Pomegranate of the orchards of in Shaharaban district (Al-Miqdadiyah) is the best nationally for its quality, size, color and taste yet its diminishing due to lack of stability, support and irrigation.
The government is not subsidizing the iconic juicy pomegranate of Shahraban once feeding all the domestic market. The insecurity in the region due to the pop up of extremist Islamist groups of al-Qaeda and Daesh, made it difficult for the farmers to serve their trees properly.
Alwan Mohammed, a young farmer, lives with his father, one of the professional farmers of the region, and his five brothers in their farm close to the village of Sansal of Shahraban district of Diyala province.
Once the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria took over the area in 2014, they were displaced and came back in 2016 as their father insisted to return home.
“Once Daesh left, we thought the problem is over and Shahraban will retake its name by producing fruits as in the past but our dreams collided with reality,” Mohammed said.
Violence erupted in Iraq following the ousting of Saddam Hussein regime in 2003. The extremist group of al-Qaeda followed by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria ISIS played a big role in ignition of the Shiite-Sunni rivalry.
Diyala province is a majority Sunni Arab province, east of Baghdad, on the border with Iran, and home to 1.2 million people.
“The government have stopped import of products competing local products.”
This farmer and his neighbors all suffered from lack of water for irrigation as River Diyala water has decreased and the demand on their products are not high since “The government have stopped import of products competing local products.”
Abu Muhammed, a farmer in the 50s, said the government is not offering any subsidies and the instability is a real challenge.
“Orchards of pomegranate in Shahraban can cover Iraq and export as well,” he proudly said. “I tried with my sons to revive the land but the ministry of agriculture is absent and instability pushed the farmers away toward other careers and left their farms,” Abu Muhammed sobbed.
Abu Mohammed said water level of the river is 12 meters down. “We have to use water pumps and generators and farmers can’t afford buying diesel.”
Syndicate of the farmers confirms that owners and farmers of pomegranate orchards face challenges beyond their control.
“The government is not subsidizing the farmer and the farms and prefers to import it from abroad,” said Ra’ad al-Timimi, head of farmers union.
The security situation is an obsession for the farmers whom in fear of their lives from the extremist militants are unable to serve their farmers regularly and properly.
“The area is not clear of Daesh remnants. Though few of them are there and intimidate the farmers trying to revive their farmers,” Mohammed said.
“The villages of Miqdadia once well-known of its pomegranate now are under threat by 4-5 Daesh militants still hiding there.
Land potentially suitable for agricultural production however is not more than 27% of the total area of the country, Food and Agriculture Organization FAO says about Iraq.
Only half of the total area which has been used for agricultural production, about 8 million hectares which is almost 67 percent of the cultivable area, is actually cropped each year ranges from 3 to 4 million hectares, , FAO reported.
The main challenges are drought, shortage of irrigation water in summer, fallowing and the unstable political and security situation.
“The villages of Miqdadia once well-known of being the source of pomegranate currently are under threat by 4-5 Daesh militants still hiding there,” said Haqqi al-Jiburi, head of agriculture committee of revoked Diyapla provincial council.
Al-Jiburi called on relevant security ministries to clear the 4,000 donums of pomegranate farms which has turned into barren lands from the few militants.
“Diyala has been losing 5,000 tons of pomegranates a year in the last six years, the best pomegranate in the Middle East, al-Jiburi added.
90% of the trees in the farms are fruitless due to draught and proper care, al-Jiburi wretchedly said.
Pomegranate of Shahraban was covering 30% of the domestic market while now imports it from 10 countries for tens of million Dollars, al-Jiburi added.
“Diyala has the widest forest in the Middle East. Once the govern supports its revival, it can stop import and generate job opportunities as well and flourish the economy.”