Since the beginning of recorded time, agriculture has been the primary economic activity of the people of Iraq. In 1976, agriculture contributed about 8 percent of Iraq's total GDP, and it employed more than half the total labor force. In 1986, despite a ten-year Iraqi investment in agricultural development that totaled more than US$4 billion, the sector still accounted for only 7.5 percent of total GDP, a figure that was predicted to decline. In 1986 agriculture continued to employ a significant portion--about 30 percent--of Iraq's total labor force. Part of the reason the agricultural share of GDP remained small was that the sector was overwhelmed by expansion of the oil sector, which boosted total GDP.
Large year-to-year fluctuations in Iraqi harvests, caused by variability in the amount of rainfall, made estimates of average production problematic, but statistics indicated that the production levels for key grain crops remained approximately stable from the 1960s through the 1980s, with yield increasing while total cultivated area declined. Increasing Iraqi food imports were indicative of agricultural stagnation. In the late 1950s, Iraq was self-sufficient in agricultural production, but in the 1960s it imported about 15 percent of its food supplies, and by the 1970s it imported about 33 percent of its food. By the early 1980s, food imports accounted for about 15 percent of total imports, and in 1984, according to Iraqi statistics, food imports comprised about 22 percent of total imports. Many experts expressed the opinion that Iraq had the potential for substantial agricultural growth, but restrictions on water supplies, caused by Syrian and Turkish dam building on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, might limit this expansion.
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