The Other Abu Ghraib

It is Iraqi, it is smaller than a breadbox and it shares the same name as the infamous prison. Any clues? Another hint: its edible. Give up? It’s a strain of wheat called ‘Abu Ghraib,’ indigenous to Iraq and once housed in Iraq’s national gene bank. Indeed, once upon a time Iraqi farmers cultivated a multitude of wheat varieties, saving their own seeds from year to year specially selected and cross-pollinated to grow in the Iraqi region – a farming history stretching back over 10,000 years.

Yet through a variety of factors, much of this heritage has been lost – although the International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas in Syria has been able to preserve a sampling of Iraqi developed varieties.

One might think that as the U.S. lead coalition works to rebuild Iraq, preserving this agricultural heritage would be of first importance – not only reconstituting Iraq’s devastated farming industry, but also restoring the indigenous genetic varieties.

Instead, as a recent report notes, $107 million are being spent to turn Iraq into a U.S.-style high-yield corporate agriculture business. And instead of preserving the indigenous genetic heritage, new strains of genetically modified seeds will be introduced from the United States – strains developed and patented by U.S. corporations for profit. And of course, once the newly reconstituted Iraqi farms start to grow these patented GM strains, they will also need to purchase the corresponding pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals, also sold by U.S. corporations. Get the picture?

And thanks to Paul Bremer’s orders that he put into place before leaving Iraq, Iraqi farmers will no longer be able to save seeds from year to year to replant – after all, U.S. corporate interests must be protected, and so we must insure that Iraqi farmers will be required to buy new seeds every planting season.

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