BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today arrived in Iraq to meet with high-level Iraqi officials as well as Iraqi agricultural producers.

Johanns was joined by one representative each from the U.S. private sector, academia and media.

"Many people are surprised to learn how important the agriculture sector is in Iraq and how much potential it holds," said Johanns. "I am eager to meet face-to-face with Iraqi ministers and agricultural producers to strengthen our relationship and intensify our collaboration."

The agriculture sector is the second largest contributor to the gross domestic product in Iraq and employs 25 percent of the workforce.

USDA provided agricultural and extension service training to 13 Iraqi individuals involved in agriculture as part of the Cochran Fellowship Program to help them develop market-driven food systems.

In June 2005, USDA signed a $10.8 million Food for Progress food aid agreement with the U.S. Grains Council, under which USDA provided Iraq with nearly 30,000 tons of corn and soybean meal. The Grains Council is using the proceeds from the sales to revitalize the country's poultry sector.

The U.S. government has worked collaboratively with the government of Iraq to advance the agricultural infrastructure and capabilities in Iraq. This collaboration has led to accomplishments including the rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure reaching nearly a half million rural residents; making more than 31 tons of cleaned and treated wheat seed available for planting (benefiting 41,000 farmers); and reconstructing nearly 70 veterinary clinics throughout Iraq that serve more than 4 million animals and more than 100,000 animal breeders.

Johanns is scheduled to participate in numerous meetings over a 10-hour period, followed by dinner with U.S. armed forces personnel stationed in Iraq.

He is joined by Terry Harris, Riceland Foods vice president of international affairs; Michael Martin, president of New Mexico State University; and Ken Root, farm broadcaster with WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa, and past president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters.

A fact sheet on U.S. ag project in Iraq is online.

SOURCE: USDA news release.