Knowledge exchanges could hold the key to rejuvenating Iraq’s agriculture sector

Published: Feb 16, 2022 Reading time: 4 minutes
Knowledge exchanges could hold the key to rejuvenating Iraq’s agriculture sector
© Megan Giovannetti/ Markéta Zemánková

Often it is a struggle to bring together those who work the land with their hands with those who spend their days in lecture halls and libraries. Typically the two domains rarely meet, even when both groups share a mutual interest. Despite the fact that agronomy remains a popular and crucial subject in universities across the Middle East, opportunities for students to speak openly with farmers are few and far between.

To increase such opportunities, PIN is working hand in hand with our partners at the World Food Programme (WFP) to train future advisors to support efforts in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture, deliver needed information to families of farmers, and combat the region's new environmental challenges.

Never has the timing of such exchanges been so crucial: In Salahadin Governorate in northern Iraq, a water crisis strikes at the heart of Iraq’s agriculture sector, threatening the survival of traditional livelihoods and the gradual displacement of the communities who rely on them.

"Most of the topics are oriented to the Iraqi farmers and agriculture in Iraq in general. We focus on how the farmers can work with the changing climate, highlighting how current practices could be causing harm to the ecosystem, and talking about what kinds of seeds and trees are best given the new climate conditions that we face today," said Mahmoud, 28, one of the trainers helping the students. 

The 6 trainers have different specializations, focusing on various topics such as nutrition diversity, food security, crop cultivation, and the proper use of fertilizers and pesticides. Together, they teach 50 students how best to communicate with farmers across the divides of age, background, culture and experience.

"Before the training, if one of the farmers asked me about something outside of my specialty, I would not be able to answer. But now I have a wider vision and more information about different areas of agriculture, so I am capable of giving the farmers the newest and correct information to help them," said Yousif, a student of agronomy. 

"Before the training, if one of the farmers asked me about something outside of my specialty, I would not be able to answer. But now I have a wider vision and more information about different areas of agriculture, so I am capable of giving the farmers the newest and correct information to help them," said Yousif, a student of agronomy. 

Transforming harmful practices

Yousif also highlighted some of the specific challenges to agriculture in Iraq such as an ongoing dependency on pesticides and fertilizers, among which are also those forbidden by the World Health Organization.

"Farmers use them without scientific knowledge and do not follow the manufacturer's instructions. This causes great damage to the environment and health problems. It also ruins the agriculture in the area. Old pesticides are more expensive and more harmful for the environment and health, while the new ones are less harmful and cheaper," said Yousif.

As a means to address this issue constructively, student trainers are sharing success stories from those farmers who have already experienced the benefits of modern techniques and how these have increased their productivity while decreasing costs.

Student trainers also include information about nutrition, food diversity, or crop cultivation during the training. Most of the farmers in this area plant either tomatoes or okra, thus trainers will explain how to diversify their crops with the added benefit that this will help improve local dietary diversity.

"It is hard to find a farmer who has information about climate change."

"The summer temperatures are increasing year on year. Nowadays, it reaches fifty degrees, and stays like this for many days which affects the crops and the yields," said Yousif.

Part of the training focuses on mitigating the impacts of climate change on crop yields. Student Trainers can now explain how climate change impacts farming and advise farmers on how to protect their crops from high temperatures.

"If we train the farmers to use climate smart agriculture, it will save a significant amount of water and reduce the land area needed for farming. At the same time, we encourage the farmers to plant more trees to restore the eco-balance in the area," said Yousif. 

Training for farmers is just the beginning. The student Trainers have created WhatsApp groups to follow up with farmers, answer their questions, provide them with materials, and in particular cases if needed, visit them to help.

"Even if we started from a small area, we wish it would lead us to bigger steps in all of Iraq. I hope we can change farmers' ways of thinking towards agriculture," said Mahmoud.

Project Description

Together with the World Food Programme (WFP), People in Need (PIN) enhances food security and resilience of vulnerable women and men who returned to Salah al-Din. As part of the project, PIN trains future trainers to support efforts in sustainable and climate-smart agriculture, deliver needed information to families of farmers, and combat the region's new environmental challenges. Thanks to that, farmers learn to plant using less water, use water agriculture, plant crops not in its regular season, and fight the diseases and insects that affect their crops.
Special thanks to funds from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development for investing in Iraqi farmers´ sustainable livelihoods and their future.
Author: Markéta Zemánková, Joseph Shawyer, PIN