GOOD NEWS FROM IRAQ
by Jeremy Povenmire, Member Services Mgr., National Association of Farm Broadcasting
The stranglehold Saddam Hussein had on the Iraqi people is well documented through various first hand accounts and high profile atrocities. The agriculture industry in Iraq was not immune to the oppression of his totalitarian regime.
"The nation's farmland and agribusiness structure was left in shambles under Saddam," says Susan Littlefield, farm broadcaster with KZEN Radio, Columbus, NE, "Irrigation systems that used to flow freely were shut off and allowed to fill with dirt and debris."
Littlefield's interest in the plight of Iraqi agriculture began with an interview with Paul McKellips, a member of the Public Affairs GO Team on detail assignment from USDA's Farm Service Agency. She listened and learned about the situation of agriculture in Iraq and ended his interview with a question, "How can a farmer or rancher in rural America help the Iraqi farmers?" McKellips had to admit he didn't have an immediate answer.
"He thought about it for some time then called me back with the idea of using the Internet to bring the two groups together," says Littlefield. "From that conversation (and a lot of hard work) the Web site www.
farmbridge.com was created. The Web site has linked many American and Iraqi farmers together to compare knowledge and answer questions."
One example is an Iraqi farmer was interested in growing raspberries, which are a good profit crop in Iraq. A request was posted on the Farm Bridge Web site and then an American posted a link to a University of Nebraska source on raspberries as a response. The farmer was able to get the information he needed and began growing raspberries.
Littlefield has pitched the story of the Farm Bridge site and some of the amazing results U.S. soldiers are seeing in Iraqi agriculture to all the major news networks that have shown no interest. She was told that the story didn't have enough negative sensationalism to be considered for news.
"The mainstream media have told me there are too many positives to this story," Littlefield says. "They are looking for more 'bad news' scenarios. We have a story here that includes Sunni and Shia people working together to save Iraqi agriculture. It just doesn't fit the template of nightly news that reinforces mainly the negative aspects of the war."
FARM RADIO IN IRAQ
Another effort of McKellips and his team was to establish a farm broadcasting presence in Iraq. Back in 1986, Saddam built a broadcasting facility between Baghdad and the Iranian border. This facility is now operating as the Independent Radio & Television Network (IRTN) of Iraq. IRTN was founded on October 3, 2006.
The IRTN has two young men, Samir and Rafed, who were co-founders of the effort and are also doing farm radio broadcasting. In addition to being two pioneers in Iraqi broadcasting, they are also unique in their relationship. Samir is a Sunni Muslim and Rafed is a Shia Muslim — two groups that have fought for generations.
The mission statement of the IRTN is "We exist as the independent and free voice of the people of Iraq. Our content is determined by our hearts and our minds; not the government, and not the religious leaders. We welcome all races, genders and people of all faiths to work with us. We welcome the expression of all opinions and we encourage honest debate and sincere discussion on the issues that affect Iraq at this critical time."
DAILY LIFE IN IRAQ
Many of us wonder (from the safety of our day-to-day lives) what it must be like to be in the center of danger in Iraq. USDA's Paul McKellips (shown at right in Iraq) addresses this in his blog on his Web site:
"I usually offer this metaphor: imagine working on your laptop while riding a roller coaster. You need to have a conversation with the man sitting next to you during the ride. The man in the adjacent seat speaks Arabic but doesn't like roller coasters. The man behind you is yelling out English translations and he doesn't like roller coasters either. Everyone on the ride knows there are serious maintenance issues and a crash is possible at any moment. It's hard to conduct business on a roller coaster."
To learn more about the efforts of Farm Bridge, the IRTN or Paul McKellips, go to: www.farmbridge.com; www.irtniraq.com; and www.paulmckellips.com.