Sahera Al Jobory, born and raised in Hawija, is 34. She is a dentist and recently started her first term as an independent member of the Iraqi parliament, not affiliated with one of the political parties. She represents the community of Hawija and defends their rights.
Conflict and climate change have largely destroyed the livelihoods of farmers and small agribusiness owners in Hawija. It was once Iraq’s most prosperous agricultural centre. Cordaid joined hands with others to assist hundreds of farmers and SME owners in Hawija in growing their businesses. Despite the odds and traumas of extreme drought, violent extremism, geopolitics, nepotism and 21st century warfare, they carry on. While international and national NGOs are combining efforts to support them, people like Sahera Al Jobory are doing the same thing, with different means.
“I know the destruction of Hawija first hand. I and my family witnessed the fighting. We were displaced by the war and went back. It was and is horrible to see the scale of the damage that is done. In Tikrit, some 60 kilometres away, I heard the echoes of the explosion caused by the coalition forces’ air strike on the ISIL car bomb factory in June 2015. It destroyed the industrial heart of Hawija. It caused death, disease, trauma, and poverty beyond imagination. Up to this day, five thousand Hawija families are still displaced because of what happened more than five years ago. And some seven thousand families are missing.
Food to every corner of the country
“Hawija used to be an important centre for trade and agriculture. Less than 10 years ago we still exported food to every corner of the country. We were known for our greenhouses, our organic farming, our knowledge, and the quality of our food and farming.
Today, farming and trade have collapsed. Farming families died or were displaced during the war, their livestock was abandoned or killed, and their greenhouses, irrigation systems, and machinery were destroyed.”
“Farmers feel the impact of that up to this day, five years after ISIL and the liberation war. Many have returned and restarted their business as well as they. But they can hardly sell their produce on the market, because of the tax-free imports from Iran. They don’t make money, they lose money by farming! No wonder they abandon their trade.
I want farmers to be rightfully compensated for the huge losses caused by the war.
There is government support for the Hawija agri-sector. But because of corruption and nepotism, the support doesn’t reach the farming communities who need it most. Take the governmental decision to finance two big warehouses for agricultural produce in Hawija. These are now in the hands of persons that are close to the most important decision-makers in the governorate. Or take the plan to build big greenhouses. It was clear to all that these should be situated on the bank of the Al-Zab river. They went elsewhere. For the wrong reasons.”
New generation of political leaders
“My main mission as an independent member of parliament, representing Hawija, is to constantly expose fraud and nepotism and confront political leaders. It is the only way to make national support more effective. We, this new generation of independent politicians, will fight for change. And yes, being young and a woman makes my struggle even harder. Corrupted leaders do everything to obstruct me. And many of the others discredit me for being young and a woman. But I am not afraid. I will not sell my soul. I have political immunity, speak freely, and will continue to do so as long as I can. And the Hawija community deserves my commitment.
And I want farmers to be rightfully compensated for the huge losses caused by the war. They have lost their expensive machines, their irrigation, storage, and other infrastructure. Of the six thousand requests for compensation of farmers to the government, only one hundred have been granted. And even that covered only a small part of their loss. What we see is that even war compensation mechanisms have become a political tool for nepotism.”
Fighting fraud from the inside, INGO support from the outside
Support from international NGOs remains more important than ever. Why? Because the government cannot interfere that easily with their programming. While people like myself are fighting fraud from the inside, from the outside independent INGO support can reach communities that are most in need.
I know about the Blossom Up project. I know about the grants and the training and how this allowed more than a hundred farmers to invest in better irrigation systems and improve their farming business. And about the agribusiness owners who were supported. This is critically important. All the more so because Cordaid worked directly with the communities and with local NGOs. You have tailored your interventions to the realities on the ground and the most urgent needs. This is the best way to prevent political interference and nepotism. I can only ask the international community to step up this kind of support.”
Text and images: Frank van Lierde / Cordaid