By Army Pfc. Lyndsey Dransfield
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 10, 2008 - Agriculture began more than 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. Today it is still a primary economic activity of the people of Iraq. While U.S. commanders at every level focus on electricity and sewer improvements throughout the Iraqi capital, Army Capt. David Bestow, a native of Nedford, Ore., is focused on helping the farmers of Fedaliyah in the New Baghdad area feed their "jammous," or domesticated water buffalo, used by local people primarily for milk and meat.
Bestow serves in Multinational Division Baghdad as commander of the 4th Infantry Division's Company B, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Fedaliyah is an agricultural village on the outskirts of eastern Baghdad consisting of more than 1,500 jammous herders and 20,000 head of water buffalo, about 10 percent of the total jammous population in Iraq.
Since Iraq began the transition from a controlled market to a free market in 2003, the farmers in Fedaliyah have faced many problems obtaining feed for their livestock, Bestow said. Many of the residents surrendered their lives as farmers, sold their jammous to purchase trucks, and began completely new lifestyles.
"These people have spent most of their lives at home with their families, taking their herds to and from the Diyala River twice a day for a bath while their kids follow along," Bestow said. "Because of the feed problems, they are being forced to turn to the trucking industry and a lifestyle on the road away from their families, transporting grain and food rations."
"This is not only an economical issue," he continued. "It's a complete change in their way of life. They are used to having low services and no electricity, and they're content this way."
When Company B took responsibility of the area in March, militia groups had a strong influence on the residents of the city, and security was anything but stable. Roadside bombs that the military calls "explosively formed projectiles" – designed specifically to penetrate armor-hulled vehicles – posed a major threat.
"The main road into the city was lined with EFPs on both sides," said Staff Sgt. Alan Jones, a squad leader with the company's 2nd Platoon. "Every time we'd attempt to go in, a vehicle would get hit and we'd get ambushed."
Since then, the soldiers have acted to improve security. They placed barriers along the roads to reduce the ability of emplacing EFPs and other bombs.
"Due to a number of factors, things went from night to day quickly, and many of the higher-influencing individuals fled the city," Bestow said.
One of the first missions the soldiers conducted was a population survey. Each platoon was assigned an area. The soldiers went door to door, meeting the people and getting to know them. They asked them what essential services they had and what they needed.
"One of the main issues brought up by the people was the jammous feed problem," Bestow said.
With the help of his fellow soldiers, Bestow began researching how much jammous eat and how much they cost to feed, and he contacted the the people who needed to be involved to resolve the issue.
"We contacted provincial reconstruction team representatives, explained the issue and brought them out here so they can see for themselves," Bestow explained. "We have also arranged meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Trade, and some of the farmers in the area."
The first day the PRT members were in Fedaliyah, the soldiers escorted them to the shores of the Diyala River where the jammous cool off. One of the members was approached by a 12-year-old boy who immediately asked him if there was anything they could do to help with the feed problem, Bestow said.
"Seeing a 12-year-old herder express so much interest showed how important this issue is to the [residents of Fedaliyah]," he said. "The PRT members seemed very excited about resolving this issue."
Getting the right people to meet each other has resulted in some headway, he added.
While this may be a small step in improving the infrastructure of Iraq, it is a substantial development for the residents of Fedaliyah, whose lives depend on the water buffalo, the captain said.
(Army Pfc. Lyndsey Dransfield serves in the Multinational Division Baghdad Public Affairs Office.)