News: Northern Iraqi investors support farmers associations, investing in Iraq's future
Story by Spc. John Crosby
By Spc. John Crosby
115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Multi-National Division – North Public Affairs
MOSUL, Iraq – The Ninewah Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) has been working to join hundreds of northern Iraqi farmers together, regardless of ethnicity, tribe or religious backround, to create three farmer's associations.
"We have found some true leaders of various communities willing to cross community, ethnic and sectarian bounds and work together across the entire community to get these groups involved," said Michael Hankey, Dept. of State officer in charge of the economic section of the Ninewah PRT. "There is a commitment and eagerness of each organization to find ways to work together to find community wide solutions."
The PRT donated nine 80-horsepower, four-wheel drive, Iraqi-built tractors at a price of $225,000 to the three farming associations in the hopes that more local investors will be encouraged by the PRT's investment and invest their own money into the economy.
"The amount of assistance we can give is a good thing," Hankey said, "but the true economic potential is going to be released when we can find more and more of these Iraqi investors willing to put up their own money, energize their own local economies and look for local investment opportunities that put their own resources into play."
Local Iraqi businessman George Kako more than matched the PRT's investment. Kako is one of seven board members on one of the associations called the Brotherhood Union for Agricultural Development and Environmental Protection, which represents approximately 100 families amounting to 600 to 700 people.
"People have made empty promises to us in the past, but thanks to the PRT, this time we have received the tractors and we are moving forward," Kako said. "These tractors will plow the land much deeper, allowing the soil to retain moisture much longer, allowing the seeds to grow much stronger yielding better crops."
"The land is very tired," said Anwar Alyas Kako, cousin of George Kako and member of the organization. "The tractors are excellent, with many horsepower. Originally we had primitive harvesting and plowing tools. But these tractors will dig the soil much better."
As a part of the organization, members share their newfound wealth.
"When we finish with the tractors, we will take them to other farms in the community and allow them to use them so that our whole community is more productive," said a member of the organization.
"The organization will help bring in new and fresh ideas and allow agriculture here to grow. Modern techniques will help increase productivity. We will work together as a group. We will decide together what we will plant and when and we will do it in an organized manner to improve our output of crops every year."
In addition to large investments made by outside entities, the associations are beneficial to the local farmers in many other ways.
Iraq's harsh climate can make it difficult to produce healthy, frequent and consistent crops. The hot, arid summers make farming heavily dependant on the rain. Fertilizers are required to make the soil usable.
The farmers have had to go without chemical fertilizers. In order to make the soil usable, farmers had to allow their soil to rest for one year after reaping crops. They would plow the land, let it lay fallow for a year, then sow the seed to allow the land to recover on its own, seriously depleting their productivity and livelihood.
"Things like fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation systems will be cheaper to purchase because together as an organization we will buy in bulk," said Anwar Kako. "We are working together to buy sprayers and wells so that we don't rely on rain and fertilizer for better soil. These things are all benefits of the organization."
The organizations dream is to increase the fertility of the soil to the point that producing several crops a year is a reality.
The organizations began in the Spring of 2007 when local farmers identified some of their basic needs. They were unable to get fuel, fertilizer, seed or pesticide at the subsidized prices that Saddam Hussein's regime used to give them.
"We could provide them seeds, which may get them by for that day, but we were looking for a more institutional response, something that we could set up to help these farmers carry on in a more sustainable way," said Hankey.
This is just the beginning of this agricultural community, but farmers and the U.S. Dept. of State are committed to these association's causes and are working for a brighter future, regardless of culture or religious beliefs.
"We are hopeful that this country will experience the agriculture revolution that many European countries have experienced," said Kako. "As Iraqis, multi ethnicity is a part of who we are. It's the terrorists who imported all of these ideas of hatred from abroad. We ourselves are one country irrespective of our creed or our origin. I am very comfortable being a part of this association, it's a harbinger of good things to come."
Word of the organization's success is spreading across northern Iraq and several more associations are surfacing, 18 more in Ninewah Province over the last six weeks.
"We are very happy that Iraqis across the province are already reaching out to each other to find an institutional response to some of their hardest economic questions," said Hankey. "We are really encouraged that this idea is taking off. Every week we are finding out that there are more and more farmers throughout the province who are looking at copying this model and finding that putting local cooperation into finding common responses to shared problems can help them address some of their most urgent needs."