We have talked about how Iraq’s and Kurdistan’s food security has been affected by years of sanctions, war, genocide, drought and other political (and non-political) issues. Nowadays we might even be seeing a new version of these threats to food security, posed by the Islamic State (IS) that is rampaging Iraq. This article in the Daily Star describes how the IS are trying to take control over a new natural resource:
“They are destroying crops and produce, and this is creating friction with the farmers. They are placing farmers under a lot of pressure so that they can take their grain,” he said, adding that farmers had reported fighters were also wrecking wells.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have fled to Iraqi Kurdistan due to the crisis in Syria, and now also due to the IS crisis. Much pressure is put on resources in urban areas and refugee camps, where most refugees end up. More people in cities, from a national perspective, basically means more consumers, in need of food and water. From an individual perspective, for the people loosing their homes and lives, it means dependence, few job opportunities, little control of what you eat, and in some cases malnutrition.
I started getting really interested in urban farming when I read about the rooftop farms in the Dheisheh camp of Bethlehem, and how it has provided opportunities for women to grow fresh produce in microfarms. Many refugees in Palestine have been classified as food insecure, but this effort has allowed the people to rely less on foreign aid for their food consumption. In addition to economic benefits with the rooftop farms, the people are also experiencing social empowerment, increased self-esteem and more satisfaction in life.
Another interesting project by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is using hydroponic farming in Gaza. Hydroponic, or aquaponic, means using a liquid nutrient rich solution instead of soil. This modern type of farming uses 20 % less water and needs substantially less land area. Crops can even be grown vertically! In areas like Gaza, where land is scarce and water availability a problem, these types of solutions will bring new opportunities for families to grow their own food.
Now that Kurdistan region is getting a large flow of refugees, people who have left their homes and lands, to live in crowded camps or cities, perhaps it’s time to introduce green rooftops and urban farming there! Just as urban farms have helped Palestinian women to empowerment and better nutritional value, they could have the same effects in the refugee camps and cities of Kurdistan. The rooftops are often flat and therefore physically suitable spaces for plants. Furthermore there’s no lack of sunshine, and the rainfall should be sufficient for certain crops. From a micro-climate perspective, green rooftops are known to reduce the urban heat island effect and thus keep the cities temperatures down. They act as insulators and can thereby reduce energy use for both heating and cooling. They also have a function of binding carbon from the atmosphere, as well as air pollutants. During heavy rains, green roofs can slow down storm water runoff and filter pollutants in the rainwater.
The benefits from green roofs are all, although small scale, solutions to problems faced by most, if not all, cities in Iraqi Kurdistan. The high temperatures during summer lead to high energy use for air conditioning. Sometimes walking outside is unbearable, when the sun is out. Air and water pollution are known facts due to improper waste disposal and high car use. Green roofs are of course not the only solution to these problems (that need to be addressed through better waste management, improvement of the water and transportation infrastructure) but it doesn’t hurt either.
I have also witnessed a disconnect between people and nature in Kurdistan, that is worrying. The rural lifestyle, including farming, is not very highly ranked among the young Kurds. Introducing such a project, and inviting school children to come and visit, would perhaps change this trend and teach people about where their food comes from, and how important it is to care for the environment, in order to maintain this crucial ecosystem service.
If you have any thoughts on this, or know about urban farming projects in Kurdistan, write me a note!