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Agrometeorology in Kurdistan of Iraq: a contemporary history

Última modificación 23/10/2003 11:34

The three Governorates Erbil, Dohuk, and Suleimanyiah are located in the northern part of the Republic of Iraq known as Kurdistan. The region lies between latitudes 34° 42' N and 37° 22' N and between longitudes 42° 25' and 46° 15' East. The lowest point in the region is Kifri, which has an elevation of 140 meters above mean sea level (amsl), and the highest point is the peak of Hasarost mountain in Erbil Governorate, measuring 3607 meters amsl. The Kurdistan region mainly extends across the Zagross Mountain up to the Taurus mountains in Turkey. The region shares its borders with Syria in the west, Turkey in the north and Iran in the east.

Agrometeorology in Kurdistan of Iraq: a contemporary history

Precipitation increases from southwest to northeast, with annual averages ranging from 350mm in the Erbil area to more than 1100mm at Sherwan-Mazen in the high mountains bordering Iran

Mohammed Aziz, Agrometeorologist, Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq

Kurdistan Region

Geographical Location
The three Governorates Erbil, Dohuk, and Suleimanyiah are located in the northern part of the Republic of Iraq known as Kurdistan. The region lies between latitudes 34° 42' N and 37° 22' N and between longitudes 42° 25' and 46° 15' East. The lowest point in the region is Kifri, which has an elevation of 140 meters above mean sea level (amsl), and the highest point is the peak of Hasarost mountain in Erbil Governorate, measuring 3607 meters amsl. The Kurdistan region mainly extends across the Zagross Mountain up to the Taurus mountains in Turkey. The region shares its borders with Syria in the west, Turkey in the north and Iran in the east.

Land and people
The land has high latitudinal parallel mountain ranges and valleys. The soils in mountain valleys, foothills and adjacent plains were formed from erosion. Several meters of fine textured sediment forming fertile deep soil lie on top of a bed of gravel. Litho soil, shallow and medium chestnut soil and rendzina soils are dominant from the great soil groups in mountainous areas. Shallow to deep chestnut soils exist in the valleys, whereas the foothills have mainly brown soil. Rolling plains, found at the foot of high mountains are all suitable for large-scale farming.
In Kurdistan of Iraq, arable land covers 3.25 million of the 4 million hectares of agricultural land. Most of the cultivated land is rain fed, falling in different micro-climatic zones. The land holding system is a mixture of owner/operator farming, leaseholders and sharecroppers. The size of the land holdings is from 1 to 6 hectares in rain fed agriculture, up to 25 hectares in rain fed semi-arid areas with more risky rainfall conditions and between 0.5 and 2.5 hectares in irrigated areas. In the rain fed agriculture the farmers have been ignored and land was controlled by those with power.
The population of the three northern Governorates is around 3.5 million, mainly composed of Kurds with farming as their livelihood and major source of employment. The farming population resides in thousands of villages scattered all over the mountain areas. Women play an important role in agriculture but frequent political violence has displaced considerable numbers of women from their households that are now available as seasonal farm labor.

Crop production
The major agricultural crops can be grouped as:

  • Cereal (Wheat, barely, and rice);
  • Oil Seeds and industrial crops (sesame, sunflower, cotton and tobacco);
  • Vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber, watermelon, melon, onion, and garlic);
  • Fruits (grapes, apple, apricot, peach ,pear, and pemegrout) and
  • Legumes (chickpeas, lentils and green beans).

Natural forest and vegetation
An FAO survey of the forestry sub-sector in 1999 indicated that the forest area in northern Iraq covered 1.9 million hectares, or about 36% of the region. The tree cover of the region's mountain slopes reaches elevations of 600m to 2000m and is dominantly made up of Oak woodlands and some Oak forests, holding medium-sized trees, often with a wide spread crown. They are a major source of income and essential in the livelihood of the mountain population (small farmers). In the villages more than anywhere else, the trees are regularly used for firewood and pollarded to provide winter fodders for livestock or branches for roof construction and light summer huts (Kapra). The oaks also meet the needs of the local population for building material, and home and agricultural implements. The climate and elevation of any area plays a dominant role in what kind of tree can grow where. Therefore, good knowledge of agrometeorology is of an urgent need for forestry people. The foothill vegetation is mostly grass and herbs. In agricultural fields some interesting species for protection against wind and water erosion are found throughout the region, such as Prosopis stephaniana and Glycyrrhiza glabra.

Animal production
Livestock plays an important role in the economy of the Kurdistan region. Cattle, Sheep and Goats provide meat, wool, and milk. The people of the region practice transhumance, moving their flock of sheep and goats to higher mountain pastures in summer and down to the plains in winter. Poultry makes an important contribution to the availability of the animal protein for the population.

The Climate of Kurdistan

General
The climate of Kurdistan is characterized by extreme conditions, with large temperature differences between day and night and between winter and summer. In summer, the temperature reaches beyond 45º in daytime at the southern boundaries of the three Governorates, while in the northern edges it goes down well below 20° C at night. In winter the daily temperature ranges from about -15° C to about 15° C. Accordingly, the climate of Kurdistan has been classified as semi-arid continental, that is to say hot and dry in summer and cold and wet in winter. Spring and autumn are short in comparison to summer and winter.
In summer, the region falls under the influence of Mediterranean anticyclones, with dust storms carrying dust into the region, raising daily temperature to a maximum value of more than 45 ºC. Kurdistan experiences some of the highest temperatures anywhere in the world. These scorching conditions are often accompanied by a persistent dusty, northwesterly wind, the shamal, which adds to the unpleasantness. Occasional droughts, heat exhaustion and even heatstroke are hazards. In winter, the region is invaded by cyclones from various sources, bringing an appreciable amount of rain and in higher elevations snow into the region.
Precipitation increases from southwest to northeast, with annual averages ranging from 350mm in the Erbil area to more than 1100mm at Sherwan-Mazen in the high mountains bordering Iran (see map 1). It starts in September and usually ends by May. The annual rainfall in Kurdistan of Iraq is not much less than annual rainfall in Europe, but the annual rainfall in Europe is well distributed.

Other influences on the precipitation regimes
Apart from the climatic influences mentioned above, other factors affect the rainfall regime of Kurdistan region, often on a very local scale. These include height and general configuration of land. During the rainy season, westerly and north-westerly air are the main rain-bringers, producing a rainfall maximum on the south and south-east slopes, such as in Erbil and Suleimanyah cities, while valley winds are the main cause of local rainfall in Dohuk city.

Aims of the Agrometeorological Service

General goals
Agrometeorology is seen in Kurdistan as a scientific Service that provides essential information to all weather-sensitive activities. Our role is to maintain the continuity, efficiency, enhancement and development of this Service. There is an important role for suitably provided agrometeorological data in the development of agriculture in Kurdistan region. It is important that our Service facilitates provision of recorded data. Collaboration with other Services determines the suitability of the required data, because important information is needed to ensure the timely scheduling of cultivation, irrigation, production and land use, partially requiring to share the responsibility with the users. Collaboration will save time in the processing, presentation and actual use of data and reduce unexpected costs as a result of unforeseen adverse weather conditions such as hail, frost or drought. Below we present the status of agrometeorology in Kurdistan, as essential in agricultural planning and improving crop production.

Contemporary historical review
Agrometeorology in Kurdistan of Iraq took off in November 1999. It came into being as a consequence of critical economic and social conditions in Kurdistan, aggravated by drought and related calamities. Most of this region has suffered greatly from such calamities as their economies solely rely on agriculture. The regional Governorates therefore needed to be advised well in advance of the possible occurrence of drought so that they can be prepared. Farmers in turn needed the dates for the onset and the cessation of the rains to determine the types of crops to plant. Hence, it was necessary to examine the causes, frequencies and trends of drought and its effects on the economy and to propose measures that can be taken in the short, medium and long term to deal with the problem.
We consider five important aspects that make our agrometeorology worthwhile:

  1. giving agrometeorological services in an extension approach to farmers, briefing them on climate and warning them on extreme events, trying to provide information on measures to be taken;
  2. providing training for meteorologists/climatologists who will form the operational and research base for the better understanding of impacts of weather and climate on agriculture in the future;
  3. becoming a center for the provision of the best possible guidance and general forecasts for agriculture for the region, with the aim of helping the National Meteorological Services to provide cost-effective agrometeorological services of use to the national economy in such areas as the mitigation of the effects of drought and other weather-related disasters;
  4. gradually developing into a center for examining the scientific basis of agrometeorological services and improving the scientific knowledge of climate and possible effects of climate change on agricultural production, from which response strategies can be developed;
  5. developing an exciting place for applied scientists to work. Moving towards creating an environment to encourage the best meteorologists at the national level to take up work in agricultural meteorology and help their own career development.

Agrometeorology in Kurdistan started by rehabilitating 8 existing meteorological stations in the three northern Governorates of Iraq. Then we installed 24 new manual agrometeorological stations, 9 partly automatic stations, 6 complete automatic stations, 76 rain gauges and 18 rainfall data logger systems. The installation of these stations created an excellent agrometeorological network in Kurdistan of Iraq, which is considered to be unique in all of the Middle East. These sites are geographically well distributed and cover the area in accordance to WMO standards. This agrometeorology network is in continuous full operation since January 2000, recording daily and hourly agrometeorology parameters, which are essential for developing, increasing and protecting agricultural production in the region. In order to make this agrometeorological network complete it has to be extended southward to cover all of Iraq. Rescuing historical data is an important task to start with. Assuring continuous agrometeorological data collection as an ongoing program is a major concern of an agrometeorological unit, reaching sustainability through maintenance and continuity of operation, by providing spare parts, expendable materials, and by training local staff.
The agrometeorological unit is continuously collecting data through the agrometeorological center in all established stations. It prepares electronic monthly bulletins containing daily values of all agrometeorological parameters (maximum and minimum air temperature, relative humidity, grass minimum temperature, vapor pressure, precipitation, sunshine duration, solar radiation, wind speed and direction, pan evaporation, soil temperature at different depths, and sky cloud cover). These real-time data will help understanding weather conditions that affect agriculture. The establishment of a laboratory and the availability of instruments will encourage research to investigate local meteorological influences and phenomena concerning the development of agriculture. Gearing this to the implementation of activities according to rural needs will seriously minimize production risks.
For example knowledge of evapotranspiration, crop water requirements, irrigation requirements and field water supply highly depends on agrometeorological parameters and can be calculated by agrometeorological experts throughout the world, using well developed programmes (e.g. Cropwat, ref-et, ETCS_dII). This information is not only useful for Kurdistan of Iraq but for all of Iraq, especially central Iraq, which is affected by the climate of Kurdistan, because the major source of irrigation water in central Iraq is Kurdistan. Integration of agroecological zoning, planned to be carried out in south and central Iraq, with the one already carried out in Kurdistan of Iraq is also really needed, reviewing it in accordance with new information and technology.

Objectives of agrometeorological services
A basic general objective in agrometeorology remains of course to provide regular climatic and meteorological data and processed products to national and regional institutions in order to contribute to increasing the quantity and quality of food production and to develop early warning systems for crops, livestock, forests, etc. However, the main objective of the agricultural meteorology programme in the Kurdistan region is to strengthen capabilities of its personnel to provide relevant agrometeorological services. In this context the agricultural meteorology programme aims to foster a better understanding by small farmers and others end-users in the agricultural, forestry and related sectors, of the value and use of meteorological and related information in planning and operational activities. In addition, agricultural meteorology should support the necessary adaptations and changes by carrying out research in collaboration with Universities and other research units. Here statistical packages for data analysis of the established database, satellite remote sensing and GIS techniques should become available.
The long-term objective of agrometeorology remains to contribute to the socioeconomic development of the region, through the use of meteorological products and the creation of a new agrometeorological services system to:

  1. mitigate the effects of droughts and other weather-related disasters, such as hail, winter nights frost, cyclones and middle latitude storms;
  2. promote any activities leading to an improved knowledge of the occurrence of weather and climate anomalies;
  3. conserve, by rational use and management, the agricultural resource base of the region and basic natural resources, particularly vegetation, water and energy.

[Edited by Kees Stigter]

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