Iraq conflict – FAO’s livelihoods support for farmers and herders

Iraq conflict – FAO’s livelihoods support for farmers and herders

25/01/2017

As the conflict in northern Iraq escalated in 2016, Karina Coates was deployed by FAO’s standby partner RedR Australia to the Erbil office to support FAO’s emergency agriculture and livelihoods response. With nearly one third of Iraqis requiring some form of humanitarian assistance, food security remains one of the most worrying aspects of the crisis. Large tracts of prime agricultural land and many grain silos were under the control of armed groups, including the Islamic State of the Levant (ISIL), contributing to countrywide cereal shortages and a sharp rise in the cost of basic food commodities. Karina shares her story of working in a conflict-affected country and the importance of agriculture in an emergency response.

I spent a great deal of my childhood with my grandparents on their sheep and wheat farm in the western Wimmera district of Victoria, Australia – but it wasn’t until I started working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in October 2016 in Iraq that I saw firsthand how conflict affects the livelihoods of rural communities.

Since 17 October last year, when the offensive to retake Mosul and surrounding villages from the ISIL began, more than 182,000 people have fled the fighting. While some 22,000 people have returned to retaken areas, at 22 January 2017, more than 160,000 people remained displaced. Many people fleeing the conflict are travelling with their livestock – important assets that safeguard livelihoods and income – most of which have been unvaccinated since ISIL took the area in 2014. FAO expects that some of the animals will be carrying contagious epidemic diseases that can cause high rates of death and disease in both these animals and those in communities through which the animals move. This could have serious socio-economic and, in some cases, public health consequences, and threatens the livelihoods of livestock farmers. There is an urgent need for an emergency livestock vaccination and animal feeding program, to protect farmers’ livelihoods and those of communities they are traveling through.

The Mosul offensive is the latest in a series of military operations against ISIL. In January 2017, almost 3 million Iraqis remained displaced. Some 2.9 million Iraqis are food insecure – that is half a million more than this time last year – and 77 percent are women, children or elderly people. Across the country, 11 million people are expected to require some form of humanitarian assistance this year.

In many retaken areas, infrastructure such as water supply for drinking and agricultural production has been damaged or destroyed, as has agricultural equipment. Farming families have lost their livelihoods, food production and supply is disrupted, and food prices at markets have increased. Heavy contamination of retaken areas with unexploded ordinance and improvised explosive devices pose immediate and long-term risks for the people and the environment, particularly for herders and farmers. Many farmers have missed planting seasons due to conflict and land contamination.

Recently I travelled with FAO to an area where the organization is restoring the water supply to a fertile region 30 kilometres west of Mosul. Farmers here haven’t grown vegetable crops for more than two years, since ISIL destroyed the irrigation canals and contaminated the area with explosive devices. The project is already benefiting more than 600 local families (3,600 people) through cash for work that is restoring irrigation networks to provide water to 250,000 hectares of farmland. It has demined farming land so more than 5,000 farmers can plant crops and graze their livestock safely, and repaired the pumping station that feeds the canal system from Mosul Dam. Once farming starts again this year, up to 200,000 people from Mosul and across Iraq will be able to earn an income for the first time since ISIL took parts of the area in 2014.

This kind of project is critical so that agricultural production can resume and livelihoods can be restored. In the coming weeks and months, FAO plans to strengthen its emergency response, including rehabilitating damaged agricultural infrastructure, supporting farmers to vaccinate and feed their livestock, and expanding cash-for-work and other income-generating activities.

Karina Coates was deployed to FAO by our Standby Partner RedR Australia and was funded by the Australian Government. The original article and photos were published on www.redr.org.au and is reproduced here with the permission of RedR Australia.