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Kurdish Iraqi Farmer Sprouts Online Advice, Green Awareness – Middle East News – Report by AFR

Kurdish Iraqi farmer Azad Muhamad has become a social media star by sharing tips on growing fresh fruit and vegetables in the sun-drenched country, which is highly vulnerable to climate change.

The mustachioed 50-year-old, who has nearly half a million Facebook followers, posts weekly videos on topics like protecting fruit trees, dealing with insects and helping people get more out of their yard and garden.

“They should make you Minister of Agriculture,” one of his fans, Ahmed Hassan, commented on a recent video.

Muhamad also uses his popular online platform to raise awareness about environmental protection and the need to support local farmers in his home region of Kurdistan and beyond.

“Farmers in developed countries have government support and harvesters,” Muhamad said.

“Our farmers do everything themselves, with their own sweat – and if they lose money at the end of the year, they start all over again with the same passion and energy.”

He also has a message for authorities in Iraq, which the UN ranks as the world’s fifth-biggest country on climate change and where many live in poverty despite Iraq’s oil wealth.

“Our land is fertile and our soil is like gold,” Muhamad told AFP.

That’s why, he said, the government should “focus on agriculture, not oil, for a sustainable economy.”

– ‘Preserve the environment’ –

From his farm near Halabja, Muhamad, dressed in traditional Kurdish clothing, crouches among vines and other plants while a friend films him on a mobile phone.

Many of his followers are not farmers, but people who “have turned their roof into a garden – and thus better protect the environment”.

He invites his Facebook followers to ask their questions and says some farmers sent him videos of their harvest and thanked him for his help.

“I’m very happy about that,” he said.

In one video, he advises farmers to keep their trees just two meters (six feet) apart instead of four to keep the soil shaded and moist and to protect it from the scorching summer heat.

“With desertification and low rainfall, we need to change the way we plant trees,” he said.

“Look at these tomatoes,” he added, pointing to a cluster of plants. “Because they’re in the shade, they’re juicy and perfect — while those in direct sun are burned.”

Iraq’s Northern Kurdistan region has been spared the worst effects of desertification, water shortages and drought that have afflicted other parts of the country.

“The region has high levels of rainfall compared to the rest of Iraq,” according to a 2019 study involving United Nations agencies and the autonomous regional government of Kurdistan.

But the report warns that “local agricultural production faces stiff competition from largely lower-priced foreign commodities”… “mainly from Turkey and Iran, whose produce has flooded Iraqi markets.”

It called for “more investment” to improve irrigation, along with water management to promote sustainability, ensure efficient use of resources and “mitigate the effects of climate change”.

– ‘Fresh and Organic’ –

Hamid Ismail Abdulrahman, a fellow farmer in Halabja, said low water levels in wells have hampered agricultural development.

Twice a week, the 47-year-old opens his farm to families who can buy “fresh and organic produce,” from tomatoes to corn to aubergines.

He said climate change has severely impacted agriculture across Iraq, although “southern Iraq has the lion’s share of these impacts, while the north has less of an impact”.

As Iraq has already experienced record low rainfall and high temperatures in recent years, Muhamad warned that “unless the government acts now and comes up with a concrete plan… the damage will be done.”

Muhamad recently opened a small education section on his farm and is now receiving visits from university students as well.

He hopes his initiatives will have a longer-term impact.

“Some people leave behind a mosque” when they die, he said, but “I want to leave behind my farming knowledge.”

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