Vast desert swallows most of Iraq. In the southern and central provinces, the fine sand leaves little nutrients for farmers to plant crops. However, in northern Iraq, the soil is predominately a sandy loam, rich with nutrients.
The landscape in the north is filled with green grass, deciduous and coniferous trees, and an abundance of cash crops, such as wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, dates and cotton. The splendid vegetation in northern Iraq gives the livestock producers many options for grazing as well.
In the desert sections of Iraq, the sheep and cattle producers graze their animals for miles before finding a green patch. In the northern provinces, the herders do not have to walk their livestock far before finding a lush patch of green.
Northern Iraq is truly an exception for a country where only 13 percent of the land is arable. Despite the region’s potential to become one of the most productive agricultural areas in the Middle East, it still has its downfalls.
During the last 10 years of the Saddam Hussein regime, farmers were required to constantly grow crops, never leaving their fields fallow. Essentially, the same fields grew the same crops. The farmers didn’t cross breed or bring in new species, which depleted the quality and quantity of the harvest.
The result of Saddam’s 10-year mandate was a severe drop off in wheat yields. Over time, the once-plentiful earth of northern Iraq had become susceptible to fungous and disease, especially Karnal blunt on wheat, because of the lack of time for field succession and weak plants not capable of fighting off disease.
Since agriculture accounts for 50 percent of northern Iraq’s gross domestic product and farmers have not met demand, the area – known as the breadbasket of Iraq – has not been very financially successful the past decade and the citizens are the ones who have paid the price.
Since Iraqis eat flat bread like we eat potato chips, the decrease in crop production, especially wheat, not only affected their economy, it made feeding their families even harder. Saddam actually gave each family a small dole, except for the Kurds, of about 200 Dinars, which equals about $2, a month. As the supply of wheat became short, the price of bread and flower increased and the smaller families struggled.
Then came the United States of America, the country that has the most fertile soil and the smartest agriculturalists. Shortly after we demolished the Iraqi army, folks from all government entities traveled to Iraq to help in their respective department to rebuild this country. One such agency was the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Aggies began searching for ways we could help the Iraqis, and nearly two years into our occupation of Iraq, Americans continue to help.
One such story is that of 1,000 pounds of wheat seeds recently donated to northern Iraqi farmers. Researchers from universities and agricultural companies put their heads together to discover several strands of wheat that would survive Iraq’s arid climate. My part in this? Well, I took some pictures and interviewed a lot of people involved. Turns out, several Iraqis appreciated our involvement. Imagine that.
Even though this story may never get publicized any where but on my blog and my “official” release, it’s one of my favorite topics. Simply because I can finally say “The U.S. plants seeds for the future of Iraq.”