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U.S. soldiers and agricultural experts are working with poultry farmers in Mahmudiyah, Iraq, to try to band them together into a cooperative.

In Mahmudiyah, an agricultural community south of Baghdad and traditionally the hub of Baghdad province’s poultry industry, some of the violence of the war halted production of a variety of poultry, broilers and eggs, U.S. officials say.

Much of the chicken and eggs consumed in the country are imported, according to a news release issued Saturday by Multi-National Corps—Iraq.

The military and agricultural experts are identifying poultry farmers and working to band them together to form the Mahmudiyah Poultry Association. The military calls it “Operation Chicken Run.”

The Baghdad-embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team 4 is seeking assistance from the U.S. Agency of International Development to help farmers repair their facilities.

Making Iraqi-raised chicken and eggs competitive will require economics of scale, which means pooled resources, according to Maj. Jessica McCoy, an Army veterinarian based in Yusufiyah and a member of the reconstruction team.

“Right now about 40 percent of the commercial eggs consumed in Baghdad are imported,” McCoy said in the release. “This chicken farmers’ association will assist local egg-laying operations to eat into that share by providing a source of inexpensive high-quality feed, and thereby increase Iraq’s domestic fresh egg consumption.”

Advisers interviewed more than 100 broiler growers to get a feel for their situation before going ahead with the plan to link the farmers.

Plans call for chicken to be slaughtered according to Muslim tradition, McCoy said. “We will not compete on price. We will win by offering a fresh, locally grown product, without hormones or preservatives, which our research shows has a select, ready market,” she said.

Capt. Paul Hester, an agri-business specialist, says Iraqi farmers are familiar with the principles behind a co-op and had similar set-ups in the past.

But they require coaching to move beyond their experience under Saddam Hussein, he said.

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