By Sgt. Luis Delgadillo, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 25, 2008 - To some, it might be laughable that the economic welfare of an entire community relies on thousands of flightless birds, but in the farming communities of southern Baghdad, chickens represent a significant way ahead. A member of the State Department's Baghdad 7 embedded provincial reconstruction team is helping these communities establish themselves as centers of poultry production.
"Some of these farmers had over 100,000 chickens at one time," said Mike Stevens, the team's agricultural advisor. Stevens, a native of Park Rapids, Minn., said farmers from Adwaniyah, Arab Jabour and Hawr Rajab lost their chickens to al Qaeda operatives who took them when they moved into the area.
In many cases, chicken coops were used to hide weapons caches, and insurgents often used the large spaces inside the coops to make homemade explosives, Stevens said. Local farmers also reported that insurgents would seize farmers' equipment and strip generators for parts.
By starting farmers unions for each of the communities, Stevens learned of the plight befalling the region's chicken farmers.
With help from soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Stevens began assessing the various agricultural industries that once thrived in the area. As part of his project, the 15-year State Department veteran also assessed chicken farms in the three tribal areas.
With information he learned about the communities, Stevens set in motion a three-pronged approach to rebuild the region's economic infrastructure.
To boost farm operations, micro-grants of up to $2,500 will be used to rebuild dilapidated chicken coops and other farm buildings. Quick response funds -- grants of up to $25,000 -- will be used to restock vacant local farms. In addition, disarming, demobilizing and reconstruction funds in amounts of up to $100,000 will be used to begin large-scale training and employment programs for people near factories such as the Al Raad slaughterhouse.
Stevens identified a local businessman who owns the poultry processing plant, which can support a work force of up to 200 employees and bring chickens to markets in the capital. Before insurgent activities, the plant owner contracted with many Hawr Rajab farmers to raise chickens for his slaughterhouse. The owner told Stevens he would trade chicken feed and a monthly stipend with farmers who guaranteed him a portion of their chickens for processing.
The plant has the potential to jumpstart the region's chicken industry, but before any profit is earned, both the factory and surrounding farms require funds to get going.
In coming weeks, live chickens will be delivered and farms in the region will begin to rebuild their coops, signaling another step toward progress for the citizens of Iraq.
(Army Sgt. Luis Delgadillo serves with the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)
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