Order 81 – Reversing a thousand year old legacy

Mesopotamia is widely held to be the “cradle of agriculture”. It was in this region, contemporary Iraq, that over 10 000 years ago, a civilization took root that was defined largely by its relation to the soil it tilled and the crops it grew. Over thousands of years the cultivating and selective breeding of cereals and pulses established a diverse assortment of staple crops that are arguably well adapted to the regions soils, climatic variation and natural pests. Knowing full well the importance of the legacy left to them, Iraqi scientists established a seed bank in the suburb of Abu Ghraib. It was here that the nations achievements were stored; in the form seeds.

The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a monumental event that left much of the country in turmoil and destruction. Victim too was the seed bank; from now on, Abu Ghraib would be remembered not for the agricultural history it once harbored but for torture, impunity and human rights violations. As Saddam Hussein was toppled and the United States established the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer, Washington espoused the idea of ‘spreading democracy’ throughout the Middle East. As virtuous as this aim appeared, critics questioned the hidden motives and have gone as far as coining the term “disaster capitalism” for the events post 2003. Transnational organizations such as Halliburton, Bechtel and Monsanto took advantage of what are now termed the “100 Orders” which fundamentally changed Iraq’s laws.

Order 81 stands out, for it created a legal basis that has the potential to erase a thousand year old agricultural legacy. Not only are farmers mandated to purchase registered, genetically modified terminator seeds from companies like Monsanto, the Order also sets the stages for prohibiting the cultivation of natural seed varieties. It will be the aim of this paper to explore the consequences of this event, primarily on food security.

A key argument will be that Order 81 is not in Iraq’s interest but benefits US companies and should be reversed. Finally, it will establish some recommendations such as: reversing Order 81, moving away from ‘green revolution’ dominated to sustainable agriculture based practices and promoting small-scale Iraqi owned farming initiatives. It will argue that food security and self-determination are invariably linked.


Iraq and agriculture

The importance of a nations agricultural sector should not be understated. It plays a role in the provision and maintenance of food security, functions as a source for individual income, is a driver for economic growth and thereby has a role to play in fomenting social stability. The fostering of a vibrant agricultural sector can therefore be seen as being an essential target for any government. During the 1950’s, Iraq was largely self-sufficient in food production; more than 27 percent of its land was suitable for cultivation while rainfall was sufficient for ample crop production on at least 50 percent of cultivated space. These conditions were nevertheless insufficient by themselves to safeguard these achievements. During the 1980’s, despite spending more than 4 billion USD on efforts to modernize the agricultural sector, food made up a significant 22 percent of Iraq’s total imports. Most critics point to Saddam Hussein, whose reign saw economically devastating agricultural policies, regional conflict and ethnic turmoil bankrupt the agricultural sector. Despite these difficulties, farmers maintained the age-old agricultural tradition of ‘seed-saving’. Sociologist Kelly Crosby summarizes that:

“Farmers save seed for many reasons. Every year new hybrids and new varieties of seed are produced with specific varieties developed for different climates and different growing environments…. Some of these varieties will succeed, and some will fail. Therefore, to reduce risk of low yield and profitability, rather than gamble on one variety of seed, farmers choose to plant their fields with multiple varieties…. Prior to the introduction of genetically modified seed, saving seed was the usual practice among farmers since time immemorial”.


Abu Ghraib was a token to the importance of this practice. Before it was known for torture, impunity and human rights violations, the district harbored Iraq’s national seed bank. It was here that the thousand year old legacy was stored. It has been globally recognized that “conserving the vast diversity of crop varieties is the only way to guarantee that farmers and plant breeders will have the raw materials needed to improve and adapt their crops to meet [future] challenges and provide food for us into the future” The founders of the seed bank knew that It is virtually impossible to exaggerate the importance of crop diversity. It is a vital part of the solution to many of the world’s great challenges, from environmental conservation to climate change and food security”. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 saw the seed bank destroyed as collateral damage. The nation’s agricultural policy would thenceforth come under the control of US appointee Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). As part of an effort to reconstruct Iraq would come a law whose aim it was to facilitate the establishment of a “new seed market in Iraq, where transnational corporations can sell their seeds – genetically modified or not, which farmers would have to purchase afresh every single cropping season”.


Deconstructing Order 81

Even as US armed troops completed their job in routing Iraqi resistance, the US Department of Defence began to draw up plans for a post-war, post Saddam transition to what many in the administration hoped would be a democracy based on free market principles. The United States had an obligation, afterall, as stressed by then Vice President Dick Cheney, to “go stand up a democracy… to fundamentally change the place… and..to give the Iraqi people a chance at those fundamental values we [the United States neoliberal administration] believe in”. After an attempt to install Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile and Bush administration cohort, as head of the proposed Interim Iraqi Authority was blocked by the State Department and in light of growing violence in the country, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was established instead. It was headed by Paul Bremer who,  from early May 2003 until late April 2004, had “paramount authority over the entire country”. As per Washington’s view that it “would now have to engage in ‘hands-on political reconstruction … consistently steer[ing] the process in ways that achieve … US objectives’” Bremer began to push policies that would establish three primary neo-liberal goals – “the creation of a ‘low-intensity democracy’, the shrinking of the state’s power and the empowerment of the individual within a free market”. World Bank and IMF structural adjustment programs would now be enforced by rule of force and intimidation. A 2004 report by the World Bank with the title “WTO accession as a Transition Vehicle to a Market-Based Economic Regime in New Iraq” emphasized the need for Iraq to join the WTO and to “genuinely commit itself to multilateral liberalization”, engage in structural reforms and thus “provide for a high quality institutional environment that ensures macroeconomic stability and a healthy climate for economic activity”. Interpreting these trends, The Economist links the changes being made in Iraq to establishing a “capitalist’s dream”, whereby the soon to be “virtual free-trade zone” would represent the “kind of wish-list that foreign investors and donor agencies dream of for developing markets”. Summarizing, the writer claims that:

“Investors in any field, except for all-important oil production and refining, would be allowed 100% ownership of Iraqi assets, full repatriation of profits, and equal legal standing with local firms. Foreign banks would be welcome to set up shop immediately, or buy into Iraqi ventures. Income and corporate taxes would be capped at 15%. Tariffs would be slashed to a universal 5% rate, with none imposed on food, drugs, books and other “humanitarian” imports”.

In a similar analysis, political activist Naomi Klein postulates that “a country of 25 million would not be rebuilt as it was before the war; it would be erased, disappeared. In its place would spring forth a gleaming showroom for laissez-faire economics, a utopia such as the world had never seen. Every policy that liberates multinational corporations to pursue their quest for profit would be put into place: a shrunken state, a flexible workforce, open borders, minimal taxes, no tariffs, no ownership restrictions”.

One sector from which international investors could hope to capitalize was the agricultural sector. US policy makers therefore soon responded to industry lobby groups by safeguarding this investment potential in what would infamously be referred to as Paul Bremer’s ‘100 Orders’ and subsequently by drawing up  the “Agriculture Reconstruction and Development Program for Iraq – A Transition Plan for the Agriculture Sector in Iraq”. Taken together, both acts were intended to “to move the sector from a command and control production and marketing system to [one based on] market-driven agricultural performance”. Multinational corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and Dow Chemical, which control the world market for agricultural products and hold patents for the majority of seeds used in large-scale commercial agricultural production, saw in Iraq a newly opened market. In order to make profits, however, these companies necessitate a country to enforce strict property rights. Iraq however, was not part of any international treaties safeguarding private property rights while its constitution even went as far as to  prohibit private property of biological resources. While the Patent Act protected companies in the United States, nothing in Iraq’s legislature could prevent the practice of seed saving. The danger, as the companies saw it, was the potential for what is termed “brown bag sale”, which “occurs when farmers purchase seed from seed companies, plant the seed in their own field, harvest the crop, and then sell the reproduced seed to other farmers for them to plant as crop-seed on their own farms”. No profits could be made in such conditions.

This is where Paul Bremer and Order 81 gain special significance. Based on the ‘Plant Variety Protection Act’ of 1970 that judged “anything under the sun made by man” to be patentable, the Order was designed to ensure that companies’ interests were protected. The category ‘anything’ , after the case of Diamond v. Chakrabarty tended to include life organisms, especially the genetically modified ones. Following this logic, Article 22 or Order 81 established that:

“A patent shall grant its owner the following rights:

a) Where the subject of the patent is a product, the right to prevent any person

who has not obtained the owner’s authorization from making, exploiting, using, offering for sale, selling or importing that product.

b) Where the subject of the patent is an industrial process, the rights to prevent any person who has not obtained the owner’s authorization from using the process or the product directly made by the process, offering for sale, selling or importing the product”..


Article 13 further sets the duration of a patent to no less than 20 years following the date of application for registration. The Articles further establish seeds to be divided into two categories: ‘infringing variety’ and ‘protected variety’. Critics claim that the “the exotic genetically scrambled seeds are the ‘protected variety’ and the indigenous seeds are the ‘infringing variety'”. They furthermore assert that Order 81 forces “Iraq’s commercial farmers to use registered terminator seeds [while] defin[ing] natural seeds as illegal”. This is not in fact correct and needs to be clarified. The United States has signed on to international treaties safeguarding farmer’s rights of seed saving. The 2001 International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture maintains that “it is not to be interpreted to ―limit any rights that farmers have to save, use, exchange or sell farm-saved seed”. Therefore even the strongest critic, GRAIN, has to admit that under the new law “Iraqis may continue to use and save from their traditional seed stocks”, highlighting however that the law was never designed to prevent farmers from saving their own seeds, but merely had the purpose of facilitating the “establishment of a new seed market in Iraq, where transnational corporations can sell their seeds – genetically modified or not, which farmers would have to purchase afresh every single cropping season”.

The main concern with Order 81’s rulings is articulated in William Engdahl’s book Seeds of Destruction – The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation. The author argues that

“Under Bremer’s Order 81, if a large international corporation developed a seed variety resistant to a particular Iraqi pest, and an Iraqi farmer was growing another variety that did the same, it was illegal for the farmer to save his own seed. Instead he is obliged to pay a royalty fee for using Monsanto’s GMO seed”.


To pre-empt any counterarguments Engdahl cites the case where SunGene, a US biotech company, ended up patenting a sunflower variety containing very high oleic acid concentrations. Rather than patenting the genetic structure, as is commonly done, SunGene courteously let other sunflower breeders know that if they happened to develop a variety high in oleic acid, that it would consider this an infringement of its patent. In a roundabout way, the argument that Order 81 defines natural seed varieties as illegal, therefore seems to hold.

What exacerbated the problem was the lack of seeds in the possession of farmers who saw their supplies dwindle with years of drought, a US-UK led trade embargo and finally war. In response, the U.S. Agency for International Development highlighted that “to get [the agricultural] sector moving immediately, fertilizer, good quality seeds, proper pesticides, and other inputs, including electricity and diesel for machinery, must be procured and provided to farmers”. In fact, until 2003 the UN oil-for-food program had been the sole means by which the Iraqi population managed to survive.  Here was the opening that multinationals had waited for. Immediately after the issuance of Order 81, USAID started delivering “thousands of tons of subsidized, US-origin high quality, certified wheat seeds to desperate Iraqi farmers that were initially nearly cost free”. When GRAIN challenged USAID to reveal whether these were GMO varieties, it refused the proposed inspection by independent scientists. The logic behind supplying GMO seeds cost free is based on the concept of the ‘terminator seed”. These are by nature sterile and would therefore not yield next generation seeds to be saved for future use. Instead, farmers would have to purchase the entire seed demand for the following season from the patent holder, a process that would be renewed annually. Once this cycle begins and the natural seed varieties are gradually phased out, the farmer becomes trapped in a system of dept and dependence on the company. Not only will the farmer have to purchase GMO seeds, he will also have to obtain new fertilizers and pesticides. A quick survey of conditions in India, where the same process has been taking place for numerous years already, reveals reports that maintain that the “largest sustained waves of suicides in human history” led to a death toll of roughly 150,000 Indian farmers between the years of 1997 and 2005. The documentary Harvest of Grief examines the story more fully and reveals that farmers, highly indebted and faced with crop failures, ironically, drank Monsanto’s pesticides as a last gesture of desperation and defiance. If we take what has been discussed so war as well as the Indian case study as a basis from which to analyze Iraq’s current and future condition with, the results and predictions appear dire. The proposed benefits that Bremer’s 100 Orders would provide the Iraqi population are therefore highly questionable, if not outright refutable.

By June 28, 2004 Bremer’s rule was officially over and authority was handed over to the Iraqi Interim Government. To ensure that the highly, by general population consensus, unpopular Order’s would not be removed, Washington implemented several safeguards. They included appointing Iyad Allawi as prime minister, a loyal element with strong ties to the CIA, “stacking every Ministry with U.S.-appointed authorities with five-year terms” and ensuring that “the Orders can only be overturned with the approval of the president, the two vice presidents and a majority of the ministers”. Thus, to this day, the majority of Bremer’s neo-liberal laws and regulations still flourish in and have an impact on Iraqi society. What this means for Iraqi agriculture is as of yet ambiguous but by sifting through recent events and scientific studies on the impacts of GMO’s and mono-cropping on productivity, certain consequences and arguments can be established.
Mono-cropping and genetically modified crops:

Two controversial agricultural practices widely touted as vital for a developing nation’s economic growth and food security are the use of genetically modified crops and a practice known as mono-cropping.  While both policies face harsh criticism, proponents argue that mono-cropping and the link to an agriculturally driven export led growth is a tried and proven strategy vital for development; furthermore, the use of GMO’s is crucial in providing food security in today’s volatile time period. In 2004, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations came out with a report expressing support for GMO products. It stated that “transgenic technology has great potential for increasing crop yields, reducing costs to customers and improving the nutritional value of foods”. Cautiously it adds that in the past the benefits of this approach tended to go to multinational corporations and foreign farmers. An independent analysis of GMO’s affects on ecosystem degradation and poverty stated that “If wisely used, biotechnology can improve this situation; if not, it is likely to worsen the situation by raising the stakes at which we gamble”. Finally, a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists asserts that “no currently available transgenic varieties enhance the intrinsic yield of any crops”. The group’s further analysis, published as a criticism of Monsanto, maintains that the organization’s practices and use of GMO promoted pesticide resistance, increased herbicide use, led to natural gene contamination, propagated monoculture and most crucial of all, falls short on feeding the world. While the use of GMO’s in the Americas is widespread, two cases showcase the need for caution. In South Africa, where Monsanto has been pushing hard to promote a new green revolution based on the use of GMO, farmers  “suffered millions of dollars in lost income when 82,000 hectares of genetically-manipulated corn (maize) failed to produce hardly any seeds”. In Europe, Monsanto ended up withdrawing its genetically modified maize, LY038, from commercial approval due to safety concerns. While Monsanto maintained its act was purely based on economic considerations, scientists surmised that the danger of potential health risks attributable to a high lysine content in the crop, prompted the withdrawal. The benefits of GMO’s, while aggressively promoted by multinationals, appear to be questionable, at least when it comes to increasing yield and promoting food security. It might therefore be considered strategically sound for Iraqi farmers to want to operate within the ‘precautionary principle’; any foreign based policy limiting Iraq’s agriculture to the use of GMO’s therefore appears to benefit one side more than the other.

Mono-cropping is a large scale, single crop agricultural production system. In the past both IMF and the World Bank have judged it to be suitable approach to promote economic growth in developing nations and have often made the transformation from multi to single crop agriculture a crucial prerequisite for the receiving of aid packages. Haiti has been a testing ground for such ‘structural adjustment’ policies. In the 1990’s, the World Bank, in an effort to transform Haiti’s agricultural sector, encouraged a transformation from the existing multi-crop system designed for domestic needs to a scheme based on foreign exports. Touting the benefits of agriculture based export led growth, it encouraged farmers to produce cacao and coffee on a large scale, reduce production of rice and open its markets to U.S. products. For his, the Bank provided assistance and loan packages to farmers and the government. Following the advice, farmers soon found themselves unable to make a living, given that world prices for the two commodities were highly volatile and cheap US rice began to flood into the country, forcing local farmers out of business. The overall result was that the nation became dependent on food imports and unable to repay its debts. Similar practices have occurred in Africa, where substantial loans have been provided by the World Bank to local governments for the promotion of mono-crop systems. Increased region-wide production soon led to excessive supply, forcing prices down and making the repayment of debt considerably more difficult. Considering not the economic but environmental aspects of monoculture, a United Nations report found that “In the Yunnan Province in China, after disease susceptible rice varieties were planted in mixtures with resistant varieties, yields improved by 89 per cent and rice blast disease was 94 per cent less severe than when the varieties were grown in monoculture, leading farmers to abandon the use of fungicidal sprays” Overall, it found that the use of a multi-crop agroecological approach that promotes genetic diversity provides ways to “mitigate risks from extreme weather events, as well as from the invasion of new pests, weeds and diseases, that will result from global warming”. In light of such evidence it appears crucial that Iraq’s future agricultural policies emphasize a multi-crop production system and provide safeguards to maintain and preferably foster genetic diversity in its natural seed varieties.


Finally, after having spend some time deconstructing and subsequently criticising the CPA’s Order 81, it seems relevant to provide some plausible alternatives. This will be done below in a point by point format to accentuate each suggestion in turn. The following thus represent this paper’s recommendations:

Bremer’s 100 Orders have been forced upon a population traumatized by war. They have been highly unpopular, exploitative, beneficial solely to foreign elements and should therefore be repealed. Instead, the current government must press for a ‘solution by Iraqi’s for Iraqi’s. This should be done in a transparent, inclusive environment whereby all stakeholders are involved and while keeping minority concerns in mind, determine final outcomes by clear majority decision. In 2004, an early draft version of the new Iraq constitution attempted precisely this, or as one commentator put it: Iraqi’s wanted to “build a Scandinavian-type welfare system in the Arabian desert, with Iraq’s vast oil wealth to be spent upholding every Iraqi’s right to education, health care, housing, and other social services”. When the final version was ready in 2005 however, US influence had been sufficient to align it with strong support for neo-liberal goals. Today, as U.S influence in Iraq wanes, the constitution should once be amended and special attention must be given to the agriculture policy.

Iraq’s agriculture system should promote and foster diversity in plant use and promote a small landholder agriculture system. As multiple studies have shown, mixed-crop systems are more productive, build soil quality, prevent soil erosion, lower susceptibility to disease and have proven to be more sustainable in light of global climate change. Money should be allocated away from monoculture practices towards fostering genetic diversity in seed varieties. A FAO report highlights the importance of land reform along the lines of community agriculture programs which serve to promote food security, regional stability and a reduce poverty. It stresses “Prioritizing local agricultural production,…. the access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds, and credit”, adding that in light of food security issues, it is vital that farmers have the right to chose how to produce, sell and consume their own food. Policy in Iraq should therefore be aligned along these lines and reject the World Bank’s short-sighted growth solutions.

Genetic modification has not been proven to increase the intrinsic yield of crops. In light of the risks involved – crop failure, DNA contamination, health concerns – any policy should be directed towards maintaining a natural seed base and preventing the expansion of GMO’s into the system. In the same way as the European Union, Iraq should act based on the ‘precautionary principle’. Drawing lessons from the plight of Indian farmers Iraq should reconstruct its national seed bank and allocate money towards expanding research on agroecology as a means to food self-sufficiency.

Finally, given that Iraq’s economy has been largely destroyed by US activities and knowing that its current debt is largely a result of pre 2003 policy, the international community should release Iraq from its debt commitments. NGO’s have claimed that “Iraq’s debt is an odious debt, and thus must be annulled in accordance with international law”. Odious debt here is defined as “debt that resulted from loans to an illegitimate or dictatorial government that used the money to oppress the people or for personal purposes”. Furthermore, international law creates a basis for the argument that loans, made to a government that used these funds against its people’s interests, can be seen as “hostile act[s] against the people”. There is thus no legitimate basis for their repayment. If these funds were freed, they could be used to reconstruct the Iraqi economy, finance development strategies and re-establish competitiveness in the market.


Niccolo Machiavelli once wrote that “on seizing a state, the usurper should make haste to inflict what injuries he must, at a stroke, that he may not have to renew them daily… Injuries….should be inflicted all at once, that their ill savour being less lasting may the less offend”. A look back at the CPA’s 100 Orders reveals that this ancient strategy, this “shock doctrine”, as modern academics call it, has been used in Iraq. The legislation drawn up in haste, offered no benefits to the Iraqi population and served principally a few select international organizations. The assault on Iraq’s thousand year old agricultural legacy, as many see it, has been the most daring act. Eliminating a diversity that encompasses thousands of individual varieties and substituting it for a monoculture system utilizing the latest genetically modified crops, seems strategically important. The question is however, for whom? Henry Kissinger might offer an answer with his infamous ‘he who controls the food supply, controls the people’. Has the Iraq experiment, one might ask, exemplified this philosophy?


Interesting Links

Order 81: Re-engineering Iraqi agriculture – The ultimate war crime: breaking the agricultural cycle

Baghdad year zero: Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia

Let’s all go to the yard sale

The Hand-Over that Wasn’t: How the Occupation of Iraq continues

Failure to Yield – Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops

Order Number 81 – Patent, Industrial Design, undisclosed  information, integrated circuits and plant variety law


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