Con­flict and drought rav­age prized date palms across Iraq

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Holiday -

BASRA, Iraq — Sweet Iraqi dates adorn ta­bles in homes across the coun­try, but the fruit tree and na­tional sym­bol has come un­der threat from con­flict and crip­pling drought.

Shop­ping in the south­ern city of Basra, Leila only buys “the queen of dates” — those pro­duced in the sur­round­ing prov­ince.

Her hus­band Me­hdi, 68, said the cou­ple have the sweet fruit “ev­ery lunchtime, and also for snacks be­tween meals”.

The pair de­vours a kilo­gram over two to three days, at a cost of 5,000 di­nars, or just over $4.

But high un­em­ploy­ment and price hikes mean not all fam­i­lies can af­ford such lux­ury.

For trader Salem Hus­sein, who has been sell­ing dates for 40 years, the de­cline set in long ago — be­fore the drought and even this cen­tury’s se­ries of deadly con­flicts.

Im­ports fill the gap

The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war dec­i­mated the groves of date palms on Iraqi soil, he said, dressed in a sky blue robe and white skull­cap.

The ma­jor­ity of trees lin­ing the Shatt al-Arab wa­ter­way, mark­ing the bor­der be­tween the two coun­tries, were in­cin­er­ated by shells and rock­ets.

Hus­sein once dreamed of ex­pand­ing palm groves and in­tro­duc­ing even more va­ri­eties than the 450 al­ready boasted by Iraq, which used to be known as the land of 30 mil­lion palm trees.

The coun­try’s dates were long ex­ported “to the United States, Ja­pan and In­dia”, re­called the 66-year-old.

“We thought of de­vel­op­ing

MO­HAMMED ALI / AFP

Farmer Raed al-Jubayli checks dates at his palm tree nurs­ery in Basra, Iraq, on Aug 31. Haidar

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