Baghdad Farmers Get Helping Hand from 1st Cavalry Division
American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE RUSTAMIYAH, Iraq, Dec. 28, 2004 An Army unit here is coordinating the construction of an equipment storage building for a farmers' co-op it formed earlier this year.
A local man welds a frame that will support the roof of a
building that will house a farmer's co-op in eastern Baghdad. Funded by the 1st
Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, the building will house shared
equipment that members of the co-op will use, as well as serve as an
administrative and meeting center. (Photo by Spc. Jan Critchfield,
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery, 1st Brigade Combat Team have engaged in an ongoing effort to help Baghdad's farmers.
"What we've been doing is working with the farmers out there and trying to get them organized," said Capt. William Powers, an officer with the battalion. "Not to the state of a U.S. co-op just trying to get them to work together."
Since the co-op began in June, hundreds of tons of seed and fertilizer have been parceled out to eastern Baghdad farmers in an effort to jumpstart the local economy, provide more quality produce for the local population, and lend some of the poorer residents of the area the farmers themselves a helping hand.
"We started working on this in June, but we had difficulty finding meeting places so we decided what would help the co-op was to give it an actual place," Powers said. "Originally, we were going to renovate some buildings, but we were able to get the Ministry of Agriculture to donate some land for a co-op facility, so we're building a facility that is over 650 square meters (and) includes four large storage units as well as a large area in the middle for tractors. Attached to that is a restroom and a large conference facility. It will be furnished, as well as have a fence and a guard house."
When the project is complete and the co-op is in full swing, farmers will have a place to gather and exchange ideas on growing techniques and methodology, bettering the community as a whole, Powers said. They will also be able to coordinate the amount and type of produce they grow, making it more valuable when they pile it onto the bed of their truck and drive to market in nearby Sadr City or another part of Baghdad.
"(The farmers) aren't using the market as well as they could," he said. "By being organized, they can see what the need is at the market, and split up what they're growing, share equipment, and be able to get seed and fertilizer much cheaper."
One of the problems the co-op will work to fix is that many farmers are trying to sell the same produce at the same time, reducing its value, Powers said.
The project will cost the 1st Brigade Combat Team $200,000, but the impact on eastern Baghdad is sure to be lasting and significant, Powers said. "We're giving them computers, as well as filing systems, so they can (have on file) all the farmers in the area, the size of their crops (and basic testing facilities so they can improve their output," he noted. Iraq's agriculture minister plans to have training at the facility as well, Powers added.
The farmers had unions in Saddam Hussein's regime, Powers said, but 30 percent of their profits went to the government. "In the co-op, it's more toward the free- market economy, where the profits will go toward the farmers instead of the government," he explained. "However, the government will be there to assist, just like in the United States."
Powers said it's important for the farmers to learn what they need to do on their own. "They've been relying on the Ministry of Agriculture for so long on what they need to do," he said. "Now, by having a formed co-op, they can try to learn to work themselves."