How Innovation Can Help Unlock Iraq’s Market Potential

In a changing global landscape dominated by the effects of climate change and globalization, it is more important than ever to foster innovation that creates a positive impact for both the environment and people. The Water & Energy for Food Middle East and North Africa Regional Innovation Hub (WE4F MENA RIH) is proud to announce its Iraq Call for Innovations, which will run from September 8 – 29, 2021, and aims to recruit ten outstanding Iraq-based businesses and organisations working to address challenges in the country’s water, energy,  and agriculture  sectors.

Outdated Practices Limiting a Modern Market

In Iraq, amid a myriad of challenges, including electricity shortages, historic droughts, and a steep increase in food insecurity, private sector innovation can bring valuable change not only to a business, but also to the people of Iraq.

The Iraqi landscape offers a wealth of opportunities for transformative solutions for a more sustainable future. For example, desalination technologies to combat drought, or solar PV solutions to sustainably power farms and factories, could go a long way towards improving people’s access to resources, increasing national productivity, and mitigating the  impacts of climate change. This reality, however, relies on a thriving private sector. 

Unfortunately, due to outdated practices, Iraqi businesses of all sizes struggle to grow and compete.  This is particularly hard on small and medium-sized enterprises, who are less resilient to the ongoing economic and political shifts and are often unable to fulfill even local market demand. Introducing new, more accessible business models and operations could open up the Iraqi market to compete on a global scale, all while contributing to a more sustainable economy and ecosystem.

A Growing Food Demand and A Shrinking Agricultural Sector

Agriculture, energy, and water are inextricably linked. In Iraq, all three sectors suffer from outdated practices that stifle potential growth and innovation, including their ability to combat climate change. 

Once known for its fertile farmland, Iraq now faces serious food security issues as a result of these outdated practices. This is only exacerbated by climate change. For example, Iraqi agricultural lands are traditionally irrigated with surface water, rainwater, or flooding. This technique is inefficient and results in an average loss of 60% due to evaporation. It also increases soil salinity, which can cause additional problems for crops. With climate change resulting in ever-increasing fluctuations in rainfall, relying on these traditional sources for irrigation leaves farmers highly vulnerable. Data provided by the Kurdistan Region Statistics Office indicates that during the 2007-2008 drought, the overall wheat production was reduced to approximately 20% of its average annual production volume.

Climate change, a stagnant market, an unstable political and security situation, and COVID-19 are all contributing to shrinking Iraq’s agricultural sector — at a time when domestic demand is only increasing. Instead of relying on local production, Iraq has instead developed a dependence on imports to meet its growing needs. According to the FAO, the average area farmed annually has been reduced to one third of its overall potential over the past 20 years. 

Decreasing agricultural lands directly results in a steady drop in employment in this sector, which has slipped from 28% to 18% (see figure 1 below) since 2001. Lower employment has also led to reduced capacity, thereby slowing the agricultural sector’s contributions to Iraq’s overall economic growth: in 1995, the agricultural sector contributed 20% of the GDP compared to only 1.48% in 2019 (See figures 2 and 3 below).  These complexities have led to a decrease in food production and income for both men and women, resulting in less sustainable agribusinesses along the value chain, which negatively contribute to climate change while lessening environmental resilience and biodiversity.

The inefficient practices used in the agriculture, energy, and water sectors create a cycle of precarity for all actors along the value chain and hinder innovation and sustainable growth.

Building a Sustainable and Resilient Iraqi Agricultural Sector

Though complex and deeply intertwined, there is still time and opportunity to overcome Iraq’s challenges by supporting the development of green solutions. Using a bottom-up approach, programs like Water & Energy for Food (WE4F) work with local businesses to  promote innovation in the water, energy, and agriculture sectors. The newly announced WE4F Iraq track targets local companies and innovations to develop a sustainable, resilient market and improve lives and livelihoods.

Join WE4F – Apply for the Iraq Call for Innovations

WE4F’s new Call for Innovations, the MENA RIH,focuses specifically on Iraqi companies and organizations. The Iraq Call for Innovations was launched on September 8, 2021 and will run until September 29, 2021. In mid-October, a regional Call for Innovations will follow. For all details, see the dedicated Call for Innovations document and FAQs. The MENA RIH is looking forward to your application! 

Interested in learning more about the application process? Several webinars and info sessions will be held throughout the call period to support your application, so make sure you follow our social media for announcements and further info – we’re on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube.  

Of course, the MENA RIH won’t achieve its goals without partners, investors, and other key stakeholders from the MENA water-energy-food nexus! If your organization is interested in building strong support structures for better enabling environments in Iraq, get in touch with us! We look forward to hearing from you and  joining forces to support sustainable innovation in Iraq. 


About the author: 

Nashwan Dhahir, WE4F MENA Country Coordinator – Iraq


As a water resources engineer and sustainable sanitation and water management professional, Nashwan has been leading WASH projects and institutional reform and development in the water sector with a focus on Iraqi context. He is the first point for our innovator cohort and partners in Iraq. Nashwan’s background enables him to conceptualize, design and facilitate capacity building and business development workshops and training for stakeholders in the field of sustainable sanitation, water and resources management in Iraq including entrepreneurs, startups, practitioners, and public stakeholders.