Iraq: Recovering a Garden of Paradise — Anna Laurent

Activity 4 of Phase 2

Evidence-based Advocacy

Lead: The University of Duhok (local & government) SIPRI (humanitarian & knowledge production)

Collaborators: SIPRI, IU, Purdue, Notre Dame

Inputs: Initial assessment findings, secondary sources (scholarly articles, gray literature)

Outputs: Mapping of actors, Policy Paper, op-eds, meetings with key stakeholders, short film series


A4. Justification

The restoration of cultural and agricultural practices of ethno-religious minorities in Northern Iraq  requires a multi-stakeholder approach. Technical, budgetary and “program scope” constraints limit implementation capacities of stakeholders (from local communities to UN Agencies). These limitations act, in turn, as incentives for coordination and collaboration, given the interdependence between one program’s outcomes and those of other programs. In this sense, cooperation and information sharing with other aid agencies to improve implementation performance and encourage alignment of goals and objectives is critical for long-term sustainability of results, as well as for the promotion of positive social and political change in Northern Iraq.

Bilateral meetings with 13 organizations implementing (or that recently implemented) agricultural extension projects in Ninewa were conducted between November and December 2020 by University of Duhok staff, as part of Phase 1 stakeholder engagement (three UN AFPs, four international NGOs, three National NGOs, and three local NGOs). The majority of the implementing organization representatives interviewed  said that they do not consider collecting or actively collecting data on cultural practices to inform their programming decisions. Some of the reasons provided were that: (1) this type of data is not a priority for donors and/or for programming decision-making; (2) available official and/or legitimate sources do not provide this type of data; (3) funds to collect this type of data are meager/non-existent; (4) respondents might not be willing to provide such information because of fear of discrimination, and (5) sensitivity of the subject has led organizations to actively avoid collecting such data (Findings Report, Research Translation and Dissemination Plan. February 2021). 

These perceptions from implementing organizations contrasts with responses from survey and KII participants, members of minority groups in Ninewa, who consider culture and the possibility to practice their own as a significant issue:  86% of those surveyed during Phase 1 see the freedom to practice culture as being very important in relation to their community's identity, sense of belonging, and future in Iraq (O’Driscoll et al, 2021).

In order to make the cultural practices of these communities sustainable, a comprehensive and systemic approach is required. In turn, this systemic approach requires the project to connect to the work that other actors are doing that could influence or be influenced by the project's activities. This way interventions can connect to, and build on, each other, improving the wider system. At the same time, many of the important findings from our research do not connect directly to the objectives of our project, but do to the work of others. It is therefore important that we share our research and situate it within the work of others, with the objective of hopefully improving interventions focused on the communities within our study area.

A4. Approach

The Advocacy component will have a three-pronged approach: the first one geared toward establishing reciprocal relationships with ethno-religious minority communities in Ninewa Province, where relevant local knowledge is synthesized through academic and scientific methods to advance knowledge exchange and acquisition by local farmers, villagers, and their organizations. The second will focus on political representatives and administrative officers at the governorate, district and sub-district levels, aiming at changing attitudes, policies and practices to support the re-establishment of culturally relevant (agri)cultural practices. Finally, the third approach will focus on advocacy efforts aiming at changing attitudes and practices from humanitarian, development and peacebuilding organizations implementing programs and projects, so that they choose to include cultural components and other important research findings in their activities and interventions in Ninewa. To do this, the project seeks to situate the findings from the Phase 1 assessment within the work of other aid organizations and make connections with, and between, said organizations. 

A4. Brief description of sub-activities (in chronological order)

Activity Cohesiveness and Cross-Leveraging

The activities will be implemented concurrently. Activities 1 and 2 will make use of UoD facilities and community gardens/plots aiming to enrich and support each other, with a focus on the provision of collective engagement experiences to local farmers and villagers, with a focus on training, knowledge co-production and the rehabilitation of agricultural productive capacities. The focus of Activity 1 will be on the production of plant and animal varieties, while Activity 2 will incorporate work on food preparation and recovery of wild plant varieties of cultural significance. These linkages between the economic and cultural functions of plant and animal varieties are understood as fundamental to the recovery and sustainability of cultural practices, and the objectives of Phase 2 of this Buy-in. The Cultural Awareness Activity (A3) will support the exchange of information among and between prioritized communities, and Advocacy (A4) will seek to consolidate evidence to encourage policymakers, implementers and other key stakeholders to adopt and adapt culturally sensitive measures in their programming, community outreach activities, and policy strategies.

Potential Challenges for Implementing

Project constraints (namely time, budget and scope) help frame the potential challenges that could be faced by the Buy-in during implementation. The success of the project will be contingent on the capacity of the team to navigate the project constraints and the Political, Environmental, Cultural and Socioeconomic determinants of everyday activities in Northern Iraq. In this sense, challenges pertaining to Project Strategy, Coordination, Risk Management and Expectation Management are expected to emerge at any point during the Phase 2 implementation timeframe. This section will provide a general description of the potential challenges and the prevention and mitigation strategies that the Buy-in will adopt to ensure the successful completion of the project activities and the achievement of the proposed outcomes.


Strategy-type challenges identified are scope changes (or scope creep) and lack of resources. Scope changes might occur if/when project goals are loosely defined, and there is lack of support from the project leadership or the project team to the project’s objectives. Scope changes occur when programmatic and geographical boundaries are extended beyond the project’s initial objectives, and the team's skills and existing resources. The changes in scope then connect with the lack of resources. Lack of resources are a function of strategies dependent on implementation methods that are not accessible, scalable or replicable, which in turn, make project activities and outcomes unsustainable.

To avoid strategy-type challenges, the project team undertook a collaborative approach for the design of Phase 2 of the Buy-in. Workshops, full team meetings and bilateral calls were held so that points of friction were addressed, and common definitions and understandings were agreed upon. Project objectives, the range of activities proposed, the prioritized geographies and role distribution were collectively developed and agreed upon, based on research findings emanated from a thorough initial assessment. Activities were planned considering the existing skills, resources and capabilities of the implementing partner (UoD) and the technical partners (UI, Purdue, SIPRI, Notre Dame).

Coordination and Communication

Challenges related to coordination and communication are lack of accountability, language barriers, and lack of stakeholder engagement. These challenges might arise out of specific cultural and social norms that inform people’s beliefs, values, behaviors and expectations about the project. Lack of accountability is the combined result of failures in leadership, lack of ownership, and poor communication within the project team, and between the project team and external stakeholders. Language barriers require project teams to be aware of local customs and norms, and that local staff are integrated, not only as points of contact with project participants and beneficiaries, but also in managerial and leadership positions. Stakeholder engagement is critical for project success, as it ensures participant engagement and encourages feedback from key stakeholders (internal and external).  

Phase 1 activities have enabled the project team to reflect and learn on the community engagement process. The project team has made an intentional effort to understand and acknowledge the needs and interests of the participant communities. Strategies have been developed so that existing, locally led capacity development processes (i.e. grassroots associations or collectives) are promoted and supported. Project implementation with and through grassroots associations and initiatives, such as the demonstrative plots/community gardens, should enable the Buy-in to establish communication channels with villager and farmer participants. As the project strives to improve the competency of villagers and farmers, encourage their participation, and reduce social stigmas among and between communities, the project will also adapt materials, such as information packets, to ensure all program materials are culturally appropriate, supported by evidence, and co-developed along with project participants.

In tandem with Activities 3 (Cultural Awareness) and 4 (Advocacy), the project will develop a communications strategy/plan. This communications plan will ensure cohesiveness and transparency while engaging with project participants, community leaders, local administrations, humanitarian and development organizations, other universities, and donors.

Risk Management

The operational environment of the project makes it prone to sociopolitical (e.g. conflict and violence) and environmental (e.g. draughts) hazards. Inadequate risk management procedures and unclear contingency plans can be framed as potential challenges for the project that need to be taken into consideration. The project leadership team will review the Security and Risk Management plan and update it, based on the new information acquired during Phase 1 of this Buy-in. Additional measures and contingency planning should consider activities that require project staff to spend long periods in implementation sites. Importantly, in-situ training and construction activities will require an updated evaluation of threats, vulnerabilities and exposure.

Geographic Scope

The project team has identified the following three sites for implementation:

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