Umm Anwar, one of the farmers who lives in a village northeast of the city of Diwaniyah, uses animal manure, livestock, and poultry waste, in the fertilization process in a different way than other farmers, a simple field method achieved high productivity and financial abundance. After that her financial condition improved, she used her house as a school to eradicate illiteracy and teach tailoring.
The agricultural sector in Iraq in general and Diwaniyah Southern Province in particular is deteriorating due to several factors, mainly water shortage, which left more arid lands, lack of adequate state subsidization, import of cheap products from neighboring countries, and the cost of imported chemical fertilizers.
Nidhal Naboush Khazal known as Umm Anwar, a farmer in the village of Al Khashm on the outskirts of Afak district, 25 km northeast Diwaniyah Southern Province, used animal manure, represented by livestock and poultry waste, in the fertilization process with a different technique than regular traditional method; she had prepared organic fertilizer in a simple way in the field, which gave positive and noticeable results during the growing season.
"I worked on developing the idea because of the high prices of chemical fertilizers. I also found after the experiment that I obtained high production and increased soil resistance even after the end of the planting season,” Umm Anwar says.
I worked on developing the idea because of the high prices of chemical fertilizers
“This is what encouraged me to rely on this fertilizer in subsequent seasons, and I increased the quantities to cover the largest areas for agriculture."
Environmental deterioration resulting from water scarcity and unsustainability of agricultural land has also caused the loss of large areas in Diwaniyah Province, which is considered to have an agricultural identity across Iraq, forcing thousands of farmers to migrate and abandon their farms and lands, especially in the villages of Afak and Al-Badir district, according to the head of the Diwaniyah office for the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights IHCHR.
The International Organization for Migration IOM revealed in (Migration into a Fragile Setting: Responding to Climate-Induced Informal Urbanization and Inequality in Basra, Iraq), a study released in October 2021, "Environmental degradation over the last 10 years has severely damaged Iraq’s agricultural sector. Worsening water scarcity and quality have left the sector unable to support sufficient and sustainable livelihoods, particularly in rural areas, where it has long been the main workforce employer. This has directly contributed to the migration of rural populations in search of other opportunities."
There are contradicting figures about the area of agricultural land in Iraq due to the lack of accurate data and basic information to make any general policy which requires a general population census, the last one was conducted in 1997, for only 15 provinces excluding the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR).
Sources indicate that three million hectares out of the total area of Iraqi land, 17,777 million hectares, which constitutes approximately 17% of the area of Iraq, is arable land, a reasonable percentage compared to many of the countries in the region, according to the Al-Bayan Center for Planning and Studies.
Role Model for Neighboring Farmers
Umm Anwar is considered one of the skilled farmers who made good use of her agricultural land despite the challenges of climate change, such as high temperatures and water scarcity. She relied on well water for irrigation, even though Al-Tharima water canal Project is nearby.
She occasionally uses the canal water for irrigation only when well water is down or there is a surplus. The use of canal water for irrigation is prohibited due to the severe shortage of water in the canal, so this water is restricted for delivery to the village houses through pumping stations.
To get the effective fertilizer she thought of, she worked to dig a 60-meter large hole on one side of her agricultural land, ten meters long, six meters wide, and approximately seven meters deep. She threw animal manure, the waste of sheep and goats into the hole then filled it with water until it was completely submerged. She was removing the surface layer of floating seeds, undigested plant crumbs, and other waste on a daily basis so that they do not sprout again after fertilizing the plants and as a treatment before fertilizing.
The land that I fertilize using animal manure in a season still preserves the fertilizer for the next one
Umm Anwar says, "the land that I fertilize using animal manure in a season still preserves the fertilizer for the next one, as it only consumes a little of the fertilizer again, and the ground remains fragile and good for germination, as the roots find suitable soil to penetrate, and it also helps in aerating the soil."
After the process of submerging the organic waste in water (fermentation) is completed and the pit dries after 7-8 days, she moves it and spreads it outside the pit to dry under the sunlight. Thus, it is prepared for fertilization. Then fertilize the plants by placing them in the watering cans before watering them or spreading them directly on the soil. To cover the entire area, one operation is sufficient for an area of 0.7 hectare in the case of plants represented by vegetables such as cucumber, eggplant, tomatoes, cowpea, okra, melon, and watermelon.
As for jet and clover plants, the prepared quantity is sufficient for an area of 0.4 hectares after it is spread over the entire area of the land before watering. She also used this homemade fertilizer when planting lettuce plants, as it achieved a significant increase in productivity. Umm Anwar fertilizes the ground once before the germination process and again after the plant reaches approximately seven centimeters tall.
the locally-produced animal fertilizer contains absorbable elements and with an efficiency that reaches and exceeds that of chemical fertilizers.
“It also contributes to increasing the fragility of the soil, in addition to the ease of its production.”
Meanwhile, she also uses poultry waste at other times, as they are also treated before using them. She puts it in empty 50-kg flour or cloth bags and closes them well, then soaks them daily for a period not exceeding four days to get rid of the urea for fear of its effect on the plants. This process contributes to the release of Anaerobic bacteria.
In addition to melon, watermelon, and lettuce, Umm Anwar prepares for this season by growing vegetables in greenhouses and using modern mechanized methods.
“Fruits resulting from soil fertilized with animal manure are considered safe and do not cause any diseases, especially in the long-term compared to fruits produced on soil treated with chemical fertilizer," the Director of Diwaniyah Agriculture said.
“Their prices are many times higher than fruits treated with industrial fertilizer globally.”
It also contributes to increasing the fragility of the soil, in addition to the ease of its production
The use of hand-made fertilizer generated a remarkable increase in the production of vegetables, melons, and watermelons, which encouraged farmers in the village to imitate the idea used, as more than one farmer in the village and neighboring villages used the same idea and achieved good results in productivity and saving money, neighboring farmers confirmed.
Fertilizers contain, in whole or in part, the organic materials that nourish the soil, as they are the main component that must be available in the soil to ensure the continuity of their giving to the plant at all stages of plant growth.
The soil is characterized by a light texture that is highly water-permeable, that is, it does not retain water, and this causes a loss of nutrients, so plants need elements to fill the deficiency, and this is what organic fertilizers provide. Meanwhile, they do not pose any danger to the environment in the future compared to chemical fertilizers.
The method of fermentation of organic (animal) fertilizers provides nitrogen and the necessary elements for the plant. Organic fertilizers also provide many of the necessary nutrients for the plant such as phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and others.
Adding organic fertilizer to the soil increases its aeration and warms it during the winter. Mineral bonds increase and humus formed during the decomposition of organic fertilizers in the soil. This increase improves the physical and chemical properties of the plowed or prepared soil layer.
The Diwaniyah Agriculture Directorate works to encourage farmers, especially those with small landholdings, to rely on the use of animal manure because it achieves high crop productivity and maintains the continuous health of the soil. Ripe fruits are natural and do not cause any problems for consumers.
As a result of the relative contribution of agriculture, the Iraqi economic system views the agricultural sector as secondary. As Iraq is not coping with scientific and technological developments in the sector of agriculture, local agricultural resources and capabilities have not been exploited properly, Al-Bayan Center for Planning and Studies.
The contribution of the agricultural sector to the Gross Domestic Product GDP was estimated at 5% after 2003 according to 2010 estimates, and in 2013 the relative contribution to the GDP of the agricultural, forestry, and fishing sectors was 3.9%, which makes clear the minor contribution of the Iraqi agricultural sector to (GDP) as agricultural development lags in Iraq, according to Al-Bayan Center.
Animal Manure is Cost-effective
"I help with the process of plowing the land, preparing it, and then fertilizing it before the planting process. I also use modern mechanization as a seed spreader. After planting, I irrigate the land and monitor it daily until it germinates and it reaches the harvesting stage,” Umm Anwar says.
“I also cut the jet and clover plants daily and offer them to the cows and sheep. I raise approximately 60 poultry birds (chickens and ducks),” she added.
Animal fertilizer achieved financial savings compared to purchasing manufactured chemical fertilizer, which costs 130,000 Iraqi dinars IQD (USD100) per ton, compared to the organic fertilizer that Umm Anwar obtains from the animals she raises or from her relatives. As for poultry fertilizer, it is a cheaper type since a small portion should be mixed with others.
Umm Anwar also said she has achieved high productivity by using organic animal fertilizer treated with the fermentation method in vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, cowpeas, and okra.
She also confirmed that she was one of the first farmers to grow watermelon in the Afak district 10 years ago, after it enhanced its production using this method and expanded the area of land used to more than one hectare for cultivating watermelon in some seasons, and its production exceeded 15 tons of watermelon per day. It also transferred the experience of cultivating watermelon to more than 10 farmers at that time.
Neighbor farmers followed the steps of Umm Anwar and achieved positive results.
Abu Sajjad, one of the farmers in the village, says that after he noticed an increase in the germination of the crops that were planted and an increase in production by Umm Anwar, "I applied the same idea with the help of Umm Anwar in the process of preparing organic fertilizer before using it, and I achieved good production in growing jet and clover as well.”
“The cost of purchasing industrial chemical fertilizers was saved, in addition to that, the organic fertilizer lasts for the next season and strengthens the soil continuously, which reduces effort and money and achieves good production for the next season,” he affirmed.
The increase in Umm Anwar's agricultural production achieved financial abundance and a gradual recovery in the social conditions, which prompted her to develop agricultural mechanization and use greenhouses for the coming season.
The Diwaniyah Agriculture Directorate has provided support to Umm Anwar by providing two greenhouses, each 50 meters long, which she is preparing for the next agricultural season.
After her financial condition improved, Umm Anwar donated her house to become a school for eradicating illiteracy "adult education" in coordination with the Agricultural Guidance Department and the Directorate of Education in Diwaniyah - the Illiteracy Eradication Section, which covered 75 women, for the benefit of educating the women of the village and its neighboring ones.
I conducted a sewing workshop for women throughout the schooling period
“In addition, I conducted a sewing workshop for women throughout the schooling period.”
Despite the benefits of using animal manure, some problems emerged during the work on the initiative due to the basic treatment of the waste.
"Problems have occurred, may be caused by materials coming with animal manure, such as grains and plant remains and the regrowth of some plant grains transported after the fertilization process is complete, if they are not separated correctly during the fertilization process," Umm Anwar says.
“Animal manure from poultry waste also causes the death of crops if it is not washed well to get rid of the urea and other substances that harm the plant," she added
According to Karima Al-Taie, head of the Green Oasis Organization, such type of fertilization requires efforts on the part of the farmer in the preparation process, as well as in the fertilization process because it is handled by hand without using machines.
It is also only suitable for the cultivation of small areas, especially with vegetables, watermelons, and melons, and it is difficult to use it in crop cultivation such as wheat and barley because of the vast areas planted, Al-Taie added.
Umm Anwar also faces climatic challenges that affect the quantity and quality of vegetables produced, such as eggplant, okra, and cowpeas, like high temperatures, scarcity of fresh water, and salinity of well water, which affects plants. Also, fungi and diseases that affect plants are another challenge, especially if the farmer is inexperienced.
She aspires to use modern technology in the agricultural field to confront harsh environmental conditions. She intends to achieve financial abundance, expand agricultural lands, and increase the number of livestock and poultry.
Meanwhile, she also intends to use new types of productive plants that can be successfully cultivated, and she stresses that she is sparing no effort to help farmers in the area by transferring her experience to increase their agricultural production.
(This report was produced as part of Aswatuna (Our Voices) project implemented by the Internews Organization.)