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Iraqi Kurdish farmers expect weak tobacco harvest

Aftereffects of genocide, competition from cheap imports and lack of government support combine to limit the market for local agricultural products.
Star Ahmad Sleman, 40, stands in a field of tobacco in Khanaqa, Erbil governorate on September 2, 2023. (Credit: Winthrop Rodgers)

KHANAQA, Erbil governorate — High in a mountain valley in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Star Ahmad Sleman’s field of tobacco is almost ready for harvest. As the summer heat breaks and autumn arrives, the pale green leaves begin to turn yellow.  A high break of corn forms a border with the sesame plants growing in the next field over. 

In just a few days, Sleman’s family and neighbors will spread out across the small plot, plucking the leaves and drying them on sharpened sticks. 

Tobacco once formed a major part of the economy here. It supplied state-owned cigarette factories in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, which made famous local brands like Sumer and Al-Jumhuriya.

Now, just a few farmers plant tobacco on small farms in the mountains around Soran and Ranya. Sulaymaniyah’s cigarette factory rolled its last smoke in 2005, and the vast industrial complex is now an art gallery and culture space. 

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