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Australia to help jump-start the agriculture sector in Iraq.

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AA 03 028 23 May 2003

Australia to Help Jump-Start the Agriculture Sector in Iraq

As part of Australia's $100 million commitment to humanitarian and reconstruction activities in Iraq, I am pleased to announce that $40 million will be allocated to revitalise the agricultural sector.

Revitalising the sector and improving food security are critical to Iraq's long-term economic recovery. Years of economic mismanagement and neglect have left Iraq's agricultural system in disrepair. About 60 per cent of the population remains dependant on food handouts and a quarter of Iraq's labour force is employed in the agriculture sector.

A centrally planned economic system has led to significant market distortions and inefficiencies. It will be important for Iraq to make the transition to an open, market based economy so it can fully reap the benefits of the global marketplace.

While our support for long-term reform and revitalisation of the sector is critical, it is equally important that we address some of the immediate needs. Up to 1.5 million tonnes of wheat and barley awaits harvest in Iraq, seeds will need to be sown for the summer crop and Iraqi agricultural officials will need to be brought back to work.

Australia will immediately provide a package of up to $5 million to jump-start the agriculture sector, including:

● Up to $4 million for quick impact activities to assist with the upcoming harvest and

planting seasons. This will include the purchase of grain weighing, testing and certifying equipment, support for seed multiplication programs to provide sufficient seed stocks for summer planting, and provision of other critical agricultural assistance to ensure harvests are maximised ● $1 million for urgent repairs to the Ministry of Agriculture to repair damage from

recent looting and to replace critical equipment allowing employees to return to work and begin the important task of rebuilding the sector.

Australia's agricultural advisory team, led by Trevor Flugge, is now on the ground in Iraq and is working closely with Iraqi authorities and US and UN agencies to coordinate international efforts in the sector and to ensure assistance is targeted at areas of greatest need.

Mr Downer is in Baghdad today as part of his visit to the Middle East.

Contacts: Chris Kenny (Minister's office) 02 6277 7500 or 0419 206 890 (nb - no voicemail service available - text messages only) Dominic Morice (AusAID) 02 6206 4220 or 0417 683 126