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A 'green miracle': co-op playing key role as Iraq rebuilds farm sector.

An Iraqi farmer cooperative is helping to revive the war-torn nation's agricultural economy by providing farmers with technical assistance, farm supplies and credit. In December the co-op celebrated the grand opening of its new office and warehouse facilities and held its first board of directors meeting. Playing a crucial role in the launch of the cooperative is a team of three USDA Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) agricultural advisors, who offered vital guidance and advice.

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The not-for-profit cooperative--the Green Mada'in Association for Agricultural Development (GMAAD)--provides free technical assistance and training to farmers in four townships in Mada'in Qada, east of Baghdad in Baghdad Province. The co-op also provides access to low-interest lines of credit to purchase or rent agricultural equipment and supplies--such as seed and fertilizer--and to secure needed farm services. The co-op does all this at lower costs than the farmers could otherwise find.

Membership in the cooperative is growing by 10 percent per month, with more than 800 members to date.

With the support of 47 agricultural associations in Mada'in Qada, the Iraq Ministry of Agriculture and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, USDA PRT agricultural advisor Floyd Wood began guiding efforts to organize the cooperative in 2008. In 2009, two more USDA/PRT agricultural advisors--John Ellerman and Glen Brown--arrived in Iraq and began working with Wood, who extended his 1-year voluntary deployment to a second year to see the project through to fruition. This proved to be key for the cooperative, which has accomplished a great deal in a short period of time.

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Initial funding of $6 million came from the U.S. State Department to start the cooperative. Subsequent funding came from the U.S. Commanders' Emergency Response Program (CERP) to pay for reconstruction projects, with additional contributions made by members of the cooperative.

Using $2 million of the State Department funds, the cooperative first established and trained its board of directors and staff, constructed facilities and began operations. The co-op then began building drip irrigation systems and greenhouses for its members throughout the region.

"With the funding we obtained from the U.S. Department of State, we were able to systematically take the cooperative through the steps it needed to follow to become a sustainable organization," says John Ellerman, USDA PRT agricultural advisor.

The co-op subsequently obtained more than $4.5 million from CERP to install nearly 600 additional drip irrigation systems and more than 400 greenhouses in Mada'in Qada. These successes convinced farmers in Mada'in Qada that the cooperative was sustainable. As a result, more farmers began joining the cooperative.

With the remaining $4 million from the State Department, the cooperative established a revolving credit system that is primarily being used to provide farmers with access to short-term credit. The cooperative is now receiving and processing credit applications, making it possible for farmers to purchase critically needed agricultural inputs and services. These functions were especially important to help farmers prepare for the fall plowing and planting season.

Future projects, pending funding, include construction of a poultry feed mill, cattle chutes and a date-processing plant.

"Members of the cooperative call it the Green Miracle in Mada'in Qada," says Ellerman. "They never thought they would get this type of support or that they would have the opportunity to get their land back into production."

Having completed its first year of operation, the cooperative is demonstrating to farmers that it is able to meet their needs. The co-op is becoming a dynamic force in the development of modern, sustainable agricultural practices in Mada'in Qada.

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Linda C. Habenstreit

Public Affairs Specialist

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service
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Author:Habenstreit, Linda C.
Publication:Rural Cooperatives
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Words:602
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