“We can’t stop here, this is melon country”

I check the Kurdistan Region Statistics Office (KRSO) website regularly in hope of finding some new statistics that might be relevant for my research. Usually I don’t find anything interesting or useful, but yesterday I struck gold! It might have been there before, but yesterday was the day that I took interest in “Summer Planted Area Report in Kurdistan Region (2012-2013)“. I downloaded the document with the somewhat cryptic title and it turned out that KRSO’s ag stat’s unit had been going around all villages in the kurdish governorates to collect data on summer crops. Well done!

If you click the link to the “report” you will get a .pdf file with lots and lots of tables, from which you can’t make much information. Therefore I decided to play around a bit with the data to see what I found. It turned out that the summer crops taking up the larges share of land in the whole KR are pepper (16%), melon (16%), okra (14%) and tomato (12%). However, if you separate data per governorate, you will find that in Duhok governorate, nearly half of the summer crop area consist of melons (48%), with tomatoes (14%) and water melons (11%) take up a large share of the rest of the summer crop land area. In Erbil/Hawler governorate, the trend is similar, with tomatoes (25%), melons (18%) and water melons (14%) topping the list. In Sulaymanieh, however, the trends are completely different. There, peppers cover one third (33%) of the governorate’s summer crop area, okra nearly another third (31%) and armenian cucumber 11%.


Summer crops’ shares of the cultivated area in the Kurdistan Region. Note that fruit trees are excluded from the statistics.

So what do these numbers tell us? Are Duhokis and Hawleris obsessed with melons?

I find it interesting that melons and water melons take up such a large part of the summer crop area in the Duhok governorate, as well as the Hawler governorate. When I was doing field work, asking about fallow practices, many farmers stated that they would switch between wheat or barley one year, and muskmelon or watermelon every second year. My first thought was that it seemed strange to cultivate melons (very watery fruits) in the same fields as cereals (not as watery?). Surely the melons must require more water than wheat, and especially in the plains where the sun is strong and the soils are dry, right?

Muskmelons belong to the Cucurbitaceae family to which also cucumbers, watermelons, honey dew and other melons belong. There is evidence of muskmelons being cultivated as early as 2400 B.C. in Egypt, and muskmelon is actually a native of Middle Eastern countries, from where it spread to Europe some 500 years ago. In both the US and on the African continent, muskmelon and watermelon are produced in arid and semi-arid regions, as they require plenty of sunshine and at least 3 to 4 months of warm weather. Water melons can survive a desert climate as long as there is ground water available, and is therefore used as a source of water for human consumption in many countries where drinking water is scarce. Heavy irrigation at the beginning of the growing period is enough for water melon to produce an acceptable yield (15 ton/ha) in a dry climate with moderate evaporation. The soils should be well-drained, silty or sandy and slightly alkaline (pH 5.8-7.2). Melon vines also take up large areas of land, and this might be the reason that this crop has a large share of the summer crop area in Duhok and Hawler, it just needs a lot of space.

So both water melon and musk melons seem to be suitable crops to be grown in the plains of the Kurdistan region, as they originate from the Middle East and are well adapted to the climate there. Learning about this has shown me that there are so many aspects of agriculture that I need to understand before I can draw valid conclusions about what I see in the field and in the statistics. While some, or maybe a large part, of this knowledge can be obtained by reading articles and books, some can only be obtained through practice.

To conclude: practical experience in farming would substantially improve the understanding for research on these issues.









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