Saturday, April 26, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 26 Apr 2008

From MNF-I, Coaltion Forces Aim to Boost Fish-farming Industry in Mahmudiyah.

CAMP STRIKER — A Task Force Marne initiative to revitalize Iraq’s fish farms is in full swing in the Rakkasans’ area of operations.

The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) began a comprehensive assessment in February of hundreds of fish farms throughout the Mahmudiyah Qada.

“Fish farming was one of the top three agricultural businesses in Iraq,” said Maj. Robert Bertrand, 3rd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. (AASLT), civil military operations officer. “Right now the farming has diminished significantly due to the war, but as capacity building is increasing, fish farming is becoming more and more important.”

The overall goal of the fish industry revitalization is to improve the local economy, establish a system that Iraqis will be able to sustain for the long-term and create employment.

When the fish industry is revived, the hope is for numerous jobs to be created. “We’re perceiving that … approximately 5,000 to 10,000 jobs within the qada can be created with just increasing fish-farming capacity to pre-war levels,” said Bertrand, a native of Seattle.

Coalition forces are working closely with embedded provincial reconstruction teams and the Iraqi Private Sector Growth and Employment Generation, an implementing partner of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Each battalion is conducting its own assessments to identify existing or potential fish farms in its area of responsibility. Concurrently, fish farming associations and unions are being formed and requests for funds from the government of Iraq are being submitted.

Some existing farms are only operating at partial capacity due to financial constraints. “Many of the farms have a desire to return to full capacity (and) have requested assistance through the GoI and coalition forces for an initial supply of feed and support for small end items, such as water pump repair parts and replacements,” said Maj. Alaric Robinson, Company A, 411th Civil Affairs Battalion, supporting the 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT, 101st Abn. Div. (AASLT) at Patrol Base Dragon.

One Qarghuli Village sheik has faired well in fish farming without much assistance from coalition forces or the government of Iraq. Sheik Ali Hussein Hassan has been in business for five years. He raises carp, silver and glass fish and sells the fish live at an open market in Baghdad. Hassan said the process is fairly simple.

“We put the nets in the water first, then drain the water from the pond and collect the fish. From there we put them into the trucks and take them to Baghdad,” Hassan said. Trucks with makeshift aquariums in the back are used to transport the fish.

Hassan’s fish farm has two ponds and employs six members of his family.

“We would like to get (existing fish farmers) working with other fish farms, perhaps, and working with the government of Iraqi as well,” said Sgt. Joshua Seymour, a Trumbull, Conn., native, Co. A, 411th CA. “Agriculture is a big part of this area; helping them make more from what they have is going to really help stabilize their economy and their environment.”

One obstacle is a shortage of water.

“Large quantities of water are needed, and the water is often in short supply,” Bertrand said. “That’s tough to deal with.”

He said steps are being taken to ensure that two primary rivers, the Euphrates and Tigris, are being drawn upon to provide necessary water for both irrigation of agriculture and running the fish farms.

Bertrand said a relatively small investment is required to get most fish farms up and operational, but a large return is expected. Counting on a high level of consumption among Iraqis, he said the fish should sell well.

“The current diet in Iraq is meat with every meal, but fish is cheaper and people really do enjoy it so we see an advantage of getting more out to the markets,” he said. “As the security grows, the prosperity’s going to grow.”