Experts torn on viability of local wheat cultivation

(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Agricultural experts stressed on Saturday the importance of exploiting agricultural land to grow wheat and other strategic produce to develop the Kingdom’s food self-sufficiency, especially since the costs of importing such goods costs the Treasury exorbitant sums.اضافة اعلان

In interviews with Jordan News, they said that the cultivation of wheat will benefit the agricultural sector, as it will increase farmers’ income and help mitigate wheat’s high import costs as a result of the Russian war in Ukraine.

In 2019, Russia and Ukraine together exported more than a quarter (25.4 percent) of the world’s wheat, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, Al Jazeera reported in February.

Director General of the Jordanian Farmers Union Mahmoud Al-Oran told Jordan News “climate change and droughts are real but we cannot ignore the fact that we can plant wheat and irrigate fields.”

Another reason to invest more of Jordan’s agricultural land into wheat production is to mitigate the price crashes of other produce.

According to the World Food Program, farmers reported that the overproduction of certain crops, such as potato and tomato, resulted in a drastic lowering of their price. Coupled with high production costs, this means farmers are forced to sell their goods at a loss.

This fact was echoed by Oran, who said that “a surplus in produce ... led to a decline in prices.”

Jordan imports around 900,000 tonnes of wheat each year, Oran said. Coupled with the rising grain prices due to the Ukraine war, the union chief contended that the situation “should push the government to plant wheat and barley.”

He argued that if the government were to “dedicate 1 million dunum for planting wheat”, it would “at least halve the Kingdom’s need for wheat imports”.

One way the government could do so is through the Land Use Regulation Law, Oran said, which determines what land is classified as agricultural, barring the construction of new homes.

“In some areas, such as Ramtha, land on which olive trees are planted is viable for wheat cultivation,” he said, contending that the crop could be grown in between the trees.

‘Not enough rain’
By contrast, the head of the Jordan Valley Famers Union, Adnan Khaddam, told Jordan News that the government does not plant wheat due to “climate change and a decline in rainwater”.

Farmers would have to exploit groundwater to sufficiently irrigate the fields — groundwater that is currently allocated for human consumption.

However, there is land in the Horan plain, he said, that could serve as a suitable environment for wheat cultivation; enough to provide 90 percent of Jordan’s wheat demand.

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