American Forces Press Service
April 23, 2008 - Fish farms have begun to thrive in Iraq's Babil province, as Task Force Marne soldiers take on a critical role in rebuilding this vital industry. Thanks to the vision of Army Col. Thomas James, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team and Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Multinational Division Center -- along with help from 4th Brigade Combat Team soldiers -- residents in the region are benefiting from this massive undertaking.
"After securing our area of operations in MND-C, our goal is achieving sustainable security for the people of our towns and villages," James said. "One important means of accomplishing this is by providing jobs – including those at the fish farms of Babil province, where several thousand jobs will be available." Creating jobs not only provides employment and income opportunities, but also establishes a positive alternative to joining extremist groups, he added.
The new fish farms have the potential to add at least 5,000 direct and indirect local employment opportunities to the region. In Hillah, the Euphrates Fish Farm alone will employ at least 500 people.
The start-up or renovation costs for running fish farms are relatively low, especially for farmers using existing ponds or marshland pools. Still, the expense can be prohibitive in this local economy, devastated by years of war.
To provide farms with the necessary initial support, Lynch authorized the distribution of microgrants using Commander's Emergency Reconstruction Program funds. The CERP funds provide commanders with economic resources to distribute among businesses and projects that need assistance the most.
To date, MND-C officials have allocated more than $100,000 for fish farms in their area of operations. In the 4th BCT battle space, 65 fish farmers have received more than $59,000 in microgrants to help in jumpstarting the industry.
Fish farming is hardly a new concept in Babil. Thousands of fish farms once existed in Iraq, but the war reduced that figure to a few hundred. However, as the industry's capacity expands, fish farming is becoming increasingly important to the Iraqi economy.
Army Brig. Gen. Edward Cardon, deputy commander for support for MND-C, pointed out that "aqua-culture development is the perfect agri-business for MND-C. It has an established record of success in this region dating back generations. Each of our brigade combat teams successfully developed fish farm associations to exchange ideas on the cultivation and sustainability of fish crops. They empower entire communities to join together toward business success."
Local fish farmers will not be the only beneficiaries of this project. As part of the "Buy Iraq" initiative, all farmers will purchase feed from a local Iraqi mill. Ideally, that mill will be equipped with an extruder to pelletize the feed, allowing it to float in the fish farm ponds.
On May 1, 15 live-haul fish transport tanks will arrive, specially designed and manufactured at the Iskandariyah Industrial Complex. Farmers will procure more of these tanks to haul fish to markets, where local merchants will profit by selling them to families and restaurants.
The Babil fish farming initiative is one example of the interagency cooperation that has been effectively rebuilding the Iraqi economy and infrastructure. The project harnesses the resources of Task Force Marne soldiers, local institutions, U.S. Agency for International Development officials in Inma and embedded provincial reconstruction teams.
These partners combined efforts to refurbish the Euphrates Fish Farm Pumping Station at Hillah, at a cost of more than $600,000. They completed construction in time for the spring hatch season in March.
Additionally, these institutions worked together to clean and repair the canals that bring water to the fish farms. "The inlet from the Euphrates River has been dredged sufficiently to allow water to pass through the pump station and on to the canals irrigating the Euphrates Fish Farms and scores of farms in the area that are returning to production," USAID-Inma project director Duane Stone explained.
Similar projects are in the works throughout Babil province for Iskandariyah, Haswah and Hillah, along canal systems fed by the Euphrates. In addition to fish farms, many of these same canals also provide irrigation for croplands, benefiting many throughout the region.