News: Date festival marks successful harvest
Story by Sgt. Zachary Mott
by Sgt. Zach Mott
3rd HBCT, 4th ID PAO
BAQUBAH, Iraq (September 18, 2006) -- Diyala farmers celebrated one of the most prosperous date harvests in several years with a festival in the provincial capital of Baqubah Sept. 18.
The date crop was bolstered by a joint project in which the Iraqi government and coalition forces in May executed a crop spraying campaign with helicopters piloted by Moldova and Bulgaria citizens to prevent insect infestation.
"In previous years there has been a severe infestation of the dubas bug," said Capt. Mark Cassill, executive officer, 404th Civil Affairs Battalion which is attached to the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Task Force Lightning. "Tiny dates were produced and they could only be sold as animal feed."
Because the dates could only be sold as animal feed it cut the amount of money farmers were able to earn. However, this year, date production was up at least 50 percent across the board and is now fit for human consumption. This also means that farmers are able to charge more for their product.
Abdul Aziz Abbas Mohammed, who was judged by provincial officials to be the best farmer in Diyala Province, saw his crop total increase by 85 percent over last years take.
"We're optimistic that next year the crops will be a lot more and better," Mohammed said through an interpreter after speaking about the success of this year's spraying campaign.
He also said that he hopes plans are being made for next year's campaign in order to maximize the date yield.
Cassill said that the Iraqi government is planning next season's spraying utilizing Iraqi owned helicopters and pilots funded by the government of Iraq.
Those in attendance at the festival had the chance to sample the numerous dates from various farms throughout the province as well as purchase crafts made from date palms.
Members of the Diyala government and agriculture departments spoke about the successful crop harvest as well as the need to continue to develop the province's most money-earning resource.
"I would like to thank the people and the government who worked on the spraying campaign and we wish for more support so the farmers will believe that the government cares about their needs," Mohammed said.