Significant Cultivation

Data collection (Credit: Dr. Asaad Ali and Rezgar Mohammed from the University of Duhok) 

Seller of local olive products (Credit: Dr. Asaad Ali and Rezgar Mohammed from the University of Duhok)  

Activity 2 of Phase 2

Culturally Significant Cultivation

Lead: Indiana University

Implementer: University of Duhok 

Collaborators: Purdue University, The University of Notre Dame

Inputs: demonstration/research plots and botanical space (including materials and equipment), Indiana University technical know-how, UoD Faculty and staff technical know-how, other UoD facilities (intra- and extra-mural), Initial assessment findings, secondary sources (scholarly articles, gray literature)

Outputs: Workshop curriculum and materials co-developed between IU and UoD for UoD faculty and staff capacity development on wild and domestic plants planting, cooking, cultural memory preservation through storytelling/story-mapping, and community-level facilitation; Facilitation curriculum and materials co-developed between IU, UoD, and local farmers/villagers for community-level capacity development on wild and domestic plants planting, cooking, cultural memory preservation through storytelling/story-mapping; research reports and publications (emphasis on people-plant-culture relationships)


Faculty and staff from University of Duhok adopt and adapt existing and new knowledge on local plant (both domesticated and wild breeds and cultivars) uses and production, and develop curricula for research and extension activities 

Local farmers adopt, adapt and apply existing and new knowledge on local plant (both domesticated and wild breeds and cultivars) uses and production through culturally-sensitive strategies co-developed with UoD faculty and staff to recover local plant/animal production and traditional uses.

Young villagers participate actively in training sessions, workshops, and practice spaces, and demonstrate increased understanding on how the revitalization of cultural landscapes has a positive effect in community resilience, as well as cultural and economic recovery, and feel positive about their role in it.

Community ties are strengthened as a result of knowledge exchange and co-production, and positive attitudes towards associative forms are developed for intergenerational, intercultural and equitable gender participation.

A2. Justification

An approach to edible, medicinal and decorative plants is embraced given their importance across ethno-religious groups, and because it is an often neglected area of intervention and engagement between aid organizations and prioritized communities. The assessment conducted by the project in Phase 1 showed that approximately 77% of survey respondents reported using wild plants in some way (O’Driscoll et al, 2021). Importantly, close to “87% of Kakai reported using wild plants, with 58% using them for medicinal purposes and 78% for cooking. Shiite Shabaks also report widespread use of wild plants (83%), especially for medicinal purposes (67%). Turkmen communities had 91% of respondents note their use of wild plants, with 78% using them for cooking and 62% for medicinal purposes. In comparison, wild plants were used less by Sunni Shabaks (54%), although the majority of people did still collect wild plants for certain uses” (Ibid). 

Notably, villagers interviewed highlighted that wildflowers being used by women for beautification, and that Young Yezidi, both men and women, would collect and exchange flowers, for ornamental purposes. Through the interviews, some plant varieties for household consumption or exchange in markets were listed by participants, including cheeseweed or mallow, gundelia, curry leaves, truffles, turmeric, chamomile, and rosemary. 

Even though people reported in their majority that they could still collect wild plants, some Kakai and Turkmen respondents reported the destruction of plant varieties they used previously. Along with intentional destruction, drought, and the extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides, the presence of IEDs and booby-traps impede people’s ability to collect wild plants. The initial assessment conducted by the project demonstrated the important role wild plants play in all the minority groups’ cultural practices. Due to the cultural importance of wild plants and the limited focus on them, this forms an important entry point for project activities. An additional factor worth considering is that wild plants are a relatively apolitical topic around which the project can gather people and resources. 

A2. Approach

With a focus on wild plants and knowledge sharing and co-creation, this activity will build upon ethnographic and participatory approaches, as well as on storytelling to consolidate and exchange information through collaborative methods, such as cooperative workshops on planting, cooking, and storytelling, and skill building through resource mapping. The project will build upon previous experiences of UoD on collecting and recording oral memory and stories, seeking to consolidate that capacity for intentional use in UoD’s agricultural extension activities. In-depth interviews and conversations with community members will be undertaken, aiming at gathering additional details about wild plants and geographical areas that might play out as “biocultural refugia” for the preservation and renewal of domesticated and wild plants relevant for cultural practices for ethno-religious groups in Northern Iraq.

The project will develop a crowdsourced knowledge repository (digital, physical, or hybrid), that community members can contribute to, to complete an inventory of wild and domesticated plants, with descriptions of their uses and properties in relation to cultural practices.

Given the widespread use and importance of wild plant varieties of religious and cultural life, workshops and community events will be relied on as platforms for cross-cultural knowledge sharing about wild plants, stories, recipes, and dishes prepared with these plants. Given the gendered division of labor, and the fact that it is mostly women who possess and pass down culinary and medicinal knowledge to the new generations, these events and workshops will have women at its core. A combination of women-only, multi-generational, and community-wide events and workshops will be planned and agreed upon with the core female participants. Events and workshops will involve faculty at UoD as co-facilitators, who should coordinate with communities in planning and convening gatherings to share food made with wild plants, hold workshops to share knowledge about plants (how to identify, harvest, use for food or medicine), and to share knowledge (e.g., some groups may not use a particular plant at all, whereas others may use it frequently) as well as talk about how wild plants are important culturally.

A2. Brief description of sub-activities (in chronological order)

The Activity #1 consisted of Promotion of agricultural production, exchange and inter-community collaboration. According to the Phase 1 evaluation findings, the two main impediments to farming post-IS are a lack of financial resources (81%), followed by a lack of equipment (36%). Financial viability and sustainability are critical for the restoration of cultural activities. Food is seen to have significant cultural importance, as demonstrated by the initial needs assessment, with a large majority of those surveyed seeing meals for special occasions (72% of overall respondents; 82% for Kakai) and dishes associated with religious events (62% of overall respondents; 76% of Ezidis; 83% of Turkmen) as playing an important role in their life. ➤ LEARN MORE

The Activity #2, Farmers from minority groups claim that local products cannot compete with inexpensive imports, prices are low, leaving farmers with little to no profit margin, and thus disincentivizes the creation of culturally appropriate animal and plant species. Farmers' primary source of income, locally bred livestock, cannot compete with imported meat and dairy goods from Iran and Turkey. In addition to concerns about the government's grain procurement scheme, there are comparable issues in the agricultural sector. These issues include considerable payment delays, long silo lines that increase transportation costs, and requests for bribes in order for grain to be received at the silo.  ➤ READ MORE

Leaders of the Ezidis and Kakai groups claim challenges in promoting and selling their agricultural goods, including as cattle, dairy products, and other consumables, to Muslim populations for apparently hygienic and religious reasons. This is thought to be the result of ignorance (misinformation) and/or preconceptions about their beliefs, which has a detrimental effect on their way of life and capacity to continue engaging in agriculture. They also cite incidents of hate speech directed at their communities as a result of ignorance of their religion, as shown by school curriculum that primarily emphasise Islamic doctrines. Lack of knowledge and hate speech are thought to worsen intercommunal trust, social cohesion, and cohabitation while also fostering economic and social discrimination.  ➤ EXPLORE THIS ACTIVITY

A multi-stakeholder strategy is necessary for the restoration of the cultural and agricultural practises of the ethno-religious minority in Northern Iraq. The capacity of stakeholders to implement strategies is constrained by technical, financial, and "programme scope" issues (from local communities to UN Agencies). Given the dependency between the results of one programme and those of other programmes, these restrictions in turn serve as incentives for coordination and collaboration. In this regard, collaboration and information exchange with other assistance organisations is essential for long-term sustainability of outcomes as well as for the encouragement of aims and objectives alignment and social and political transformation in Northern Iraq. ➤ ACCESS TO READ MORE