Texas extension to lead efforts to stabilize Iraq through agriculture

COLLEGE STATION – At this critical time in the Iraq war, a new effort to stabilize the country is being sought through agriculture. Texas Cooperative Extension, an agency of the Texas A&M University System, will lead a team of five land-grant universities to do just that.

Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced that these universities have been awarded $5.3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a project that will focus on strengthening agricultural extension and training in Iraq.

"This project is of tremendous importance to the Iraqi people, because only through agriculture can hope for a better future be achieved," said Dr. Elsa Murano, vice chancellor and dean of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M.

"Devoting these funds to this consortium of land-grant universities is a landmark event," said Dr. Ed Price, associate vice chancellor and director of the Norman E. Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M, the entity that will coordinate this activity. "It will allow these institutions to work together to affect a positive change and ultimately improve the quality of life for the Iraqi people."

Other universities in the consortium are New Mexico State University, Washington State University, Utah State University and University of California at Davis. Plans also include involving Prairie View A&M University and Diné College, as well as partnering with universities throughout Iraq.

The universities in the team each have well-known Extension programs and agricultural expertise, including arid lands agriculture.

"The team's efforts are part of the Iraq Agricultural Extension Revitalization Project," said Price. "One of this project's main objectives is to develop a linkage between American institutions with agricultural expertise, Iraqi universities and the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture to build an effective and lasting extension capability for that country."

Some of the main areas the team will focus on include arid crop production development, management of water resources and irrigation, livestock production and animal health, private sector development and market development. Team members will also develop and nurture ties between Iraqi colleges, Extension personnel, farming groups, and communities and households throughout Iraq.

"While our primary emphasis will be on improving the lives of the Iraqis through helping them build and maintain their agricultural capacity, we will also be working to improve women's health and nutrition and toward developing youth leadership in that country," said Dr. Ed Smith, director of Texas Cooperative Extension, the lead agency in this consortium.

Texas A&M faculty members have been on-site in Iraq since 2003, working with the Iraqis as part of the Agricultural Reconstruction and Development for Iraq program of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

"We will be expanding and improving on the strides we have already taken in Iraq," Price said. "Our past experiences there will provide us invaluable knowledge and insights for this new opportunity to help the Iraqi people."

Collective efforts by Texas A&M and other land-grant team members in this project will help restore economic stability to Iraq, he added. Agriculture is Iraq's second-largest economic contributor.

"A nation's ability feed its people is a key building block for political stability, which is why this project is so important for the future of Iraq and that vital region of the world," said U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas. "This is a tremendous honor for the A&M System and for the Extension's outstanding leaders, faculty and staff."

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