Diyala, Iraq – Growing and selling crops is a vital part of the agrarian culture in Diyala, a province in Iraq. What was once one of the most fertile regions in the Middle East is now a difficult place for farmers to cultivate their land.
As a significantly lower amount of rainfall descends on the farmlands of Iraq, soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Co., 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division are providing an innovative solution to nurture plant growth year-round.
With the construction of almost 40 new greenhouses in the Wajihiya district of Diyala, the “Highlanders” soldiers are hoping to mitigate the effects of the drought as well as infuse new life into the agricultural sector.
“The biggest challenge that these farmers face is the water shortage, and these greenhouses can solve that problem,” says Capt. Samuel McDowell, lead officer on the project for 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment. “Almost 80 percent of the people in this area are farmers, and half of them are unemployed due to the current conditions.”
For farmers in the area, the new buildings represent an opportunity they have never seen before. The greenhouses take advantage of a modern method of drip irrigation; a slow flow of water trickles on individual plants from a specific pipe, which requires less water for growing requirements.
“The buildings let us grow crops during the colder months, by protecting them from the weather,” says Abdullah Halif al Khalim, a muqtar (a leading village official) in the Wajihiya district. “Now we can grow tomatoes, cucumbers and other important crops all year.”
These types of produce are important to the local farmers as they are staples of Iraqi cuisine. By growing tomatoes or other crops, even during the cold months, the citizens have food for their families, and colorful produce will continue to line the streets in the local markets.
“(The greenhouses) can also open up many more opportunities for farmers to increase their growing and earning capacity,” McDowell says. “When we looked at what we could do to provide the most effective solution for the $5,000 micro-grant limit, greenhouses seemed like the best idea.”
One of the essential components for success with this project is education. The Highlander soldiers led training sessions for all the recipients, instructing them on how the greenhouses operate and their capabilities.
The greenhouses can be built by local contractors, and farmers may even use their micro-grant funds to purchase fertilizer and seeds.
“Some of these people have no idea what a greenhouse even is, and so we have to teach them all the reasons to use it as well as how to maximize its potential,” McDowell says. “The key to all of this is to make sure that we can get the farmers excited about this project and what it can do for them.”
The Highlanders have already seen examples of the citizens’ excitement when touring Wajihiya to find candidates to receive the new greenhouses. During one mission, they visited a farmer who, after hearing about the idea, had used his own resources to construct a greenhouse and begin planting in it.
“It was great for us to see someone already jumping on this idea,” McDowell says. “This one place can provide an example for neighboring farmers to follow and help convince them to work toward the same goal.”