Iraq’s Prized Rice Crop Threatened by Drought

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Middle East

Iraq’s Prized Rice Crop Threatened by Drought

Drought is threatening the Iraqi tradition of growing amber rice, the aromatic basis of rich lamb and other dishes, and a key element in a struggling economy.

The long-grained variety of rice takes its name from its distinctive scent, which is similar to that of amber resin. It is used in Iraqi meals including sumptuous lamb qouzi, mansaf and stuffed vegetables, AFP said.

But after three years of drought and declining rainfall, Iraq's amber rice production will be only symbolic in 2022, forcing consumers to seek out imported varieties and leaving farmers pondering their future.

"We live off this land," Abu Rassul says, standing near a small canal that in normal times irrigates his two hectares (five acres) near Al-Abassiya village in the central province of Najaf.

"Since I was a child I have planted amber rice," says the farmer in his 70s, his face wrinkled and unshaven, dressed in a dazzling white dishdasha robe.

"Water enables us to plant every year."

Except for this one.

Normally, rice fields planted in mid-May should stay submerged all summer until October -- but that's a luxury Iraq can no longer allow.

The country's available water reserves "are well below our critical level of 18 billion cubic meters (4.8 trillion gallons)",

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