One Farmer to Another

The picture is not Iraq.  It is from one of the spots I used to hang around as a kid in Milwaukee.  People often think this is “virgin forest”.  This wall dividing forest from forest shows how nature regenerates.  You often find signs of walls and fences that used to mark cultivated fields that are now in the middle of the woods.

Iraqi Colonel seemed almost a little shy at first.  He answered questions with as few words as possible and did not elaborate much beyond what was required.  When we went down to breakfast, of flatbread, eggs, cheese and marmalade, there were often long silences. Then we started to talk about agriculture in Iraq.

It seems the colonel is the proud owner of 25 donum (in Iraq 1 donum =  0.62 acres) of farmland between Basra and Karbala.  Twenty-five donum is a fairly good sized farm around here, especially 25 donum of irrigated land.  The colonel grows truck farm products like tomatoes and has tried, so far w/o success, to raise a few beef cattle.

We talked about the importance of being close to the soil, one (part-time) farmer to another.  The colonel mentioned that he had seen some good irrigated and dry land farming practices in Jordan and Egypt and in the not too distant past Iraq had also been a leader in this area.   Unfortunately, agriculture had fallen into a state of disrepair.  The unsettled conditions of the war didn’t help, but much of this problem resulted from the challenge of a country like Iraq that is rich in oil wealth.   Many farmers didn’t want to stay on the land, because they saw opportunities for more money and less work in the non-farm economy.  Often the best farmers were the first to leave because they had the resources to go and try something else. 

Iraq is not like the Eastern U.S. or Central Europe.  In these rainy places, when people stop cultivating the land, you get weeds, grass and then little trees. Within only around twenty years in a place like Virginia you have a beginner forest.  It quickly reverts to a natural state. Iraq also reverts to a natural form when the hand of man is removed, but the natural form in most of this place is desolate desert.  It takes significant human effort to create productive land and significant effort to maintain it.  When maintenance stops, it can be disastrous, as trees and vegetation die setting up a depressing domino effect of fewer plants sustaining ever fewer plants until there is nothing left but dust and after the wind blows that away, there is nothing at all.  Dust to dust. Restoration is possible.  We agreed that restoration would be good for the Iraqi economy and even better for the Iraqi spirit.