After the defeat of ISIS, olive groves are thriving in the city of Bashiqa in Nineveh province once again. The biggest challenge for production is the absence of government support and the competition of imported products.
After the liberation of Bashiqa in Iraq’s northern Nineveh Province from ISIS control in November 2016, farmers in the district have once again started to cultivate their lands. During the battle to liberate Bashiqa, ISIS militants burnt the olive groves as they retreated, as part of their scorched earth tactics. This has made it very hard for farmers to easily cultivate their lands once again.
“We need to develop this agriculture, there are a lot of farmers whose groves were burnt by ISIS and they need support to start olive cultivation from the beginning,” said Abdul Momin Salim, a farmer from Bashiqa. “ISIS burned 10,000 to 20,000 olive trees.”
Despite the hardship, many farmers in the area have planted sections of their olive groves and are harvesting this year’s crop. “The olive season is excellent this year,” says Mohammed Sleiman Dawood, a young store owner.
The farmers in Bashiqa have voiced their concerns at the lack of government support and agricultural subsidies, as well as the heavy competition that they face from products imported from Turkey and Syria. “We call on the government to help Iraqi farmers needing help,” said Abdul Momin Salim.
Before the ISIS invasion, Bashiqa had the highest concentration of olive trees in all of Iraq, followed by Diyala Province. During the early 2000s, the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture aimed to plant over 30 million olive trees throughout the country, but that project came to a halt due to the US invasion in 2003. Following this period, interest in olive planting arose once again due to Iraq’s consumption of over 30,000 metric tons of table olives a year. In 2010, the Diyala Provincial Government submitted a bid to establish the biggest olive grove in the entire Middle East. However, due to the lack of resources and the invasion of ISIS, this project also came to a halt.
Now that ISIS is defeated in the country and despite the slow growth of this niche agricultural sector, the residents of Bashiqa are determined to place Bashiqa as the capital of olive cultivation in Iraq once again.