American Forces Press Service
Oct. 14, 2009 - Farmers trying to recover from years of drought, war and neglect in Iraq's Ninevah province are looking to turn things around with a government program called Greenhouse Demonstration, some structures called hoop houses, and an American called "Farmer Fred." Fred Woehl, an agriculture specialist for the provincial reconstruction team in Ninevah, has brought hope to the people of Qaraqosh, Nimrud, and Qosh through greenhouses, tractors and seedlings.
Before coming to Iraq, Woehl worked in Harrison, Ark., as a loan manager for the Farm Service Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over the course of a year here, he has forged relationships by addressing Iraqi farmers' needs and working with the Iraqi federal and provincial agriculture departments to build greenhouses in the province.
The reconstruction team recently held a lottery for the Greenhouse Demonstration, a grassroots group created to aid farmers. Lottery recipients in Qaraqosh, Nimrud, and Qosh will receive greenhouses - or hoop houses, as they're locally known – along with training from the Agriculture Ministry. In return, the farmers will turn over a portion of their profits to the agriculture associations to fund more greenhouses for their members.
The simple design of the metal and plastic hoop house uses heat from the sun to create a controlled environment to extend the growing season. The farmers of Qaraqosh -- the first agricultural organization in Iraq diverse in gender, religion and culture -- are excited about Greenhouse Demonstration and say they hope it will spread to the rest of the province.
In Nimrud, farmers banded together in hope of creating a better life in their neighborhood. Recipients of six hoop houses decided to place the structures at one location so they can work together and provide better security.
Nimrud remains one of the most violent towns in Ninevah. U.S. forces recently built a floating bridge across the Tigris River to make travel easier for Iraqi security forces and civilians in the area. The agricultural association there, headed by two sheiks -- one Sunni and one Shiia -- agreed the bridge was positive for the neighborhood even though attacks have increased since it was built. Association members told Woehl they would report any suspicious activity surrounding the bridge – another sign of the team's successful relationship with Nimrud.
As one meeting began, the Sunni sheik brought his 9-month-old daughter to sit on Woehl's lap. Woehl's relationship with the sheik and his agriculture organization has grown since the birth of this child, with Woehl feeling welcomed into the sheik's house as a member of the family. He has built similar friendships in the Shiia community.
"Since the beginning of the war, we are proud to be friends with the U.S., and especially, Farmer Fred," the Shiia sheik said.
Agriculture in Iraq has been neglected for many years, and under Saddam Hussein, farmers were told what to grow. Once the hoop houses are completed, the general directorate of agriculture will show the organization how to make the most use of them. The farmers soon will grow tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, squash, eggplant and okra.
"We are very optimistic about the future of Iraq. We, like everyone else, want a better life for our people," the Sunni sheik said.
Yazidis, Muslims and Christian farmers met in Qosh to discuss the future of their organization and inspect the hoop houses. Women from an all-female agricultural group swarmed Woehl, asking him about opportunities to grow flowers and start their own businesses.
The recent unification, enthusiasm and efforts of the farmers throughout Ninevah province, supported by Farmer Fred's commitment and passion for the people, has instilled a sense of confidence in the farmers here to overcome their many challenges, provincial reconstruction team officials said.
(From a Multinational Corps Iraq news release.)