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BAGHDAD -- Iraq produced enough wheat this year to meet about 50 percent of domestic demand thanks to modern irrigation technologies and support for farmers, Iraqi officials have told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq.

Deputy Agriculture Minister Mahdi al-Qaisi told RFI on September 1 that the Ministry of Trade has already received some 1.68 million tons, enough to meet more than half the country's needs.

The Ministry of Trade is in charge of food rationing and is the monopoly buyer of wheat growers' produce.

Qaisi said that according to Ministry of Trade statistics, Iraq consumes 3 million to 3.5 million tons of wheat per annum.

He said that projects are currently being implemented with a view to achieving self-sufficiency in wheat within five years. They focus on high-tech irrigation methods and support for farmers, especially low-interest loans, free guidance, and subsidized prices. To reach this target, the ministry plans to raise the area for wheat cultivation to 750,000 hectares.

Muthanna Jabbar, who is acting director of the state-owned grain trading company, told RFE/RL on September 1 that in view of the incentives offered to wheat growers, next year's harvest is expected to be about 2.5 million tons.

Jabbar said Iraq will not be adversely affected by Russia's restrictions on grain exports as it imports its wheat from the United States, Canada, and Australia, in contrast to countries like Egypt, Iran, and Gulf states that rely on Russian wheat.

Jabbar said Iraqis prefer U.S. and Australian wheat because it is easier to bake into the flat bread that is a common staple in the Middle East.