Co-op playing key role as Iraq rebuilds farm sector

By Linda C. Habenstreit
Public Affairs Specialist
USDA Foreign Agricultural Service

n Iraqi farmer cooperative is helping to revive the war-torn nation's agricultural economy by providing farmers with technical assistance, farm supplies and credit. In December the co-op celebrated the grand opening of its new office and warehouse facilities and held its first board of directors meeting. Playing a crucial role in the launch of the cooperative is a team of three USDA Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) agricultural advisors, who offered vital guidance and advice.

The not-for-profit cooperative — the Green Mada’in Association for Agricultural Development (GMAAD) — provides free technical assistance and training to farmers in four townships in Mada’in Qada, east of Baghdad in Baghdad Province. The co-op also provides access to low-interest lines of credit to purchase or rent agricultural equipment and supplies — such as seed and fertilizer — and to secure needed farm services. The co-op does all this at lower costs than the farmers could otherwise find.

Membership in the cooperative is growing by 10 percent per month, with more than 800 members to date.

With the support of 47 agricultural associations in Mada’in Qada, the Iraq Ministry of Agriculture and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, USDA PRT agricultural advisor Floyd Wood began guiding efforts to organize the cooperative in 2008. In 2009, two more USDA/PRT agricultural advisors — John Ellerman and Glen Brown — arrived in Iraq and began working with Wood, who extended his 1-year voluntary deployment to a second year to see the project through to fruition. This proved to be key for the cooperative, which has accomplished a great deal in a short period of time.

Initial funding of $6 million came from the U.S. State Department to start the cooperative. Subsequent funding came from the U.S. Commanders’ Emergency Response Program (CERP) to pay for reconstruction projects, with additional contributions made by members of the cooperative.

Using $2 million of the State Department funds, the cooperative first established and trained its board of directors and staff, constructed facilities and began operations. The co-op then began building drip irrigation systems and greenhouses for its members throughout the region.

“With the funding we obtained from the U.S. Department of State, we were able to systematically take the cooperative through the steps it needed to follow to become a sustainable organization,” says John Ellerman, USDA PRT agricultural advisor.

The co-op subsequently obtained more than $4.5 million from CERP to install nearly 600 additional drip irrigation systems and more than 400 greenhouses in Mada’in Qada. These successes convinced farmers in Mada’in Qada that the cooperative was sustainable. As a result, more farmers began joining the cooperative.

With the remaining $4 million from the State Department, the cooperative established a revolving credit system that is primarily being used to provide farmers with access to short-term credit. The cooperative is now receiving and processing credit applications, making it possible for farmers to purchase critically needed agricultural inputs and services. These functions were especially important to help farmers prepare for the fall plowing and planting season.

Future projects, pending funding, include construction of a poultry feed mill, cattle chutes and a date-processing plant.

“Members of the cooperative call it the Green Miracle in Mada’in Qada,” says Ellerman. “They never thought they would get this type of support or that they would have the opportunity to get their land back into production.”

Having completed its first year of operation, the cooperative is demonstrating to farmers that it is able to meet their needs. The co-op is becoming a dynamic force in the development of modern, sustainable agricultural practices in Mada’in Qada.

Iraqi women learn
poultry production
from USDA advisor

David Greaser, USDA Farm Service Agency county executive director for Huntingdon/Blair Counties in Huntingdon, Pa., recently returned to the United States following a 1-year voluntary assignment, helping to rebuild the Iraq’s agricultural sector. He was part of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Istiqlaal Qada, 20 miles north of Baghdad along the Tigris River.

Greaser worked on a variety of projects, including small poultry flock management and beekeeping training for Iraqi women, many of whom are widows and are members of local farm organizations, which would be the equivalent of farmer co-ops in the United States. Recently, a group of 75 women from the Rafedain Foundation/al-Rashdiyah Branch completed 20 hours of poultry training.

After completing the course, these women received 10 hens, one rooster and 110 pounds of fodder to start their own small poultry farms. A local veterinarian who taught the course will make followup visits to each woman’s home. One week permonth, the women will allow the eggs to hatch to ensure a future supply of hens for egg laying.

This training is making a difference in the lives of the women, their families and their neighbors, as evidenced by demand for future training. The branch manager of the Rafedain Foundation told Greaser he could not go to his office for 2 days because of the number of women stopping by to get into future classes.

The fact that many of the women were war widows with little other source of income made this not just an economic development project, but a true humanitarian effort, says Greaser. “I think we accomplished a lot. The goal in all these efforts is to build capacity and sustainability, and I think we achieved that.

“When I first arrived, I thought, ‘what have I gotten myself into,’” Greaser recalls. “But once I got to know the people and started interacting with them, it was very rewarding. I can’t say I enjoyed every day of it, but I did enjoy the overall experience.”

So far, three poultry sessions have been held with 200 women being trained. The training is continuing, even though Greaser is now back home. Funding for this project was obtained from the U.S. Embassy’s Quick Response Fund.

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