A considerable amount of the agricultural lands of the Kurdistan Region have disappeared in recent years due to various reasons. The Kurdistan Farmers Union argues that if the cities, master plans are not revised and reconsidered, in the next few decades, the region cannot supply its agricultural demand.
Kurdistan Regional Government,s (KRG) Minister of Municipalities and Tourism, however, argues that the expansion of the cities has had no impact on agricultural produce.
The expansion of the cities based on the master plans, investment projects and a growing oil sector are some of the factors behind the removal of the agricultural brand from a major part of the Region,s agricultural lands.
Negligence of the municipalities
Instead of using the rocky and unfertile lands, the municipalities are using fertile lands for their projects.
Nawzad Mahmoud Ali, Head of the Kurdistan Farmers, Union, said "for instance while Kalar has 450 hectares of rocky lands to use for expanding the city, it has been expanding in the Old Kalar 101 area, which is one of the most fertile lands in the area, where dozens of farmers are farming." Kalar is situated in the southwest of Sulaimaniya.
Ali criticizes the master plans that use circular expansion models, a method that cannot protect agricultural areas around the cities.
"For instance in Erbil, instead of expansion towards Koya, where there are more infertile lands and also have better water and sewage infrastructure, the master plan is expanding the city in the direction of the fertile lands," Ali told the Kurdish Globe. "Besides, each municipality is expanding its city according to its desire. In Piramagroon Sub district, near Sulaimaniya, this expansion has a diameter of 5 kilometers, which amounts to 2750 hectares of fertile lands and 8 villages."
Master plan's lack of plan
According to the figures from the Union, 60 villages in Erbil have been covered by the expansion and in Bahrika town alone, 5 kilometers northwest of the city, 1000 hectares of agricultural lands have been lost.
The Sulaimaniya Province master plan has covered around 55 villages. The towns have similar situations. For instance in Bazyan 13 villages, in Said Sadiq 12 villages and in Piramagroon approximately 4000 hectares have been flooded to accommodate the expansion of the city.
Lack of municipal services
The setbacks are a double-edged sword in this unplanned expansion, as not only the agricultural labels of the lands have been removed and replaced with residential lands, but due to the lack of municipal services and infrastructure, the lands are not usable for residential purposes either.
"While there is little hope that these areas could get municipal services in 10 years, the government does not allow farmers to cultivate and use their lands till that time," complained Ali.
Some 24 villages in Sulaimaniya Province, 5 villages in Said Sadiq, 100 hectares of land in Penjwen, lands in Hasar 29, Pimalk 55, Qaladze 28, a huge area in Chwar Qurna and Hajiawa, dozens of villages in Erbil and Duhok's municipalities, borders, where no municipal projects will be implemented until at least 10 years from now, are all occupied by the municipalities and agricultural activities are banned on them.
Oil and gas
Kurdistan Region has vast oil and gas resources that have attracted a large number of international companies.
The villages and lands on which oil wells and refineries are located are under threat of pollution and the plants and animals in the surrounding areas are facing threats. Some examples are the Kalat and Koril oil wells in Qadir Karam, in Chamchamal District southwest of Sulaimaniya, Chia Soorkh in Khanaqin, Meel Qasim, Kormor, Qolijan and Amir Qaraman in Piaz sub district. Moreover, In the Koya District, 109 hectares of land is occupied for the Hela oilfield and the owners and farmers have not even been compensated for the lands.
Ali underlines the importance of oil in developing the region's economy but argues that the environment and agricultural issues should also be taken into consideration.
The master plan is the basic map of organizing the relationship between the lands and the future population growth and according to Dilshad Shahab, Minister of Municipalities, the expansion of any city will be on the account of the agricultural lands, and farmers have the right to be concerned about their lands, but the question is where can the people go if cities cannot be expanded.
He refuted the claims that Erbil has rocky lands and supported the idea of the circular expansion of the city.
"This is one of the unique characteristics of Erbil, which allows for easy planning, providing services, water distribution and road construction," says Minister Shahab. "If these master plans were designed and implemented earlier, all these unplanned and unlicensed expansions would not happen. I can say that the expansion of the cities have not had any negative impact on the agricultural products in the Region."
The design of Erbil's master plan has been completed two years ago, according to which Erbil will be expanding in a circular way and by 2035 it will reach the Kalak River in the west. The ring roads around the city include the 100 meter ring road, which is already built, the 120 meter ring road, which is currently under construction. Two 150 meter ring roads are still to be constructed, with a green belt designated in between.
Agricultural considerations in the master plan
The green belt that is going to be built around Erbil is 75 kilometers long and 2 kilometers wide. In addition to another green belt planned for in the master plan, this will significantly increase the green area in the city. Moreover a large number of villages will be on these belts, and will be kept as they are, and their inhabitants could continue and even improve the farming on their own lands.
According to international standards, each city should ideally constitute 30% of green areas. In Erbil Master plan, the total green area in the new development parts, between the two 150 meter rings, is more than 40%, which will compensate for the city center and will ensure the 30% green target is reached.
Although, the Farmers, Union has submitted a list of requests to the government and the parliament more than one month ago, they are still waiting an answer. The head of the Union's believes that although the issue is very serious, it is not taken seriously by the authorities. He warned that if cities continue to grow this way, in 20 years all the districts and sub districts will become part of the cities.
Recommendations of Farmers, Union
- Providing housing, employment and retirement wages for farmers
- Allowing farmers to continue agricultural activities on those lands within master plans that are not yet used, and be eligible for government's support
- Revising the master plans and directing expansions towards the rocky and infertile lands as well as promoting vertical building in residential projects
- Implementing recycling projects to keep the environment and agricultural lands clean. Applying international standards and techniques to control pollution to protect farms and compensate farmers.