Desertification in an Iraqi bread basket

By | August 20, 2022

Tessa Fox reports:

Palm branches whip back as Hussein Ibrahim walks through his densely planted land in Al Fao, the very last village in Iraq’s south as it reaches the Persian Gulf. Affectionately known as Abu Yusuf in reference to his eldest son, Ibrahim explains that farming is his culture.

“I’ve inherited this land from my grandfather and even the father of my grandfather had it. We were all farmers; we were born to be farmers,” says the father of seven as he picks a pomegranate from a tree on his five acres, set in a place believed by some to be the biblical Garden of Eden, or perhaps, the first place Adam and Eve descended on Earth.

But as he walks around gently touching each of the date palms, henna and sidr trees – also believed by some to have borne the first fruit that Adam and Eve ate after their fall to Earth – Ibrahim says that only one third of his land can now be farmed.

In the past, ships came up the Shatt-al-Arab River from the Gulf to Al Fao, where their crews would load dates and ferry them around the world. The Basra region, where Al Fao is situated, has always been a bread basket of Iraq. But now because of immense salinization of lands, a decrease of water flow into vital rivers due to upstream damming, climate change and pollution, many farmers are losing the battle to keep their crops alive, and people dependent on fishing and buffaloes in the Iraqi marshlands are in competition for food.

The majority of the lands surrounding Ibrahim’s house and farm are either dirt brown or white from a crusty layer of salt that sits on the surface. The wind is dry and suffocating, and the horizon shimmers with pulsing heat. Ibrahim says it was in 2019 when the rainfall became dire; in one year, half of the green land was lost. [Continue reading…]

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