Leaders of the Diwaniyah Provincial Reconstruction Team and the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, recently completed the first step toward what is hoped to be a lasting source of income for many farmers in Diwaniyah.

While Company A, 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt. Soldiers provided security Feb. 16, 2010, unit leaders, along with PRT Agricultural Advisors, Dr. Mohamed, Dr. Abdul and Bill Baker, escorted representatives of the Director General of Agriculture to five farms to determine if they are suitable sites for plastic tunnel houses.

"Tunnel houses are like low-tech greenhouses," said Platoon Leader 1st Lt. Paul Lively, 2nd Platoon, Co. A.

From the soil samples taken, PRT and 1st Bn. leaders will determine if the selected farms are eligible for micro-grants - part of the Commander's Emergency Response Program - said 1st Lt. Matthew Dandola, a civil affairs team leader attached to 1st Bn.

Baker explained that Diwaniyah had been a large exporter of wheat, barley, and rice prior to the Saddam era. However, those large-field crops require a steady source of water for irrigation.

Over the last 10 years, conflict and drought have reduced water flow in surrounding canals and severely limited the production of large-field crops.

"The rice was a good source of income but they were only farming 10% of their fields," Baker said.

Mohamed explained that to fix this problem, farmers need to grow crops that take up less water and less land. In this sense, Cucumbers and tomatoes are the ideal crops.

In addition to finding the right crops, farmers need to make the best use of the limited water they have. Tunnel housing uses the greenhouse effect from sunlight to provide a growing environment warm enough to grow vegetables.

"Plastic tunnel houses allow the farmer to extend the vegetable growing season through the winter months," Baker said.

While taking soil samples, Baker, Mohamed, and Abdul also taught the DG of Agriculture staff how to plot the points where the soil samples were taken.

According to Lively, training the staff and providing the farmers with the tunnel houses will stimulate the economy. The goal is for these first five plastic tunnel houses to pave the way for more.

The end result will be a steady income for the local farmers, Dandola said.

"This way they won't have to go anywhere for money; they can avoid the temptation of taking money from the insurgency," he said

Baker is pleased with the way the project is moving forward.

"[The Iraqi counterparts] have been involved from the very beginning," he said. "We are working together as a great team."