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Asad Muhammad, a farmer from the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, swept the virtual world with videos on social media in which he offers farming advice while harvesting onions or picking grapes.
The 50-year-old uses his extensive experience in growing crops and how to improve vegetables to teach visitors ways to increase production and protect fields from diseases and pests.
Azad Mohammed aims to create awareness on issues including environmental protection and encourage officials to support agriculture.
“Our land is as rich as gold,” Mohammed told AFP. Therefore, “to achieve a solid economy we must focus on agriculture.”
Mohammed shoots the videos on his smartphone on his seven-acre farm near Halabja, in which he can be seen lying on the ground between grape and tomato plants, and then broadcasts them to his 500,000 followers on Facebook.
In one clip, a farmer, with his beard carefully shaved and a small mustache in elegant traditional Kurdish clothing, explains the difference between the two types of onions he has harvested on his land.
“How do we water our pomegranates? How do we protect the trees from heat and disease? What are the effects of sandstorms on our trees?” Muhammad wrote in a June post.
In another post, he says, “I’m going live at 9 PM, write your questions in the comment box and wait for the answer.”
“Some farmers send me videos showing their production and they tell me it’s thanks to me. It makes me very happy,” Mohammed told AFP.
Muhammad notes that half of his followers do not own a field or a farm, “but because of me they have turned their rooftops into gardens and planted whatever they like on them, and this helps protect the environment better.”
In another video, this farmer advises farmers to plant their trees two meters apart from each other, not four meters, to ensure they provide strong shade, which adds moisture to the soil that protects crops from the summer heat.
“With desertification and less rainfall, we have to change the way trees are planted so that some are closer to each other,” explains Mohamed.
“Look at these tomatoes: because they were planted in the shade, they came out juicy and well-ripened, while tomatoes exposed directly to the sun burned.”
In the comment section of one of Mohammad’s videos, one of his followers, Ahmed Hasan, wrote, “They should appoint you as agriculture minister.”
The Kurdistan Region is the least affected by desertification, compared to semi-desert Iraq, which suffers from a lack of rainfall.
A United Nations and regional government study published in 2019 notes that “the Kurdistan region experiences high rainfall compared to the central and southern regions… and includes the most fertile plains in Iraq.”
But despite this, local authorities do not benefit enough from this advantage, which makes agricultural production “fiercely competitive” with “much cheaper foreign crops”, in addition to “overloading” local markets with Iranian and Turkish crops, according to the study.
“More investment” is needed in better irrigation systems, the study says.
To mitigate the effects of climate change and restructure agriculture in a more sustainable way, the report added, “additional programs targeted at water management are needed to ensure efficient use of available water.”
Hamid Ismail Abdel Rahman (47), a farmer from Kurdistan, said, “The amount of water from the wells has decreased drastically,” which “affects the development of agriculture.”
Abdul Rahman opens his farm two days a week to families who come to pick “fresh and organic fruits” such as cherry tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and corn.
Ismail, who spent 20 years working in the Qud governorate in southern Iraq, believes the impact of climate change is “less in the north” than in “southern Iraq,” which has the lion’s share of suffering.
In his electronic clips, Asad Muhammad tries to answer his followers’ questions and problems in agriculture, including Abdul Rahman Majid’s question, in which he says, “How to treat a dried apricot tree after it has been fertilized? ?”
Mohammed recently opened a small library on his farm for interested students to visit. Muhammad describes his efforts, “My farm is no longer just a place for agriculture, but now functions as an agricultural science center, like a college for example.”
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