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Livelihoods: Elias'* Story


Seed capital and business skills helped farmers like Elias to rebuild their lives after years of conflict in rural areas throughout Iraq


28 September 2022, Gina Meutia and Munir Mahmood


*Name has been changed and some details omitted for protection reasons


"The yields and profits from these olives are really good for export of commodities, that was how I was able to save up some money to try to purchase a house before the war"


Many people had to flee Al-Mahalabiyah sub-district, Ninewa governorate during ISIS Occupation. The Islamic State – also known as ISIL or Daesh is a local offshoot of al Qaeda founded in 2004. It faded for several years until it began to re-emerge in 2011. Over the following few years, it took advantage of growing instability in Iraq to carry out attacks. At its height, the Islamic State held about 40 percent of Iraq. By December 2017, however, it had lost 95 percent of its territory, including its biggest properties: Mosul, Iraq's second largest city.

“When ISIS entered my village, my family and I were forced to leave our house. At the time, I had 250 olive trees growing in my plot of farming land. We had no other choice, fleeing seemed like the only thing we could do to save our lives. We lost everything; all the olive trees were gone.


Elias’ story is not an isolated one. So many farming communities reported to have lost their livelihoods because of the Islamic State’s takeover of the agricultural fields.


“I’m a traditional olive farmer. This farm was passed down from my father and my grandfather. It was passed down through generations”, said Elias. He said the economic impact of losing his farm had been devastating. “The most difficult thing we had to go through was abandoning the farm. During that period, we had no work and no means to provide for our own needs. We tried to find jobs, but there were very few job opportunities.”

With support from HRF, over the past year, 2,600 vulnerable returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout Al-Mahalabiyah, Tuz Khormato, Habaniya, and Qaim sub-districts across Anbar, Salah al-Din, and Nineveh governorates—heavily destroyed during ISIS occupation in Iraq, have received a range of livelihood support interventions with some of them being provided with grants of up to USD 3,500 per person, to set up small businesses and training on practical business skills.

“When it was safe for us to return, we came home and saw no trees were left in the farm. There was no hope to rehabilitate the farm either, because we had no capital to do so. That was why when HRF announced the opportunity to apply for this project, I was amongst the first ones to do so.” 

Elias was included amongst 200 project participants who received business grants, one of the three components of the Supporting Livelihoods and Economic Reintegration in the Return Communities Project.


The Supporting Livelihoods and Economic Reintegration in the Return Communities Project has been implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with HRF, and funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), provided through KFW Development Bank. This project provides a package of livelihood support interventions, including awareness raising sessions, community-based initiatives, vocational training and the enterprise support packages for new and existing businesses. These interventions aimed at fostering social cohesion amongst returnee/IDP households with host community households, enhancing employability and encouraging private sector job creation and economic recovery. The project run from October 2021 to August 2022.


“From the grants provided through this project, I have been able to buy about 100 olive trees to rehabilitate my plot”. Through the project, Elias also learned about the technique to develop a business plan and how to market my products. “I am now planning to expand my project in the future and further expand the marketing of my olives.”


Before we ended our discussion, Elias thanked HRF:

“I would like to thank HRF for the support which I’ve received. The grant has allowed me to turn a desert land into a green land. Without the help that I’ve received from this project, it would be very challenging to improve my situation and that of my family too.”


For over 30 years, HRF has continued to help deliver assistance to millions of people across Iraq, including returnees/IDPs who are struggling to cope with the effects of conflict. HRF has cultivated varied networks with communities across Iraq through its project work. The Supporting Livelihoods and Economic Reintegration in the Return Communities Project is one of a few parallel projects being implemented by UNDP through partnership with HRF.


UNDP is the leading United Nations organisation fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and the planet. Learn more at or follow at @UNDP.

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