An Iraqi man casts his vote during the Diyara Agricultural Union elections in Diyara, Iraq, Aug. 12, 2006. The 1,200 member union elected seven councilmen to decide the direction of the union, which will enable farmers in the southern Baghdad and northern Babil province region to make profits they haven't seen in years. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Michael Molinaro
The Diyara Agricultural Union held its first elections in the history of the program in Diyara, Iraq
By U.S. Army Cpl. Michael Molinaro
DIYARA, Iraq, Aug. 18, 2006 – The Diyara Agricultural Union held its first elections in the history of the program at the Diyara secondary school Aug. 12.
Farmers from the region voted for seven members to sit on the board of directors that will be depended upon to lead the union and its members into the future.
“They will decide the direction of the union and resource allocations in Diyara,” said Capt. Ben Simms, commander, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
The union is a means of resource for the more than 1,200 farmers in the southern Baghdad/northern Babil provincial region. It’s a program that enables them to buy seeds, tools, insecticides and other items at subsidized prices and earn profits previously not seen before, Simms said. They will also be able to make equipment trades with other farmers, making it a group effort to succeed.
The union was run by the Iraqi government during the Saddam regime. Things were handled by the Ministry of Agriculture, sometimes leaving the smaller individual farmer’s needs out in the cold as they tended to cater to those that would help stock markets in Baghdad, Saleh said. After the fall of the regime, the unions closed up.
“We had to rely on the government before,” said Saleh, a lifelong resident of Diyara. “Sometimes we would get things, sometimes we didn’t. There was no board to get our voice heard. The union allows all of us to work with each other and more importantly buy what we need much cheaper than before.”
Soldiers from 2-8 Inf. saw the union as a way of getting the farmers back on their feet and being able to conduct business for themselves. Agriculture is the primary means of business in this part of Iraq and more than 4,000 people from the region depend on it to keep fed and clothed. By using a more democratic approach, the union will run more like a business than a government subsidy, Simms said.
Soldiers from 2-8 Inf. donated fertilizer and other consumables to the union so the farmers had something to work with, “start-up cash,” as Simms described it. After that, it will be up to those elected to set the prices for the farmers to buy their items and get things rolling at the union.
“We will be there to help them run it in the beginning, make sure the bookkeeping is kept straight and help with projects to give them a better office and storage space to work out of,” Simms remarked. “We’ll oversee the initial meetings, but over time we will be less and less a part of it.”
A Sunni was elected president and three Shia’s were voted to the other top positions, defining the diversity of the board and representing the demographics of the region. The board will be tasked to keep the union solvent and with a high voter turnout and the enthusiasm witnessed in the faces of the farmers, hope is prevalent in the area.
“We love what we do and are good farmers,” one resident said moments after voting. “Now we will rely on each other to give our families better lives and make this area what it once was.”
A representative from the Ministry of Agriculture validates the results of elections held in Diyara, Iraq, Aug. 12, 2006. U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Michael Molinaro