A Tale of Two Springs

Facilitating peace, development and banking in Mosul, Iraq

Agricultural Diversity

with 5 comments

Last week I sat in a room beside a farm in northern Iraq to discuss agricultural diversity. The participants discussed farming policy and technique, debating the best way forward for small scale Iraqi farmers, and offered a glimpse of the possibilities of a new Iraq.

I spent an afternoon in Al Qosh, a hamlet nestled beneath the Bayhidhra mountains of northern Iraq, in a Kurdish-controlled disputed border region in Ninewa province. The town sits in a region that, from a distance, is all about the Arab-Kurd rivalry, all about the potential for violence along a highly contentious swath of land in northern Iraq. The Chaldean and Assyrian Christians and Yezidi, Shia Turkmen and Shabak peoples largely report that they are caught in the middle of the Arab-Kurd dispute, trying to live in peace amidst the richly diverse disputed areas running many miles west, south and east of Al Qosh. When asked what province they are in, what country they live in, residents provide different answers. The US government is taking steps to stimulate the economy in these disputed areas, to persecuted minorities and under-served Iraqis throughout the divided Ninewa region.

Our trip to Al Qosh was about chickens and micro-loans and hoop houses. Hoop houses, large, temporary greenhouse structures that have become a popular means of more efficient crop yields among farmers throughout the Middle East, now dot the landscape of Ninewa. We expected to meet a few association leaders to discuss the US-funded hoop house and chicken agricultural initiative, in which my colleagues have collaborated with community-based associations and cooperatives throughout Ninewa province to enhance the livelihoods of thousands of subsistence farmers. I have attended a few of these agricultural meetings now, and my colleagues are accustomed to hearing complaints about our US program, which works with local government, Iraqi national agricultural officials and non-governmental associations to select a diverse range of subsistence farmers to receive the program’s benefits. Invariably, someone is unhappy.

When we arrived in Al Qosh, a group of about 15 greeted us, much larger than anticipated. They were all familiar faces, farming association leaders from across the eastern section of the province. There were leaders from Chaldean and Assyrian communities, from Shabak and Yezidi communities and from Arab and Kurd communities. But one thing was different. We had always seen these leaders separately. We were not accustomed to seeing all the different people of Ninewa gathering together. It was an unusual site, in a land loosely divided into parochial enclaves. When we sat down, after the standard hospitality and greetings, the leaders eagerly introduced their primary order of business. The leaders came to thank us. They believe we, with our innovative US program that channels resources directly through subsistence farmers, are on the right track now.

More important was the discussion that followed. These associations are keen on working together, on collaboration. If you are following the news in Iraq, you read of a deeply divided nation. Since 2003, in northern Iraq — as in all of Iraq — there has been significant segregation of populations, as sectarian violence caused families to retreat to their own communities, both socially and economically. Kurd. Sunni Arab. Shabak. Christian. Yezidi. They cannot live together in peace. But these farmers, leaders of thousands of their farming colleagues, are eager to work across the religious divide. They want to see their government, the Iraqi government, play a role in bringing them together. And they want to learn from each other, to market products together and cooperate. The farmers we met with in Al Qosh last week sounded eager for economic engagement with different communities.

Some times politicians lead the people. Other times it is the people who provide the leadership, with the political elites following. If the latter, from my seat last week beside a farm in northern Iraq’s disputed border region, Iraq’s future is bright.


Written by treadingupthetigris

July 24, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses

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  1. Well written. Wish I could have been there too. The farmers crops in the hoop house look great!


    July 26, 2010 at 12:50 am

  2. Great update and wonderful pic of the hoop house. For the agriculturally uninitiated, why are the hoop houses so important?


    July 26, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    • @Terrence — Good question. A hoop house, like a greenhouse, encloses the farm so that water and temperature can be controlled. Along the edge of the Al Jazira Desert here, that can be the difference between a farmer having one harvest and three harvests annually. The photo above is of a farmer in his hoop house.


      July 30, 2010 at 4:01 pm

  3. Al Qosh shares with Hamilton, NY those movable hoop houses. Our friends in Hamilton, who assist farmers there, were very interested in this blog post.


    July 27, 2010 at 1:04 am

  4. When we were in upstate New York in July, we saw hoop houses there. Guess Iraq is moving into the 21st century! (By the way, I love your blog and wish you would post more often.) elliej


    August 22, 2010 at 10:30 pm

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