By JO ANN HUSTIS
URBANA, Ill. — Grants to total $80 million over a five-year period are slated toward improving the livelihood of Iraqi farmers by modernizing and strengthening their agricultural extension systems.
As defined by international senior researcher Ian Christoplos, Ph.D. of Sweden, extension systems help farmers, farm-related organizations and similar markets obtain knowledge, information and technologies; interact with partners in research education, agribusiness and other relevant institutions; and develop their own technical organizational and management skills and practices.
“The vision for the agricultural extension system in Iraq is to be as comprehensive as implied in the definition by Ian,” Andrea B. Bohn, manager of the University of Illinois’ Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS), noted in a March 20 interview about the U of I collaborating on the project with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).
ICARDA is a global agricultural research center working with countries in dry areas that include the Middle East. Bohn also is project manager for the new Harmonized Support for Agricultural Development (HSAD) project led by the Iraq Ministry of Agriculture, carried out by ICARDA and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The goals for the extension system are twofold, with stabilizing and peace building as one and future economic growth the other.
“A world with less violence, war, antipathy, aggression is a better place to live in and to make business in,” she said of the first goal. “Among the Iraqis I’ve met at the three HSAD-related workshops in Amman and Baghdad, what I hear ... is the high appreciation (they) have for this kind of engagement. Especially those who studied abroad in the U.S., Europe or Australia have very positive feelings toward the West.”
On future economic growth, Bohn noted the U.S. economy is “incredibly tied” in with the economies of other nations. “When people in other countries prosper, and that is ultimately the desired outcome of development assistance as provided through USAID, then the U.S. economy and consumer benefits,” she pointed out.
“If the U.S. economy were to rely only on national growth, we would have very limited prospects. Global economic growth is driven by emerging economies.”
The HSAD and MEAS projects are to receive the grants. The funding is made possible by USAID. About $20 million of it is intended for strengthening the extension service in Iraq. HSAD is to target commodities crucial to Iraq’s national food security, such as wheat, barley, small ruminant products and date palm.
The MEAS plan, now in its third year, involves strategic analysis of activities and investments to strengthen extension systems in developing countries. So far, MEAS has worked in Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Liberia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Nepal, Rwanda and Tajikistan.
The U of I worked with three other universities on the extension system proposal, which was then submitted to USAID by ICARDA for approval. The university consortium is not the prime recipient of the grants, however.
“We’re not in the drivers’ seat,” Bohn said, “but we are a critical co-pilot to stay in the image.”
Faculty with the three other universities previously worked on ag development in Iraq. They are the University of California-Davis, Texas A&M and University of Florida. The U of I is to improve delivery of extension services and develop capacity of farmers and extension partners.
The team will work with Iraq to train and support local extension workers to be knowledge brokers and to link farmers to markets. They will call on the expertise of innovative farmers who are already producing and marketing profitable ag products.
Teams of workers, either paid or volunteer, will not be sent to Iraq to demonstrate and work alongside Iraqi farmers to demonstrate more efficient and economical farming methods.
“No,” Bohn explained, comparing the project to the next level of teaching a man to fish. “Teach others to teach how to fish for fish. It would be much too costly to send large numbers of persons to Iraq – and it would be hard to find those willing to do so.”
The approach to extension services will be participatory, instead of a top-down dissemination of information. The project will focus on improving systems rather than individual practices.
“Our focus is more on making learning work as a business than focusing on production,” she said.
Iraq has many universities, and many of them “used to be very, very good,” Bohn noted, listing five that offered degrees in ag extension and education. “But to their own admission, the curricula are outdated.”
“There is a huge need to train more extension staff and upgrade the skills of existing staff. The U.S. university consortium is eager to work very directly with and through these Iraqi universities. But in the early phase of the project, the emphasis will be more on working with the Ministry of Agriculture.”
Other countries are to actively assist the United States in the project and contribute financial aid. “Many, many other countries fund agricultural and other development projects in Iraq and elsewhere around the globe,” Bohn said.