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June 21, 2008

Iraqi flight teams protect date palm crop

Filed under: ag, CentCom, econ, ME, Video — Rosemary Welch @ 12:30 am

Armed Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, DC (June 10, 2008) – Iraq’s Agriculture Ministry improved its ability to protect the nation’s commercial date palm crop from deadly dubas beetles through a nationwide spraying program completed this week. Pilots and maintenance crews increased their coverage by 33 percent this year, spraying nearly 170,000 acres in six provinces. Last year, crews sprayed just more than 120,000 acres in four provinces. “Left unchecked, the dubas beetle, which bores into the tree and kills it, can seriously disrupt the production of dates in the area,” said Mike Stevens, a Baghdad 7 Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team agriculture advisor.

In the 1970s, dates were Iraq’s second-largest export, behind only oil. With more than 30 million date palm trees and more than 600 varieties, Iraq’s annual production of dates once exceeded 700,000 tons. But the date palm industry was slashed by more than half and lost most of its world markets after the Iran-Iraq war and after sanctions were imposed following Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. In the past two years, Iraq has begun the long, hard road to recovery.

To assist this recovery, Iraqi pilots and crews used two Russian-built Mi2 helicopters to spray date palm groves in the provinces of Babil, Baghdad, Diyala, Karbala, Najaf and Wasit. They overcame multiple challenges during the campaign, including time constraints, dust storms, a shortage of spare parts, and a lack of bases that could accommodate the helicopters. Iraq’s Defense Ministry, provincial reconstruction teams, and coalition forces supported the pilots, who sprayed some areas that had not been covered since before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Agriculture Ministry already has started planning for next year. The ministry has appropriated $20 million to buy new helicopters and spare parts for 2009 and expects to treat a larger percentage of the crop next year. “The real challenge now is to rebuild the date-packaging industry and re-enter the export market to regain market share,” Stevens said. “Convincing purchasers that Iraq is once again a reliable supplier will take time. But within five to 10 years, don’t be surprised to see packages of dates labeled ‘Grown and packaged in Iraq’ in your neighborhood grocery store.”

Related Links to this article: VIDEO – Helicopters spray insecticide on date palm crops in Iraq.

A helicopter sprays insecticide over date palm crops in Iraq..

Source: CENTCOM.

Improved security situation spurs reconstruction

Filed under: ag, CentCom, econ, humanitarian, ME, MNF-I, recon, security — Rosemary Welch @ 12:20 am

by Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

BAGHDAD (June 15, 2008) — Improvements in overall security incidents and Iraqi forces continued to rise during the past week, enabling the central government and Coalition forces to begin progress in other areas vital to Iraq’s growth and sovereignty, a senior U.S. military official in Iraq said June 11. The country began to see a reduction in security incidents four weeks ago, marking the lowest levels since March 2004, Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a Multi-National Force – Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference. The Iraqi government is undertaking broader efforts to provide services that were not possible a year ago, such as reconstruction in Sadr City and the Shola neighborhoods as well as agricultural initiatives across the country, he said.

Electricity, water, cleaning, infrastructure restoration, and humanitarian aid projects are under way in Sadr City, said Tahseen al-Sheikhly, a civilian spokesman for Operation Fardh al-Qanoon, also known as the Baghdad Security Plan. These projects will help eliminate unemployment for Baghdad citizens, which is the cause of much of the violence in the city, Sheikhly said. [Possibly. Another cause may be that they HATE us? Hmm.] Now that security has been achieved, he added, the challenge is to provide the best services to the citizens, thereby raising the living and economic standards and infrastructure.

The Ministry of Electricity already has replaced light poles and restored power to the Sadr City hospital, he said. Officials also are establishing a solar power system in an effort to minimize future outages and continue growing employment opportunities. Agriculture also is benefiting from the low security-incident levels, Bergner said. The government’s date palm spraying campaign raised more than 33 percent from the previous year, covering more than 170,000 acres in Babil, Baghdad, Diyala, Karbala, Wasit provinces. Iraqi pilots flew 336 spraying sorties under difficult time constraints and challenging weather conditions using two government Mi-2 helicopters, Bergner continued. Baghdad and Diyala provinces were sprayed for the first time in six years, as security conditions since the war began hadn’t permitted spraying until now.

“Iraqi planning for the 2009 spraying campaign is already under way,” he added, noting the Ministry of Agriculture has appropriated some $20 million for helicopters and spare parts. “Progress in the agriculture sector and other improvements are a direct result of the security gains around Iraq and the growing capacity of Iraqi forces,” Bergner said. “The increasing support of Iraq’s citizens for the rule of law has been a key factor in reducing the levels of violence.”

Since the beginning of Operation Sawlat al-Fursan on March 25 in Basra and Operation A`Salaam on May 20 in Sadr City, Iraqi security forces have uncovered more than 500 weapons caches and stockpiles378 in Basra and 124 in Sadr City, Bergner said. More than 3,500 mortars, 1,600 rocket-propelled grenades, 600 improvised explosive devices, and 75 armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles were confiscated. “As Iraqi forces and Iraqi citizens cooperate to remove weapons from the hands of extremists before they can be used, their government is increasingly capable of being able to provide the services that Dr. Sheikhly talked about to the Iraqi people,” he said.

The increased security will “allow businesses to reopen, allow children to go back to school, revitalize the agriculture sector as they are in the process of doing, and allow Iraqis to rebuild their lives,” he said. “There is still much tough work ahead, but the steady progress in Basra, in Baghdad, and in Mosul is now providing better opportunities for the citizens of Iraq,” the general said.

Lance Cpl. Israel H. Aguirre pounds fists with an Iraqi child near Hit, Iraq. (Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Seth Maggard).

Source: CENTCOM.

June 12, 2008

Al-Kut agricultural union headquarters reopen

Filed under: ag, CentCom, CF, econ, ME, recon — Rosemary Welch @ 2:57 pm

by Sgt. Daniel T. West
214th Fires Brigade

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELTA, Iraq (June 5, 2008) – Agricultural industry representatives from around Wasit province gathered, June 2, 2008, in al-Kut, Iraq, to celebrate the reopening of the province’s agricultural union headquarters after its refurbishment in cooperation with coalition forces. The reopening followed completion of the project’s first phase, which included repairing the offices and conference rooms in the headquarters. The project aims to restore the union’s function in the agricultural industry in Wasit province, said Patrick Moore, agricultural adviser for Provincial Reconstruction Team Wasit.

The headquarters used to be a major part of the agricultural industry in the province, helping farmers with distribution, settling irrigation problems and setting fees for the maintenance of the irrigation system. However, after more than 10 years of neglect, the building was run down and useless.

“Our goal with this project was to help restart services and to give the union a headquarters for meetings, business and to facilitate training,” Moore said. The union is particularly important in Wasit province, where agriculture is a very large part of the economy. Moore estimated that 40 to 50 percent of employment in the province was related to agriculture.

The union remained on the back burner for a long time, with little support from the local government since the general feeling was that it was a responsibility of the government of Iraq, Moore said. This project aims to change that view and revitalize the agricultural industry in Wasit through representation and education. “We are looking at training programs throughout the province,” Moore said. “The union will provide people and locations, and it will begin immediately.”

The training will be held at 17 locations throughout Wasit province, and will educate an estimated 500 to 600 farmers over a six-month period. The trainers will be provided by the union, with coalition oversight. “If the program is successful here, it could be implemented on the national level,” Moore added.

The cost to refurbish the union headquarters was $50,000 for the first phase, with funding split evenly between the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State. The second phase – refurbishing the meeting hall, is scheduled to begin immediately and is estimated to cost $25,000.

Dignitaries perform a ribbon cutting ceremony at Wasit province’s Agricultural Union headquarters in al-Kut, Iraq, June 2. The ceremony marked the grand re-opening of the headquarters. (Photo by Multi-National Division-Central).

Source: CENTCOM.

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May 2, 2008

Poultry means prosperity in Hawr Rajab

Filed under: ag, CentCom, econ, food, ME — Rosemary Welch @ 12:50 pm

by Sgt. David Turner
2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division Public Affairs Office

FOB KALSU (April 30, 2008) — Two Iraqi poultry farmers received 3,000 chicks each April 27 in a bid to jump-start their industry in Hawr Rajab, a rural community south of Baghdad. The farmers, Mohammed Hussein and Amman Kameers, accepted the chicks from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division and the Baghdad-7 embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team. “It’s meant as a start-up packet,” said Mike Stevens, the ePRT agriculture adviser. “It’s just to cut back on their input costs so they can make a profit and become self-sustaining.”

Poultry farming in Hawr Rajab, once a thriving industry, suffered at the hands of insurgents. Stevens said insurgents came to the area and stole chickens and destroyed chicken coops as a way to threaten the farmers. “We had a lot of losses,” said Sheikh Majid Wiese, chairman of the local farmers union. “Since we started working with the (Sons of Iraq) and Coalition forces, we’ve gotten rid of those insurgents. Now we’re gearing toward agriculture.” Distributing chicks to farmers is just one part of the program, said Stevens. In the coming months, the 2nd BCT and the ePRT will distribute feed and more than 12,000 egg-laying chicks to Hawr Rajab farmers. They are also working to secure funds to complete refurbishment of the al-Ra’ad Poultry processing plant in Hawr Rajab, which could provide much-needed jobs to the region.

Increased capacity in poultry farming is intended to have a trickle-down effect in the local economy, Stevens said. Hatcheries in Baghdad will be able to sell more chicks to farmers, who in turn can supply more poultry products to local markets. “Providing these chicks will help to increase our capacity about 25 percent,” said Rarad Abd Jalel Rashed, a poultry representative of the farmers union. “If we can get up to 50 percent, we will be able to be on our own and not need any assistance from anybody else.”

First Lt. Michael Falk rescues a chick while poultry farmers load 6,000 of them onto trucks in Hawr Rajab, April 27. (Photo by Sgt. David Turner).

Source: CENTCOM.

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March 27, 2008

Boosting Karbala agribusiness, tourism, investment

Filed under: ag, CentCom, Corruption, econ, hope, ME, MNF-I — Rosemary Welch @ 10:23 am

By Jasmine Chopra
MND-C PAO

KARBALA, Iraq (March 14, 2008) — Boosting agribusiness, tourism and private investment by way of social venture capital were the top issues discussed at a March 12 meeting at Iraqi police headquarters in Karbala. Iraqi government officials, local businessmen, Multi-National Division – Center leaders and provincial reconstruction team members participated in the meeting. Security in Karbala is steadily improving, said Karbala provincial governor Aqil al-Khazali, as evidenced by the millions of pilgrims who safely commemorated Ashura in the holy city. “Karbala is ready for investment,” al-Khazali said.

Brig. Gen. Edward Cardon, MND-C deputy commander for support, agreed safety has improved and Iraqis are doing a good job of policing their own communities. “I don’t have to visit Karbala often because you have proven capable of handling the situation,” he said to Maj. Gen. Ra’ad Jawad, chief of the Karbala provincial police.

With improved safety, local business leaders and PRT members are planning ways to link Karbala to U.S. Agency for International Development programs as well as lucrative private investment, said Don Cook, a PRT team leader.

Vast agricultural resources, in particular poultry farms, make opportunities for high return in the agribusiness sector possible, said A.A. Araji, an agricultural economist who believes employing the use of greenhouses is an efficient way for Karbala to maximize its agricultural potential. Al-Khazali and local business leaders are eager to see funds earmarked for Karbala’s redevelopment make their way to local government instead of getting stuck in Baghdad bureaucracy, they said. “We would like to see monies forwarded directly to our local government. We can handle such responsibility and we want to make sure promises for aid are kept,” al-Khazali said.

In addition to agribusiness opportunities, participants discussed ways to tap into Karbala’s religious tourism potential. Considered a holy city to most Shia Muslims, Karbala is home to sacred shrines. Under Saddam Hussein’s regime, the pilgrimage to Karbala was banned. This year’s Ashura events, which occurred in late February and early March, were largely peaceful, Jawad said, speaking through an interpreter.

Local businessmen hope reduced violence will stimulate religious tourism and persuade would-be tourists to fill hotels and restaurants in Karbala, they said. Participants also explored ways of bringing private investors to the table. Plans for an unnamed private investment company official to meet with Karbala government leaders and PRT members next week were established. “We want to see the people of Karbala succeed,” Cardon said.

Photo: Boosting agribusiness, tourism and private investment by way of social venture capital were among top issues discussed at a March 12 meeting at Iraqi police headquarters in Karbala.(U.S. Army photo).

Source: CentCom.

July 29, 2007

Lifeblood Pumped Into Farming Community

Filed under: ag, CentCom, Liberty, ME, Media, successes, Troops — Rosemary Welch @ 1:56 pm

This article is one that should be on the front pages of all newspapers, but (un)fortunately it does not fit the ethic of blood and guts. No, this is an article of success!

There was no network news coverage, no front page spread, but local leaders of Mrezat, a small agricultural village in a northern section of the Adhamiyah District, shed tears of joy as water pumped from the Tigris River and passed attendees of a ceremony to mark the opening of a new pumping station in the community.

In Mrezat, water is the lifeblood of the people. The agrarian community subsists primarily on palm-date groves, which are grown throughout the year. Without proper irrigation the groves wither and date production ceases.

Mrezat’s refurbished irrigation pump brings the needed water from the Tigris’ base to the farmers’ crops.

Though the opening was of critical importance to the residents of Mrezat, the success story will not make any headlines, said Lt. Col. Al Shoffner, the commander of 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.

Sources: CentCom and reposted @ DoD Daily News-2. Please continue reading.

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