|By DAVE BLOWER JR.
Farm World Editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. — USDA Secretary Mike Johanns is asking America’s land-grant universities to help strengthen Iraq’s agricultural extension and education system.
Johanns said USDA is providing staff as needed in Iraq and is working to develop agricultural credit training there.
He met last week in the nation’s capital with Iraqi Trade Minister Abd al-Falah Al-Sudani to discuss the status of Iraq’s agriculture industry.
“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. “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 (IAER) will provide extension training programs for Iraqis. 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 statement of intent in Baghdad. Training will be provided through partnerships built between U.S. land-grant universities and Iraqi agricultural universities.
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.
“This is a program that has worked very well in the United States, and we just know that it will work well there,” Johanns said. “It will fund multiple projects focusing on training, exchanges in areas such as arid crop production, livestock production and animal health, water resource management, and in irrigation technology.”
Through this project, the USDA plans 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.
During the press conference with Al-Sudani and Johanns, the Iraqi minister said trade relations with America should increase as the situation in Iraq improves.
“Actually we are purchasing wheat, American wheat and rice all the time,” Al-Sudani said. “We’ve been discussing this matter extensively, but about the contract and other things, it’s a matter of expert people, not mine, to decide the quantity and the price and other things.”
Johanns backed Iraq’s buying of U.S. wheat.
“I looked at our trade numbers before the Minister and I sat down, and I have to say they are impressive,” he said. “In 2006, we registered like a 430 percent increase over the same period, and I’m referring to October through May. The jump was driven by the sales of wheat to Iraq. Currently Iraq is the second largest purchaser of U.S. wheat and is currently the largest milled long-grain buyer.”
Al-Sudani said the reality of living in a war zone has not affected Iraqi growers.
“Well, the security problem doesn’t affect us negatively, but our (production) of wheat is more than double this year, our crops,” he said. “It was 450,000 metric ton last year. Now it’s about a million metric ton of wheat and rice as well. It was doubled.
“Last year we produced about 100,000 of metric tons. Now more than 200,000 tons because the incentive we give to our farmers, and they increased their products.”
This farm news was published in the Oct. 4, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.