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On the Road Again
Weather Forces A Return To Tradition In Iraqi Kurdistan

Sarchin Salih
A few short years ago, it was unusual to see Kurdish shepherds moving stock around. But now, thanks to dry weather, some farmers are going back to their ancestral, nomadic ways.
23.08.2018  |  Sulaymaniyah
Iraqi Kurdish farmers are on the move this year.
Iraqi Kurdish farmers are on the move this year.

Mohammed Abdallah recently travelled around 100 kilometres with the sheep he owns, moving them from the plains of Karamian, southeast of Sulaymaniyah city, to the Penjwin area, in the north east. There isn’t enough pasture for the sheep to feed on in his area anymore, Abdallah told NIQASH, as he watched his animals graze. He was pleased to be here, he explained, and he was also thinking about his ancestors, who had often had to travel long distances with their livestock.

There’s been too little rain in the Karamian area over the past winter and this has forced livestock owners, like Abdallah, who lives in a village in the Kafri district, to follow the same paths their forefathers did, in search of greener pastures.

“The grain didn’t grow this year because we didn’t get enough rain over winter in Karamian,” Abdallah explains. “The whole area was barren but we know there is grass and water higher up in the mountains.”

He and his family own around 450 head of sheep and they are dependent on them to make a living. It’s good for the sheep here, Abdallah says, “but we have to live in tents and that gets tiring.”

The shepherds don’t get the chance to return home quickly either. “I remember my father and grandfather doing this. They would spend winter at home but then travel all summer,” the 40-year-old sheep herder recalls.



Abdallah himself has not traditionally done this. Migratory herding happened in Iraqi Kurdistan up until around the 1970s – the farmers would head for the hills with their livestock. But during the periods when the Saddam Hussein regime was attacking the Kurdish population, this practice ended.  

The Iraqi Kurdish Ministry of Agriculture notes that there are around 5.5 million sheep and goats in the region. “People have started to move their animals from one area to another,” confirms Ramadan Karim, who oversees the livestock department at the Iraqi Kurdish ministry. “But there are many more fences and boundaries in the mountainous areas now, which makes it difficult.”

Karim believes the old-fashioned way of farming livestock, family by family, in Iraqi Kurdistan must soon die out. He thinks more large scale farming would suit the region better. But for now the herders in the region are still migrating.

“Travelling used to be a family tradition,” says Adel Mohammed, a 45-year-old from a village in the Kalar  area; his family used to criss-cross the Iraq-Iran border with their animals. “As a family we were used to it. But we stopped doing it because we were able to find fields for the animals nearer to our homes. This year, due to a lack of feed, we have revived this tradition.”

Of course, there are differences. The shepherds can now drive rather than walk the whole distance, or ride donkeys. In fact, they may even transport their cattle by truck.  

Mohammed says this new movement is still hard on his family though, because his children are not used to living in tents and it gets expensive if one has to rent pastureland; its common practice for the farmers to agree on a sum with landowners.

By the end of September the two families will be making preparations to return the same way they came. By then they will have spent three months in this area.


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