Story and photos by 1st Lt. Kurt M. Rauschenberg, 29th MPAD, USD-C
BAGHDAD—The University of Baghdad Agriculture College recently reopened its doors in a grand opening celebration that is part of an effort to revitalize agriculture in Iraq.
A program implemented by the United States Department of Agriculture and Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team called Ag Cooperatives, or `Co-Op`, is helping to meet the needs of Iraqi farmers through education, training and resource support. According to PRT members, the program, already proven a success from an earlier project in east Baghdad, provides USDA agricultural advisors who specialize in greenhouse horticulture, soil science, pest management and irrigation engineering. The advisors work in conjunction with the Baghdad PRT and United States Division-Central civil affairs, which support the Co-Op program.
“The benefit is getting the farmers back to work,” said Mr. John Ellerman, USDA advisor. “Many farmers are now back to work on their land and gaining income through farming, which is a family business here.”
According to the PRT, agriculture is the largest source of employment in Iraq and the second largest contributor to Iraq’s gross domestic product; however, it has been under pressure over the last decade.
“We want to re-establish Abu Ghraib as the bread basket of Iraq like it was twenty years ago,” Ellerman said. “Iraqis will once again be able to depend on themselves for agriculture production.”
This program is a private-sector, not-for-profit agri-business that provides low cost agriculture inputs and services to its members, being local Iraqi farmers, and low-interest lines of credit. Services provided in this program include developing the farmers’ capacity by gaining access to high-production seeds, equipment and machinery, livestock medical treatment, and technology and training for drip irrigation systems.
“The Co-op is a means to get farmers through the hard times by pooling their resources together to make new equipment more affordable, purchase discounted supplies, and provide low interest loans,” said Lt. Col. Michael D. Henderson, commander of the 1st Battalion, 63rd Armor Regiment.
Henderson’s battalion and the 6th Iraqi Army Division combined efforts to provide security for the college, the PRT, Government of Iraq officials and other partners that made the establishment of the Co-Op possible.
The funding of $1 million to establish the program allowed the Co-Op to buy such resources as tractors, tillage equipment and plows and is then sold to farmers at a discounted price.
“The help from the United States with getting the Co-Op up and running is changing the way residents of Abu Ghraib view Americans,” said Dr. Jawad Kadum, director of research and development at the college. “So by doing this linkage between the United States and us, we are making a lot of changes and allowing people to see the good relationship between the two countries.”
The program will help farmers to market their crops, increase bargaining power and process their commodities to add value.
“The Co-Op and the college can now educate the farmers to make them successful at not only their own production, but learning the business trade as well,” said Mr. Anthony Swalhah, Baghdad PRT section leader.