FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU, Iraq (Army News Service, April 30, 2008) - Members of the Baghdad-7 embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team visited a fish farm south of Baghdad April 26, to assess progress in its development.

The farmer, Abdul Jabar Abid Kasim, received a $2,500 grant from the ePRT to improve production on his farm, which is now showing noticeable signs of development.

Until recently, Kasim's operation yielded just enough fish to feed his family and others in the community. Now he's looking forward to selling his fish in commercial markets and growing his operation.

The micro-grant provided ready cash for Kasim to repair his water pump and buy expensive, high-protein feed, which has already paid dividends in larger, healthier fish, said Capt. Christopher Flores, ePRT fish farm advisor and personnel-actions officer for 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.

"It's taken off a year of overhead for him," said Flores, whose passion for recreational fishing led him to work with the ePRT.

"Fishing is all science," Flores added. "It's been my number-one passion since I was a kid, so I know all about fish farming and how they grow."

Kasim's farm lies in the al-Buaytha loop of the Tigris River, an area with a long history of fish farming. Currently, many farms do not produce enough fish to make it a commercially robust business. However, with increased involvement in the local agricultural union and the assistance of micro grants, some farmers are getting the help they need to grow.

Nineteen fish farms in the area have received one-time ePRT grants so far; most of them received the maximum of $2,500. Farmers like Kasim are identified to receive grants by their local representative in the agricultural union.

"He understands this is a one-time micro grant," Flores said. "He said if he does well enough he should have enough to buy another pond."

With this year's first harvest, Kasim plans to sell 1,500 kilograms of his carp to the Baghdad market. He then intends to use profits to buy a better pump to improve water circulation, which makes for healthier, faster growing fish.

In addition to improving his yield, Flores said Kasim's real success is in how he did it by working with his local agricultural union.

"He was able to convey his needs to his local union, which is Iraqi-led, and that union was able to work with the ePRT," he said. "The process was there. An Iraqi helped another Iraqi. It's boosting his confidence in his government if he can get something done with his local union."

The payoff for Flores was in visiting the farm to check progress and finding a happier farmer.

"He was happy to see us," he said. "He invited us to stay and wanted to cook lunch for us."

And what was for lunch' Fresh fish, of course.

(Sgt. David Turner serves with the 2nd BCT, 3rd Inf. Div. Public Affairs Office)