By Raed Omari

AMMAN – The Ministry of Agriculture has started negotiating with officials from several European and Central Asian countries to allow Jordanian businesses to invest in wheat cultivation in these water-rich countries, a senior official said on Sunday.

Ministry of Agriculture Secretary General Radi Tarawneh explained yesterday that ministry officials, fully aware of the insufficiency of local wheat production and the unsuitability of the Kingdom’s environment for growing the staple crop, met with their counterparts from Romania, Russia, Bulgaria and Kazakhstan to discuss acquiring pieces of land to be developed for wheat cultivation by Jordanian investors.

But Jordan Agriculture Engineers Association (JAEA) President Abdul Hadi Falahat questioned the feasibility of the projected wheat cultivation investments, saying “even if they are implemented, they will not yield the envisioned results”.

“Such projects will be implemented by businessmen and thus will be governed by the market mentality that is primarily focused on increasing profits and not achieving food and social security,” he pointed out.

Realistically, Jordan is far from achieving self-sufficiency in wheat production, but it can at least increase its production of the strategic produce to reach reasonable levels, Falahat told The Jordan Times in a telephone interview yesterday.

“The severe lack of water resources and the shrinking of agricultural lands due to the expansion of urbanisation and infrastructure development activities are the major reasons that make Jordan unable to become self-sufficient in wheat production,” he noted.

Falahat added that the JAEA informed the ministry about a plan it devised to increase the Kingdom’s production of wheat, but “unfortunately, nothing tangible has been done yet”.

“The plan is simple, summarised just in two phases: giving farmers in the Jordan Valley and Disi region, where water resources are plentiful, incentives to cultivate wheat and drafting a law that regulates the use of agricultural land,” Falahat said.

Jordan’s annual wheat production of 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes can be increased to reach 80,000 to 100,000 tonnes if the plan is implemented, according to the JAEA president.

“When it comes to wheat production, there should be a strong will on the part of the government, manifested in institutionalised decisions, because it is a matter that lies at the heart of political, social and food security,” Falahat said.

According to a Department of Statistics (DoS) report issued on Saturday, Jordan produces around 5 per cent of its needs of wheat while the rest is imported from other countries, mainly the US.

The DoS report, a copy of which was sent to The Jordan Times, indicated that the Kingdom imported 98 per cent of its wheat needs in 2009 and 96 per cent in 2010.

“Locally produced wheat meets the Kingdom’s consumption needs for only 17 days [out of the year],” the report said.

However, Jordan has achieved self-sufficiency in the production of five other basic food items: olives, olive oil, milk, eggs and tomatoes, according to another DoS report published recently.

Despite the encouraging production of these items, the Kingdom has yet to achieve self-sufficiency in the production of red meat, which Jordan imports in large quantities to meet local market demand, the DoS report said.

Local production of olives, olive oil, tomatoes, milk and eggs witnessed considerable increases of 102 per cent, 106 per cent, 201 per cent, 100 per cent and 115 per cent respectively in 2010, the report said.

According to the report, Jordan’s self-sufficiency rates of red meat fell from 35 per cent in 2009 to around 20 per cent in 2010.