“Under ISIL occupation, which started in 2015, we managed to continue farming, but mainly only for our own consumption. My husband was in the army, he was away. My oldest sons were studying in Tikrit. But I, with one daughter and one son, stayed home and continued to work our land and take care of the cattle we had back then. Farming inputs weren’t available and we couldn’t sell our produce. But strangely enough, it rained more than usual in the years of occupation, which helped.”
Then, things worsened
“We hoped to be liberated soon, but it took longer than we had hoped. We coped, we survived, and we had food. But in 2017 the situation worsened. ISIL people had discovered my husband was in the army. It had taken them a while to find out because there were no informants in the village. So one day, to punish us, they came and destroyed our car. “For your husband”, they shouted driving away. I knew they would come back. I sold the cattle we had for one-tenth of what they were worth and we fled. We know that our house was then taken over by ISIL members. They lived there for a while.
Two months later, on October 6th, our village was liberated. The next day we went back. It was relatively easy to pass checkpoints, my husband being from the military, and our village was known to have had no ISIL collaborators. When we got there, we discovered that all our furniture, the sewing machine, and other valuables were broken and damaged.
“When I was young, water was everywhere”
“Besides troubles and hardship coming from war and ISIL, we face something else. Water, over the years, has become a lot scarcer. When I was young, water was everywhere. You just had to dig a few meters and it came in abundance. These days, boreholes easily go up to 40 meters and more before they reach water levels. Poor rains, falling river flows, wells running dry…it worries me a lot. No water means our animals die, it means no wheat, and also no income.
At the moment our first sprinkler-irrigated crops are germinating. It looks promising.
Up until ten years ago, the state-run canals were flowing continuously and farmers could rely on them 100%. Nowadays, they are closed in times of drought. Farmers then have to use their own wells. But these run dry too. We need to dig deeper and deeper. Luckily, farmers do share their diminishing water resources. The farmer who works his fields adjacent to mine supports me and I support him.”
Working your way through a lot of mud
“Blossom Up comes at the right time and means a great deal to us. The support allows us to change our farming methods, and more specifically our irrigation system. We always used flood irrigation, tapping water from nearby rivers. It’s really hard work because you need to build and maintain a network of ditches, and work your way through a lot of mud! With the Blossom Up grant, we can not only adapt to climate change and drought, but we can also improve our business. Apart from buying seeds and paying labourers to tillage the soil, we have bought and installed a sprinkler irrigation system, including a water pump. This system uses way less water than flood irrigation and it doesn’t choke the seedlings as does flood irrigation. We were trained in using the sprinkler system. At the moment our first sprinkler-irrigated crops are germinating. It looks promising.”
Less tiresome, less time-consuming
“Not only is this sprinkler irrigation method working better with considerably less water, but it’s also a lot less tiresome and time-consuming for farmers. Leaving me with more time to take care of my husband. And to spend more time running the chicken business and making butter and cream with the milk from our cows.
Five years after the end of the ISIL occupation, we haven’t recovered, nor have our losses been compensated. But we move on and we haven’t lost hope. We just continue to work hard. Me too, even though people call me ‘the old lady’.”
Text and images: Frank van Lierde / Cordaid