This guy in thinking, “What the …?”
We walked around some of the irrigated agriculture near Haditha. The soil is rich. Our Ag guy, Dennis, says that this place could have productivity similar to the Imperial Valley. But there is not much in the way of crop variety or improvements. They are using the same system as the Babylonians. They dig ditches and flood square sections. A lot of water is lost. The soil is full of gypsum and it does not hold the water well. Evaporation and salinization are also constant challenges.
In some ways life is perhaps too easy. The primitive methods produce decent results. Why mess with success? Another reason might be lack of materials. Pipes cost money. Ditches are free. But probably the biggest impediment to progress is the screwed up system of land tenure. It is unclear who owns any given piece of land. Tribal, private, family and governmental claims overlap. It gets worse. Various assets are divided out. A person may own the date palms, but not the land. Another person owns the water rights. One guy can graze sheep; another can plant crops. It is a type of ossified adhocracy. You can understand the logic in each individual aspect, but together they form a heavy burden. A guy might plant a date palm only to find he does not own the harvest; he might improve an irrigation ditch and learn he does not own the water.
One of our colleagues thinks a way to cut this Gordian knot is through real estate taxes. We all hate to pay them, but they do serve to establish ownership. I know that I was relieved to receive my first Brunswick County tax bill on my tree farm. Until then, I nursed the unreasonable fear that I somehow had been duped by those slow talkin’ but clever locals. Paying property taxes indicates ownership and at least a minimal commitment. W/o that commitment, someone can conveniently wait to assert a claim after all the work is done and when he can steal someone else’s labor.
BTW – you can see the difference between mere involvement and commitment in your bacon and eggs breakfast. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.
In any case, I did appreciate that I was looking at the Mesopotamia that Sargon or Nebuchadnezzar would have seen. Alexander the Great might have looked at the same scene as he passed down the Euphrates. They would have been surprised only by this guy’s stylish clothes and the bike that evidently is his means of transport, otherwise not.
I wonder what the locals thought of us. I am sure the rumor is more interesting than the truth. Our “patrol” was just picking up dirt, putting our hands in the water and taking pictures of plants. Dennis filled a couple bottles with dirt and put a dried turd into his bag for later analysis. Crazy Americans.