iraq does have the third largest oil reserves in the world, its agricultural sector is in many ways more important to its economic recovery.
Prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the fertile banks of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers used to be home to the production of 900,000 tonnes of dates per year. Iraq only has about about a 150,000 tonne domestic market for dates, so most of that 900,000 tonnes were exported. However, since 2003 the market for Iraqi dates has dried up to the point where only about 350,000 tonnes of them are produced annually.
The excess dates end up rotting in storage or being fed to animals. So, in an effort to bolster the production of a very important domestic agricultural commodity and bring agricultural jobs back to the country, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has announced a plan to take those rotting dates and turn them into ethanol.
An undisclosed United Arab Emirates company has been given the rights to make the date ethanol. The Iraqi government has been less than forthcoming so far and has declined to provide project cost estimates or how much ethanol they expect to produce from the venture.
Although this seems like an interesting concept, the lack of any kind of expected production figures or financials makes me wonder if this is just a half-baked concept from an overstretched government. It would be great if it was that easy to reverse the devastation that is the current Iraqi agricultural sector, but methinks it’s too good to be true.
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