BAGHDAD — In the aftermath of the Iraq War, Iraq’s seed and agriculture industry was destroyed by U.S. corporations, with the aid of the U.S. government.
In May 2003, after the war officially ended, U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer became the head of the occupational authority, essentially controlling Iraq’s government. He issued 100 orders that set the strategy for rebuilding efforts, including Order 81, “Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law.”
Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, a physician and environmental activist, explained the devastating impact of this order in a 2008 speech.
“Before 2003 they had a well functioning, centrally-controlled seed industry that had developed over the years a rich seed variety for almost variation of wheat in the world today,” she said.
Wasfi said Iraqi farmers achieved this by following ancient traditions of saving, replanting and sharing seeds from previous harvests. Historians agree that agriculture as we know it, including many of these seed-saving techniques, originated in ancient times, around 5,000 B.C.E., in the region of the Middle East that includes modern-day Iraq.
But by 2005, Iraq was providing for only 4 percent of its seed needs, Wasfi said, explaining that under Order 81, “Iraqi farmers are not allowed to save seeds, they are not allowed to share seeds, no sharing, and they are not allowed to replant harvested seeds.”
She also pointed to years of U.S.-driven war and sanctions as other key factors in the collapse of the native seed industry.
A video of Wasfi’s speech, published on May 13, had received over 1,115,000 views on Our Amazing World’s Facebook page by Thursday afternoon. The attention may be partly due to the 4th annual March Against Monsanto, which took place in over 40 countries on May 21. The Iraq War and its devastating consequences have also been a subject of repeated debate during the build up to the 2016 election.
In her speech, Wasfi claimed that Monsanto would be marketing seeds with “terminator genes,” which prevent the seeds from being replanted in future crops, to Iraqi farmers. While Monsanto owns the patent to this technology, it has not used it, opting instead to charge royalties when Monsanto genetic material is found in farmers’ crops.
Wasfi also explained that Order 81 opened the door for international agriculture giants like Cargill Inc., Dow Chemical, and Monsanto — companies which profit from genetically modified seeds and the special pesticides required to optimize their use. The Bush administration appointed Daniel Amstutz, a former vice president of Cargill, to lead efforts to make Iraq’s agriculture industry more friendly to Wall Street.
“They need a place, a laboratory, if you will, to try out their new toys,” Wasfi suggested.
At the same time, Iraq was facing record levels of starvation. In 2005, United Nations human rights experts reported that about 25 percent of Iraqi children regularly did not have enough to eat, while 7.7 percent faced acute malnourishment.
Order 81 allowed for Monsanto to promote the benefits of its seeds to a suffering population without warning farmers of the potential financial risks. Writing for Alternet about an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers in 2007, Nancy Scola highlighted the parallels between the process unfolding in Iraq and India:
“Farming is a gamble, and the flip side of the great potential reward that genetically modified seeds offer is, of course, great risk. When all goes badly, farmers who have sunk money into Monsanto-driven farming find themselves at the bottom of a far deeper hole than farmers who stuck with traditional growing. Farmers who suffer a failed harvest may find it nearly impossible to secure a new loan from either a bank or local moneylender. With no money to dig him or herself out, that hole only gets deeper.”
Wasfi explained that the agribusiness giant’s choice of seeds exacerbated the food crisis in Iraq: “They gave Iraqi farmers six types of wheat to grow, only six. Three of them are for wheat for pasta. Iraqis don’t eat pasta.”
“So, a population that is starving to death is given seeds to make half of their production for exports. Who is going to make money off of that? Not Iraqis.”
Calling the process “sick and wrong,” Wasfi concluded: “This means starvation, which pushes people to be dependent on any crumbs the corporations hand to them.”
Watch “Dahlia Wasfi: Ain’t Nothin’ Green About the Green Zone” from Jeffrey Keating: