Another result: Iraqi consumers pay more for homegrown produce than they do for some imports.
Zaineb Kemal, a mother of four in Mosul, said that Iraqi produce had become scarce and expensive. That's why "so many people prefer to buy imported goods," she said, adding that she likes Iranian watermelons, Syrian cucumbers and Egyptian oranges.
Anti-globalization groups praise the fact that Iraqi farmers reuse their own seeds season after season. That doesn't lead to robust crops, however, and farmers routinely spread twice as much seed as they ordinarily would need to ensure the reduced yields.
As in any country, agriculture is political. Unlike most nations, however, the present Iraqi government doesn't protect — let alone subsidize — many of its farmers, according to Western experts, the rice farmers in Mishkhab and consumers.
"Most farmers have been abandoned by the state," said Qasim Muhaideen, 43, who works in Mosul's central market. "How can our farmers compete in price and availability?"
Geopolitics also influences what happens to Iraq's farmers.
Turkey and Syria have built dams on the Euphrates within their borders, and they turn the spigot off and on to Iraq.
"The shortage is very effective," Awn Theyab, the director general of Iraq's National Center for Water Resources, said after Turkey reduced the flow after one week. "If it continues, we won't have enough water for the first round of the winter season, because our reservoirs are empty."
A few bright spots have sprouted. Aquaculture is emerging slowly as a food source, and 100,000 carp fingerlings were released to reservoirs in April. They'll grow to only one-fourth the size of the 25-pound monsters pulled from the Tigris, but the supply is more stable.
There's also been a boom in "hoop houses," plastic greenhouses for tomatoes using drip irrigation, not the usual field flooding.
Multinational provincial reconstruction teams report growing interest in better farming practices. Beekeepers, poultry producers and growers who want to learn modern techniques have started attending workshops. During the years of sectarian and tribal violence, they were afraid to be seen with Americans. Just this week, 175 Iraqis signed up for a soil salinity seminar.
Habeeb and his partner, Abdul Abbas Muhair, 67, have never met a foreign agricultural adviser, however.
Sitting barefoot on a carpet runner in a tiled room next to their paddies, Habeeb and Muhair swapped gripes about the government. Poor or zero planning. Delayed or incomplete payments. Baksheesh — bribes — needed for the best seeds. Weak fertilizer. Weaker pesticide. Power to run water pumps for only six hours a day, so they must buy gasoline for generators.
Even worse than their litany, they said, is their loss of pride. In their fathers' day, the aromatic rice they grew was enjoyed in Egypt, Lebanon — throughout the Middle East. Now it's all sold to the government.
A rooster crowed outside as little boys in the 15-member clan slid closer and listened to their elders.
"I feel sad not to export our rice anymore," Muhair said. "It was enough for your life."
(Tharp is the executive editor of the Merced (Calif.) Star-Sun. McClatchy special correspondents Laith Hammoudi and Sahar Issa contributed to this article from Baghdad.)
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Read what McClatchy's Iraqi staff has to say at Inside Iraq.