WASHINGTON, D.C. -- USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service and Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service will provide $7.8 million to link U.S. land-grant universities to Iraqi agricultural universities and related institutions.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced that USDA is requesting proposals from U.S. land-grant institutions to strengthen agricultural extension and training at Iraqi agricultural universities.

Johanns also said USDA is providing USDA staff as needed in Iraq and is working to develop agricultural credit training there.

"Because much of Iraq's population relies on agriculture for their livelihood, the country's stability partially depends upon the agricultural sector's performance," Johanns said, following a meeting today in Washington with Iraqi Trade Minister Abd al-Falah Al-Sudani. "A strong extension system that responds to the needs of farmers, processors, marketers and others in agriculture is a key element of recovery."

The Iraq Agricultural Extension Revitalization Project will provide extension training programs for Iraqi nationals. The training will enhance the agricultural management, production and marketing related to small and medium-sized production enterprises. The effort was launched on Aug. 1, when Johanns and Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Salamm Zukam Ali Al-Zawba'i signed a joint statement of intent in Baghdad. Training will be provided through partnerships built between U.S. land-grant universities and Iraqi agricultural universities in each of five governorates of Iraq.

The project goal is to build strong institution-to-institution partnerships to link American expertise in extension training and advisory services with agricultural colleges in Iraq and with Ministry of Agriculture personnel. Among the areas the institutions may address are arid crop production development, livestock production and animal health, and water resources management and irrigation technology.

Through this project, USDA hopes to assist in restoring and expanding a sustainable agriculture sector in Iraq that includes an effective extension service based on education and research. Priority activities will include training of extension specialists; long-term degree training; development of distance learning methods and instructional materials for train-the-trainer extension programs; and field trials, demonstration plots and lab methods for adoption by Iraqi farmers.

USDA to increase staffing in Iraq

In addition to this project, USDA is increasing its staffing assigned to Iraq from two specialists to five specialists. Two agricultural officers will continue to work at the American Embassy in Baghdad. Additionally, three technical advisers will work with the Iraqi Government. One will specialize in agricultural strategy planning, one in extension and education, and a third in food safety and inspection. All will be detailed for one year.

Because access to credit is essential to doing business, USDA is also working with private agricultural credit organizations to develop training programs for Iraqi partners. Through this effort, USDA hopes to enhance the Iraqi rural credit system and increase farmer access to credit.

The ultimate goal for all of these initiatives is to assist Iraq in developing strategies to rebuild and revitalize its agricultural and agribusiness sector. Iraq's agricultural sector is the second largest contributor to the national economy and employs one-quarter of its workforce.

Note: This initiative builds on other U.S. efforts over the past three years to help Iraq rebuild its agriculture sector. These efforts include private sector development, livestock and crop improvement, market development and water management.

While in Baghdad, Johanns is meeting with senior Iraqi officials, and with rice and poultry producers and traders.

See Updated Fact Sheet: U.S.-Iraq Agricultural Extension Project.

SOURCE: USDA news release.