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LONDON, Dec 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Some 200,000 Iraqis are due to return to their farms for the first time since Islamic State militants captured large swathes of land in Iraq in 2014, destroying irrigation canals and laying landmines in fields, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it had enlisted more than 3,000 people to help restore 250,000 hectares of farmland in an area retaken from Islamic State some 30 km (19 miles) west of Mosul.
Many of the participants in the cash-for-work scheme have helped to clear the irrigation canals of dirt and debris, FAO said.
The agency was also working with the Mines Advisory Group, a demining organisation, to clear the land of mines and unexploded munitions left behind by the militants, it said.
"Farmers here haven't been able to grow vegetables for two years, since the irrigation canals were destroyed by armed groups who also contaminated the area with explosive devices," said Fadel El-Zubi, FAO representative in Iraq, in a statement.
"Restoring people's ability to farm and trade in this area is not only important for food security but also for building prosperity and lasting peace in the country," he said.
Farmers in the once fertile Ninewa Plains used to export vegetables and other crops to neighbouring countries such as Syria, in addition to supplying millions of Iraqis with fresh produce.
But conflict has forced Iraq to import fruit and vegetables, FAO said.
The war on Islamic State has made about 3.4 million Iraqis homeless and caused damage estimated at $35 billion by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The hardline group has been retreating since last year. It is now fighting off a U.S.-backed offensive on Mosul, the last major Iraqi city under its control. (Reporting by Magdalena Mis; Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)