On 3/25/2008, the Morrison County Record printed an article written by columnist Peter Graham in Farming and Your Freedom with the headline Can Iraq Rebuild its Ag Economy? 

In his article Graham refers to a story published in the High Plains/Midwest Journal and writes, “it will take millions to put them back on their feet and help them become productive again. It will also take enlightened government policy-on the part of the Iraq and the U.S. governments.”

The operative words being enlightened government policy.

 Unfortunately, in his 400 day stint as administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) (the American body that ruled the “new Iraq” in the early days of the U.S. invasion) Paul Bremer issued a series of directives known as the “100 Orders”. These orders established the blueprint for the new Iraq.  Among the items contained in the 100 Orders relevant to Graham’s original question is Order # 81, officially titled: Amendments to Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law.*** (Enacted by Bremer on April 26, 2004.)

Order 81 is a legal tweak establishing strong intellectual property protections on seed and plant products that a company like Monsanto (producers of genetically modified (GM) seeds and other patented agricultural goods) required prior to moving into new markets like Iraq.  

In a nutshell, Order 81  mirrors the business conditions created years earlier in India, conditions leading Monsanto to highly profitable success within that region while simultaneously unleashing a pandemic proportioned onslaught of suicides among Indian farmers, the subject of the PBS documentary The Dying Fields.  

While the U.S. stopped short of mandating Iraqi farmers to purchase from corporations like Monsanto, basic laws of nature coupled with Order 81 could quickly and easily leave American agribusiness claiming rights on Iraqi farm fields regardless of where they obtain their seed supply.

Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer found himself tangled with Monsanto in a lawsuit after a few rogue GM seeds blew from a truck passing by his land. Monsanto didn’t care how the Roundup® Ready plants got there, as far as the company was concerned, Schmeiser was in possession of an agricultural product whose intellectual property belonged to them and they didn’t care how it happened. Monsanto sued Scheimer for $400,000.00 .  

 

In 2005 the Centre for Food Safety(CFS) reported that Monsanto had a 10 million dollar budget and a staff of 75 devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers. Monsanto admits to aggressively investigating farmers it suspects and according to the CFS report, evidence suggests that the number of farmers investigated reachs into the thousands.

Prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq it was illegal to patent seeds. Now, under U.S. decree all that is necessary to obtain a patent is to be the first to “describe” or “characterize” the plants.*

While technically, Iraqi farmers are not being stopped from saving and sharing seed from their traditional crops as they have always done, there is now nothing stopping Monsanto, Cargill, Dow, Bayer and other multinationals from “describing” or “characterizing” Iraq’s traditional seeds. Once this is done Iraqi farmer will be prohibited from saving and sharing the very seeds that have been cultivated and passed down in their country for generations and they will be forced  to buy them from who ever owns the patent.   Also, Iraqi farmers can be sued by companies like Monsanto if they discover their non-GMO crops polluted by GMO crops planted in their vicinity like Percy Schmeiser did.

It is important to note that prior to Abu Graib’s infamous tabloid debut that the city was once host to Iraq’s seed bank. In 1996, Iraqi botanists packed up 200 kinds of seed and sent them to Syria for safekeeping. When the Iraq war began the Abu Graib seed bank was looted, all that remains of Iraq’s long, rich agricultural heritage are the seeds held by its farmer and those shipped to Syria.

While it would be nice to think that the intentions of the U.S. government are honorable, the broader U.S. plan appears to be geared more towards incorporating Iraqi agriculture into the massive web of U.S. agribusiness, leaving Iraq to grow a few high-yield cash crops for export instead of growing basic crops to feed the Iraqi people. Subsequently, under the U.S. policy the state-run food companies (who had traditionally provided a food basket to every Iraqi household rich or poor), will be privatized under the policy, farm subsidies will be eliminated and the traditional Iraqi food baskets assured to every household, will only be provided to the poorest of Iraq’s people.

While Graham’s article insinuates that the U.S. is working to ensure that Iraq regains its capacity to feeds its own people, exporting high-yield cash crops has not proven to be a successful mean of reaching this objective.

Graham ends his column with, “Root suggested that we make our research available to Iraqi farmers and where practicable send experts over to help. He believes, though, that there may be more value in bringing the Iraqis to America to be trained and then to be sent back to revitalize their agriculture and begin feeding their own people. Who wants to see an Extension specialist blindfolded and awaiting execution for helping farmers to farm?” 

If Graham is truly that naïve it is perhaps time he retire his column. It took nothing more than a cursory glance at the sources used by the High Plains Midwest Journal to see that the universities commenting on Iraq were departments notorious for being heavily financed by the multinational corporations who stand to profit from Order 81.

In the end maybe extension specialist will find themselves blindfolded and awaiting execution in Iraq because the 100,000 Indian’s who committed suicide between 1993 and 2003, some of whom died in their fields after ingesting their last bottle of Roundup, failed to capture any real attention.

*The Hague Regulations requires that an occupying power “re-establish and insure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” The imposition of major structural economic reforms is viewed by legal scholars around the world as a violation of international law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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