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Ministry of Agriculture Turns Saddam's Helicopter into Crop Duster

The Ministry of Agriculture recently conducted spraying of date palm trees using a Mi-2 helicopter from the former Saddam Hussein’s military.  This spraying is a component of its long-term plan to revitalize Iraq's date palm production, once the envy of the Middle East.

The aircraft was completely rebuilt by Iraqi maintenance technicians and flown by Iraqi pilots. It marked the first time an Iraqi aircraft had flown in more than a year in Iraq.

The spraying program eliminates pests and greatly enhances the production of date palms. The spray also has another beneficial effect in that it helps eliminate mosquitoes. An estimated 12,000 hectares of date palms received the application.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has made great progress in the past year and getting this program started is one of them,” said Mr. Peter King, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture. He said next year the Ministry plans to expand the program nationwide, rehabilitate tissue labs for future production of date palms, and increase international marketing.

Dates are a national treasure for Iraq with both symbolic and economic significance. Earlier this year, the Ministry established 18 date palm orchards in 13 provinces. In one year, the nurseries will provide enough offshoots for 2,800 hectares of date palms for Iraqi farmers.

A thriving date palm industry would create thousands of jobs for Iraqis. It is a labor-intensive crop that requires pruning, pollinating, harvesting and marketing of the dates.

Potential sales of high quality dates range in price up to $3,500 per ton. It is estimated Iraq produces about 900,000 metric tons of dates annually, about 18% of the world market, but far below its output in the 1980s.

Twenty years ago, Iraq dominated the world date market. Iraq once had the largest area of date palm tree orchards in the world, with more than 30 million trees. The destruction of the Iran-Iraq war and the draining of southern marshes by the previous regime reduced the date palm tree population by more than half.

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