WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced plans for $27.5 million in international assistance under USDA's Food for Progress Program for Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Vilsack made the announcement yesterday at a meeting with Afghanistan's Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock H.E. Mohammad Asif Rahimi and Pakistan's Minister for Food, Agriculture, and Livestock Nazar Muhammad Gondal while meeting to identify potential areas of agricultural cooperation and collaboration among the three countries. The commodity donations will benefit an estimated 3 million people in rural areas of both countries.

"We are very pleased to be able to help Afghanistan and Pakistan improve the sustainable development of their agricultural sectors, which will help provide the foundation on which the economies of the two countries can prosper and thrive and create political and social stability," said Vilsack. "We look forward to working together in a variety of ways to increase agricultural productivity, which will result in more jobs throughout the entire value chain, and a better quality of life for the citizens of both countries."

This announcement comes on the heels of newly concluded trilateral meetings President Obama hosted at the White House with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to bring a new era of stability and prosperity to the Afghan-Pakistan border.

In addition to the Food for Progress funding, Vilsack discussed other efforts by the USDA including developing agriculture trade corridors along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to facilitate trans-border trade; strengthening food security by collaborating on research to improve the production of fruits, nuts, livestock, and other agricultural products and reduce post-harvest loss; improving water and watershed management and irrigation methods; and rehabilitating watersheds to increase crop yields and create jobs.

Food for Progress has consistently helped developing countries advance economic reform and expand private enterprise. It has, in its 24 years of existence, played an important role in helping developing countries support their agricultural sectors.

Food for Progress allocations announced today are for roughly 17,400 metric tons of U.S. vegetable oil that will be purchased on the U.S. market and donated by USDA -- approximately 10,600 metric tons for Afghanistan and 6,800 metric tons for Pakistan. The commodities will go to the governments in both countries; the vegetable oil will be sold to local agribusinesses. The proceeds from the sale will be used to implement agricultural and rural development projects.

The Food for Progress Program provides U.S. agricultural commodities to developing countries and emerging democracies committed to introducing and expanding free enterprise in the agricultural sector. Commodities are currently provided on a donation basis to foreign governments, private voluntary organizations, non-profit organizations, cooperatives or intergovernmental organizations. Projects are chosen based on their agricultural focus, the country's needs, the proposal's quality and the organization's management, experience and financial and technical capabilities.

In addition to the Food for Progress Program, to assist developing countries, President Obama is asking the U.S. Congress to double U.S. financial support for agricultural development to $1 billion in 2010. His three point plan calls for providing U.S. food aid, capacity building, and developmental assistance to tackle the world's increasing food security needs. President Obama also asked Congress to double USDA's McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program -- from $100 million program to $200 million in FY 2010 -- which helps support education, child development, and food security for some of the world's poorest children.